A wise Yik Yak'er once quipped that hell isn't a place, it's those three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. While theologically questionable, there's no doubt that this sentiment is relatable. It is during this part of the semester that a semester's worth of procrastination and lecture-skipping start to close in on us like the walls of an ancient tomb in literally all of the action movies from the 00's. However, these three weeks can actually be used as the springboard for a less-unpleasant-than-usual finals experience, even for those who are hopelessly behind on coursework and literally just want to sleep for 93 years. Don't believe me? Here's how!
1. Calculate your grades.Giphy
I too certainly feel at times like how I'm doing in school is none of my business, but that is NOT a healthy way to be a student. The earlier you find out what exactly you're dealing with, the better. You know how to algebra: get the course percentages from the syllabus, multiply the weights of lab, homework, attendance, the project, and the exams with your scores, multiply the final weight by X, and set their sum equal to the grade you're aiming for, be it 90, 80, or 70 (no judgment, most of us have been there.) The number you get for X is what you need on the final. Do it. For all your classes. Just get it over with.
Sometimes it's painful, but you might be pleasantly surprised. For example, last semester I met with a professor whose class was killing me to talk about Q-dropping. He calculated my grade and said casually, "I don't know why you'd Q-drop. You only need a 73 on the final to make a B." I had thought I was making a nice solid D because I can be pessimistic and tend to assume that my life is over without having all the facts.
2. Go see those professors.Giphy
Whether you're doing well in the class or not, visiting the professors is always a good idea. If you are not doing well, professors will be a lot more sympathetic to your plight now than during finals and are a lot more likely to help you out with extra credit assignments or accepting assignments you didn't do for partial credit. Whatever you need, the worst they can say is no, but the earlier you go to them, the less likely I find they are to say no.
If you are doing well, it's still a good idea to see them because sometimes you can get insider information about the final. I usually go to my professors around this time and say, "Hi, I need this grade to get this letter in the class, and I'm so overwhelmed by the amount of information. Can you help me with my study schedule between now and the final?" They really like to see a student trying and taking initiative early, and sometimes they do hint and allude to what I should study to do well on the final. Even if they don't tell me anything new about what'll be on the final, they've never not been at least a little bit helpful with this question.
3. Plan your work...Giphy
It's time to wipe the dust off that planner, the one you bought back in August when you were full of high hopes and lofty plans to be the perfect student. For each day between now and your last final, decide what you are going to do each day to prepare for each final. A little bit every day is better than cramming the day before. Weight how much you do according to how soon the class ends. For example, if you have one class that ends with a non-cumulative exam during the last week of class and then another class that has a final on the last day of finals, do more for the first class now because you can focus on the second class after the first class ends (although at least look over some notes every day for the second class to help the material sink into your exhausted student brain.)
4. ...and work your plan.Giphy
The most important part of making sure this whole situation works is that you actually do the work you planned out. You can Netflix all you want over Christmas break with the satisfaction of good grades and with no deadlines hanging over your head. Right now is crunch time. There is no substitute for regular, persistent industry, and it is not too late.
5. If you need tutoring, get it now.Giphy
There's no shame in tutoring, and even if there was, it wouldn't be as much shame as there is in failing your classes. I have lost count of the number of classes I've been tutored in. For me, it really helps me understand the material, because all too often in lecture my last three brain cells decide to take a break and by the time they snap out of it, I've managed to miss the foundational concept upon which all the material for the rest of the semester rests and without which absolutely nothing makes sense. Happens to the best of us, but tutoring can help fill in those gaps.
6. When you study, study for understanding.Giphy
The difference between successful students and less successful students is understanding. Memorization worked in high school, but that ship has sailed. College educated people are expected to know not only how things work, but why they work that way. The way I make sure I understand concepts is this: when I write notes in my notebook while studying my textbook, PowerPoints, or lecture notes, I make sure I know why each fact is true. I will be the first one to tell you that this is incredibly time-consuming, but it helps me do well on exams. When you don't know why a fact is true, just Google it. Google is a student's best friend because it explains things to you like you're 5, which, counterintuitively, can help you understand material like a Ph.D.
Many professors are really, really bad at explaining why because they're so smart and this material is so second-nature to them that they subconsciously assume that the why is obvious and forget to dumb it down for people who, say, haven't been studying their field for the last 120 years like they have. Don't fall victim to bad teaching from brilliant people, which may be a substantive percentage of your lecture experience in college.
7. Eliminate distractions.Giphy
Now is a better time to identify and limit your distractions than the day before the final on which you need a 156% to graduate. Doing it now rather than later helps you get into the swing of things without your usual vices. Also, some distractions are distracting because we use them as coping mechanisms, so eliminating them may cause stress. This gives you a chance to get acclimated to healthier forms of stress management so we aren't adapting to a whole new lifestyle during finals week.
Some potential distractions to think about: social media, Netflix, video games, computer games, reading, writing, etc.
8. Start positive stress management now.Giphy
Going off the last point, we don't want to be trying to get used to 23 new healthful habits during finals. No one needs that kind of stress, but all of us do need ways to manage our stress. Two years ago, I came up with 8 different ideas for managing stress, just to give you some ideas.
9. Drink water.Giphy
And no, the water in your coffee doesn't count. My goal personally is 2 cups of water for every cup of coffee. Some days, that goes better than others.
10. Eat some veggies every once in a while.Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash
The only thing worse than having to take finals is having to take them while sick.
11. Get some sleep.Giphy
Trust me, as someone who's tried it both ways, it is so much better to sleep 8 hours per night than 2 hours one night, 0 hours the next, and 23 hours the one after that. You will be so much more productive if you aren't a sleep-deprived zombie and you really will make fewer careless mistakes on your finals if you are well rested.
Okay, that's enough Odyssey for today! Go ace those finals!