Academic Resources

10 Point Plan on How to Live through Finals

  1. Know when and where the exam is given. You would be surprised how many students miss their final because of some kind of mix-up on scheduling.
  2. Plan your study time. If you only have so much time to learn all of American History, Calculus and Biology, use the time to your best advantage.  Make a study chart giving so much time to each subject.
  3. Break up your subjects. You can't concentrate on one subject for hours on end, so drop it and spend some time on another subject, then return to the original subject.
  4. Reward yourself. For every hour of real studying (not including rereading the same sentence 15 times) give yourself a 10-minute break.
  5. Be good to yourself. Eat well, dress well, sleep as much as possible - on your study breaks read a good book, check Facebook, post on Instagram, listen to music, whatever you enjoy doing. 
  6. Don't depend on Study Groups. Unless you and the others have already studied the material.
  7. Study what's important. Use the syllabus, earlier tests and your impressions to decide what the instructor wants you to know from the course.  Chances are that will be on the test.
  8. Ask yourself questions. Just reading and rereading the stuff will drive you nuts.  Make up questions as you go then put the book down and answer them.
  9. Study Backwards. You're most likely to forget what was taught at the beginning of the quarter, so start with the most recent material and move back so you study the early stuff just before the test.
  10. Relax for the half-hour before the test. Talk to a friend, Check Facebook, sit outside...whatever relaxes you.

Motivating Yourself to Study

One of the most frustrating things a student can experience is finding him or herself in college, wanting to do well, and at the same time finding that he or she can't get motivated! Motivation plays an important part in how much time and energy you spend studying and going to class, and ultimately it plays a major part in determining the grades you earn. The following are some suggestions which can help you be honest with yourself about your motivation. Now, frankly, motivation is often a complicated matter. These suggestions may be enough to help you be aware of what is affecting your motivation (or lack of it), but if you would like to explore yourself further, give us a call at the Counseling Center, and we will be glad to give you a hand.

  • First of all, determine why you are in college. There may be several reasons, of course, but your main purpose should be to get an education, i.e., to expand your mind by learning. You might also want to learn enough to compete at a higher level in the job market, but learning is the number one priority. Some reasons which people often place at the top of the list, but which are usually poor reasons are:
    • Your parents wanted you to come. (Whose education is it anyway?)
    • All your friends came to college.
    • College is better than getting a job.
    • College is one big social partying bash, so you came for fun.
    • It's the only way to get a start as an athlete.
    • You're here to find a partner.
    • You didn't know what else to do.
  • Begin the process of making a career decision as soon as possible. There is not need to make a specific decision right away, but you will be more motivated in college when you have a career direction. Remember too, that your career must be your career, not your parent's or teacher's or anyone else's. 
  • When exploring career options, be realistic. Not everyone can be in business, law or medicine, nor should they be. Explore your abilities, interests, values and career options before you decide which direction to take.
  • When you have decided on a career direction, you can then more appropriately choose a major.  Your school work then becomes relevant, and you will be more motivated to study.
  • Motivation is directly related to your attitudes about college and yourself. Try to have a positive attitude toward yourself, your professors, books and everything else. Even if you choose to be negative and angry, don't you owe it to yourself to determine what effect that has on your performance?
  • Risk!  Become involved in your classes. Try doing things you wouldn't normally do.  Participate, be active and seek out knowledge.
  • College is not High School. If you think they are the same, you are seriously mistaken.  In college you are responsible for nearly everything, including courses, time management, social behaviors, setting limits, managing money and mental and physical health.  Are you mature enough to handle all of this?  If you run into problems or have questions, seek help!  There are plenty of people on campus who can help if you will look for them.
  • Take a balanced approach.  Take  advantage  of  the intellectual, social and physical opportunities on campus, keeping in mind, of course, your main reason for being in college.
  •  Dwell on your success not your failu  Pump yourself up! Let yourself feel good about what you do well. Try to understand why you do not do other things well. You can be more motivated by feeling good about yourself, than by continually punishing yourself for screwing up.
  • Set some goals. If you clearly state what you want to accomplish and how you can accomplish it, you are much more likely to succeed. It is sometimes best to sit down occasionally and write your goals out on paper.  Be sure to specify how to reach them. Goals are great, but if you have no idea how to reach them, you are not likely to get anywhere.  Also, occasionally review your goals and see how you are doing.
  • Anger can get  in  your  way. Many students expect  too  much  from  their professors, books, college facilities, secretarie  When people or things do not meet your expectations do you become angry and then belligerent?  You might ask yourself, "Who am I to expect all of this from so and so?" or "Can I really expect people to be as perfect as me?" As a rule of thumb, unrealistic expectations lead to anger and false hope leads to disappointment.  Anger gets in the way of being receptive and open to experiences.
  • Another problem arises when you lack power over your tasks. Remember, it should be your choice to be doing what you are doing.  Ultimately you are in control even when others ask or seemingly demand something of you. College is not going to jail; you can leave any time you wish.
  • Do you fear failure or success? How might one or the other of these fears be manifested and what effect do they have on your motivation?
  • Be flexible and adaptable.
  • Keep a calendar so you will know when you should be more motivated.
  • Remember that no one is always highly motivated. We all have our ups and downs. However, if you find yourself more down than up, you should make an effort to find out why.  Then do something about it.

