Ask a Professor: Finals week advice for stressed out students

Brian Coffey poses for a portrait in the courtyard by Waters Hall. Coffey is an associate professor of agricultural economics and has been teaching at Kansas State for the past three years. (Rowan Jones | Collegian Media Group)

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It’s just a few days before the end of the semester, but something foreboding stands between you and the freedom of winter break: finals week. Here’s some advice from your very own professors on how to ace this semester’s finals.

1. Remember the big picture

Brian Coffey, assistant professor of agricultural economics, suggested looking outward during times of stress. “Go out and do something to encourage another student who seems to be having a rough time during finals season,” Coffey said.

Additionally, it’s important for students to remember why they are putting themselves through all this.

“Also, take time to remind yourself of the bigger picture of what your K-State diploma will allow you to do in the future and why you are here,” Coffey said. “Finally, remember that, whether they are great or not so great, your grades are only meant to measure your performance, and not who you are.”

2. Relax

Barry Flinchbaugh, professor emeritus of agricultural economics, said keeping a cool head is vital.

“Relax,” Flinchbaugh said. “Do not panic or cram. It is too late for that. Get plenty of rest. Clear your mind of trivia. Review your course notes. Think logically about what you have learned. Do not memorize.”

Flinchbaugh also encouraged students to use their resources for a well-rounded understanding of the subject.

“If you do not understand something in your notes, check with a friend in class, contact the professor or the teaching assistants or check the text and references,” Flinchbaugh said. “In other words, understand it before the final. Finals are supposed to test your overall knowledge of the subject, so spend the most time studying the big picture and relax. Be calm.”

3. Test yourself

Carla Martinez Machain, associate professor of political science, recommended testing your knowledge before walking into your final exam.

“The best way to prepare for finals is to not just read over textbooks and notes, but also to practice writing out mock answers to see if you can recall the material,” Martinez Machain said.

However, it doesn’t have to be all work and no play.

“Also, be sure to take study breaks,” Martinez Machain said. “Drinking coffee or hot chocolate with friends, going for a run, or doing yoga are all good ideas.”

4. Dedication is key

Jonathan Herington, professor of philosophy, provided several steps for a smooth finals week.

“Don’t delay,” Herington said. “When you have all of dead week to prepare for an exam, it’s tempting to take a couple of days to relax. But Monday quickly turns into Thursday, and all you have to show for those four days is being caught up on ‘Bachelor in Paradise.’

“Study consistently,” Herington continued. “Study like it is your job. Study every day. Ideally, you would have been reviewing your notes throughout the semester. But here we are now, and the fact that your past-self made some grave mistakes is no reason to keep making them.”

Step two is more focused on socializing to get your head out of exams.

“Don’t become a hermit,” Herington said. “Talk to other people about what you are studying. If you have a good grasp of the material, helping fellow students will really solidify your knowledge.”

If you are struggling, then asking others, whether that is your professor or your fellow students, Herington said.

“If you are meeting with your professor, have a set of specific questions to ask,” he said. “You’ll get a lot less out of a meeting with your professor if your opener is, ‘Can we go over the review notes?'”

Finally, Herington urged students to stay calm no matter what happens.

“Don’t panic,” Herington said. “I know this is hard advice to follow, but obsessing about how much you don’t know is probably not productive. When anxiety is getting the better of me, I find that simple relaxation exercises — focused breathing, a cup of coffee, a neck massage — can often be a good way to start a study session.

Once you are feeling calmer, Herington said, focus on just one section of the course that you don’t fully understand.

“Work on that with focus, then move on to the next thing you need to review,” Herington said. “Trying to skim over the entire course is just going to increase your distress, and it’s probably not going to help you retain anything.”

Olivia Rogers is a community editor for the Collegian, the secretary of the College Republicans at Kansas State and a junior in political science. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and the persons interviewed and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to

I’m Olivia Rogers. I graduated with dual degrees in philosophy and political science in May 2020. After I graduated, I went on to attend law school at Notre Dame. While at the Collegian, I served as the community editor for several semesters, working to share the opinions of the K-State student body. I write because: “Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.”― Madeleine L'Engle