It’s that time again… the snow is falling, the lights are twinkling, the streets are filled with Christmas cheer – which means it’s time! It’s time for you to hole yourself inside the library and stress out about finals. Here’s some tips to make things less traumatic:
Study in order from definitely, probably, might be. Definitely will be on the test, probably will be on the test and might be on the test. That way the basics are solid and the extras will be if you have the time and patience. Do this while also taking into consideration previous tests and assignments that tell you what you’re less confident in. Then you can prioritize the stuff you’re bad at that will definitely be on the test.
Study with other people who will give you the opportunity to talk it through. Explaining something to a friend or someone willing to listen will help solidify the concepts in your own head.
Put all the pertinent information into a format that is the easiest for your reviewing preferences. Ideally, condensing the information to its most important components as you go. For example, outlines or flashcards. But don’t get caught up in the making of study aids and lose valuable time to actually study the aids.
As you’re going through your notes, ask yourself how the material might appear on the exam. Would this group of facts make a good multiple choice question or short answer question? How would the question be phrased? Not only does this prepare you for what to expect but also gets you to think about the material in a conceptual way that tests your understanding beyond memorization and makes it stick
Start early. Even if your exams are well spaced out. 15 hours of studying three days before and 15 hours of studying over two weeks is not the same. Studying over a longer period gives your brain time to store the information in long term memory, making recall on test day so much easier. Also, the closer the exam date makes things more stressful, which makes it harder to focus and lowers your ability to retain information. The key to this is being able to manage your time so that you’re able to juggle all classes. Study schedules simplify everything. The academic skills center will even help you make one. Starting to study early also gives you the opportunity to move your focus. Instead of getting burnt out in one subject that you’ve already studied for hours, you can switch your focus to the next subject. Kind of like taking a break. Having a schedule to stick to also means you won’t have to skip out on sleep or other things you need to do to recharge your batteries. Bringing me to my next point…
Make sure you recharge your batteries. Yes, by sleeping, but sleep is not enough. Set aside an hour or so every day to do something for yourself. Work out, watch a movie, go for a walk, read a book, or just do absolutely nothing.
Take breaks. Most people prefer to have scheduled breaks. Science suggests a 5 minute break every 40 minutes or so. Then you have something to look forward to when things get tough. But if you’re getting really frustrated or stressed, step away for as much time as it takes you to recharge (okay, maximum one day, otherwise it becomes counterproductive).
Ask for help if you need it. And starting early helps with this because it means you’ll have time to ask for help, you can’t email your professor the night before the exam and expect them to reply or expect yourself to be able to retain what they tell you. But if you approach them a week before, it’s likely they’ll be ecstatic and you’ll have time to make use of what they say. You can also contact the academic skills center.
Be nice to yourself. School is hard, and we often expect a lot of ourselves. Your mental health is always more important than your grades.
Now for the ones you hear all the time but maybe still don’t believe:
Sleep! If you have a good study schedule, this should be a given. And naps are okay, sleeping right after reviewing information improves recall later on.
Eat good food! No, not the tasty stuff. Nutritious food. Junk food drains the valuable energy that is better used for studying. That means anything you can purchase at school is probably out… it might be time to experiment with meal prep.
Bonus: work out. According to science, just 20 minutes of cardio can improve memory (and also greatly reduce stress).
The most important study advice is to learn what works for you and stick to it. Ideally, you’ve spent the year taking smaller scale tests where the scores were an indicator of how effective your study strategies are. Finals are not the time to experiment with methods unless you’re sure it’s going to work. Good luck!