Helping College Students Finish Strong—Getting Ready for Final Projects and Exams

Spring break is over and reality is starting to set in. There seem to be too many projects and too much prep and not near enough time to get it all done. It’s not uncommon for college students to start to feel overwhelmed and not know where to begin. Here are a few tips to getting the job done and finishing the year strong:

1.    Prioritize
Write down all the projects and tests and their due dates in order of which comes first. This is the beginning of your priority list. Are there things you need to wait on (that article you need for your paper that’s from an obscure journal overseas that you have to order through inter-library loan) or do in advance to complete the project? If so, move that item up on your priority list.

2.    Break it down
For each project/test, write down what you need to do and a date by which you want it done. Then, figure out what you can do each day to move toward your goal. By breaking down the overall project into daily tasks, you’ll reach your goal before you know it. Don’t do marathon studying. Study for 45- 50 minutes and then take a break. Come back after break and study again for another hour and then take another break.

3.    Ask for help now
If you’re having trouble understanding the assignment or material, now is the time to ask. Professors are much more likely to help you when you don’t wait until the day before the paper is due or the day before the exam. Ask to talk with them before or after class or to set up a meeting during their office hours.

4.    Stick to your schedule
Hopefully, by now you have established a regular time of day when you do your homework, study, and read. If not, start today and then stick to it. It may mean that you have to forfeit hanging out in the dorm or going into the city this weekend, but your GPA and stress levels will thank you for it later. Pick a regular time and a regular place and then be sure you follow-through.

5.    Get plenty of rest, exercise, and eat well
Your brain needs sleep. At your age (18-22) you need between 8-10 hours per night. All-nighters do not actually help you retain what you’ve studied. During sleep, our brain takes what is floating around in its short-term memory and codes it into long-term memory. Try and take care of yourself by burning off the stress and extra energy in the gym. Make sure you’re eating more than the midnight pizza and breakfast Pop-Tarts. Try to eat your proteins, fruits, and veggies in order to give your brain the fuel it needs.

When studying for exams, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1.    Find a quiet, well-lit study area
You’ll need a place to study that is free from distractions. If you’ve tried studying on your bed and always seem to fall asleep before you’re finished, you might consider moving to a desk. If you study in your dorm room/apartment and you end up watching TV or checking your friends’ Facebook statuses, you might want to move to a study desk in the library away from the computers. Just remember to take all your materials if you move to a new location.

2.    Read the material
Professors who assign reading, actually expect you to buy the book and read it. Try to keep up on your reading throughout the semester and take good notes in class about the materials discussed. Highlight things you think might be covered on the exam and review your notes after each class.

3.    Study the most boring stuff first
If you save the most boring stuff for last, you’ll be tired and have difficulty focusing. Pick out the material that you find the most difficult and give it your first and best attention. Answer the questions at the end of the chapter. Review your previous exams in the class. Go over a study sheet (if given). Take a practice test if available.

4.    Break it down (again)
Study in chunks. Study/read for about 45-50 minutes and then take a 10 minute break. Then come back and do that again. The breaks will help your brain take a breather and help you regain your focus.

You’ve invested quite a bit of time, money, and effort to get to the end of your college academic year. Be diligent and finish strong! You’ll be glad you did!