Finals mark the dreaded final hurdle before summer/graduation arrives, and we’re nearly there. Here are my four favorite study strategies, which I used (with varying degrees of success) to tackle each semester’s onslaught of final essays, exams, late-night study sessions, and the overwhelming sense that I’m running out of time.

Find a system that works well for you, and study your heart out!

Related: 6 Ways to Improve Study Sessions

Set a Timer


Let’s say you have a goal of “studying this afternoon.” Instead of trying to deal with that amorphous stretch of time and all the possible distractions that can pop up, break the time up into chunks of “work” time, with breaks built in (and also on a timer).

My favorite structure:

  • 47 minutes: Study like crazy. NO CHECKING THE INTERNET. Have a set of tasks you have to do (re-read a chapter, run through flash cards, do practice equations, memorize a section of anatomy, write the third section of your final essay). Only do those tasks.

  • 3 minutes: Check social media/phone. (If you are stronger person than me, you can–and should– skip this step.) SET THE TIMER and do not exceed the allotted time.

  • 6 minutes: Step away from the computer/books. Fill your water bottle, take a quick moment outside, eat a snack, chat with a friend. Stand up and move around during this time. Stretch. Make it a real break.

  • Repeat multiple times.

Note: Find an amount of time that works for you. Set the timer for each segment, and no cheating. Also, if you’re wondering why the times I suggest don’t add up to an hour, it’s because I refuse to surrender to the tyranny of the 5-minute increment. I’m already missing the beautiful weather to study, you can’t make me live in quarter-hour segments on top of that. (And, to be honest, my favorite study time is actually 47 minutes, 42 seconds. Don’t ask me why because I cannot tell you.)

Set a Specific, Achievable Goal

Write the following phrase: “I will do nothing else until I ___________.” Then stick to it.

My favorite uses for this:

  • Word counts for essays (Example: I will do nothing else until I write 300 more words of this essay” or “…until my total word count is 2,500”)

  • Pages to be read (Example: “… until I read 40 pages” “… until I get to page 357” “…until I’ve read all of chapters 5 and 6”)

  • Memorize a set amount of information (Example: “…until I know this list of 38 Spanish vocabulary words” or “…I can label all the bones in the human skeleton twice in a row with no mistakes.”

Find a Study Buddy


Pick a friend who is seriously committed to getting work done. Make sure it’s someone who can commit to doing serious work—ideally someone even more hardcore than you are, someone you can use shamelessly to motivate your own work sessions.

For finals, study buddies are particularly effective:

  • For reviewing tough concepts together, taking turns outlining various themes and adding to what the other person says. Both of you should take notes.

  • Peer editing essays. Swap papers, be (gently) ruthless, and get those final essays into good shape.

  • Practice for oral exams/presentations/foreign language tests. If 60% of your final grade rests on some kind of public speaking exercise, DO NOT let the first time anyone hears you be in that exam room. Run your lines with a buddy.

  • Silent, manic study sessions. If you’re an extrovert like me, studying alone is boring. Working in the same space as one or two other motivated individuals makes a huge difference, even if you’re not talking with each other.

A note on this study tip: Do not plagiarize, copy, or otherwise cheat/take unfair advantage of your partner. This technique works because it is collaborative. Do not put yourself, or anyone else, in the situation of exploiting the system. Please.

Create Accountability

Make this about something bigger than yourself. Outsource some of the pressure. You can do this with a study buddy, or by putting someone else (a roommate or sibling) in control of your social media and/or fun activities.

You can also do this by publicly announcing your plans and progress to friends, family, and/or the world of the internet.

Great options for public accountability:

  • Announcing you won’t be using/checking social media for a certain amount of time. (And then sticking to it because it’s embarrassing to be caught “liking” an ex’s photo when you’re supposedly on a social media blackout)

  • Announcing your word count/page count every day. This is a favorite of mine—during my thesis writing I had a big community of people who would cheer me on during the first draft. It was really helpful.

  • Make plans that are contingent on you getting a certain amount of work done. Ask the other person to enforce this.

Above all else, remember that the work will get done, because it has to get done. Soon the exams will be over and the glorious days of summer can begin. Plan something special for your post-finals time. You’re so close, now. Just keep on keeping on, and know you’re not in this alone.