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The last ten yards: Catching up before finals

By Theresa Bryce, 4th-year English major and Gender Studies minor

It’s week 10 and final papers, assignments, labs, and exams are right around the corner and you haven’t done readings… ironically since reading week! It might not be easy to catch up but I hope these strategies will guide you and relieve some stress as you make your way into the summer!

Once you’ve fallen behind I always hear friends and students ask “Should I start from the week I stopped doing readings? Won’t I fall behind on what’s happening now?”. The short answer is that it is possible you may fall behind on current work. The hard truth is that now you have to try make up those hours of Netflix, Stages, procrasti-cleaning/cooking over the past few weeks!

Where to begin?

This depends on your course. If the course is cumulative and teaches material that builds on earlier units (like physics, for example), you’ll have to start from where you stopped. If your course isn’t cumulative, you might try starting with where you’ve stopped, but also attending class and doing the current week’s work (so scheduling in “catch-up” and “keep-up” time into your schedule). To catch up, calculate how much time you have left in the term and double up: do two weeks’ worth of work in one!

Decreasing your work load

I know, doing two weeks in one is exhausting. To reduce the amount of studying, look for main themes, topics, or concepts in your course syllabus. Use “Learning Objectives” to guide what information is important. It might seem like it’s all important, but focusing your energy into the main ideas of the course will yield better results than knowing all the details of weeks 1 and 2 while letting the rest of the course fall to the wayside.

Another way to decrease your work load is to visit your professor and/or TA. It might be daunting to visit office hours, but as a fourth year let me remind you that professors are people, too. They get lonely in their offices and want to see students. They also know that university is hard. Be honest about where you are in the course so that they can direct you the best they can.

Worried about what to say? Here are some guided statements or questions to say to your professor:

“I have really fallen behind on the course work. What is the best way to learn the main themes or concepts from each week? “

“Should I focus on online, text or lectures notes?”

“These concepts really confuse me: __________. “

Positive Self Talk

Catching up is tough, but it’s even harder when that little voice inside your head keeps telling you “I can’t do this”, “I don’t have enough time”, or “This is impossible”. Shut down that negative inner voice! You are where you are — it’s time to make the best of the time you have left. Create a goal using the wise choice model.

  1. Dream big: what is the mark or grade you wish to achieve?
  2. Assess the situation: What do you need to do to achieve this goal (remember the tips to decrease your work load*)
  3. Develop a Creator Perspective: Speak in positive and specific terms I WILL do this. I WILL feel like this during exams.
  4. Design an Action Plan: visit a learning strategist or check out our April Exam Study Schedule


You are NOT your GPA. There are two sides to university: outcomes and experiences. Although you may not achieve a perfect 4.3 outcome, you can value your experiences and change your experience of studying and catching up.

Reach out to these resources on campus for more support and ideas: the Peer Support Centre, Learning Strategies workshops and online resources, and the Writing Centre.

Photo courtesy of Paul under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.