Final Exams and Summer Plans: How You Can Wrap Up the School Year Strong

Student Life

Can you believe it? The 2020-2021 school year is coming to its end in a matter of weeks, if not days. In this turbulent year, many of us have experienced the transition from online school back to learning in-person and with our peers, continued separation with our family and relatives, and restrictions on sports and other extracurricular activities alike.

In every stage of our lives, we try to have a list of things we’ve accomplished to reflect on. Whether it be an improved GPA, development of a relationship, or involvement in a new community, there are many ways for us to build up that list. Read through some of my tips for crafting your list of achievements that will make you proud of yourself in this article, as well as advice to help you wrap up the school year strong.

Final Exams

As students, academics and grades are undeniably on everyone's list of priorities, whether you want it there or not. And for most of us, the ending of a school year indicates the beginning of final exams.

This is for sure a stressful time, but it is for everyone, so don't panic. Here's my advice for (last minute) test prep.

1. Review your notes

At this point, reading the whole textbook is no longer realistic or efficient. Instead, trust the notes you took in class and especially review those that the teacher put emphasis on because they'll be more likely to show up on the exam, possibly more than once. Focusing on notes you highlighted or underlined is a good strategy to follow because trying to understand and memorize every detail is, 90% of the time, a waste of time.

But I get it––sometimes looking through everything is reassuring, comforting, and gives you a sense of achievement. These were feelings I had when I used this strategy, but sometimes these "perfectionist" qualities can really put you at a disadvantage.

I experienced this the hard way when I studied for my history midterm exam in April this year: I spent 7 hours skimming the textbook and reviewing my notes, trying to understand every single word from these materials, while my friend only spent under 3 hours looking over key concepts. She showed up to the test feeling less anxious and overwhelmed but just as prepared as me, and we ended up receiving the same score.

2. Rest Well

This phrase is often thrown at students by their teachers or parents as constructive advice, but unprocessed by the students themselves, who think it's useless. Although last-minute cramming is a strategy that can work––and has worked for me in the past––it should be your last choice for a study plan.

Sleep relaxes the body and mind. An overused statement, but blatantly true. We often say to others and ourselves that "we don't have time to sleep" or "I am not able to sleep because I'm just too busy," but being honest with yourself, to what extent are those overstatements? An extra hour of sleep is the same amount of time as an hour of gaming or texting friends, equally valuable if not more.

For this school year's semester one finals, I felt exhausted from studying for my Chemistry and English exams that were both happening on the same day and I accidentally fell asleep the night before the exams after I took a shower. This was not planned, and the next morning, I had a brief panic-moment in which I believed I was extremely unprepared for both exams. I prepared myself for undesirable results. However, with my mind refreshed from a good night's sleep when my body needed it the most, I actually performed well in both exams and still had enough energy left that afternoon to prepare for my finals in other subjects.

Ever heard of power naps? They work. Whenever you need one, take one.

And good luck! You are already on your sprint before summer vacation.

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Summer 2021

It may be your last summer before college or high school, a gap year, or college applications. So how can we make the most of this summer, both academically and socially?

"Work hard, play hard."

1. Academically

Seize opportunities over the summer. It's easy to get lazy and sleep-in every day, enjoy ice cream with your friends on the beach, and binge watch all the movies and shows you missed during the school year. If you decide to do this, you'll likely end up side by side with a mountain of untouched summer homework a week before the start of the new school year. Instead, try the opposite.

Allow yourself a break right when summer vacation begins (perhaps a week or so to give yourself a well-rested break), then dive into a balance between work and rest. With the flexibility of planning your own schedule, you really get the chance to prioritize your time to dedicate yourself to the activities that are most important to you.

  • Participate in summer programs: Whether this is a summer camp or research experience, it can not only light up your resume but also develop your interests in a certain area with the help of college professors. Start looking for a summer program suitable for you here; some programs may already be full, so hold on to your last chance to apply to those that are still accepting applications!
  • Begin drafting college essays: if you are an incoming high school senior this fall, it is a great idea to begin writing your college essays because it’ll be extremely difficult to write thoughtful and personal essays once the new school year begins. Stuck? Check out this website for tips on how to begin, edit, and perfect your essays.
  • Read books: It's never too late to pick up a new book to read, either for pleasure or learning purposes. This summer, I plan to read some American classics that I have been yearning to read and recommend you to browse through these books to check out!
  • Volunteer: Occasionally, we get too absorbed in our own lives, trying to fill our days up with activities to keep ourselves occupied and entertained. While serving yourself is important, so is serving others. If you do have some extra hours to spare over the summer, consider volunteering from your home or seek local in-person volunteer opportunities if safety restrictions in your area allow.

2. Socially

A reminder that while your summer is yours to challenge yourself and be productive, that schedule should be balanced with a good amount of time for you to recharge. Insert some "free hours" at the end of every week or "free days" near the end of each month for you to treat yourself to a morning at your grandparent's house, an afternoon at an amusement park, a day in the city, or a vacation to a neighboring town with your family.

Again, "work hard, play hard" is how you can maximize your productivity and feel the most fulfillment from having a summer well spent.

  • Get enough sleep each day: Summer is the season for you to recharge yourself both physically, mentally, and emotionally, which can all be achieved through getting 8 hours of sleep every day. Download sleep apps to help you develop this good habit.
  • Exercise: Staying active is extremely important and you don't have to go outside in the sun to do so! Going to a gym, doing yoga in the living room, or trying a new exercise can be just as rewarding as biking in the park.
  • Hang out with friends: Have you ever looked through your chat history with your friends and was disappointed to find that over 90% of your texts are school-related? Summer is the time to get closer with your friends personally and leave memories behind, so get inspired by these fun activities that will be enough to spice up a gathering without costing you too much!
  • Watch movies: Alone, with friends, or with family, there are a plethora of brilliant movies that you probably haven't watched yet or need to watch again, so tick some of them off the list before busy schedules kick in again in the fall!

Best Of Luck!

Do what you can do and you'll be surprised to see what you can achieve. Half of 2021 has already whizzed by us––you’re in control of what comes after.

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Katherine Wang
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Katherine is a current junior in high school. A storyteller at heart, she loves to write short stories and narratives. Outside of writing, Katherine also enjoys drawing, cooking, and swimming.