How to Survive (and even Thrive) during Oxford Finals

While summer in Oxford instantly connotes images of balmy afternoons playing croquet, lounging on lawns and pretentious sessions of punting, the reality for an Oxford Finalist is not quite so idyllic. With final year exams typically making up the entirety of one’s degree classification, the Oxford Finalist is a creature that doesn’t see the start of summer so much as the end of freedom until the date of their last exam. This much-feared period is marked by expressions of perpetual worry; crippling bursts of self-doubt and the inevitable wave of last-minute rustications (dropping to the year below) that send ripples of panic throughout subject groups and even whole colleges. However, my own Finals experience has taught me that third year does not have to culminate in this storm of anxious terror; instead I discovered it was more than possible to have an enjoyable Trinity (summer) term AND still tackle the small matter of my Final exams. For those of you partial to a formula or two, if you think about stress as being equal to the amount of pressure you face divided by the resources and techniques you have to deal with that pressure, eliminating a huge chunk of stress during your Finals becomes comfortingly achievable.

So here are 7 tips that kept me from drowning in Finals despair and that may help you when you’re plunged into your own final year!

  1. Start early – no, that doesn’t mean 3 months before exams, it means up to 6 months before exams, potentially even as early as the start of third year. By facing revision head-on so early you have the luxury of taking your time to make the most aesthetically-pleasing revision notes and, more importantly, to clarify those foundational concepts which will give you a comprehensive understanding of key topics.

  3. Wipe out your weak areas – although it is incredibly tempting to linger on those topics that you have already ‘dominated’, it is vital that you deal with those topics that you would barely scrape a pass in if they made up a paper of their own. Shoring up your knowledge in these areas is an exercise in damage limitation; if you do see these topics in an exam you won’t be breaking into a cold sweat.

  5. Talk to your tutors – as a source of unambiguous and direct answers, your tutors will rapidly become your best friends in the run-up to Finals. The time for trying to look encyclopaedic and win tutorial brownie points will have most definitely passed. If you don’t know or understand something, just ask. If your tutors are willing to mark practice essays or problems sheets you’ve done in your own time, take them up on this offer and remember to say thank you. A lot.

  7. Sideline society positions – if you didn’t make it to President or Treasurer of that society you dedicated all your second year to, accept it and move on. Society politics is next level stress, it is also optional stress, so do not opt in. Instead, try out extra-curricular activities where you just need to turn up once a week and enjoy yourself, like yoga or wine-tasting.

  9. Sort out your Sub Fusc – don’t be one of those people that posts on the College Facebook group begging to borrow someone’s mortar board the night before their first exam. Take care of the small things such as having the necessary stationery, approved water bottles and clothes that are actually comfortable to spend 3 hours sitting in. Doing this means that you have that bit less to worry about as you approach your first exam.

  11. Make time for a mock – if you have time and you feel ready, it’s well worth going through the motions at least once for each of your papers so that you get a sense of how fast you move through the paper and whether your handwriting mutates into a ghastly scrawl, undecipherable even by you.

  13. Focus on YOUR best, rather than THE best – of course it would be great to get the highest mark in the university for every one of your papers. However, this level of pressure on yourself can very quickly transform into an overwhelmingly tide of stress. Be gentle on yourself and allow for the fact that you probably will make some mistakes on each paper. It’s not the end of the world. If you concentrate on doing YOUR best to prepare for the exams, regardless of what happens in the exam hall, you’ll probably be able to walk out of each exam with something resembling a smile.

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