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Here's How to Actually Ace Your Finals, According to a Professor

Ah, finals—a word college students know all too well. For some reason, colleges have come up this “brilliant idea” to force you to cram every bit of information you’ve ever learned into a series of tests and papers during one week of the year.

So when you have four exams and six papers due in one week, how do you deal? Outside of crawling under your covers and giving up, there are a few ways to ensure that you’re prepared to take on the chaos that’s sure to ensue and come out unscathed.

And in the unfortunate event that you do bomb the test, is there anything you can do to redeem yourself? We asked Mika Pryor, a professor at the University of Kentucky, for her advice on what to do when this time of the year rolls around.

Keep reading for her tips on how to survive.

 (Photo via @withlovethelms)

1—Preparing for finals Over the course of a semester, the amount of information given for you to retain can be overwhelming. If you’re a freshman, it can seem even more scary—especially when you’re asked to recall every bit of it for your first finals week. However, it’s important not to stress too much. “You made it to college and you wouldn’t be here if you couldn’t do the work,” says Pryor. “Just make sure you study during the semester and then again before the exams and do your best. Normally if you do the best you can you will do fine.”

Another aspect of exam preparation that’s important—but often overlooked—is mental and physical health. Obviously it’s tempting to pull a series of all-nighters before and during finals week, but that can end up being one of the worst things you could do for your grades. “Get plenty of rest before the exam so you have a clear head and you can retain information. If you wait until the night before and stay up all night you will not be able to think clearly and will not do as well on the exam,” says Pryor. We’ve all been there—those times when we’re sitting in class running on no sleep, and our minds go blank. When you’re being asked to recall a large amount of information in a short amount of time, the last thing you want is for your brain to be fuzzy.

(Photo via @sarahgargano29)

2—Studying for Finals So you’ve diligently studied your way through the semester, and you’ve finally made it to the finish line. How do you start studying for the big test? Pryor’s advice is to start in the classroom. “Always listen for the professor to repeat or really emphasize something during class,” she explains. “Instructors want you to do well on their exams and they want you to understand topics. If they are planning on testing you on something, they will usually try to really get the point across in class.”

Every student has their own study habits to fall back on, but there are a few reliable sources that apply across the board. Pryor’s suggestion is to study with a friend—this way, you can work on flash cards together, bounce ideas back and forth, and quiz each other on definitions and facts. If you know your tests will have big essays, this is also a great way to discuss the topics you know will be on the test and work out your ideas.

  (Photo via @maddyhaller)

3—Surviving Group Projects It’s inevitable that on top of all those tests, you will be forced into a group project that no one wants to do. You know it’s coming all semester, but that doesn’t make it any more bearable. We are all aware that putting so many different personalities together during the most stressful time of the year is a bad idea, but most of us have no idea how to get through it without losing our sanity. Pryor’s advice? “Try to be flexible and understand not everyone works the same way you do. Always try to have a good attitude and be prepared to pick up the slack if another group member starts to drop the ball.” It’s important to remember in group projects that this is a great way to learn how to work with others—something that you will always have to do in any future jobs. Use this opportunity to hone in on your leadership skills, and make yourself proficient in project management. “Don’t be afraid to take charge and make sure things happen,” Pryor says.

 (Photo via @elizabethmorales)

4—Recovering From a Failure  Many students will fail a test or class during college—it’s a difficult part of life, but one that should be learned from. While failure is not the end of the world, it is also something that should not be taken lightly. However, it is redeemable, and can even end up helping you in the long run. If you don’t pass a class, Pryor says to “remember there are always repeat options, and you will normally do better in the course the second time around.” It’s also an experience that you should think about in future classes. Pryor recommends keeping an eye on your grades throughout the semester, because professors are always willing to help students come up with a plan to bring up their grades. “If they are failing during the semester and they wait until the end there really isn’t much I can do to help them at that point,” she explains. If you find that you have this problem, be sure that you are learning from it now, and changing your habits in classes going forward—taking responsibility for your grades is the first step in taking responsibility for your future.

If you find that you’re still having an abnormal amount of trouble in the class, try to use this stressful period as a time for reflection. “If you can’t understand the topics and you hate going to class, consider other majors and take some intro classes in other fields,” Pryor says. Instead of spending your time complaining about how much you hate what you’re learning and that you can’t pass your classes, try to use your frustration to figure out if what you’re studying is actually right for you. Being stressed about finals could actually end up helping you find a better path in college—and ultimately your career.

What other tips do you have that have earned you that A? Let us know in the comments below!