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Finals loom as the one ultimate obstacle to hurdle before a relaxing holiday break. You might already feel that you’ve been preparing for finals the whole semester or alternatively, maybe you feel that you haven’t prepared enough. But no matter how ready you feel, there are several tips on how to stay focused during finals season while remaining collected and enjoying the other fun parts of the holidays. Sound too good to be true? Well, keep reading and see if any of our hacks could transform your hectic finals routine.

How to Focus on Studying for Finals

Balance holiday obligations with studying time

The last thing any of us need is the pressure of buying gifts, finalizing travel plans, and baking cookies for a holiday party further stressing us out. Luckily, most finals weeks are early in December, so you’ll have plenty of time after finals are over to find gifts for your family and friends back home.

If you need to find a gift before departing for break, plan a study break to liven up the monotony of a studying marathon to go shopping. No one expects you to come up with the perfect holiday present, so don’t become stressed when perusing the aisles for potential gifts. Devote the immediate days before finals to focus on school obligations and keep in mind you’ll have time afterward to attend to other seasonal duties.

Beware of the “I’ll do it in the morning” temptation

The thought to put off a task until the next morning is a common and universal temptation that can result in disaster. You’re working on a project late and eventually your eyes can barely focus on the screen and stay open. You convince yourself that you will have plenty of time tomorrow morning to finish up loose ends. However, the “I’ll have time to do this in the morning” approach rarely ends in success.

Mornings can be hectic and trying to squeeze in last-minute writing before class often ends in sloppy and incomplete work being submitted. Waking up early is something we convince ourselves we can do, but hitting snooze for another hour is often irresistible. The only thing that should be reserved for morning is a quick glance at your notes before an exam to ensure certain material is fresh in your mind.

However, do not take this tip as a proponent for pulling all-nighters consistently. It has also been proven that studying until that late at night does not help retain more information. At a certain point, your brain cannot successfully remember any more material and when sleep-deprived, your long-term memory functions so poorly that no amount of coffee can counteract the effects.

Practice specificity in scheduling

A key to maintain focus and stay on schedule leading up to finals week is to budget certain blocks of time devoted to individual study time alone. While studying with friends is much more fun, the amount of progress plummets with social distractions.

Whether going over a semester’s worth of PowerPoints and notes or buckling down to write a final paper, quiet, solitary time spent doing these things is a necessity. However, scheduling a 5-hour block on a Sunday just for general ‘studying time’ is not specific enough.

Take a couple minutes to assess your overall finals workload: papers, exams, lingering assignments, etc. Then, see what obligation requires the most time and/or urgency and create a tentative itinerary for your studying blocks. Planning your studying time will help combat the aimlessness we often feel sitting in front of a computer not sure where to even start. By specifically knowing what will be worked on and when your focus and motivation will skyrocket and your studying time will be maximized to the fullest effectiveness.

You do not however, need to be a strict adherent to the timelines of your schedule (when the words are flowing for an essay, ride that wave for as long as you can!), having it planned out will assist tremendously in ensuring productivity.

Avoid the grade calculation pitfall

Depending on how your university calculates final grades, it is common to spend time calculating just how high of a mark you’ll need on the final exam to bump that B to an A or that A- to an A+.

While this process can be useful in some cases to help set a benchmark, try to not let it take too much time away from actually studying. Computing your target grade might seem like you’re being responsible and productive, but it truthfully takes away time from studying for the exam itself, which you will score higher on the more you focus on the material rather than the grade.

Also, try to not let your goal grade stress you out during the exam itself. Don’t let the mindset of only missing a certain number of questions distract you from staying focused and maintaining a clear mind.

Create an environment conducive to concentration

It can be advantageous to invest in some noise-canceling headphones if ambient noise easily derails your concentration. Technology ranks among the other peskiest distractions, so putting your cell phone on do not disturb is extremely beneficial. Having a separate window open on your laptop is also helpful when studying and can prevent mindless clicking on other opened tabs that will waste time.

Strategies for Staying Focused During Exams

Take time to relax beforehand

Before the exam, it can be helpful to employ relaxation techniques such as listening to classical music or taking a few moments to meditate. Reduce potential stress-inducing situations such as arriving late to an exam due to traffic or parking by leaving your place with plenty of time to spare. Arrive at the building where the exam would be an hour beforehand and find a spot in that building to look over notes one last time. Then, you can arrive at the exam room in plenty of time in order to get settled before it begins.

Block out distracting noise

If allowed by the professor, bringing earplugs can help prevent distraction from various sniffling and paper shuffling by classmates during the exam. Something as minute as an ill-timed coughing fit should not derail months of preparation and hard work.

Don’t think ahead

I have often let my mind wander halfway through an exam to thoughts of the next impending test or assignment. This is the ultimate interruption of staying focused in the moment and facing each final one by one. Try to not think of anything that will happen after the exam you’re currently working on in order to circumvent compounding future stress on the current stress you’re already facing.

Additionally, you can try to center your focus with actions such as chewing gum or deep breathing to help clear your mind and minimize disruptive thoughts during an exam.

All of the hype around the infamous finals week can often contribute to even more stress and worry. Remember that this one exam or paper is not going to dictate the remainder of your life. If a particular test is inducing an insurmountable amount of anxiety, reach out to the professor to express your concerns. Talking with a classmate can also help. Take advantage of any special services your college may provide that are designed to help you remain relaxed and grounded during finals week.

During finals week and the preceding days, it is also crucial to maintain a semblance of your former routine by making an effort to eat healthily, sleep for a decent amount of time every night, and take breaks to exercise or go outside (even though it may be freezing). Having tunnel vision for an exam while ignoring normalcy and happiness altogether can be especially harmful in the short and long run.

Therefore, schedule your specific study outline now, start preparing for the most time-consuming exams and papers, and take a deep breath while looking forward to a much-deserved holiday break that awaits you after conquering yet another finals week.

What to do after finals? Have some fun and plan an outdoor adventure trip, for example!

This article was written by BookScouter contributor Parker Stubhar.

Parker Strubhar is a recent graduate of the University of Oklahoma and currently resides and works in Washington D.C. He is also a freelance writer. Business inquiries can be directed to