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How to Keep Your Cool During the Heat of Finals Week

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The end of the school year tends to be one of the most stressful periods in the academic year. Responsibilities seem to suddenly stack up: final projects are due, final exams are looming, AP exams are underway, and summer, on the horizon, still seems so far out of reach. At the same time, you may have an SAT or ACT date coming up, and many extracurriculars are completing yearend culminations. The end of the school year is no joke, and some students can become overwhelmed by all that’s asked of them during this busy time of year.


When work begins to pile up and responsibilities seem overwhelming, it’s important to have some coping strategies to help you stay organized, focused, and sane during these especially busy weeks. With so much going on concurrently, it’s easier to overlook smaller events or projects. But if this happens, you’re bound to be even more stressed out than you were beforehand.


In this post, we’ll outline our top five tips for staying on top of finals week or any other high intensity week, so that you can not only survive, but come out shining on the other end. To learn more about how you can maintain sanity and still take care of all your important responsibilities that seem to stack up around this time of year, keep reading.


1. Stay Organized.

A good organization system is absolutely critical if you find yourself juggling many commitments in multiple aspects of your life. When extracurriculars, academics, standardized tests, and family commitments seem to gang up on you, you need to keep them straight so that you don’t get buried.


One way to stay organized is through the use of an online calendar app. There are many different options to choose from, and ultimately which one works best for you will depend on which other computer programs you use most often, so that it can easily sync with your existing apps. For example, Apple users will find that the Calendar app on their iPhone can be easily synced with the calendar on a MacBook or iPad. Similarly, Android users might prefer Google calendar or Outlook. Either of these will sync with common programs on a Windows operating system.


Also be sure to keep your family calendar up to date. Ensuring that your parents or other family members know about your busy schedule and any looming deadlines will ensure that they know to lend support and help however possible, and it may also make them more sensitive to asking favors of you that load on additional family responsibilities. In addition, if you need transportation to any important events, you should arrange this well in advance and put it on the family calendar so that everyone will have a visible reminder.


Using a calendar allows you to make a calculated study plan by divvying up the work over an extended period. Stick to your plan so that you don’t fall behind, and be particularly wary of procrastinating. When you begin to fall behind, your missed work will have a habit of piling up and surprising you by its weight when it comes time to finally deal with it. Stay ahead of the game by using a calendar to your advantage.


To learn more about tools to stay organized, check out our post Eight Tips to Use Your Time Efficiently and Stay Organized in High School.


2. Stay Focused

There are tons of distractions in everyday life, now more than ever. We live in a tech-based society where we are constantly invited to consume new multimedia almost every waking moment. It’s all too easy to open a few apps on your phone for a quick break and fall into a deep time warp that doesn’t spit you out for another two hours.


To avoid this slippery slope, make a conscious effort to eliminate distractions. Consider removing social media apps or games from your phone if you know that they are a temptation for you. You can always put them back on once your high intensity week is over, and you’ll still be able to check in with friends in person and online through your computer if you really need to.


Another clear way to stay focused is by scheduling your study time in advance. Set aside a specific time each day to devote to your work, and stick to it, no matter what distractions might arise. Think of this study time as a non-negotiable just like you would consider an important sports practice or meeting for a group project.


Finally, avoid committing to any additional responsibilities during these busy times. It might be difficult to say no, but if you’re volunteering on the commencement planning committee or taking your younger sibling to a soccer tournament, you’re going to have a hard time taking care of your already heavy workload. Instead of feeling that you must always say yes, say that you would love to help, but that your week is already overbooked, and ask if it would be possible to take a rain check. Don’t worry, most people will completely understand and will respect your dedication.


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3. Establish Some Stress Relief Rituals

There are many  things you can do that are scientifically proven to reduce your overall stress level. Some take advanced planning and others can be implemented anytime, anywhere. Familiarize yourself with a few simple stress relievers, and try them out to decide which work best for you. Once you find a few that work, practice using them to reduce stress.


Here are a few well-established stress reducers:


Exercise: Physical activity has been shown to reduce fatigue, improve alertness and concentration, and improve overall cognitive ability. It has also been linked with elevated mood and decreased levels of tension.


Deep breathing: Breath control is a well-documented stress reliever. Deep breaths through your nose can actually slow your heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure. When you focus your thoughts on deep breathing, the results are even more remarkable, since it helps you to disengage from negative thought processes.


Hug it out: Physical affection is known to trigger the production of oxytocin, the hormone linked with good moods and love. It also decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol.


Chew some gum: Surprisingly, something as simple as chewing a piece of gum can reduce negative mood and the stress hormone cortisol. Chewing gum is also associated with increased alertness. While this technique won’t work for you if your stress manifests in jaw clenching, it is a simple, useful stress management technique for many.


4. Take Care of Your Body

Sometimes, when you are struggling to stay on top of so many commitments and responsibilities, you might try to save a few minutes here or there by cutting simple corners. Skipping meals and staying up late might seem like an easy way to gain a few hours in the day, but ultimately cutting corners here will catch up with you.


Be sure to get enough sleep. Studies show that most teens need at least nine hours of sleep every night. If you can’t quite manage to sneak in nine hours, try to get at least eight to keep yourself rested enough to perform at the top of your game.


In addition, eat healthily. Eating too many sweets or fatty foods can actually make you feel more tired, especially if you’re already cutting your sleep short. Instead, eat protein rich meals with a balance of healthy fibers and good fats. Avoid added sugars and too much caffeine, unless you are looking for an immediate but short-lasting energy boost, like during your last break in the SAT. Get some ideas for study-healthy foods here.


Finally, be certain that you stay hydrated. Keep a water bottle by your desk while you’re studying and try to avoid sugary or caffeinated beverages that will ultimately dehydrate you. Dehydration has been linked with negative moods and decreased cognition, so it’s critical that you get enough water if you want to be at the peak of your performance.


5. Keep Things in Perspective

It’s easy to get carried away in the rush to achieve on standardized tests, school work, and extracurriculars. Sometimes it might seem like everyone around you has everything under control, and like you’re the only one struggling to keep up.


Rest assured that this is not the case. Many of your classmates are likely also feeling overwhelmed and underprepared. As college admissions become more and more selective at the top schools, some high school students even lose sight of what’s truly important.


Remember this: there is no test that can measure your worth as a person, and no test will alter the course of your life forever. Standardized tests, finals, and extracurriculars are simply challenges, and ones that you’ve been well prepared for. Apply yourself using the tools that you have and you’ll come out knowing that you did your personal best, which is what matters most.


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For more information about organization, time management, and stress in high school, check out these posts:



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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.