Final Exams Looming? Here’s Lila’s Personal Anxiety-Reliever

Posted on April 6, 2015


Spring Break and Easter mean that finals can’t be far behind. Believe it or not, Lila was once a college student and is well acquainted with the stress that comes with knowing that in just a few weeks, you will sit down to a final exam that may well make all the difference between passing and failing your course. Thus we find students milling around in evening study groups, or staying up all night to “cram” right before the exam. I don’t know about you, but for Lila, none of that stuff worked. Study groups waste too much valuable time focusing on topics you don’t need to review, and too little time on the topics you do want to review; and the more people there are in a group, the worse it is. All “cramming” does is make you tired. If you really don’t know the material by the last night before the exam, it’s a little late to start trying to master it at that point.

So what does work?

Lila is a big believer in the power of sleep. Go over your material one last time, mentally running down the topics covered in class and in the readings, reassuring yourself that you remember this stuff (you did listen in class, take notes, and read the homework… didn’t you?). Then immediately go to bed and get a full night’s sleep.

Too stressed-out to sleep? Worried that you haven’t done enough, that you might fail, that you’re going to tube the course? Here’s Lila’s personal anxiety-reliever: a little math will work wonders. In the days leading into final exams, Lila would calculate the course value of each exam, my average for work already done in the course, then figure out how low I could go on the final exam and still at least pass the course. The number was invariably some ridiculously low figure like 12% or maybe 8%. Shoot, I should be able to get at least that much just by showing up and drooling on the test. After this calculation, my heart was at ease. Then I calculated the numbers I needed for a C, a B, or an A in each class. Granted, those numbers could be a little more intimidating, but I knew without a doubt that I would at least pass. Going into the exams with that relaxed feeling and a full night’s sleep behind me gave me the confidence I needed to fully focus on the material, rather than sitting there sweating and worrying through it all.

One more thought: it’s a little late for this academic year, but next year, consider taking handwritten notes in a notebook rather than recording lectures on audio devices or typing notes on a laptop. One thing I have found to be true is that your brain consolidates material better when the material is both an input – doing the reading and listening to the lecture – and an output: taking notes by hand. The “by hand” part is important! As neuroscientists are discovering, learning is made easier and more ideas are generated when handwriting is involved. Indeed, whether in a controlled experiment or in a real-world classroom, students are proven to learn better when they take notes by hand rather than on a keyboard.


Best wishes for a low-stress week of finals this year!