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Preparing for Success: How to Survive (and Excel at) Finals

Student-tutors offer advice for successfully tackling final projects and exams
Photo by: Michael Malyszko

Editor's note: This story is part of the 10 on Tuesday series, which provides a fresh take on interesting university initiatives, research projects, campus happenings and more.

BRISTOL, R.I. – It’s a rite of passage for college students across the U.S., and with a semester’s success on the line final exams can pack a mental punch that even the savviest students dread. Between writing research papers and cramming for exams, late nights become all-nighters, often compromising students’ health and wellness. And while everyone has their own tricks and strategies to conquer the finals challenge, one tip is particularly well-proven: adequate preparation.

Need a study buddy or a second set of eyes on that thesis? The small army of student tutors in Tutorial Services (located in the Center for Academic Development on the second floor of the University Library) has some advice for succeeding at – and surviving! – finals week. Run any study guide questions by a science tutor, sit in for a course review with a math tutor and bring in final papers to be peer-reviewed with a writing tutor. Though exams are just a few days away, it’s not too late to acquire good study habits and excel on those tests. Here are some words of wisdom from the well-versed student-tutors:

  • Torrie Lewine, a junior math and education double major, says, “I've found I am most successful during finals if I begin studying early and break everything down into manageable chunks.” She suggests studying one hour (per final) each day, increasing study time as necessary as the date of the final exam approaches.
  • Kevin Schindelwig Franca, a junior chemistry major, urges students to ask professors questions about the exam – in some cases, they may tell you what material to closely review and the format of the exam to help narrow down your study focus. “Most of the time the professor will throw you a bone,” he says.
  • Senior economics and legal studies double major Macy L. Miller suggests sticking with your normal routine. Eating, sleeping and exercising in accordance with your regular schedule (as best as possible) will keep your mind sharp, she says. While studying for the Law School Admissions Test this fall, she learned that “the days that I studied too much and didn’t stay true to my normal habits were the days that my practice test scores were lower and I struggled to focus!”
  • Resist the temptation to visit social media sites, encourages Stephanie Coyle, a senior English literature major. If that is too difficult, she suggests having a trusted friend change the passwords for your Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram accounts. “After you've done that, go to GHH on a Saturday afternoon with all your homework and stay all night by yourself – order a pizza if you have to! Cut yourself off from the world and get your projects finished,” she says.
  • Meghan Richards, a junior biology major, submits that the key to acing a science exam is gaining a solid foundation of the basic concepts. She explains that when she took Biology 103 and 104, she made sure she thoroughly understood major ideas – such as ecology and population dynamics – before delving into the specifics.
  • Courtney Taylor, a junior biology major, says the most overlooked advice is to pause and relax! When your brain begins to feel numb, watch a movie or chat with your friends (if they, too, need a break). “If you are too stressed out or not focused enough, staring at your notes is no longer helpful,” Courtney says. 
  • Alyssa Frederique, a sophomore legal studies and psychology double major, explains the benefits of re-writing notes and creating hand-written study guides: “Repeating things over and over again on paper can help drill information into your mind.”
  • During study sessions, occasionally take a step away from your work, advises Jordan Ruzicka, a junior architecture major. Whether that means heading to the Commons to grab take-out or bundling up and taking a walk in the cold, Jordan says, “it gives you a great moment to clear your mind and stop stressing out for a few minutes before returning to your studies.”
  • According to Mia Sargent, a senior education and German language double major: “My best advice is to not let your health slip. Keep going to the gym and stay active, even when you’re tired and stressed. This will give you energy, relieve stress, and be a great study break.” The quietest time of day to hit the University gym is in the morning, she says, “and you'll start your day off feeling good."
  • For Danielle Sinsigalli, a senior dance performance and psychology double major, a good study break includes dancing or attending a fitness class – cardio improves the brain’s capacity for learning and memory. “And if you need a little more inspiration,” she adds, “just search ‘Kid President’ on YouTube.”

Each week, the 10 on Tuesday series provides a fresh take on interesting university initiatives, research projects, campus happenings and more. Have an idea for a 10 on Tuesday? Email