It’s that time again if you’re a college or graduate student — time for finals. It’s also time to self-sabotage, to get in your own way in terms of effective studying. We stress out more than usual, even when we’re on top of the material, because of the anxiety surrounding test-taking.
But you don’t have to stress out about final exams. You can actually do better (and feel better about your performance) if you keep the stress at bay and focus on simple study skills over the next few weeks.
Here’s a few tips for coping with finals to get you started. None of these are going to be eye-opening or stuff you don’t already know… But sometimes we need to be reminded of the things we already know, to drive home their importance.
1. Schedule your time to focus on studying.
Look, we all understand how college isn’t all about studying — it’s also about learning to enjoy your independence and have a full social life with your friends. But even if you’ve blown off a lot of the reading over the semester, now’s the time to hunker down and hit the books.
Actually sit down and write out a schedule (or do it in Google Calendar or what-not). Plan out every hour of every day for the next week or two. Then hold yourself to it.
For study time, set specific goals for each study session throughout the day, too. For instance, “Tuesday morning, I’m going to review Chapters 14, 15 and 16, write summaries of these chapters, and finish re-reading my class notes covering this material.”
2. Don’t blow off sleep.
Sleep is the body’s and brain’s way of re-energizing itself. Your brain cells renew and studies show that people who don’t get adequate sleep do worse on cognitive and memory tasks. All of this points to the downside of the all-nighter. If you feel like you just have to do it, try not to do it more than once. Chances are, whatever you’re cramming for overnight is going to compete with your brain’s fatigue by staying up all night. You may feel like you’re “winning,” but it’s probably a false belief on your part.
Spend more time studying during the day (see #1), and an all-nighter won’t be necessary.
3. Shut down social networking and gaming.
I hate to say it, but your computer (or smartphone) during finals week is likely going to be your biggest distraction. We don’t multitask as well as we think we do — especially when it comes time to learn new material.
Shut it all down. Shut down Facebook, close out Tweetdeck, and say goodbye to raids in WoW this week. If you must — absolutely must — check in with Facebook or Twitter, schedule the time to do so (see #1), and only check in with those services when the schedule tells you to. Trust me when I say that your friends will understand if you’re a little more out of touch than usual (as they should be as well if they’re studying too).
4. Don’t blow off eating.
Just as brain needs sleep to rebuild those important neuronal connections, your brain also needs energy in order to work. Food is how we get energy, so although you think you’re doing a good thing by blowing off breakfast, lunch, whatever, you’re actually handicapping yourself.
Eating also gives you something else that’s important — downtime from studying and a chance to connect with your friends. While you may have to shift your priorities during finals week and hit the books more, that doesn’t mean you should ban all social time. Just do it while you’re doing something else you need to do anyway, like eating.
5. Try rewriting or summarizing your notes & chapters.
Everyone has their own study methods — re-reading (or reading for the first time!) textbook chapters, taking practice quizzes, re-reading one’s class notes. But here’s something you should try if you haven’t yet — rewriting or summarizing both your own classroom notes and the textbook chapters.
Research has shown that this method helps you to better learn the subject matter. It can also help you synthesize the main themes of the chapter or class. It may seem time-consuming or even pointless, but it’s a simple method that you can put to the test to see if it helps for you.
6. Don’t forget “me time.”
While sleeping and eating are important, as is spending a little time connecting with your friends, you should also schedule something that will act as a reward and goal that will help keep you motivated throughout the day. Whether it’s going for a jog, meeting up with friends for dinner, or just watching your favorite TV show, don’t forget to take a break. Schedule them in (see #1 again!), and if you’ve hit your goals for that day, go and have some fun.
Research has shown that by setting small goals we can attain, and giving ourselves small rewards when we attain them, we’re more likely to be successful.
7. Cramming may work, but…
Look, cramming may appear to work for some people, but it’s not really a reliable or effective method for acing your finals. Research shows that spacing out studying over time is more effective than cramming. So cram if you must (or you feel it works for you), but try something else next semester. Instead of waiting until the last minute to do the reading, try and keep up with it throughout the semester.
After your finals are done, it’s a good time to honestly evaluate how the semester went for you — what you could’ve done better, and what you can do better next time around. There’s no point in berating yourself for where you’ve screwed up — but you can learn from these missteps.
While these tips weren’t meant to be comprehensive, they may give you some ideas for helping out with your needs this time around. Good luck with your finals!