Letter to the editor: Get ahead of the curve on finals

Finals studying

Karl Laves

Take this advice — just not literally! This is a somewhat humorous attempt at sharing helpful ideas for your upcoming finals week. Yes, finals are coming! Did I just ruin your Thanksgiving Break?

Give up now

Give up the idea that finals are horrible exams that must be tolerated. Some students actually find finals week to be exciting. Kind of like an athlete that looks forward to getting into the game, students can be excited about getting into an exam and showing off their skills.

Drink heavily

Drink a lot of water and juice to stay hydrated and to get your vitamins, antioxidants, etc. Watch out for too much caffeine. Too much caffeine interferes with memory, comprehension and sleep quality. It can also lead to irritability and lack of concentration.

Goof off

As much as you are studying, you also need to be playing. Recreation and exercise improve your capacity to concentrate, help manage tension and anxiety, are good outlets for social support, and improve your stress tolerance. It is okay to take some time each day to let off steam, work up a sweat.

Knock yourself out

Good sleep is vital to finals week. Start getting good sleep before finals week and keep it up during finals week. Pulling all nighters may seem like a normal thing to do, but most successful students in college figured out a long time ago that it is better to study ahead of time and get your sleep. Think of the long game. You want regular consistent sleep through the whole finals period… so make a schedule and keep to it.


Don’t wait until finals week to study, sneak in some study time now. Lay out all the material that will be on the test. Spend 15 minutes a day going back over it and reminding yourself what is was about. A little studying each day now will be a whole lot better than doing it all in the last week.

Throw away your highlighters

Highlighting your textbooks does nothing but make the pages look shiny. To learn something you have to use it; highlighting it yellow doesn’t count. Put a checkmark next to the important words, sentences, charts, etc. and then go back and quiz yourself. Don’t repeat it back to yourself… tell yourself a story about what you marked. Rote memory might have worked in high school… in college you have to know the stuff.

Get a big head

Now isn’t the time to doubt yourself. You made the cut when you were admitted. College can be challenging but thousands of people graduate every semester. Calm down, think about how far you have come so far… and imagine being one of the thousands to graduate. All you have to do is study, know the stuff and show off on the test. Imagine you are the instructor when you are taking the test and let your answers be like your lecture. Imagine you are explaining your answers to a class of students. Tell your story about the material.

A lot of people think Ritalin, Adderall and other stimulant medications are useful for big exams. They are not. They are good for keeping you awake, but they don’t “make” your brain learn. They do keep you awake so much and so well that you often have to crash when you stop using them. The crash messes up your sleep so much it is almost like you didn’t study.

People probably think the drugs help with learning because cramming for an exam with or without stimulants is better than not studying at all. You get some points if you cram, you get no points if you don’t study at all. But the best way to learn something is to take plenty of time and don’t be jacked up or stoned, at all.

Most stimulants make you feel “good” so you are going to assume you are studying well. Seriously, ask how many people that use Adderall to study are making A’s. And if you meet someone who uses Adderall constantly and makes A’s, ask if they made A’s before they ever used Adderall.

Stimulants won’t make a significant difference in test scores and honestly why bother spending all that tuition money if you are just going to cheat your way around your exams. You’re going to end up one of those people with a degree but no knowledge. There is a name for that. It is called unemployed.

Don’t think you work better under pressure

I have no doubt that extroverts probably do prefer to study in areas with more noise, more activity. They probably prefer to discuss and quiz one another instead of silently reading notes or chapters. That would make sense. But to say you work better under pressure is just another way of saying you would prefer to not study at all, so you are going to wait until you have to get started.

As we said before, if you wait until the last minute to study, you have wasted the best time to study. The “night before” isn’t when you learn material for the first time. You spend the night before reviewing, summarizing, rehearsing the material. Keep in mind it takes most of us several trials or rehearsals to learn something. The SQ3R method of studying is one of the best ways to study… because it is based on how people actually learn in life.

You do better under “excitement” and that is why it is important to find your personal style of studying. But you don’t do better under pressure. We are all really good at playing tricks on ourselves and then acting like we don’t know we are doing it to ourselves. Want to make better grades; start trusting yourself and stop lying to yourself.

Karl Laves is the associate director of the WKU Counseling Center. He holds a doctorate from the University of Missouri-Columbia.