Overcoming Procrastination

Procrastination technically refers to the avoidance of a specific task or work which needs to be accomplished.  But this technical explanation doesn't begin to capture the emotions triggered by the word.  For most of us, the word "procrastination" reminds us of past experiences where we have felt guilty, lazy, inadequate, anxious, or stupid - or some combination of these.  It also implies a value judgment; if you procrastinate, you are bad and, as such, you lack worth as a person.

Procrastination and its causes

In order to understand and solve your procrastination problems, you must carefully analyze those situations where your work is not being completed.  First, determine whether the cause is poor time management; if so, you will need to learn and develop time management skills.  If, however, you know how to manage your time but don't make use of those skills, you may have a more serious problem. Many individuals cite the following reasons for avoiding work:

  • Lack of relevance. If something is neither relevant nor meaningful to you personally, it may be difficult to get motivated even to begin.
  • Acceptance of another’s goals.  If a project has been imposed or assigned to you and it is not consistent with your own interests, you may be reluctant to spend the necessary time to see it to conclusion.
  • Perfectionism. Having unreachable standards will discourage you from pursuing a ta Remember, perfection is unattainable.
  • Ambiguity. If you are uncertain of what is expected of you, it may be difficult to get start
  • Evaluation anxiety. Since other's responses to your work are not under your direct control, overvaluing these responses can create the kind of anxiety that will interfere with work getting accomplished.
  • Fear of the unknown. If you are venturing into a new realm or field, you don't have any way of knowing how well you'll do.  Such an uncertain outcome may inhibit your desire to begin.
  • Inability to handle the task. If through lack of training, skill, or ability you feel that you lack the personal resources to do the job, you may avoid it completely.

Procrastination takes many forms

Once you have surmounted the emotional block by acknowledging your procrastination (guilt, anxiety, feelings of inadequacy), and after you have analyzed the underlying causes, you need to clearly specify how you procrastinate.  Consider the following examples.

  • Do you act as though if you ignore a task, it will go away?  The midterm exam in your chemistry class is not likely to vaporize, no matter how much you ignore it.
  • Do you underestimate the work involved in the task, or overestimate your abilities and resources in relationship to the task?  Do you tell yourself that you grasp concepts so easily that you need only spend one hour on the physics problems which would normally take six?
  • Do you deceive yourself into believing that a mediocre performance or lesser standards are acceptable? For example, if you deceive yourself that a 3.3 GPA will still get you into the medical school of your choice, you may be avoiding the decision to work harder to improve your grade point average and thus may have to alter you career plans.   This form of avoidance can prevent you from consciously making choices about important goals in your life.
  • Do  you  deceive  yourself  by  substituting  one  worthy  activity  for  another? Suppose you clean the apartment instead of writing your term paper.  Valuing a clean apartment is fine but if that value only becomes important when there is a paper due, you are procrastinating.
  • Do you believe that repeated "minor" delays are harmless?   An example is putting off writing your paper so you can watch five minutes of your favorite television program.  If you don't return to writing the paper after the five minutes have elapsed, you may stay tuned to the television for the entire evening, with no work being done on the paper.
  • Do you dramatize a commitment to a task rather than actually doing it?   An example is taking your books on vacation but never opening them, or perhaps even declining invitations for pleasurable events, but still not pursuing the work at hand and not getting needed relaxation.  This way you stay in a constant state of unproductive readiness to work - without ever working.
  • Do you persevere on only one portion of the task?  An example is writing and rewriting the introductory paragraph of the paper but not dealing with the body and the conclusion.  The introductory paragraph is important, but not at the expense of the entire project.
  • Do you become paralyzed in deciding between alternative choices?  An example involves spending so much time deciding between two term paper topics that you don't have sufficient time to write the paper.

What to do about procrastination

If you can visualize yourself in one or more of these violations, you may be ready to overcome your problems with avoidance or procrastination.  The following are steps that may help you to deal with your avoidance problem.

