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Alternative ways to cope with finals

Jake Schwebach
Jake Schwebach

If someone asked you to rattle off ways to charge through finals, the weeks before, coming out relatively unscathed, what might you list?

There’s the “how to prepare yourself for a standardized test” method. Get plenty of rest. Do all your studying 18 hours before. Then drink piña coladas on the sunny shores of the Caribbean while your personal assistant takes care of the rest.


There’s the more popular method of focus cocktails. Wash down your AD(H)D medication with inhuman amounts of caffeine. It’s kind of fun, I won’t lie. The euphoria of a satisfaction coma has a certain air of pride. It will also spike your test anxiety, throw your body out of rhythm, make you depressed and lethargic for days afterward and potentially send you to the hospital.

The difference between that higher letter grade comes down to 5 days. That’s 120 hours. The weeks before it are as sleepless and stressful. If you do the assignments you’re supposed to throughout the semester, you should be well prepared. But, even so, there’s a lot of give and take we have to negotiate during the semester. Midway through there’s an engineering test or a visual arts critique so you sacrifice some of your American literature reading to ace those.

I understand the administrative nightmare of re–systemizing what has been the national standard for, well, ever. But, why hasn’t administration taken a deeper look? Surely they know the physical and mental strife we put ourselves through the weeks leading up to the marathon 120 hours. We’re constantly being told that our safety is a priority. You don’t play an entire NBA season and have the playoffs in two weeks.

What if half of our classes started the first week back and half started the second week back? That way, finals would be two weeks. We’d have more than twice the amount of time to rest, eat, sleep, and do proper studying. Teachers would have more time to grade. It would be more objective.

I’m straying. Since we don’t have this kind of time, I’ll offer some realistic ways to cope.

Here’s something I’m all too good at. Falling asleep on the benches in Clark. Falling asleep on a chair in the library. Falling asleep on the second floor of the BSB. Falling asleep on the grass. Even for 15 minutes, it can make or break you. We’re so anxious on test days that, combined with lack of sleep, we forget that it’s okay to take a five minute break. Sounds simple now, but just wait.

If you’re relying solely on caffeine and pharmaceuticals, it will perpetuate itself until you are literally one of those wind up monkey toys. If you need to take every last minute to get something done, don’t get me wrong, take every last minute. But, do something to please your senses in the seconds between to relieve that stress locked in your stomach.

Carry a good smelling lotion in your backpack. I left lotion in my car cup holder. It literally is the best part of my morning. Take a good whiff 10 minutes before a test or when you’re on your last nerve studying. You’ll be so much more relaxed than if you swig that energy drink. Carry butterscotch candy. The taste will help you focus. Anything that appeals to your senses will ground you in the moment, relax, and help you focus. Caffeine counter–intuitively does the opposite.

During my high school exit exams (where my IB nerds at?), each teacher gave students one desk toy. Carrying something like this with you is a way to let you know that tests aren’t the end of the world. A good luck charm (doesn’t have to be a toy) can work, cognitive placebo-like wonders.


More than anything, finals week comes down to anxiety. Our bodies can’t regulate themselves because we simply don’t have enough time to eat and sleep like we should. Anyone who says otherwise is ignoring the vast majority of students.

Take time you drive and walk to listen to at least one upbeat song. Kanye West can be the ego boost you need. Just don’t go in thinking you’re God and start being a masochist. Carry health food bars. They’re expensive but they taste great and will nourish you instead of melting like a Hershey’s bar. Bananas increase serotonin – a neurotransmitter that helps cognitive functioning.

More than anything, use each other. Study groups. Study with friends. Study outside. Take care of each other. It’s something Tony Frank always says. This campus has a big heart for each other, starting with our president.

Jake Schwebach literally cannot wait for finals to be over. Feedback can be sent to

In Brief:

We all have our methods for finals prep, but they’re not usually all that healthy.

Do something to please your body, before it gives out on you.

There are ways to cope with finals that might not be intuitive, but work. Try them.

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