Freshman 15: How to Survive Your First Exam Week

Dorms at Duke


The Freshman Fifteen is a series by college freshman Elizabeth on the various things she’s learned throughout the year. Stay tuned for more posts!

For college freshman, one of the most daunting events is the first finals week. It can be scary and intimidating, but with a few helpful pointers, you’ll be able to breeze through it without a care in the world.

First of all, don’t believe the hype. 

All of the after school specials, bad teen movies, older siblings, and guidance counselors want you to believe that exam week is this terrifying entity of its own that reduces students to tears and can make or break your future. Spoiler alert: it’s not.


Sure, you may have difficult classes that you need to study for. Sure, the week might be a bit more stressful than a regular one. But more often than not, “final exams” are the same as the other tests you take in the class (aka not cumulative) and nothing much changes.

If you keep on top of things all semester, do your homework, and study along the way instead of cramming all the night before, you’ll be in even better shape.

Just breathe.

I can almost guarantee you, nothing during finals week is worth stressing yourself out that much over. All that is going to accomplish is making you feel worse than you already do. Stress can open you up to sickness, and can make it difficult to sleep, thus starting the entire cycle over again. Trust me, it’s not worth it.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a break. Go for a walk around campus if it’s nice weather outside. Try some yoga or other form of exercise. Read a book for a few minutes, or listen to some calming music. Hey, take a 30 minutes power nap if that’s what you’re feeling.

Don’t forget to keep up with drinking fluids and eat a well balanced diet to help ward off any infections that may be waiting to attack and make your week more miserable.

Study responsibly.

As I said before, it’s just not a good idea to try to cram an entire section or semester’s worth of information into your brain the night before your exam. Start studying early, and do it in manageable increments throughout the week.

DON’T pull all nighters or stay up to the wee hours of the morning and DON’T try to make up for lack of sleep, should it happen, with energy drinks or espresso shots. You will get jittery and anxious and won’t be able to function, and eventually you will crash harder than ever and be useless until you catch up on sleep.

So remember, when approaching finals week – whether it be your first or your fifth – stay calm, relax, and don’t bite off more than you can chew. It will all be over soon, and you’ll be able to sleep it off over winter or summer break.