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Finals week stress: MSU students and expert share studying tips

December 5, 2023

Finals week is traditionally one of the most stressful times of the year for college students. Lack of time management and sleep from all nighters spent studying result in unhealthy study habits that only increase stress levels. 

For criminal justice freshman Sara Saba, avoiding procrastination during her first semester of final exams is a priority. 

"On the usual basis, I'm pretty much a last minute kind of person," Saba said. "But with finals, I’m trying to be a little bit better."

Educational psychology professor Lisa Linnenbrink-Garcia said students tend to procrastinate for a number of reasons — sometimes because the task seems too big or because they don’t think they have the ability to accomplish it. 

"I think both of those issues are things that you can solve if you get more at the heart of it," Linnenbrink-Garcia said. "(Ask) 'Why is it that I don't want to do that?,' and do a little bit of self-reflection. Then you can engage in some self-regulation to try to monitor that and kind of shift your patterns of behavior."

Students can change procrastination behaviors by reminding themselves of the value of the class and content they’re learning or by connecting the material to a long-term life goal, Linnenbrink-Garcia said. She added that by reframing the way of thinking, students can better motivate themselves to complete the task.

Mechanical engineering senior Yusuf Abbas said after four years, he’s "desensitized" to the typical stress of finals week.

"I'm pretty used to it," Abbas said. "So I'm not stressed at all; I'm actually feeling pretty good about it."

Biochemistry and molecular biology sophomore Meghan McGill said having a study plan in place helps ease her worries during the last few weeks of the semester.

McGill starts preparing at least two weeks before her exams, organizing her tasks in an Excel spreadsheet and breaking down the workload into more manageable chunks.

"I think no matter how prepared I'll be, I'll be a little bit stressed," McGill said. "But I think having a plan does help ease the stress a little bit."

Neuroscience sophomore Allison Doneth uses a list with checkboxes to keep track of her completed assignments. 

"It just makes me feel good to check off boxes," Doneth said.

Breaking down "daunting" tasks into smaller, easier-to-reach goals is a habit that Linnenbrink-Garcia recommends. 

"If you set these really big goals and then you don't meet them, it's going to be even harder to get going on it because you're gonna feel like you're already behind," Linnenbrink-Garcia said. "So you want to set goals that are small, that are close, and that you feel like you can accomplish." 

Students can also motivate themselves to study by implementing small rewards, such as a break or treat after completing a task, she said. 

"We generally don't advise people to use a lot of extrinsic rewards because it can undermine your intrinsic motivation," Linnenbrink-Garcia said. "But, I think there's a time and a place for it when you're not feeling the intrinsic motivation to do it — that you can use small extrinsic rewards to help yourself build better study habits."

She noted that while developing studying habits are beneficial, it’s also important for students to give themselves time away from studying to maintain a healthy life balance.

"Give yourself the space for your mental health to step away for a little bit, get some exercise, hang out with some friends," Linnenbrink-Garcia said. "Those things are really important for you to have a balance, especially as you're heading into finals."

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