Tips and tricks to overcome stress during finals

The third floor of Hunt Library provides a quiet study environment that works to some students’ advantage but proves to be too quiet for others.  (credit: Travis Wolfe | Photo Staff) The third floor of Hunt Library provides a quiet study environment that works to some students’ advantage but proves to be too quiet for others. (credit: Travis Wolfe | Photo Staff) While you might be pressed for time, grabbing a bite during study breaks is really important. Stop by Entropy+ if you are too busy to go too far. (credit: Travis Wolfe | Photo Staff) While you might be pressed for time, grabbing a bite during study breaks is really important. Stop by Entropy+ if you are too busy to go too far. (credit: Travis Wolfe | Photo Staff)

With the semester nearing its end and summer on the horizon, students at Carnegie Mellon are racked with anticipation for their up-and-coming summer vacations. However, before our focus can switch from electrical circuits to sunblock and boogie boarding, students have one last hurdle to overcome: Final exams.

While for some, final exams are a chance to change that less-than-satisfactory mid-semester grade, for many others, finals are a stress-inducing burden intended only to compromise the hard work done thus far in the semester. Whether you will be regarding these exams as your saving grace or your ultimate inconvenience, use this guide to make sure you pass your exams with flying colors and make your transition into summer a pleasant one.

Study strategies

For many, the hardest thing about studying for a major exam is getting started. Will you take the long route and begin studying weeks in advance, dedicating an hour a day to your progress, or will you take the procrastination route and cram all your studying into the 48 hours before the exam? Whatever your intentions, make sure that you clearly map out your expected study schedule on some form of a calendar. Having all of your study plans clearly laid out before you will ensure that you don’t miss anything, and it will also make it more convenient for you to plan study parties, schedule group meetings, or scribble down all possible review sessions.

Sometimes, however, the issue isn’t a lack of planning, but rather a matter of location. With so many dedicated students at Carnegie Mellon, it can often be difficult to find a study location that truly is your own.

Firstly, be sure to avoid certain places. While your bedroom may seem like the obvious first choice for study sessions, keep in mind that unless you’re occupying a single, your roommate or roommates may be thinking the same thing. Furthermore, your dorm room is chock full of study distractions — how many times have you intended to study or complete an assignment in your room and instead been distracted by your room’s organization, the attractive “quick” nap, or your various forms of electronic entertainment? All in all, dorm rooms are a place for sleeping and hanging out with friends, and it is always dangerous to mix these pleasures with work.

While the floor lounge may seem like an attractive study option — it’s conveniently located, all of your friends are there, and the large space is comforting and non-threatening — think again. Depending on how many people also consider the lounge the perfect study option, this room can tend to get a little noisy. Also, friends are unfortunately the worst of the study distractions; while you may think that grouping together is a beneficial way to work through your exam outlines, you will realize just how often a friendly pair can get sidetracked. Moreover, most lounges, depending on your dorm, do not have desks or tables, and this can often inconvenience certain studiers.

While Hunt Library would seem like the most obvious place for studying to be done, this too may be a common exam misconception. Hunt offers students a plethora of study environments depending on which floor one may choose to occupy. While the first floor may seem like an attractive option with its Maggie Murph Café convenience and selection of tables, it is also the loudest of the library floors. Students who choose to study on the first floor often work in groups and talk loudly among themselves. Also, with all the hustle and bustle of the only 24-hour eating location on campus, you can bet that the busy atmosphere is incredibly distracting for some.

The basement of Hunt can actually be a good study option, but be aware that the chances of your reserving one of the private study rooms on this floor are slim to none during the weeks before finals. The basement, unfortunately, offers no natural light. While one may not immediately assume this to be a big deal, some students often lose track of time in windowless locations. The sun acts as nature’s alarm clock, letting you know with its movements when you have, in fact, spent way too much time on Facebook.

The third floor of Hunt offers an entirely different study atmosphere and is almost entirely silent, save for a few snores from exhausted studiers. While crouching in a cubicle in this muted area may be your cup of tea, for many students the third floor is actually just plain eerie.

The fourth floor of Hunt is another group study floor that has cubicles as well as a few tables. While there really isn’t anything significantly negative to say about this floor, let it be known that the space is extremely limited — if you’re planning on making this your study location, you had better find the optimal time for occupying a table or cubicle on this floor.

Looking for some unconventional study area choices? If you happen to be a first-year, the RAs in your dorm can surely suggest some lesser-known areas for studying. The RAs in Morewood E Tower hung a list of their favorite study areas for their residents: The list included the Cathedral of Learning, The University of Pittsburgh’s Hillman Library, Starbucks, Kiva Han, and the Panther Hollow Inn.

Wherever your study location choice, make sure your space has the study necessities: a table, a chair, a hole puncher, a printer, a stapler, and access to food, drink, and the occasional nap. While the warm weather may convince you to throw down a towel or soft comforter and camp out on the Cut or in Schenley Park, beware as these areas tend to be extremely busy and distracting.
Make sure that you maintain a regulated sleep schedule while studying for exams. Whether you are a fan of the short bursts of studying followed by the refreshing two-hour nap, or the 12-hour split, make sure that your body is properly adjusted to your schedule. Also keep in mind that your sleep schedule will probably continue into your exam week, so make sure that your sleeping patterns are not inconvenient for your scheduled testing times.
Limit your amount of caffeine intake during the early stages of your studying. Too much caffeine can throw off your sleep schedule, induce headaches, and make you dependent. Instead, save the caffeine for when you really need it; that way you can be sure that your double-shot espresso will pull through for you during your last-minute 24-hour cram session.

Rewarding your hard work

While looking forward to activities scheduled after exams may seem like the perfect distraction, it can, in fact, be extremely beneficial. Feeling largely unmotivated to study for exams? Plan an after-finals barbeque or picnic in Schenley Park and invite all of your friends on Facebook. Looking forward to a group get-together in the warm weather can act as an incentive for you to get through your studying smoothly and efficiently, and to own your exams come finals week.

Motivation can also be found in the form of reward. If you are questioning your motivation to study efficiently and master a subject, make yourself a bargain. If upon taking your exam you feel as though you knew the material sufficiently well and studied the subject as well as you personally could, then reward yourself! Throw a huge end-of-the-year party at your apartment or a friend’s house, take your best friends out for dinner on the Strip, or treat yourself to a delicious Rita’s ice in Squirrel Hill. If none of these options seem appealing, then why not just veg out for three straight days? Catch up on sleep and your favorite television shows, and rejoice in your complete lack of drive to do anything.

While the impending exams may seem daunting, remember that your entire experience will be completely dependent on your level of preparation. How stressful your exams will be is up to you. Start brainstorming, outlining, and highlighting as soon as possible to ensure your own exam security. By putting these tips and tricks to use, you can ensure that your exam experience will be as painless as possible.