What to Do if You're Behind Studying for Finals

test prep

Finals week may be an inevitable part of the semester, but it still routinely causes stress, anxiety and sleepless nights. Read on for some tips that can help you improve your mental and physical game and maximize what's left of your study time before finals.

Maximizing Time

If you're behind in your studying, whether due to poor time management or forces beyond your control, there are several mental and physical strategies that can help you maximize your study time before the start of final exams.

Mental Strategies

If you're starting to panic, you might be inclined to just open your textbooks and start reading. However, a strategic study plan can help you make the most of your time and brainpower.


Start by looking at the finals week calendar. Go through your syllabi and write the names and times of your exams on the calendar. This will allow you to see the order and progression of finals week.

Once you know the date of the exams, look at the time between today and the next exam, and think about how you want to spend your study time. If there's considerable time before or between exams, you might be able to study for one at a time. If they're very close together, or if there's little time left before they begin, you'll need to allocate time each day to every course, or assign certain days to particular courses and figure out your exam priorities.

Calendar showing that studying time is disappearing before finals begin


Prioritizing your study time for finals can happen in several ways:

  • By percentage of final grade: If there's a course where the final exam comprises a significant percentage of the final grade, or a few where it counts less toward the final grade, it probably makes sense to study more for the test that will have the most impact.
  • By level of difficulty: If one of your courses has been especially challenging, it might make sense to study more for that final exam, not only because your grade is most likely not the strongest but also because the course is one where you've had the most trouble grasping the concepts.
  • By topic: Once you've narrowed down which finals to prioritize, be sure to prioritize studying the concepts that will certainly appear on the exam. While this might seem obvious, sometimes studying in panic mode results in studying every single concept, rather than knowing and understanding the ideas that are certain to be covered on the exam.

Now that you've prioritized your finals, return to the calendar we mentioned earlier and schedule your study time, making sure that you've allocated more study time to the finals with the highest priority.


Now that you're ready to start studying, prepare your study materials. The University of Wisconsin suggests the use of flashcards, study guides and outlines, and notes that some courses are better paired with certain resources than others. For example, art history and foreign language naturally lend themselves to flashcards. Also consider color-coding information and re-organizing your class notes.

If you have enough time, consider organizing a study group so that you can go over the material with your fellow students. This approach works especially well because teaching an idea to someone else can be the best way to learn it yourself.

Once you've started studying for the final, take time to go through a mock exam. St. Lawrence University suggests reviewing the textbook for sample questions and completing them several days before the exam. This will give you time to study up on those areas where you've answered the questions incorrectly. You can also quiz yourself or a classmate, maybe in the study group.

Group of students studying for finals at library

Physical Strategies

Keeping your brain in peak condition requires taking good care of your physical health and studying in a way that allows your brain to absorb the maximum amount of information related to the finals.

Take Breaks

Your brain needs time to process everything that its trying to absorb. According to an article published by the State University of New York (SUNY), studying in increments, generally 20-50 minutes, and then taking a short break is better than trying to study for hours at a time.

Eat Well

Your body is a machine: what you put into it affects how it will perform. The SUNY article mentioned above refers to a scientific study about how nutrition affects attention and thinking speed. Poor diet can have a detrimental impact on performance. Eat well, choose healthy snacks, drink lots of water and try to get some exercise to relieve tension.

Student eating an apple while studying for finals

Get Some Sleep

You've probably heard that you shouldn't pull any all-nighters. Well, it's true. Pulling an all-nighter can undo much of your studying efforts and impact your focus during finals, not to mention the long-term effects of sleep deprivation. Get a good night's rest before the exam.

Need help mastering a certain subject before finals?'s student membership provides unlimited access to over 70,000 lessons!

By Michelle Garrigan-Durant
May 2018
test prep test readiness

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