You’ve spent the entire semester showing up to class, taking quizzes, writing papers, and completing mountains of homework to prepare for an exam that is weighted heavier than all of those other assignments combined: the final, otherwise known as the college student’s worst nightmare.
Now take the pressure of that one exam and multiply it by five. Preparing for those five exams will undoubtedly turn you into a stressed-out zombie who inhabits the library, feeding on vending machine snacks and caffeine.
Use this survival guide to make sure you don’t turn to stress snacking during the weeks leading up to this pressure-filled time.
1. Don’t procrastinate
Studying for finals should feel like a review rather than a first-time introduction to the material.
This tip may seem like a no-brainer, but allowing readings and assignments to pile up along the way will create a snowball of information that will be much harder to climb out of.
By keeping up with the course load throughout the semester, you can preemptively decrease stress when finals arrive because you’ll feel less overwhelmed by the material, says Neil Rowland, PhD, a professor in the department of psychology at the University of Florida.
No matter if you have two weeks until finals or two days, just start studying.
2. Take breaks
If you find yourself cooped up in the library cramming for your exams, taking short breaks will help to keep your brain sharp and efficient.
“Studying becomes much more inefficient if you don’t take breaks. My point is if you do an hour of studying, half an hour of something else, and another hour of studying, that’s going to be much more efficient than trying to do two hours straight,” Rowland says. Extra points if that break involves exercise. “Adding some movement into your schedule can release tension, get your brain moving and help you study more effectively,” says Rowland.
Go for a walk, jog, stretch, call a friend, or just take a few laps around the library.
Emily Tedesco, a Weight Watchers member and student at Binghamton University, loves to refocus her mind by meditating. “I feel like whatever I just did, no matter how stressful it was, it’s out of my head and I can start something new.”
3. Eat healthy meals and snacks regularly
“Food translates into energy for your body,” says Jennifer Kennymore, MPH, a health promotions specialist at GatorWell Health Promotion Services, at the University of Florida, a department that educates students about college-related health and wellness topics.
It’s helpful to refuel by eating a healthy meal or snack, like a piece of fruit or trail mix, every three to five hours to keep your energy up. “If you’re hungry or thinking about when you’ll get to eat next, it’s going to impact your focus and your studying,” she says.
Emily likes to prepackage snacks before she heads to the library, so she stays in control of what she’s eating. “I always have a hard time focusing if I’m hungry. So I take a study break to snack and then go back,” says Emily. Her go-to library snacks are a banana with peanut butter, carrots, and popcorn, she says.
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4. Maintain a solid sleep schedule
Pulling an all-nighter is not the answer. Drastically changing your sleep schedule or not sleeping at all decreases your immune system, ability to focus, and productivity.
“If you don’t keep that normal routine, it becomes a stress to your body, which is going to compound with any sort of cognitive stress that comes with taking that final,” says Rowland.
Sleep helps to consolidate memory and learning. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule positively impacts your overall quality of sleep, which allows you to stay on top of your game all week long.
“Quantity and quality of sleep matter,” says Kennymore. “Aim for seven to nine hours each night, set a relaxing bedtime routine, and determine what you need in your sleep environment to get a good night’s rest.”
MUST READ: The Health Benefits of Sleep
5. Set achievable goals
“Managing stress has to do with feeling in control,” says Rowland. “If you feel in control, things don’t seem as stressful. And being in control comes with being confident. And being confident about your course material comes with actually spending the time mastering it at a level you are comfortable with.”
One way that you’ll feel accountable, accomplished, and in control of the course material is to create daily goals that are challenging, but attainable with determination and effort.
Organization is key for this. Create an agenda for the assignments and textbook reading you need to tackle each day. You’ll feel good about accomplishing goals you’ve set for yourself. Plus, crossing off tasks on that to-do list will boost your motivation to keep working toward that A grade.
6. Have reasonable expectations
Feeling good about what you’re doing is vital to combating study stress. Being realistic will make studying seem less overwhelming and less stressful.
“You have to do several things at once. You’ve got chemistry, and math, and French, and the fact is you can’t always do all of those things as well as you’d like to in the time available,” says Rowland. “You have to find a balance and say, “this is the best I can do given what I’ve got, and I feel good about it.”
Just take a breather, and remember that you’ve got this.