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Finals Week: Ten tips to strategize, de-stress and succeed

Final exams are just around the corner! Finals week, especially for an international student, may be daunting and stressful at first glance. Unlike in many other countries. In US universities, you need to take a large amount of exams all in one week. Follow this guide to ensure your ultimate success:

1. Start early
You probably spend the majority of your time outside the classroom and in a library studying and reviewing what you learned in your lectures. You must manage this time wisely, particularly before finals week because you don’t want to be caught cramming the night before the exam. If you wait until the last minute to quickly study, you will not retain the information and will therefore be unprepared for the next day. Creating and following a study schedule will guarantee that you have time to thoroughly study all the content that will be on your test. Start a few weeks early and set aside time every day dedicated to studying for your exam. Studying a little every day is significantly more effective than studying all at once the day before.

2. Attend a study group or review session
Studying with other people has several benefits and proves to be superior to working alone. If your group meets regularly, you will be less likely to procrastinate or push off studying. You may also gain an improved understanding of the material: if you don’t understand a topic, someone else will and could explain it to you in a simplified way. Moreover, teaching someone else a topic that you understand to a greater degree could also sharpen your knowledge of the subject. Studying with others can give you a new perspective on the subject matter and will end the monotony of studying alone.

3. Find a quiet space
If studying with groups isn’t your style or if you need a break from your group, find a quiet place to sit, relax and review your information by yourself. Try not to study in your room, as it can be boring and distracting. University campuses are full of hushed libraries, peaceful parks and vacant classrooms. Pick a spot you like and make it yours.

4. Disconnect
Disconnecting during your study time is a great way to keep yourself focused and on track. Picking up your phone, checking out what’s new on Facebook or Instagram can distract you and steal your valuable study time. Many people choose to disable their social media accounts during finals week and enable them after their last exam to make sure that they are never distracted by them. Others simply turn off their phones when it’s time to study. Other constructive ways of unplugging are, ironically, apps! An app called Forest plants a seed that grows into a tree after a certain amount of time that you stay off other apps and kills the tree when you leave the app. You build a forest with all your trees, each tree representing the time that you focused, rather than being on your phone. Self-Control to Focus is another app that locks you out of certain distracting apps for a set time and restricts access once you’ve set it. Don’t let technology get in the way of what’s important!

5. Study for the exam format
Understanding the format of the exam is critical. If it’s multiple choice, you should study concepts, key points and word definitions. If you’ll be writing essays, you should be able to fully understand, explain and give examples on the topic.

6. Meet with your professor
Your professors want to help you succeed. You should approach them with prepared questions and the desire to receive constructive advice and information. Additionally, it will give you a chance to demonstrate your desire to learn more and prosper in their class.

7. Make your own study guide
Studying from your professor’s study guide is a great start but creating your own study guide will help you review the information and allow you to practice putting everything in your own words which will give you a stronger familiarity with the subject matter. You could make a study guide hand written, typed on a document or with flashcards. Apps such as Quizlet or Tinycards are also helpful--they use virtual flashcards and games to aid you in retaining information.

8. Take a break
Taking a break can be as advantageous as studying. Giving your brain time to rest will allow you to study more and study stronger later on. Go outside for fresh air, take a nap, go for a run, watch that new episode you’ve been dying to watch or even attend a university event! Even if you have a little amount of time, take it and do something you love so that you can be more focused when you’re working hard.

9. Fuel your brain
Having the right food in your system while studying is an important step in proper brain function. Try eating brain foods to naturally boost your brain power: fruit, salmon, eggs, walnuts, kale, broccoli, almonds, spinach and even a bit of dark chocolate. A balanced diet, rich with nutrients and antioxidants, is a balanced brain.

10. Get rest
Being well rested throughout your studies is essential to your success--especially the night before your exam. Make sure you get at least 7 hours of sleep a night leading up to the big day. Research shows that sleeping between your study and the exam can increase your retention of the material by 25%!

Once your exams are over--celebrate! Applaud all of your hard work and dedication to your studies and your eventual success.

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  6. These are some great tips. Actually, I give these tips to my clients all the time. As a student counselor, I can vouch for each one of them – especially the breaks. Whenever a student comes to me and asks how to become a successful PhD student, I always emphasize the importance of breaks.

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