The Lakefill. Image courtesy of Seeger Gray / North by Northwestern 

In-person exams probably seem like a strange concept after over a year of virtual instruction. Though in-person tests might bring more stress, I’ve found some strategies that may help lessen the strain.

First, self-care

Take a warm shower! Showers are proven to reduce anxiety. Warm showers in particular help you physically relax – they relieve tension in your muscles and promote better sleep. Wash the stress away with this soothing ritual that improves blood flow and creates a sense of alertness that’s sure to help with your finals. The longer, the better.

Physical health

Cold weather is upon us, so make sure you stay warm. Bundle up in your warmest attire and have some hot chocolate or warm apple cider to calm your pre-exam jitters. Visit Norris on Dec. 6 between 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. to grab a warm beverage at their event called “Cocoa, Coffee and Warm Cookies” – drinking warm beverages is a delicious way to improve your mood.

Listen to your body. If you are hungry, eat. Eating multiple balanced meals a day is essential to your physical health, as it provides you with the necessary energy to remain active. If you are up past 11 p.m. and feel tired, try going to sleep and resuming work in the morning instead. Sleeping seven to nine hours can help restore your energy, making you feel mentally and physically ready to start the day.

Study breaks

Studying for hours at a time makes me feel drained. That’s because overstudying can actually be detrimental to academic performance and make it difficult to retain information. This is why study breaks are always important.

Social media can be a distraction, but at the right times, calming content actually helps me recharge. One way I relax is by watching satisfying Instagram Reels or TikToks. Slime, kinetic sand, molten glass art and cake decorating videos never disappoint. I also listen to my favorite music, currently Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour, while taking a nice nature walk around campus.

Annie May Swift Hall. Image courtesy of Olivia Abeyta / North by Northwestern 

The best study breaks always consist of activities that boost my spirits and make me laugh. Laughter improves moods through the release of endorphins (“feel-good chemicals”) from the brain. It may seem like there’s no time for fun with all of the studying you have planned. A little built-in entertainment break, however, usually makes the time I do spend studying even more productive – it's all about balance. I also enjoy hanging out with supportive friends, watching a good comedy movie or listening to some corny dad joke. Do something that makes you feel happy.

Productive environments

For some people, studying in their dorm room is not a problem. I, however, prefer finding somewhere productive where I’m not tempted to take a long nap in my comfy bed or watch Netflix instead. I find that being in coffee shops, dorm rooms, residential social lounges, libraries or any other place not associated with sleep puts me straight into study mode. Do not forget to take advantage of long library hours during finals week. University (Main) and Deering Library will be open 24/7 from Nov. 29 at 8 a.m. to Dec. 10 at 6 p.m.

My view as I grab a bite to eat and study at Happy Lemon. Image courtesy of Astry Rodriguez / North by Northwestern

Study buddies

If you can, find a couple of classmates who are willing to share notes or study with you. There are also study group chats available on GroupMe that can be found by searching the name of your classes.

Plan accordingly

Having multiple final essays and projects due within a week or multiple exams on the same day may be daunting, but do not fret. Keeping an agenda, digital or physical, is something that has helped me stay on top of due dates and remember examination times. I like to use a physical planner to organize my assignments and a digital one (Google Calendar) to map out my classes and extracurricular schedule. I plan out intervals in my week where I would like to study for a particular class and try to complete my readings earlier in the day, which is when I feel most energized.

It is helpful to know your study habits, like how long you typically spend on a text or how long you can study material before your mind begins to drift off. Knowing these habits has helped me set time limits for each study task.

Above all, I recommend putting yourself first – peace of mind will follow. The pieces of advice presented here are merely suggestions and if you can only do one or more of these, that is completely okay – no one knows your needs better than you.

Good luck with finals!