4 Tips for Crushing Your Finals

Francis Piche Student Software Engineer, McGill

19 November 2017

The count-down has begun.

We’re in the home stretch. Only a few more weeks and we’ll have a few precious moments of freedom before a new semester.

It’s easy to look off in the distance and think “Oh I have a month until that final, I’ve got lots of time”.

Next thing you know, you’re 3 RedBulls deep at 4AM.

You’ll tell yourself, “I’m never procrastinating studying again!”, but we all know what happens the next time finals come around.

This week, we’re gonna kick that habit once and for all with a few tips on how to CRUSH finals.

This semester, I’ve got three Math finals in a span of 48 hours, and two Comp  following week, so I’ll be coming back to this post to take advice from my ever-wise past-self.

Let’s get rolling.



Reminders. Reminders Everywhere.

Nothing better than a little fear to get you moving.

This might not work for everyone, but I like to have the ever-approaching date of my finals loom closely over me.

I think most people work better under some pressure, and it’s hard to feel the pressure when the due date seems so far away.

Here’s the plan then.

Finals advent calendar.

Counting down the days should be stress-inducing enough to get you motivated, I know it works for me.

Specifically, on my Google Calendar, I’ve set reminders for one-month, 3-weeks, 2-weeks, 1-week, and every day from there on.

On top of that, on my daily planner, I’ve put very strict due dates on all my tasks.

For example: “Review Continuous Probability” has the note: DO FOR FINALS, DEC 13.

Just to be sure I’m reminded of exactly what I’m studying for.

A slight caveat to this tip.

Don’t stress yourself out to the point where you’re losing sleep and turning into a general nervous wreck. See my Stress Equation post if you’re looking for tips on how to keep the stress levels reasonable during finals.

In particular, it might be a good idea to cut the reminders a few hours before bed, so you’re not staying up at night worrying about the impending doom of finals.

We’ve come a long way, and we’re almost at the finish.

Big Plan.

To make sure you’re staying on track, it’s always a good idea to set up checkpoints. This way you know exactly where you should be, relative to how much time you have left.

It’ll also set you up with short-term, tangible goals like “do problem set 1” instead of “study for Lin Alg.”

Write down every single study material/option you have for each course.

Next, assess how well you understand each section. Maybe you didn’t spend enough time on a particular course during the semester, or maybe one section was super easy and you don’t need to spend a whole lot of time on it.

Weigh the hours and effort you put in wisely, because it’s almost impossible to do it all.

Some things to keep in mind when assessing the weight to put on each section:

-Finals tend to put more weight on concepts later in the course (post-midterm)

-Did the prof mention anything in class about what is/isn’t testable material?

-How was the midterm? Was it close to assignment style questions, or lecture material?

-Which assignments did you struggle with the most?

Really take some time on this, it’ll save you time in the long run.

Next, make a day by day breakdown of exactly which sections to cover and which problem sets to do from today until the end of finals.

This is super useful because sometimes we have several exams close together, or a big gap between two, and it’s easy to accidentally spend all our time on the first one, and end up cramming for the following ones.

Planning it out will let you get an overview, and determine whether you’re putting enough weight on each course, in the amount of time you have available.

You’ll also know exactly what you should be doing at any given time. This reduces friction between tasks, and gives a very clear sense of direction.

Cover Everything Twice.

This might just be my own problem, but I have a tendency to cover all the course material suuuper thoroughly, from beginning to end.

The problem with this is that I don’t allow myself time for repetition, which is widely known to be the best method for making things stick in your brain.

Yes, it’s true that it’s important to tread slowly and really make sure each step is solid before making the next, but it’s also important to recognize the time constraints we have. There just isn’t enough time to go slow.

Seeing the same thing at LEAST twice is really the only way you can be sure that you really know it. How are you supposed to know if you remember something you studied three days ago if you’ve never gone back to check?

A second pass will be a good diagnostic to see which concepts you’re comfortable with, and which ones make you go “oh oops I actually don’t know this as well as I thought”.



Seriously, sleep.

There isn’t a whole lot I can say about it that you don’t already know, but if for some reason you’re doubting the importance of sleep, it’s a well-researched fact that sleep loss leads to a decrease in academic performance and learning capacity. It is also been shown that the opposite is true, increased sleep leads to increased performance. (Cursio et al)



-Motivate yourself with some healthy-stress

-Plan it out thoroughly and carefully.

-Repetition is key, do at least two passes to make sure you’ve identified gaps.

-Don’t forget to sleep.

Do you have anything to add? There’s a ton more that could be said, and I’m sure your peers will appreciate the help! Drop a comment and share your own strategies!

Keep chugging along! 🙂

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