Finals and Freak-Out

They Don’t Have to Go Together

Dear Juli,

I am a college student and exams are coming up. I tend to get really stressed-out about this time and I don’t think I handle getting ready for the exams very well. Can you offer some ideas on how to get through them better? – Stressed Student

Dear Stressed Student,

As an Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Productivity Coach, I work with college students all the time on how to get through exams without pulling all-nighters and becoming overly anxious.

Juli Shulem
Click to enlarge photo

Juli Shulem

The main secret is to prepare early – not just the night or two before the test. You should be preparing your notes all semester or quarter long, not just at the last minute. Fortunately, at this point in the term for many students, there is still plenty of time to take care of this properly.

To begin with, be sure you are eating well and getting enough sleep. If you aren’t taking care of your body, your mind won’t work for you as well. You may end up with less sleep as exams near – try not to – but if you have been lacking sleep up until that point, your recall will be weakened.

Setting up your study schedule: Yes, you really need to do this. It’s not enough to simply say, “I’m going to study from 8 a.m.-midnight every day of finals week.” Block out the times you will study, and what specifically you will study, during those blocks of time. Typically, you will have more than one final, and perhaps even a paper or take-home final to schedule in there, so planning ahead is key. You will want to over-estimate the amount of time you think it might take you to read over or memorize material. Take time to put together a study guide for yourself. Making a system of your studying will make it flow and also help you to grasp key concepts more quickly.

Mix it up:You can’t expect to study non-stop. Breaks can actually help your mind work better and your brain retain better too. Especially if things just aren’t clicking for you and you find your mind spinning in circles, stop and do something else for a while. Take a walk, read a book, talk to a friend or something innocuous for an hour or so, and then come back to your studying again. Sometimes changing the subject you are working on is useful. Be sure to schedule time to workout – even just 20 minutes of exercise will facilitate information processing and memory functions, as per a study by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia, 2003.

The day before the exam, you should take time to relax a bit, and get a long night’s rest. Studying up till the very last minute generally doesn’t work out in your favor. It could even cause panic attacks, if you start to see something you don’t yet know. There is only so much you can cram into your brain last minute, so trust that if you put the time into studying up to this point, you have done well. Re-read your notes, flip through your flashcards, and go into your exam not only well read but well fed, well-rested, and with a clear mind and positive attitude.

Ask a question for the column and I will address it at the appropriate time. Email questions to Coach Juli, PCC at and put “question for column” in the subject line, and they will be answered right here – your name is not used.

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