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  • Rachel Schultz, B.S.

Coping with Final Exam Stress – ♫It’s the most stressful time of the year!♫

The end of the year is a very joyful time. It means having a break from work or school, gathering with family, and celebrating the holiday season. It will also mean the end of 2020 is coming soon, which if you’re like me, cannot come soon enough. If you’re a college student, however, the end of the year also means the end of the semester and taking final exams.

Final exams are an incredibly stressful time for students. In a 2016 survey, 31% of students said that finals week was the most stressful time of the semester. In a separate survey, 34% of students said that stress negatively impacted their academic performance. High stress doesn’t only occur during finals week, 30% of students said they were stressed the entire semester. If you are prone to perfectionistic tendencies, test anxiety, or become overwhelmed easily, it is more likely you fall within the 31%.

While college is bound to be stressful, increased stress and chronic stress can have negative short and long-term implications. Increased stress can cause irritability, fatigue, difficulty concentrating and disorganized thoughts. These symptoms will only make it more difficult to efficiently complete schoolwork. In the long-term, chronic stress can lead to an increased risk for anxiety, depression, heart disease, weight gain, and lowered immune system. In order to avoid these adverse effects, it is important to manage stress levels in a healthy way. Here are a few ways to make your finals week more manageable and less overwhelming.

1. Make a study schedule

Scheduling out your day can help combat the feeling of, “I have so much to do, I don’t know where to begin.” Creating a schedule can help to declare a sense of control and feel less overwhelmed. It will also help to avoid procrastination and studying the day before the exam. By scheduling study time, you can prioritize the more difficult classes (e.g., organic chemistry) and allot less time for those easy A’s (e.g., that weird 20th century history elective you added to your schedule last minute).

2. Avoid pulling all-nighters

“I actually function better on less sleep.” Sure… “I’m a night owl anyway.” Okay… “I’m just trying to cram as much information in my brain before the exam.” I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but pulling an all-nighter to study actually leads to adverse effects (e.g., poorer grades). When you sleep, your brain files away information you learned which make it easier to retrieve later. When you don’t sleep, your brain has difficulty retrieving the information from storage. It also causes decreases attention, working memory function, and decision-making. All of which will make taking the exam more difficult.

3. Get enough sleep

I cannot emphasize how important it is to get enough sleep. As my neuroscience professor once said (shoutout Dr. Ehren Newman), getting enough sleep is the best thing you can do for your mental health. Along with the negative effects it has on cognitive performance, sleep deprivation can make stress symptoms worse and even trigger symptoms of mental health disorders (e.g., anxiety, depression, etc.).

4. Give yourself some love

While it is important to achieve the level of academic success you strive for… repeat with me: It will be okay. You are doing the best you can. I promise you, as someone who thought every exam and class would make or break my academic career, it will turn out okay. Show yourself some love by relaxing and taking a break when you need it. Quality study time is important, but it is just as important to not overwork your brain.

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