Studying For Finals: What To Do If You Fall Behind

The final week of the semester is inevitable.

It’s something that you cannot avoid and see coming from a long way off.

And yet, despite how easy it is to see it coming, and how much time there is to prepare, it is still a common cause of stress among students, leading to sleepless nights and panic attacks when you’ve fallen behind on your studies and just aren’t ready for the final exams. 

Don’t cry over spilt milk


On the one hand, it’s probably your fault for not preparing for the exams early enough. We often get so caught up having fun during the semester that we forget to put some time aside for our all-important studies. 

However, once the finals are around the corner and you’re already behind on your studies, beating yourself up about all the things you should and could have done, but didn’t, is crying over spilt milk. I remember that sometimes, when the panic was too high, I decided to let it go and be at peace with it. I would even pay someone to take my exam. While the exams are certainly important, remember that your peace of mind is even more important, because without that you really can’t do much.

It’s time to take action. We’re here now; we have a situation on our hands. What can we do about it? Well, you’re in luck! Following are some valuable tips you can use to help you study for finals. 

It’s all about maximizing your time

If you’re behind on your studies, you need to focus on maximizing the little time you have. There are lots of mental and physical strategies you can use to your advantage. 

Have a schedule

Look at the calendar for your finals week. Also have a look at your syllabi and find out when which topics and subjects are being tested. That way, you know exactly how the finals week is going to progress. 

Once you have a good idea what the finals week looks like, think about planning your time between the current day and the start of finals week. If you have lots of time, you can study for each subject or topic, one at a time. If you don’t have much time, you’ll need to allocate a bit of time to each topic you need to cover every day. Or assign a whole day to each topic, depending on the finals week schedule. 

Do some prioritizing

There are many ways you can prioritize for your finals. 

You could, for example, prioritize by which subjects have the greatest contribution to the final grade coming from the exams and studying more for those. You could, alternatively prioritize the most difficult topics and study for those. You could also prioritize the topics most likely to appear in the exams and study for those. 

The particular criteria you pick to prioritize your study time depends on you and what matters most to you. The most important thing, however, is that you do at least some prioritizing. 

Know the tools at your disposal

So now you’re ready to study. There are lots of tools you can use to your advantage. According to the University of Wisconsin, outlines, study guides, and flashcards are great tools to help the study process. Some courses will naturally do well with some particular tools than others. History and language, for example, work excellently with flashcards. 

You can also consider getting a study group together if you have enough time. That way, you can study with your friends and teach each other different ideas and leverage your diverse strengths. 

You can also consider using mock exams to prepare yourself for the finals. According to St. Lawrence University, doing sample questions in the textbook days before the exam gives you the opportunity to find your weak spots so you can work on them. 

Getting your body in order

While it’s awesome to have your brain at the top of its game for the finals, it’s also good to do the same for your body. A healthy body will boost a healthy brain and make for better grades. 

Breaks are important

You need to give your brain time to process and absorb what you’ve studied. Don’t read for more than 500 minutes at a time before taking breaks. This is better than studying for many hours at a time. 


Nutrition is also important. Your body needs the right nutrition to make for the best thinking speed and attention spans. A poor diet can hamper your brain’s ability to perform at its peak. Drink lots of water, eat healthy food, and avoid snacks with empty calories.


While an all-nighter looks like a good idea when you’re frantically trying to prepare for your finals, it’s not the most effective way to study. An all-nighter will undo all of the effort you’ve put into studying and all the valuable things you learned from reading might just go out the window. 

A lack of sleep will likely impact your ability to focus in a negative way. And so, even though you’re staring at your books at 4 in the morning after pulling an all-nighter, it’s unlikely that your brain is absorbing any of the information your eyes are looking at. It’s not just about your studies though; your focus during the actual exam will also be impaired and you might not give your best answers to the exam questions. Sleep deprivation also has some nasty long term effects. 

Get a good rest before the exam and your scores will be much better.


If your exams are just around the corner, don’t panic. Take a few deep breaths, relax, and use the tips above to improve your chances of getting a high grade. You can thank me later!