Students studying and reading in the O'Shaughnessy-Frey Library second floor great room.

Advice from Alumni: How to Ace Finals

Finals are finally here! Over 50 St. Thomas alumni on St. Thomas Connect offered to share words of wisdom to help you succeed during this stressful season. This real-world advice from Tommies is summed up in these seven top tips:

1. Make a game plan

  • “Make a schedule with actual times (i.e. 35 minutes to study Philosophy from 11:00-11:35 AM) and stick to it. Make sure to include enough sleep in your schedule. And save the partying for AFTER your last final.”
  • “Tackle your to-do list one thing at a time. it’s too overwhelming if you look at the whole list. Just check things off one at a time.”
  • “Get a game plan set up.  Plan ahead and organize your time so there won’t be a rush to jam information in your head.”
  • “Take it one day at a time. Create checklists and realistic goals so that you can more easily see visible progress as you work to prepare and can go into the exams knowing you did your best.”

2. Find your focus

  • “Study in a place without distraction. I used to find a desk or cubby in one of the tiers of the Library where no one could find me. Study for about 2-3 hours the night before the test. Get a good night’s sleep and do a 15-minute refresher the morning before the test. It worked for me.” 
  • “Studying in a location other than your dorm or house and with people around you who are also studying helps with staying motivated & focused.”
  • “Find a quiet study spot that is hidden somewhere, not so surrounded by other desks (the library has a bunch of these spots), and get to them early, before all the other students snatch them up. Take snacks with you, so you don’t need to leave so often to get things throughout your study session.” 
  • “I loved the basement of the library because no one knew it existed and it doesn’t have cell service. No random calls from friends!”

3. Study strategically

  • “Consult with the Center for Student Achievement and the Student Tutoring Center with any questions or concerns.”
  • “Write stuff down. We are so used to screens that when we disrupt the norm and put things pen to paper, those things stick out in our brains more.”
  • “Having taught political science for 36 years, I would tell students in lower-level classes not to rush.  If you have multiple choice, short answer, fill-in, and essay elements, pick your essays first and then go back to the earlier parts and mark things that could help on essays.  That includes WRONG answers on multiple choice items.”
  • “Focus on the information that was important to the professor during lectures.”
  • “Set up a meeting with each professor! I wish I would’ve.”
  • “Review the final directions with peers. Many of the final questions are broad and can be threatening.”
  • “Depending on the subject, I would review formulas and check notes from classes; and review any conclusions for any long-term assignments like research papers. I would work with other students taking the class to study with.”
  • “Get some good focus music. Classical music worked best for me.”
  • “DO NOT MULTI-TASK!  Stay focused!  You can do this!”

4. Take breaks

  • “Take breaks when your brain tells you it’s time, as retention is minimal when you’re exhausted or burned out.”
  • “If something is particularly difficult, take some time to get away and do something else. That way, you can subconsciously process the problem and come up with a solution later.”
  • “Manage your time by breaking study sessions into timed blocks – and give yourself time for a break between your sessions to stretch your legs and get fresh air!”
  • “Try not to study more than one subject per day to maintain a good focus. If that’s not possible, make sure to take ‘brain breaks’ of more than an hour or so to switch between subjects. This is particularly important when the subjects are using different parts of the brain – ‘left brain vs right brain’.” 
  • “Move spots in the library, grab a snack. Do little things to break up your study sessions a bit so you can stay focused.”

5. Don’t cram

  • “Don’t procrastinate!”
  • “Block focused time into your calendar 2-3 weeks ahead of finals for study and prep with breaks included.” 
  • “Study the most difficult content first while your brain is fresh – if you tend to avoid a certain subject, start there!”
  • “Cramming is not a good policy. Be disciplined. Seek assistance when needed and where needed. Focus on those subjects that are most relevant to your education and your future career.”
  • “Be prepared, over prepared. Anything worth doing, is worth over doing.  It is always worth it and leaves you with confidence even in the unknown or unexpected.”

6. Practice Self Care

  • “Sleep is more critical than pulling an all-nighter!”
  • “Put your phone, turned off, in another room while you study.”
  • “Academics are important, and of course you want to do well, but remember to keep things in perspective.  Your physical and mental health contribute to your success.  Take a break from social networking and call a family member or friend and go outside for a walk.  The fresh air, exercise, and conversation will cleanse your mind and prepare you to renew your studies.”
  • “As with everything in life, balance your education and future career against your health and wellbeing.”
  • “Carve out at least 15 minutes per day to bundle up warm and go for a walk outside to clear your head and invigorate your body!”
  • “Go enjoy pizza at The Italian Pie Shoppe on Grand. 1670 Grand Ave, St Paul, MN 55105”
  • “Take care of yourself during finals. This means eating well and staying hydrated, taking breaks to exercise and meditate. No pulling all nighters.”
  • “Take a break! Go outside! Do something fun! You’ll study more efficiently afterward 😊 Do a little each day, don’t cram it all to the end!”

7. Celebrate….after finals

  • “Try not to get distracted. The parties and fun will be that much better after your exams. Concentrate and put all your efforts into exam preparation.”
  • “Finish well! Put in work you’ll be proud of, it’s worth it. Study alone and teach yourself the content. You’re more than capable of great work.”
  • “Find ways to celebrate as you cross each thing off your list!” 
  • “I’m a ‘finisher’ so I get a boost of endorphins when I ‘finish’ something. University courses are a learning journey with a beginning and an end. Embrace the journey and make a plan to celebrate when you cross the finish line for every course.”

Other Words of Wisdom

  • “My mom always says, “How do you eat an elephant?… one bit at a time.’ So, take a breath and take it one thing at a time.”
  • “Finals are a necessary evil.  Understand if you are prepared you should be fine.  The best thing to do during finals is to have a good attitude, get enough rest, and you’ll perform just fine.”
  • “Do not get too stressed. If you did the work during the semester, you should do great during your finals. 
  • “‘The hassle is worth the tassel’ – cheesy but true! ”  
By Marit Aaseng
Marit Aaseng Assistant Director, Career Readiness