  • Extract from the above examples those principles which apply to you.
  • Make honest decisions about your work. If you wish to spend only a minimal amount of effort or time on a particular task, admit it - do not allow guilt feelings to interfere with your realization of this fact. Weigh the consequences of various amounts  of  investment  in  a  project  and  find  the  optimal return  for  your investment. This step exposes intentional reasons for avoiding work.   If you have been unintentionally avoiding work, admit to yourself that you do want to achieve certain goals and accept the responsibilities involved in meeting those goals.
  • Work to acquire an adequate understanding of what is necessary to accomplish a task within a given time frame.
  • Distinguish between activities which dramatize your sense of commitment and those which will help you accomplish the task.  Devote only that amount of time which is appropriate for each part of a task. Develop an overview of the entire project and visualize the steps that are needed to reach completion.


The larger, more involved, the project, the more difficult it is to plan effectively to carry it out.  The following steps may be helpful:

  • Segment the task.  The entire job may seem impossible, but smaller segments may seem more manageable.  Divide the task into small steps.
  • Distribute the small steps reasonable within the given time frame.  "Reasonably" is the key word; you must allot sufficient time for each step.  Do not fool yourself by believing you can do more that is humanly possible.
  • Realize that humans periodically need variety and relaxation.    Intersperse rewards, relaxation, and gratification for work completed.  This will help you feel less resentful of the task and the work completed.  This will help you feel less resentful of the task and the work that still needs to be done.
  • Monitor your progress on the small steps.   Watch for the pitfalls discussed earlier.  Assess problems when they arrive and do something about them quickly.  Keep track of the segments and how they fit together to form the whole picture.  Reassess time commitments as necessary.
  • Be reasonable in your expectations of yourself.  Perfectionistic or extremely strict expectations may cause you to rebel or may sabotage your progress.

©1984  The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois


Preparing for Exams

Preparing adequately for exams is a process, not a one-time, one-day event.  Learning to use your study time wisely as you prepare for an exam will help you perform better.

Prepare systematically for your examinations

  • Begin the day after a test to prepare for the next test. Set aside one hour each week to review of each subject to incorporate all you have studied before and the new material for that week.  Understand that repetition aids in recall.
  • Arrange a schedule for review of materials before an exam.  Do not plan the review only for the day before or the day of the exam.
  • Review by making a list of important topics.  Under each topic, place items important to that topic.
  • Make a condensed summary or outline of the material reviewed, and study it thoroughly.
  • Review selectively.  Give special attention to areas of the subject in which you are weak.
  • Cramming, as a concentrated review of material previously learned, is beneficial.  BUT, cramming as a last minute effort to learn for the first time is harmful because it results in a confused mass of undigested material.
  • Predict questions which you would ask if you were the instructor, and then be sure you know the correct answers.
  • Find out from the instructor the kind of test that will be given and material to be covered.
  • Know the difference between essay and objective examinations.
  • Analyze previous and present examinations to determine your weaknesses.
  • While studying and working problems, duplicate the test situation by setting your alarm clock to ring at the end of a certain period of time.
  • When studying the night before an exam, reduce, restrict or eliminate caffeine.  Caffeine will make you feel more awake, BUT, side effects of caffeine  include rapid heart beat, headache, muscle tension, rapid breathing – all of which may be interpreted by some as test anxiety (which often has the same symptoms).  Also the caffeine will keep you up – BUT make it difficult to go to sleep when you wish.
  • The night before an exam, get a good night’s sleep so that your mind will be the most rested it can be for the exam.  Turn off texts/Facebook/Instagram in order to feel rested!
  • A quick review of materials in the morning of an exam may help solidify points that are more difficult.

Reduce test distractions

Distractions take away from your ability to perform as well as you can while taking the exam.  Some common distractions and their remedies include the following:

Concern about time--Wear a watch and use it to pace yourself.

Cute person nearby--Sit where you can’t see, hear, or smell them.

Full bladder--Go to the bathroom right before the test.

Nervousness/anxiety--Study well ahead of time and don’t cram at the last minute.  Cramming leads to panic and insecurity.

Not having what you need with you--Bring all materials needed for the exam.  If you bring too many things, you can leave them under your desk.

Panic because you don’t know the answer--Do easy questions first.  Use scratch paper to “memory dump” everything you can remember to use them for answers later.

Sleepiness--Get a good night’s sleep before the test.

Social media--Avoid checking your Facebook or Instagram page before tests.

Tense neck, shoulder, or chest muscles--Roll your head in a clockwise and then counter-clockwise full circle (2-3 times in each direction). Roll shoulder muscles in a clockwise and then counter-clockwise full circle (2-3 times in each direction). Relax your chest muscles by taking 5 deep, slow breaths and letting them out slowly.

