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It's that time again. The start of the school year brings excitement and anticipation--as well as anxiety, fear, and loathing.

Midterms and Finals: Making it Through Without Falling Apart

Reduce your stress and raise your grade

This post was written in the Fall of 2011 and is reposted before this next term starts so that students (and their parents) can maximize use of the tips I have offered here. These are tips I have developed for students over 15 years of being a college professor and the earlier in the term a student starts to apply them the better their grades and the less stress they have over the course of the year.

It's that time of year again for the high school or college student.... exams. The well-prepared student has already started organizing and researching their final paper. They have read their comments from earlier assignments and are working on applying it to their final paper/project. Some have started studying. Others gear up for the panic of sitting at their desk (or in their bed) the night before with sweat dripping down their backs in absolute panic that there is no possible way they can learn all they need to learn by tomorrow morning, nor is there anyway they could remember it all.

But it does not have to be that way. If it is the last minute, your ability to cope will improve by taking one, two, or a few, of the following few steps (not too many to learn or remember) to surviving the crazy midterm/final period. I am focusing more on your mental health in the crazy college culture of finals. And if you are a freshman, you have many quarters or semesters to practice these techniques.

1. Make a monthly assignment calendar on which you put all due dates. Place it on your refrigerator, your door or your mirror: some place where you will see it everyday. This prevents surprises.

2. Go see your professors for a check-in about how you are doing and what you can do better and on what areas you should focus.

3. Go to student support workshops re:stress, exams, studying strategies etc offered by your university campus.Your tuition pays for all these great resources on campus; don't waste those dollars.

4. Go to a library orientation. This will probably be one of the best spent 30-60 minutes of your entire college career. Understanding databases, references & citations, where to find what, and how to access library help, is essential to getting an A on that paper.

5. Form a study group. Accountability to others is a great motivator for us to do what we often do not like to do. You will learn from each other and you will put some structure into your study life while adding a little bit of social to the solitary study routine.

6. Set a study schedule.

Now that you know when things are due, when your study group(s) will meet, and what the professor wants you to do, and how you are going to maximize the library, it's time to set a specific time and place to do your studying. Sometimes you may want to be in the library and other times at home or in a coffee shop. Change up the routine to keep you focused but do what works for you. Tip: If you get your weekend studying out of the way on Saturday and Sunday morning then you are guilt-free to enjoy your weekend night.

7. Take care of yourself. All-nighters are a college staple; minimize them by taking the steps above. Below are some ways to make sure your body is ready for the studying and testing ahead.

  • Eat. Fresh fruits, vegetables and protein. Many people snack when they study so pop grapes or munch on carrots to stop that freshman 15 turning into a senior 30.
  • Sleep. Six to 8 hours of sleep maximizes memory function and brain function overall and keeps you alert in class. It may be best to skip that last hour of studying and go to bed so you can remember what you have already studied instead of forgetting everything.
  • No drugs. Caffeine is plenty. It's actually good for you. And drip coffee has the biggest hit. Do not mix with alcohol as that has proven to be a very toxic mix. Stay away from your friend's prescriptions because you have no idea what effect they may have on you. 
  • Exercise regularly - daily if possible; even if its a walk to run all your errands. Get your heart rate up and stress slowly melts away and sleep comes much easier at night.
  • Relax. However it is you do that: yoga, meditation etc. If your mind is clear you will find that there is more room for all the knowledge you're paying for

No more points for you to learn here. This professor is wishing you happy studying and great grades. Now I have to come up with tips on how professors can get through the grading without pulling their hair out.

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