Beating The Dreaded Exam Procrastination

exam procrastination

We’ve all been there. At the beginning of the semester, you tell yourself that you’re going to do things right. You’re going to stay on top of your reading, take diligent notes for every single chapter, and when exams come around you’ll be so prepared you’ll hardly need to study. Maybe you stuck to your plan perfectly and you’ve hardly got any studying to do. Maybe you didn’t stick to your plan as perfectly, and you’ve got some long study sessions ahead. Whichever camp you fall into, it’s important to avoid the pre-exam meltdowns and crunch time all-nighters for the sake of your test score and your mental health.

Exam procrastination is a real threat, especially during finals when vacation is so close you can taste it. While no one is immune ­– at least, no one I’ve ever met! – these pointers can help you focus, study efficiently, and beat the procrastination that can do a number on your exam performance.


Study with classmates.

There are a few perks to studying with others. First, you’ve got a set time and place to meet and get to work, which means you can’t accidentally watch that fourth episode of Game of Thrones or press snooze for a fifth time. Second, you’ve got others relying on you to focus and participate; after all, no one wants to be the weak link in a study group. In general, “mob mentality” isn’t a positive thing… except when it comes to studying for an exam.

Please note that I said “classmates” instead of “friends.” Studying with acquaintances from your class can help you focus, while studying with your longtime BFF can result in goofing off and off-topic chit-chat. Choose your study mates wisely!


Put away your cell phone.

Everyone has something on their phone that ends up being a total time-suck. For some, it’s social media. For others, it’s the New York Times crossword app (guilty). Even a text from your best friend or a phone call from your mom can end up breaking your focus, and suddenly it’s been two hours and you’ve gotten nothing done. Our phones are the biggest distractions, and we often don’t even realize how much. Don’t risk it! Put your cell phone away before you get started, and commit to not even glancing at it until you’ve finished whatever task you have at hand. Not only will you get into “the zone,” your phone can even be the reward at the end.


Make a realistic, manageable “plan of action.”

It’s way easier to procrastinate when you don’t have a clear goal in mind. Ideally, at least a week before your exam, create a very specific schedule or checklist for studying with precise timeframes to get each thing done. For example, commit to outlining two chapters every day in the week leading up to the exam, or tackling flashcards one day, practice tests the next day, and so on. With a detailed and realistic plan of action, you’ll avoid exam procrastination that tends to arise when we feel aimless. Plus, procrastinating one day will only make your life more difficult the next… so set your future self up for success!


Set a timer.

It’s hard to feel motivated when you’ve got hours upon hours of studying in front of you and a to-do list three pages long. Instead of stressing about the full day ahead – which can result in discouragement and, yep, procrastination – focus on a shorter interval. For example, set a timer for one hour, pick a specific topic or chapter to study for that hour, and commit to using every minute productively. When that hour is up, give yourself 10 to 15 minutes to relax, grab a snack, or go for a walk. Then, start the process over. Mentally, it’s much easier to tackle an hour of studying than an entire day.


Study when you feel best.

My best friend is a morning person. When her alarm would go off at 6 a.m., she was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and ready to hit the books. Me… not so much. My surge of energy always came around 4 p.m., and my studying “sweet spot” was always the late afternoon into evening. I never understood how my friend got so much done in the morning, and she never understood how I focused in the afternoon. Regardless, it worked for us!

Take note of when you’re most alert and productive, and take advantage. If that means setting your alarm on a Saturday or saying no to a social invitation after school, so be it. Study during your prime time, and you’ll be least susceptible to exam procrastination.