Upset stomach or tense stomach muscles--Relax stomach muscles and use over-the-counter or prescribed anti-acids appropriately.

Windows--Sit away from the windows so you won’t look out.

Reducing or Controlling Test Anxiety

There are two requirements for success on a test.  The first is learning and knowing the content.  The second is demonstrating that knowledge during the exam.  Systematic use of learning skills will not only insure learning, but it will also eliminate one of the most important causes of exam panic:  the uncertainty concerning one's preparation.  That is, it is necessary not only to know the material - but to know that you know it.  The self-testing provided by recitation and review is a rehearsal of the final performance (the exam).  It provides proof of preparation and a shield against panic.  According to students, their primary difficulty is "clutching" when the exam is given.

To maximize your performance and reduce anxiety, consider these steps:

Prepare adequately for the test.  (Or remember, you can’t remember what you haven’t studied.)  That means planning time to study over a period of time rather than cramming. Cramming is not an effective study technique for long-term learning and it provides you with no alternatives if you find something you don’t understand while you are studying. Studying over time allows you to rehearse the material (rehearsal increases performance) and to deal with any questions you might have by asking classmates or professors.  It also usually means you have stayed up half or most of the night and will be really tired when you go to take the test.

Rehearse the material the way you will be tested.  After you have studied the material, ask yourself the kinds of questions you expect to see on the test – objective test questions (multiple choice, short answer, matching, etc.), essay, or story problem. If you can’t think of any questions, you probably haven’t studied the material well enough yet or you haven’t been going to class to see what the instructor has been emphasizing. Nevertheless, the more you practice like you will be tested, the more the exam will feel like just one more time through the material.

Monitor the thoughts you are having about your performance. We tend to act the way we rehearse we will act.  So, if we spend lots of time imagining that we are nervous, sweaty, and panicking and that we will not be able to remember anything and not be able to answer even one question, chances are good this rehearsal will pay off and we will “blank out” when the exam begins.  On the other hand, if we prepare and rehearse adequately and imagine being eager to get to the test so that we can show what we know, it is more likely our performance will increase.

Be as physically ready to take the test as you can. This means – getting adequate sleep the night before the exam so you are rested; avoiding caffeine and other stimulants to keep you up the night before to study (and then finding you can’t fall asleep). By the way, stimulants cause your body to experience symptoms that precisely mimic panic – rapid heart rate, dilated pupils, shallow fast breathing, shaking, etc. If you drink a gallon of coffee and an hour later think you must be panicking because your body is doing strange things, it may just be the caffeine.  Preparing adequately in advance allows you the time you need to sleep and re-charge before the test.

Panic is contagious.  Stay away from the source of the contagion - other students who haven’t prepared well.

Reduce potential distractions in the testing room as much as you can. Eat enough to feel comfortable, go to the bathroom before the test, and sit where you are less likely to be distracted. At TWU it is always wise to wear layers of clothing because you never know what the temperature may be.  Being able to put on or take off layers during the exam will keep you more comfortable.

Admit to yourself that you will not know all the answers. Instead of saying, over and over, "I'm afraid I won't know it", say "some of it I won't know - and some of it I will."  Thus, when you read the first question and don't know the answer, you will respond, not with the conclusion that you know nothing, not by clutching, but by saying, "that's the one that I don't know." Also, remember that some anxiety is useful.  People perform best when there is neither too much nor too little anxiety.  Don’t try to eliminate anxiety, just to keep it at a level that allows you to perform best.

Use good test taking skills. Most tests do not require you to answer the questions in the order in which they appear. Start by answering the question that is easiest for you – the one about which you are most certain. Then answer the next one in which you have the most confidence. Use this process through the whole test, leaving the most difficult or unsure items for last. Also, use good time management skills – be aware of the weight of each question. Don’t spend 30 minutes on a 5-point answer only to find you have 30 minutes to complete the remaining questions worth 95 points.

Take breaks. No, you don’t need to get up and run a few laps around the track to calm down. But, you might find that putting your pen down, closing your eyes, taking a few slow deep breaths and moving some of the muscles you’ve kept stationary in your chair for several minutes can help you feel more energized, calm, and able to perform better. This kind of break only takes 30-60 seconds.

Plan to reward yourself after the exam is over. Give yourself something to look forward to. Reward yourself for using the best possible study process, not for how well you did or did not do on the exam. Also, review what you did that worked well for you and what didn’t work so well. Then, keep what worked and find other better things to replace the things that didn’t work so well.

Page last updated 3:22 PM, July 5, 2018