How to Dominate Finals: Tips From an Academic Coach


Finals week is upon us, friends. It’s time to employ that gritty student persona that you’ve been growing into and finish your semester strong. There are a few types of finals week students that I’ve noticed at NCU; do you know anyone who fits one of the following finals week types?


"The above-and-beyond, way-over-the-top Achiever"

This student doesn’t leave the library after Thanksgiving break. They effectively memorize and understand every single aspect of every single class despite holding a 98%-102% in every single one of those classes, while simultaneously producing enough stress for the entire University of Minnesota.

"The deer-in-headlights, too-overwhelmed-to-start Crammer"

This student leaves the conversation as soon as finals come up, skips review sessions for fear of realizing how behind they are, and just roams the halls in a wide-eyed, confused haze from Thanksgiving through finals week. This is also the student who will be in the Deli area from 10pm-4am every night of finals week cramming, as their paralyzing haze always seems to lift the night before the exam.

"The over-confident, unpleasantly-surprised Optimist"

This student seems to believe that no exam is a match for their superior intelligence and intuitive gifting. They have an inexplicable ability to combat the need to prepare by letting everyone else know they don’t need to prepare. They generally respond to distribution of an actual exam with blame-shifting comments like, “you didn’t tell us that would be on here, are you kidding me? *eye roll*,” or in rare cases, “I should have studied. *genuine sigh*”

"The over-it-attitude, I-just-don’t-care Senior"

This student, usually a Senior, just doesn’t care anymore. Their classroom engagement is apathetic at best and they bring a cynical perspective to all finals week conversations. The irony? This student will return for an added semester if their grades can’t survive this eye-roll academic attitude. Ouch.


"The Finals Week Master"

This student has truly mastered finals week - this is the one most of us strive to be like through finals. You can find this student in the library quiet room at reasonable times of the day, clearing schedules to create margin for finals preparation, organizing study groups that support other students, and actually studying. They begin preparation well before December 1 rolls around, arrive prepared for review sessions, keep an urgent but not-quite-stressed-out attitude, and reach their academic goals through final exams.

I have had the privilege of working alongside many “finals week masters” during my time at NCU. Here a few things I’ve learned from the great ones:

1. Actually study.

Schedule your study time. There will always be something that feels more important than studying, whether that’s finishing a paper, catching up on your Z’s, or finally tackling a week’s worth of dirty dishes. If you don’t schedule study time, then it won’t happen. Block study time out in your calendar, and then actually study.

Deal with anxiety first. Stress and test anxiety affects many students, especially near the end of a semester. If you are experiencing immense or even paralyzing anxiety as we approach finals week, seek some help in working through this tough issue. You may need to seek the help of a friend, mentor, counselor, or tutor/academic coach to develop strategies for managing anxiety before you can study. The Student Success Center can provide resources to address your anxiety, like academic coaching or counseling. You can reach out to the SSC through email, phone, or by visiting during office hours.


2. Study effectively.

Let’s be real for a second. You can “look over” your notes a million times and still perform poorly on an exam. Sometimes, we struggle to study well even if we do make time to study at all. Here are a few tips for studying effectively:

+ Process the information
This means that you first need to understand how you learn or process information. Unless you are a very visual learner, just “looking it over” won’t be enough. You may need to read it aloud to yourself, explain it to someone else, draw a diagram that helps you visualize the concept, or highlight your study materials in assorted colors. The Student Success Center has resources that can help you discover your learning style so that you are able to process the information you study.

+ Test yourself to test effectiveness
You can study a diagram for hours, but if you are not able to fill in a blank version of that diagram at the end of your study session, then you may not be ready for the exam. It is important to find a way to test the effectiveness of your study time. If you are preparing for an essay, write out a few practice questions. If you are preparing for a multiple-choice exam, flip through a few flashcards and mark those that you still can’t recall. There are many strategies you can employ here to make sure your study time is effective. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather waste time on Netflix than waste time studying ineffectively.


3. Study strategically.

While you can certainly strive to become an “above-and-beyond, way-over-the-top Achiever” as described above, most of us prefer to approach life with a less extreme attitude. We are looking for that sweet spot where the energy invested into an exam  is proportionate to the value that our exam grade will add to our lives. Here are a few tips for hitting that sweet spot by studying strategically:

Assess your grade standing. It is important to set reasonable academic goals based on your current grade standing as finals week approaches. Attempting to bring a class grade of D up to an A through your final will end in disappointment; however, attempting to maintain a B in one class and bring a D up to a C in another is more plausible. Be strategic about spending your limited study time; study more for the final that will bring up that D than for the one that will maintain your B. You probably know the content better in your classes with higher grades anyway. The specifics of a strategy like this can only be defined by you and your understanding of yourself as a student, so plan and allocate your resources accordingly.

Make sure you understand what’s coming. In most classes, you can tailor your study materials based on exam information given by your professor. If the professor gives you a study guide, study that! Even if the professor doesn’t gift you a comprehensive study guide, many classes offer a clear outline of the type of final exam to come. Make sure you are tailoring your study materials to each classes’ unique exam.


Tackle that comprehensive exam. The antithesis of the college student - that menacing, comprehensive, content-heavy, multiple choice and unknown essay exam that is not preceded by a study guide. Oh, how we long for projects and papers in place of final exams when these come around. It may be helpful to decide whether to tackle a test like this systematically or thematically. Should you study through all the PowerPoints/notes in a systematic order or study the major themes of the class? These strategies at least offer some direction as you tackle all that content.

To all my fellow students this upcoming finals week, good luck! I hope that you become one of the great ones this semester - a finals week master.


Well, hello there. I’m Lizzie! I am the Enactus Event Coordinator and a Junior in the Business Administration program here at North Central. I really love cycling, vegan-friendly restaurants, and coffee in a mug on Saturday morning. Don’t let the whole introvert thing fool you - my husband, Tyler, and I are super goofy and love laughing with friends.