Study tips: Acing final exams and keeping stress levels low

Courtesy of Final exams are a source of stress for students everywhere, but staying calm can improve scores.
Courtesy of
Final exams are a source of stress for students everywhere, but staying calm can improve scores.


By Krystina Primack | Staff Writer

I know it might be hard to believe, since sometimes it feels like the semester just started yesterday, but make no mistake that final exams are upon us once again. With that in mind, I think we can all agree that this time of the semester can get very chaotic and can inspire a lot of stress. And so, in an effort to try to assist in handling that stress, here are some study tips, resources for wellness and bits of advice to make final exam time move a little more smoothly.

Let’s start with some study tips.

The first is simply spending time with the information. However, you need to avoid burn-out, as well, so doing it efficiently, effectively and responsibly is key. For example, studying for 15 minutes then stepping away for five minutes can help break up the stress and keep your energy up. Also, do not study for more than two hours at a time without taking an extended (30-minute to one-hour) break in between.

Another way to study effectively is by practicing probability and categorization. Multiple choice tests often have questions where at least two, if not all incorrect answers, can be removed from consideration immediately. If you do not know the answer, you can try to determine what the answer is not, thereby increasing the probability that you could find what the correct answer would be. Likewise, you can categorize information into areas or common topics and concentrate on one at a time. This will help you make stronger associations between pieces of information.

And, of course, something we’re all familiar with: flashcards. When studying information for memorization purposes, the key is to recall the information in a “like” manner, as you will need to on an exam. Use flashcards where one side has a question and the other side has the answer and related information. If you have been taking practice tests, try to write the question in a similar style. Pairing this with the categorization method is also very useful. Run through flashcards of one section once and then shuffle and repeat, then the next section twice, shuffling and repeating between the first and second review, and so on.

Now this one is my personal favorite: Review by hand-writing notes. Doing so helps with memorizing and internalizing information. It’s as simple as writing down every key concept and explanation, every key term and definition, etc., in a list, and then do it again a few times per day, trying to complete more of the notes from memory each time.

Finally, just do what works for you, and avoid things that don’t work to your benefit. If one of these strategies works the best, focus on that. If none work, but you have another method that does, be sure to implement that one, instead.

And the most important thing to remember is to keep calm. Don’t psych yourself out. Not everyone is a natural test taker, but stressing out during study sessions will make retaining information more difficult. Just immerse yourself in the process rather than the result.

While you’re studying, remember that Duquesne has resources available to students who might feel overwhelmed, such as the Counseling and Wellbeing Center located in 636 Fisher Hall.

Ashley James, the mental health case manager/intake coordinator of the center, notes that preparing for finals is a semester-long process wherein problems are best solved if identified and dealt with early. That preparedness, in turn, plays a crucial role in managing the anxiety that these exams cause.

But even so, stress can still occur even under the best circumstances, so to aid in combating this, the center provides services such as individual counseling by appointment, group therapy sessions, a mindfulness and meditation group, an interfaith meditation room and mindfulness exercises “to help you learn how to breathe and control your anxiety.”

I was also referred to the handout available at the center entitled “Handle Your Fear of Finals,” written by Marla Somova, the center’s former Associate Director. This handout guides readers in managing their stress by differentiating between realistic and unrealistic fears, determining exact fears, identifying what we tell ourselves that might be stressful, visualizing a positive outcome, and finally, being able to relax through mindfulness and meditation.

This handout can be obtained by request through the Counseling and Wellbeing Center, or via email at

So if finals week or any preparation for it gets to be too much, there are people on campus trained to support and assist students.

Managing stress can certainly take some of the pressure off final exams, and many students find that having a plan of study and an outlet for their anxiety works well.

For example, Max Belger, a junior integrated marketing and communications major, describes a method that assists him in organizing and de-stressing.

“I have so much stuff I know is due but never know where to start,” he said. “So for me, making check-lists and goal-lists helps get me through. When I see the actual amount of homework I have to do and I am able to quantify it, I find that I am much more relieved. Also, remembering that it will be over soon helps get me through those harder weeks.”

Similarly, Jamie Palmieri, a freshman physical therapy major, has found an effective stress-relieving method that works for her.

“Something that helps me get through finals week is going to the gym and running. It relieves a lot of my stress and makes me feel better.”

Most importantly, remember that you’re not alone, and don’t worry: We’ll have a well-earned break very soon. Until then, be safe and responsible as you prepare for and take your tests. And above all, remember that each final exam takes you one step closer to success in your future.