A Crash Course in Avoiding Crises During Finals Week


Let’s be honest, most of the time studying for finals actually means reading all of those eRes documents lingering in your downloads folder and frantically typing all of the key phrases you scribbled down during class into Google, attempting to memorize the search results. While the stress of doing this just hours before your impending exam has you swearing that you’ll start studying for finals a month in advance next semester, we know these habits will never change.

You may think it will never happen to you, but protecting yourself from major crises like a computer crash will help your finals run smoothly. (PJ Williams/The Observer)

That being said, the lot of us will find ourselves in some pretty terrible situations during finals week, sending us sprinting home to have Mom cluck over our undereye circles and nurse us back to health, come Dec. 22. Most of us have found ourselves in at least one of these worst-case scenarios at some point, so here are some tips on how to avoid them, and how to survive them if the crisis has already hit.


1. You have a final and a paper due on the same day:

You can’t deny it, you’ve known about this paper pretty far in advance (it’s been at the bottom of that syllabus all semester). Wait until you go home for winter break to hit the bars. Stay in during the weekend and pound out that paper first; as much as you might begrudge the loss of your free time to homework, you won’t have to write and study at the same time if you get it out of the way. You’ll be able to use the following reading days to study at your own pace, then  you can head home to your high school friends and make up for your lost time at the bar.

But as we all know, college students tend to strike when the iron is hot, not before. And what better way to light a fire under your “iron” than the deadline, less than 24 hours away. If you’ve already waited until the last minute, the real struggle at this point is not the amount of work you have to do, but how you will be able to stay awake all night to do it.  If you know that you’ll be pulling an all-nighter, you’ll need some essentials to tide you over until that 8:30 a.m. exam. You can get all of them at once, or you can make periodic trips to the 24-hour Duane Reade behind school to restock and stretch your legs from time to time. Your best tools during this cram session will be a bottomless pot of coffee, rewetting drops for your contacts, if you wear them, and lots of snacks. Almonds, for one, are proven to improve brain function, and while they probably won’t do any short-term magic, some chocolate-covered ones will probably make you pretty happy. A caffeinated alternative like chocolate-covered espresso beans will also be helpful in keeping you from face-planting into a coma nap on top of your chem notes. As a last resort, jump into the shower to refresh yourself when you know you’re about to pass out.


2. Your computer crashes, and you lose all your files:

As they say with skincare, prevention is key, and will save you from having to do damage control later. Get a portable flash drive and carry it with you at all times, like one that attaches to your keychain, so that you’ll never be without it. Save all your important files to it constantly, even obsessively, because there’s nothing as awful as watching your computer screen go black, or freeze just as you hit ‘print,’ and having your entire essay vanish from the screen, never to return.

But, say you accidentally dunk your flash drive into your cup of coffee. Now what? Don’t worry, this doesn’t have to be the end. Your electronics may hate you, but the Internet doesn’t. Go one step further in your file-saving frenzy and save your notes and important documents to a folder in your e-mail account, then you’ll be able to access your notes from any computer, or smartphone, connected to the Internet.


3. You have back-to-back exams:

Put your notes on your iPod or MP3 player so that you can review without having to sit down, which will allow you to study on your walk to class, in line for your Starbucks coffee and in the elevator. Also important, make sure your notes are accessible. Your best friend will be the ever faithful and low-tech index card, or, as they adopt a more urgent name during crunch time, the flashcard. Divide your notes, make outlines of important chapters, color code the data; go crazy. You probably know the drill already—not only will making the index cards help ingrain the information in your head; they are portable so you can keep your cards with you on exam day and cram in the time you have between tests.


4. You slept through or skipped this class way more than you should have, and now you have no idea what’s going to be on the final:

First, find out what format the final will be in. Will there be a multiple-choice portion? Is it a series of short answer questions, or a few major essays? This will help you narrow down what kind of information to study, and where to focus your attention. Being an intelligent test-taker can be almost as important as knowing the material itself, and you need to strategize.

If your notes are little more than caricatures of your professor, dig out the syllabus and use that as a guideline on what to review. At this point, cracking open your textbook might be futile, but use the index to look up important terms and at least read the overviews and summaries. If case studies or individual experiments are on the test, jot down key facts and worry  about putting it in essay form tomorrow. There may be little you can really do to salvage your grade at this point, but what’s not to love about a triumphant comeback story? It could happen. E-mail the smartest person in your class and grovel. Ask for their notes, or see if they’ll give you a one-on-one tutoring session. Offering to buy coffee or lunch in exchange for their help may make your case more appealing.


5. You did it. You missed the exam:

If you slept through the exam or missed it for a legitimate reason, contact your professor right away. If you have a real excuse, explain your circumstances and be ready to provide an alibi, whether it’s a doctor’s note or referral from a dean. If your exam began half an hour ago, and you just woke up, throw on a sweatshirt and sprint as fast as you possibly can to the classroom. If you’re a commuter, it’s time to start groveling. Be humble and ask what you can do to salvage the situation. If your professor has office hours right after class, visit him and beg for mercy in person. You’re most likely sleep-deprived and therefore overly emotional; use this to your advantage. Tears will help your cause.