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13 Life Hacks for Finals Week

Here, hints and hacks, tips and tech to help you approach cram-and-exams with clearer focus, better sleep, more confidence, and less hair-pulling panic.

Finals are fast approaching. While it can be tempting to turn every conversation into a complaint-fest, a negative outlook won’t have a positive effect on your test scores. Researchers at University of Toronto discovered that being in a good mood when studying can help your visual cortex pick up and retain more information. With that in mind, we offer these life hacks that might make your load a little lighter—and your perspective a bit brighter—during test time.

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In the weeks ahead: Prep for a marathon, not a sprint

Fast bursts of effort can lead to burnout. And prepping too late can be its own pitfall. Gear up now so you can go the distance with these long-term strategies.

1. Clear your finals-week calendar

If you can afford to, ask off from work, or at least cut your hours in half. Finals week is not the time to take extra shifts, adopt a dog, go on an overnight trip, or lead a new study group. Practice saying “no” to anything that might be a distraction.

2. Sample some apps

Start studying well ahead of time. Yeah, yeah, you know … but seriously. Find a time management app that suits your brain, and start to use it now to get ahead of the game. Also, choose a meal-planning app and find some go-to, fast-fix recipes to make during crunch time.

3. Start to de-stress before stress peaks

Have you ever thought that you’d pushed through a crisis, only to wind up with a migraine when things calmed down? Dr. Brenda Slovin of YourMigraineDoctor.com calls this a “letdown headache.” To help prevent them, don’t wait till finals week to start yoga or exercise: Find a class you like, and make it a habit now.

4. Check in with your prof

If you’ve got a class that’s a challenge, meet with the professor to get clarity, ask about extra credit opportunities, or redo a project if you were off track.

When it’s go time: Put one foot in front of the other

You only have so much bandwidth during finals week, so focus on doing what is necessary to study for and finish those exams! (The laundry can wait.) When you do need a bit of a break, choose something that will get you closer to your goal or help you downgrade your stress level. Here are a few suggestions.

5. Untangle your tech cords

Getting your workspace decluttered may help you focus. One great hack: Organize your cords, including earbuds, phone and laptop chargers, and even desk lamp cords. There are many inexpensive options available from online retailers, but you can use twist ties or zip ties in a pinch.

6. Block out the babbling

Noise-reducing or noise-canceling headphones are practically required gear for blocking the chatter and clatter of noisy housemates and students in the library who are unclear on the meaning of the word “whisper.”

keep your laptop alive

7. Keep your laptop alive

Outlets are sure to be at a premium in any public study place. PCMag has a list of handy tips that will help you work around this problem by extending your laptop battery life. Also think about getting a portable battery charger. (There are even solar-powered ones for those studying in a sunny state.)

8. Improve your sleep hygiene

The blue light emitted from your digital devices can mess with sleep, making it harder for your brain to power down. Download the f.lux or iris app (available for Mac, PC, Android, and iPhone). These apps automatically adjust your screen’s “temperature” (color) when it’s close to bedtime.

9. Choose brain-boosting foods

You did zero food prep? No shame. Just head for the produce in your cafeteria or supermarket. A 2014 study of 405 young adults, published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, showed a tight correlation between snacking on fruits and veg all day and elevated levels of “well-being, curiosity, and creativity.”

10. Think before you drink

When it comes to beverages, reach for water first. However, if that siren named Caffeine starts calling, choose drinks with little or no sugar. Studies have shown that caffeinated sugar-laden drinks lead to a much deeper crash than non-sugary ones.

When finals are finally over: Celebrate!

If you’re taking a lit class, you know that the epilogue of a story is important, too. It helps bring you down and provide closure. Here, a few quick ways to do that. (We know: You have other things to do, so we’ll be brief.)

11. Have a reward ready

Decide what you’re going to do on that last day. Visit friends, see a movie, rediscover the great outdoors again—whatever feels like a rich reward for lots of hard work!

12. Don’t shirk the surveys

Write up those course evaluations: Good, bad, or indifferent, your input counts, and it can be cathartic to close the door on the semester.

13. Clean out your backpack

Another excellent way to put a period on the end of this semester’s sentence: Sell any unwanted textbooks for some pocket change, using an online buy-back site instead of your university bookstore to get the biggest bucks. (Here are the “25 Best Places to Sell College Textbooks for the Most Cash,” according to MoneyPantry.) Consider keeping books (and notes and projects) that relate to your major if they were particularly interesting or helpful.

Now pat yourself on the back for a job well done. It’s not easy to survive finals season with grace and aplomb. You’ve done it! Go have some fun.

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