How to study for finals when you’re already mentally exhausted | Ask Kelly

Woman studying while laying on the grass

Editor’s Note: Do you have a question about distance learning or coping with school in these challenging times? Each week Kelly Browning, an early childhood education/special education major and student ambassador at the Henry County Regional Academic Center, answers questions from the Mercer community. Email her at or fill out our online form to submit your question anonymously.

Dear Kelly,

Although I’m almost at the end of the semester, I am mentally exhausted and can’t concentrate to even study for my finals. Do you have any advice for what I can do to help me study for finals and complete this week successfully?

This has been a trying semester. All of us have faced a challenge that none of us has ever been through. Normally, when we are going through difficult times, there is always someone we can go to who has been through that struggle before and can give us advice. This time is different because this is new to all of us.

As students, we’ve felt like we’ve had to juggle this new normal with school, while also feeling concerned, anxious, worried or unsure about what the future may hold. We, as students, need to see past the challenges and visualize our future on the other side. There will be a time when this present will be long past, and we will be standing in a new present that we are currently working so diligently to enhance.

At this time next week, this semester will be over. There will be some time for us all to take a breath and relax. You are almost there; you can do this. This has been a race, and you are heading toward the finish line. Now is the time to catch that second wind and push hard to the end, facing each hurdle with tenacity, determination and strength.

Final exams assess what each student has learned throughout the course. Think back over the semester. What points did your professor stress? Did you take quizzes throughout the semester? What information were you quizzed on? Read through your lecture notes. Highlight the information that you could envision being on the exam. What were the topics that your professor seemed to review repeatedly?

If you have friends in your class, reach out to them. You may have found important information that you feel will be on the exam, while they may have different information that they feel is important. By sharing this information with each other, you are covering your bases. Then, after collecting all of this material, rather than simply reviewing or studying this information, I want to encourage you to write it down. Organize the information into a pattern that makes sense to you. Put on your “professor” hat. If you were teaching the course, what material would you want your students to learn and retain?

Now that you have collected all of the information that you would consider to be final exam probable, stand up and take a break. Go for a walk and clear your mind. Do some deep breathing. Find a meditation video, like this one on YouTube.

The point of all of this is to take a few minutes to allow yourself to relax and let your brain wind down. Sometimes when studying for a big exam, we allow ourselves to become overwhelmed with the exam, and we become stressed. When we become stressed, we are more tense, and it becomes harder to study and prepare. In other words, that stress actually begins to negatively affect our ability to succeed. You must take some moments just to decompress and relax.

When you have allowed yourself to regain a sense of tranquility and you are able to focus, go back to the notes you just made. Read over them. Utilize the information you gathered to make flashcards or study guides. I like to do this through because I can review the information on my cellphone and take practice exams as well.

During this process, if you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed again, take a break. Close your eyes, visualize the moments after the exam when you are finished, and your semester is complete. Allow yourself some positive self-talk. “I can do this.” “I can succeed.” Be your own cheerleader. When you begin to become distracted by worry or stress, think back to times in your life when you faced challenges and overcame them. Tell yourself, “I made it. I am here. I am a Mercer student, and I will achieve great things. I can change the world. I am fully able. This is not a final to fear but a beginning to embrace. I will succeed. I am OK.”

The night before your final, listen to the “Exam Success Meditation” video by Jason Stephenson. I have used it multiple times, and it really works. Before your exam, read over your notes one last time, and then listen to music to relax up until the professor gives you the exam.

All in all, just know that you are capable of doing great things. You have been facing some challenges that are brand new to us all, but you have what it takes to overcome them and find victory in all you do. Do not think of challenges as walls that you can’t climb, but instead think of them as hurdles that you can clear to win the race.

I wish you health, happiness and continued success throughout your journey.


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