7 Finals Tips to Activate Freshman Brains


By Thea Gonzales

If you’re currently reading this, you have a brain. First of all, congratulations. Several species of sea creatures (e.g. sea stars, jellyfish, and sea cucumbers) and bacteria have already failed that test. Secondly, you have an amazing gift. Your brain is full of untold possibility that still has not been completely unlocked to this day.

Now onto the bad news. You have first semester final exams within four days.

However, final exams are no reason to fear. Remember all that brain stuff I was talking about? You have all the capability and strength to get through the tests in the next week. Whether you’re a freshman or not, the following tips are for test-takers and their brains everywhere.

1. Come in Prepared

The best way to prepare for the unknown is to ask someone who has already been there. Upperclassmen are an excellent resource: we know more about finals than anyone else because we’ve had to take them two times a year for several years. If you have an older sibling, a homeroom mentor, or a friend who has already survived finals week, it’s worth it to ask a few questions about what to expect so you’re not blindsided on Dec. 16.

Additionally, teachers and the Internet are valuable assets to take advantage of. If you don’t know your finals schedule or have forgotten, computer programming and math teacher Matthew Fahrenbacher has created an online generator that will retrieve your schedule when you enter your student ID.

Be sure to double check all of your supplies before going to your exam: number two pencils, erasers, your ID, and a calculator. You might even want to bring a water bottle. If you forget or lose your calculator, they will be offered to students with IDs in the Oakton Lobby during finals. Don’t forget your ID!

2. Do as Much as You Can Before Finals Week

Ask yourself the following questions and evaluate how much you prepared for the end of the semester throughout it: did I take advantage of every extra credit and retake opportunity I was offered? Did I turn in all of my assignments?  Did I make time to continually study during regular periods of time throughout the semester? If the answer was “no” to any of the previous questions, remind yourself of their importance before finals at the end of next semester.

Cramming is no one’s friend. To the brain, there is a significant difference between recognition and recall. Information found through sensory areas of the brain– such as the visual cortex if looking at notes or textbooks– greatly affects the brain’s ability to recognize material. This means that if you flip through your note cards 10 minutes before your Spanish final,you’ll be more likely to recognize the word “calcetines” rather than what it actually means. You will be familiar with the material but not able to pull out specific information pertaining to it.


It also doesn’t hurt to be as nice as possible to your teachers in between now and Tuesday.

3. Get a Good Night’s Sleep

You’ve no doubt already heard this from all of your teachers. Hear it once again: a good night’s sleep through all of the five sleep cycles can do nothing but benefit your health.

Among countless articles on the wonders of a little rest, The Huffington Post published an article in June of 2014 with the results of an experiment for the Institute for the Study of Labor in Germany. “…The grades of students who slept seven hours each night during the exam period were nearly 10 percent higher than those of students who got less sleep. Students who extended their sleep duration from six to seven hours saw an average increase of 1.7 points (on a scale of 20) for each exam. And, yes, the researchers accounted for differences in the students’ study habits as well as their health and socioeconomic backgrounds.”

For all of you who think that staying up all night to review your notes over and over is going to help you, stop thinking. Find a comfortable surface to rest on and sleep. If you really need to study, set an alarm for a little earlier than you would normally wake up and work when your brain has had enough time to recuperate.

4. Do Some Squats and Lunges Before Exams

People might make fun of you for this. I got a lot of strange looks when I did a series of 36 squats (wouldn’t it be great if your score was equivalent to the number of squats you did?) before the ACT in October, but my score ended up higher than the last time I took it.

Of course, there were several factors that could have impacted my score: a different testing environment, my breakfast, the weather that day, or even the fact that I had already taken the test once before. However, exercise is connected to higher performance in exams–this is a well-known fact.

Don’t overdo it with the 500 push-ups before the exam, but keep in mind that a little physical activity before the test can increase your brain’s productivity just by increasing your body’s blood flow.

5. Air is Your Friend

The air we breathe in from the atmosphere is approximately 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and 0.9% trace gases. And guess what? All of is it free. Take as much as you need.

Whenever you’re taking a test or involved in a stressful situation, breath is oftentimes the first thing to go. Don’t let it get away from you. During the exam, take deep breaths. If you need to focus for a second, look away from your paper and concentrate on your breathing. It may seem inconsequential, but you’d be surprised by the amount of stress that a simple breath can alleviate.

“As it turns out, deep breathing is not only relaxing, it’s been scientifically proven to affect the heart, the brain, digestion, the immune system — and maybe even the expression of genes” (“Just Breathe: Body Has a Built-In Stress Reliever“).

6. Go Somewhere You Like Before Your Test

Take a little time to reconnect with yourself before the test. Though it is important to do as well as you can on your final exams, there is so much more to you than a test score.

Before your exam, go somewhere that you feel the most like you. You could go to the library, your best friend’s house, or even just spend time with your family. If you’re a bowler, maybe you want to go to Brunswick’s and knock some pins down before acing your tests. If you’re an athlete, maybe you want to go to your backyard and play whatever sport you play for a while (except for swimming– I don’t think they’ve invented a way to do that on land yet). Maybe you just want to go to your room and listen to music alone. I personally like to take a walk in forest preserves. The Frank Bobrytzke Forest is along Oakton, and Harms Woods is a beautiful, open space where you can gain some perspective.

Go somewhere that doesn’t ask anything of you and remember what it’s like to simply be a part of the universe. Then walk into that classroom fully recharged and show that test why it should be afraid of you.

7. Learn From Your Mistakes

At the end of finals, you should know more about yourself as a student: how you study, what helps you concentrate, what deters your productivity, and what to think of in the future. If you bomb every single test– which I know your brain will not allow you to do– you still have a chance to learn from the mistakes you made this semester. Next semester, you’ll be more familiar with the finals process and hopefully a little more ready for it.


When all fails and you have nothing left, remember that you do have something no one else has: you. You’ve survived every illness, natural disaster, heartache, and heartbreak that nature has thrown at you. Your ancestors have survived natural selection– do you know how big of a deal that is?

The point is, you are no less of a human being after your final exams (unless somehow your tests have modified your genetic makeup). Remember all of the tips you have been given throughout the year and thank your brain for all the work it does just to keep you alive every day.