Guide to Surviving Final Exams

It is about that time of year again—dreaded final exams. As a counselor that works with adolescents, I know the stress that many teens feel in regards to school. As I write this, I am reflecting back on my own experience with final exams. I always did well it in school, but when it came time to remembering an entire semester, or even year of material, I panicked. Then, I am supposed to remember a year’s worth of material for 7 classes? An overwhelming feeling takes over, and even though I know I will survive this, in the moment I have no idea how I will. Does this sound familiar? If so, here is a list of some things that you can do to prepare yourself for final exam week.

1.   Get your body moving: When we exercise endorphins, or chemicals in our brain, are released that makes us feel good. Research shows that a regular exercise routine relieves stress, improves memory, gives us more energy, helps us sleep better, and can even increase self-esteem. If you are not someone that enjoys going to the gym, go for a run or a walk, play your favorite sport, go for a bike ride, or do yoga.

2.   Get plenty of sleep: I know, you are probably told this over and over again. However, sleep is very important to our physical and mental health. When we are sleeping our brains are storing information into our memory. The Sleep Health Foundation states that getting enough sleep (8-10 hours) helps to improve concentration, creativity, and assists with learning. Setting a routine with regular bedtime and wakeup times, avoiding stimulants like caffeine before bed, and unplugging from electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime helps to improve sleep.

3.   Eat! Don’t skip breakfast, especially on the morning of the exam. This can lead to fatigue and brain fog. Breakfast helps fuel our bodies for the day! Lunch and dinner are just as important, too. Also, drink plenty of water to avoid the effects of dehydration such as fatigue and difficulty concentrating.

Okay, so you have a healthy exercise, sleep, and eating routine set in place. Now, it’s the night before the exam. AHH! What do you do? Try some of these techniques to calm yourself before getting a good night’s rest.

4.   Deep breathing: Sit or lie down in a comfortable place. Put your hands on your belly and concentrate on breathing in slowly through your nose to the count of 4. Watch your belly expand as you fill it up with air. Hold. Slowly breathe out through your mouth, to the count of 4. Watch as your belly deflates. Do this at least 5 times or until you feel your body start to relax.

5.   Progressive muscle relaxation: Lie down in a comfortable place, preferably your bed so that you can drift into sleep after. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Tense and relax each muscle group starting from your toes all the way up to your head. Here is an example of a guided progressive muscle relaxation routine:

Try these techniques on the morning of the exam and right before taking the exam:

6.   Positive affirmations: Do you ever catch yourself saying things to yourself like “I am going to fail this test” and “There is no way I will do well on this test”? Change your story by changing the way you think. Replace those thoughts with “I can do this, I know the material,” “I have practiced and studied, I am prepared!” and “I am smart and capable.” Now, make up a few of your own and write them down to remind yourself on the morning of the test.

7.   Visualization: In order to boost your confidence, close your eyes and picture yourself doing well on the test. You can also try closing your eyes and visualizing yourself in a relaxing place. Where are you? Are you inside or outside? What is the weather like? Is it bright and sunny or do you like rainy weather? Are there clouds? What is the temperature? What sounds do you hear? Is there anyone around you or are you alone? Try to imagine you are really there and feel your body start to relax.

Don’t forget to keep breathing. You can do this! And remember, a little bit of stress is healthy and can propel us to do well on our exams.

Written by: Rachel Ealy, M.Ed

Rachel is a counselor at Heights Family Counseling. She believes that counseling should be for everyone as everyone could use extra support, a place to define purpose and values, and tools to use to tackle life’s everyday problems, as well as someone to support your successes in life. Rachel specializes in working with children, adolescents, young adults, and couples. Learn more about Rachel's counseling approach by visiting