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Posted at 01:00 AM ET, 12/16/2011

How students can survive finals — and the rest of the school year

This was written by Kayla Hedman, a sophomore at Champlain College in Vermont. This was published on the school’s website.

By Kayla Hedman

Over the course of finals week students usually have two goals: (1) Do well on exams and (2) keep stress to a minimum.

Students are usually seen double-fisting caffeinated beverages, munching on sugary snacks, shuffling around papers and books to find a place to lay their head, and it’s not uncommon to sleep as much in a week as one would in a single night.

Carol Moran-Brown, director of the Counseling Center at Champlain College, said: “Staying stress-free is important, but stress is not inherently bad for students. There is an ideal level of stress for each one of us, which that helps motivate us to do our best. When we are functioning at that ideal level, we are sufficiently pushed to do our best, yet not paralyzed by the results of excessive stress. The goal is to find the ideal stress level and then try to stay there.”

External stress emerges because studying should be one’s top priority and unfortunately, no young adult likes to admit that their social life has to be set aside for a bit, she said.

“In order to perform best on final exams, one must remember the basics: stay active, get plenty of rest, eat a good breakfast, all those healthy study-tips that students have been told since grade school. In addition to that, one must find time to escape studying and take time for themselves.”

From a student perspective, surviving the gauntlet of oral presentations, exams, essay writing, and projects, in the weeks ahead, here are some techniques Champlain College students suggest will successfully minimize stress and maximize efficiency.

Here are some time-tested tips for relieving stress at finals:

* Take advantage of on campus programming during and prior to finals week

Many colleges help their students to de-stress during finals week by offering school-sponsored events. Check into what your school offers; Champlain offers a Rave in the Library (Miller Information Commons), late-night snacks in the dining hall, coffee on campus, Student Government gives away free sweatpants, and you can even get a free massage in the IDX Student Life Center (make an appointment at the Hub)!

* Work out 

Short exercise breaks can help relieve stress, socialize, and burn off the extra sugary calories you may consume. Take a jog downtown, ride your bike to campus, do yoga, take a kickboxing class, play pick-up basketball, or go to the wellness center and get your fitness on. Exercise helps you focus, it gives you additional energy, and it releases endorphins to make you feel better. In order to make deadlines, stick to 15-30 minutes of exercise a day. If you must, bring a book to study while you’re on the exercise bike or treadmill.

If exercising is not your thing, progressive muscle relaxation is a technique many people find helpful. Systematically go through the major muscle groups of your body, tightening, holding and then relaxing each group. Start at the top of your body and move down (face; neck/upper back/shoulders; arms; abdominals; upper legs; lower legs; feet/toes).

* Eat Healthy

Often, students eat even more unhealthily during finals week than they do the rest of the semester. With a time crunch, they go for quick, tasty, on-the-go foods and mindlessly much away until they are left with an empty package. This is a big mistake. Junk food gives you instant energy or a sugar high, but it affects your concentration and memory and will end in a food coma or sugar crash. Eating healthy food will energize you and increase your concentration and retention. Fruits and vegetables are best; they have the required vitamins and nutrients to prevent sickness and give you energy. Simply eating a healthy diet is an easy way to help manage stress and get good grades during your finals.

* Stay Hydrated

Your brain works best when it’s hydrated. Dehydration causes fatigue and headaches, which will distract you from your work. Caffeine dehydrates you more, so for every coffee you have, have a glass of water. Your body and mind will thank you.

* Breathe

When you are in those moments when your stress level is climbing, take a deep breath for four counts, hold it for four counts, and exhale for four counts. Try this a few times. You may be shocked at how much better you feel.

* Treat yourself to lunch before your final

Get away from campus and get your mind off of studying if you have a spark of confidence. Check out Handy’s Diner, Zabby and Elf’s Stone Soup, Red Onion, Mirabelle’s or Penny Cluse for some brain food.

* Catch some ZZZ’s

 Everyone has different sleep habits, but it is never healthy to pull an all-nighter. Make sure to get the sleep your body needs. Sleep will improve the quality and retention of studying, even though you may have less study time. Less is more.

* Take Breaks 

Studying non-stop is actually not helpful. After a long period of studying, your concentration will be broken, and the material that you are trying to learn will not be retained well. Studies show in order to really grasp information, the brain needs time to absorb what it has learned. You should use short breaks to exercise, eat, rest, talk to friends, watch TV, go outside, or do some other activity that takes your mind off the study material. The most important thing is that you do something for yourself and reward yourself for getting some work done.

* Select a good study space

Do not just start studying anywhere. Find a quiet, orderly place. Unfortunately, your dorm room is probably a bad place to study. With all the familiar objects around and your roommates hanging out, it would be too easy to get distracted. Instead, try to visit the Miller Information Commons (the library), open all night during finals week, or go to Jazzman’s or the Fireside Lounge in IDX. A peaceful environment will be an immeasurable help to your concentration.

* P&P: Prioritize & Plan

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” If you start studying without a plan, you are likely to focus on the wrong material or get distracted. Plan how to allocate your time and what to study.

* Ask for Help 

 Many students are afraid to ask for help. If you do not understand what to do or study, ask someone. You could speak to your professor during office hours, or talk to your friends and classmates. You are all working together and in the same boat. The professor wants to see you succeed and so do your friends; they most likely will be glad to help.

* Talk to a counselor

The College Counseling Center provides confidential counseling services to all students free of charge; you don’t need an appointment and you don’t have to go regularly. If you find yourself needing help with managing your stress, consider talking with a counselor. They don’t bite!

* Call friends

Talking with a trusted friend or family member about how you are feeling helps because most of them have been there, done that or are in the same boat as you. Talking things out can have the immediate effect of reducing stress levels. Sharing with someone else helps us feel we aren’t alone which can be so helpful.

* Write research papers and make projects early

Most of the time, professors give plenty of advance notice before a final paper or project is due. Don’t procrastinate on these when you know you’ll need to study during finals week. For Champlain first-years, their Self Portraits are assigned in stages so it is ensured that they aren’t cramming for the paper last minute.

* Use Study Groups

 Learn the material by yourself, and review it by explaining the subject to the study group. With the right group of people, you can learn more about the topic then you could by yourself. Different perspectives and observations are good to be exposed to. Choose your study group wisely.

* Double-Check Your Exam Times 

When you are taking many exams in the same week, it is easy to confuse the times. Write the time on a sticky note and put it on your books, desk, or computer. Missing an exam is the easiest way to fail.

* What are you telling yourself?

Lots of stress is about our perceptions and the messages we are giving ourselves. If you are telling yourself that only an “A” will do, when you know there is no chance of such a high grade, you may be setting yourself up for excessive stress that gets in the way. Check out your perceptions and replace irrational expectations with a more rational one.

* Stop Wasting Time

College students always procrastinate by browsing on Facebook, Youtube, and other social media and pop culture websites. It’s bound to happen, but if you turn off your Internet connection when it’s not needed to study, you can avoid the distraction.

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