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Penn Admissions Blog

Tips for Navigating Finals Season
Nina | December 7, 2017

Ah, finals season. The least wonderful time of the year. Left and right young adults can be seen not taking care of themselves, chugging coffee, and deciding that now is the time to start binge watching Stranger Things (ok, even I’m guilty of this). Even as a senior, I still find myself shocked and surprised at the amount of work that needs to be done the last few weeks of the semester.

There’s no way to perfect the art of completing final exams and projects, but over the years I’ve incorporated a few things into my finals season schedule that have made things a bit easier for me.


  1. Start by Making a List. Around this time in the semester, I can sometimes feel so overwhelmed with the amount of tasks I need to do. It can feel like everything is spinning around in my mind, and it’s hard to pinpoint where I should even begin. When I start to feel this way, I make a list of things I need to do, and try to rank them in order of importance, or how soon they are due, or how difficult they are going to be to complete.

  2. Try to Do the Most Difficult Work First. This sort of segways out of the list making bit. I really struggle with this, but it always pays off to get the hardest things out of the way – or at least start working on them early. If you have a ten page paper to do, look up all of your sources after class one day so that later you won’t have to worry about it. Make some flashcards for your hardest while your laundry is drying. You don’t have to complete everything in one sitting.

  3. Cycle Your Studying. When we do one thing for too long, it can start to seem less important, or more confusing, or a lot more unappealing. Sometimes when I’m getting ready for finals, I’ll set a timer for a certain amount of time – let’s say, 30-40 minutes – and after that time is up, I switch what I’m studying. For example, I’ll review powerpoints for an exam for the first 40 minutes, then after that switch to looking for sources for a paper. It sort of tricks my brain into being more alert, because the kind of work I’m doing and the subject matter is completely different. After about an hour and a half of this, I usually…

  4. Take a Break!! Your body isn’t made to work for twelve hours straight without stopping – regardless of what the 4 cups of coffee you’ve had today tell you. Do something relaxing for your break that doesn’t require you to think so much. Watch a 30 minute episode of your favorite TV show. Take a walk around the block to grab some food. Talk on the phone with one of your friends. One important thing to remember is to limit the break. Depending on how much work you need to get done, a 5 hour break may seem very appealing (I’ve absolutely done this before), but at some point, you’ll realize you’re just procrastinating instead of recharging.

  5. Don’t Neglect Self Care. Although things can get really stressful, and exams/papers/projects can seem like the only thing in the world that matters, I promise you they don’t matter as much as your health and wellbeing. If things get to be too much and your brain needs to stop for the rest of the night, let it. Take a warm shower and go to bed early. You will lose focus and won’t be able to memorize as efficiently if you’re running on 3 hours of sleep a night – try your best to get in as much as you can, even though it’s really hard sometimes. Make sure you keep eating throughout the day – your body needs fuel to keep going. If you are really struggling – mentally, physically, emotionally – and you feel you really cannot finish the work, email your professor and/or advisor. I’ve absolutely been in a place before where my mental health was not so great, and by communicating this with my professors, I was able to get extensions on all of my final papers. I felt a huge wave of relief knowing that I would be able to finish everything and also take care of myself in the way I needed to.


Everyone handles this time of the semester differently, and you’ll find your ways of dealing with the stress that will inevitably come. What’s important is that you take a deep breath, try to stay focused, and listen to your body. Good luck with finals!

About the author

I'm majoring in Nursing and minoring in Creative Writing. Although I grew up on a farm in South Jersey, my heart lies in the city. As for my campus involvement, I'm a dancer in Penn Masti, a radio DJ at WQHS Radio, and co-chair of Penn SNUGS (Penn Student Nurses Understanding Gender and Sexuality). I'm constantly caught in a daydream, have a passion for helping others, and plan on building myself an extraordinary life. Join me on my journey!

All photos are mine unless otherwise noted.


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