In college, there are few things more dreaded than the final. Whether it manifests as a scantron or an essay, everyone fears being dazed over the lack of an answer despite tireless efforts of research and study. However, while it is tempting to procrastinate and drown out one’s sorrows with a six-pack, there are better ways of coping with the stresses of exam time.
Step One: Prioritize!
While this should be the first step to everything in life, studying is no exception. The equation is simple: if grades come last, then the transcript will most likely reflect that. Having a photographic memory or a gifted mind does not excuse one from this responsibility either – it only entails a different strategy from the average student on Grounds, as explained below. In short, those A’s are not going to appear by themselves. The only reliable way to get achieve this result is through constant review of the class material, not by putting it off until the last minute after partying at Rugby Road.
Step Two: Have a Plan!
Once one decides to put studying above all else during exam week, the question becomes: how does one study? The answer to that depends on how one learns best: individual practices may differ between students. For example, if a visual learner is reviewing for a biology test, then the person can use the plethora of anatomy diagrams on the Internet. On the other hand, if the student learns best through writing, perhaps it is better to read the textbook and write summaries of various chapters. Approaches can also be combined, such as the case of a flowchart mixing visual and textual styles together to reflect processes like digestion and respiration.
Furthermore, depending on the difficulty of the subject, one class can take precedence over another. That means if a student always gets straight A’s in Italian class but gets B’s in Chinese history, then more effort should be placed on the history final. Finally, for some subjects, it may not even be necessary to study at all, especially if one has already mastered the material or if one luckily has the rare and elusive open-note exam. As a rule, though, it is always better to be safe than sorry, so even a quick skim of the notes can help in these extraordinary cases.
Step Three: Do One Thing at a Time!
As a student at the University of Virginia, it is easy to get caught up in the “work hard, play hard” culture and try to simultaneously review every topic during the exam period. Yet, that’s exactly the opposite of what one should be doing – studying should be done one subject at a time. That is because the brain can only comprehend a certain amount of information at any given moment: the longer the list increases, the chances of forgetting also increase, except for the beginning and the end (which psychologists know as the “serial position effect”). It is thus better to chunk studying into smaller sections so the mind can process over time, similar to chewing and digestion.
This applies to the problem of multi-tasking as well. While every student is guilty of procrastinating on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, these distractions take time away from exam review. Self-control should therefore be of the utmost importance during exam time, and whether this is expressed by a temporary Facebook deactivation or some time away from technology in general, people should be focusing on grades, not screens.
Step Four: Take Care of Your Body
All-nighters at Clemons are not going to help during exam week, and sleeping there is not going to help either. Not only are the chairs usually hard to rest on, but the usual tendency is to go on late into the evening and sleep only for three or four hours while trying to cram the last essay or book in. This does not work not only for the reasons above but because most people need seven to nine hours of sleep for optimal brain function, according to the National Sleep Foundation’s infographic. Of course, not all college students can keep this schedule, but it is hard to ace an exam if one is continually nodding off into oblivion, making it important to get a good night’s rest.
On a similar note, it is important to care of one’s body in other ways: take a shower, exercise regularly, and most of all, make sure to eat! While it seems easy to skip between meals while absorbed in a textbook or moving between finals, nutrition is essential to keeping the brain in shape by providing it with chemicals that allow one to think in the first place. Plus, the pangs and grumbles are very distracting when it comes to test time, highlighting the need for adequate nourishment during this period.
Step Five: Relax!
If one has made it this far, worries about academic success are probably stewing already, especially if good grades are necessary for scholarships or majors. Panicking will do no favors, though – if anything, it only detracts from all of the points mentioned above as one focuses on emotions rather than on the material itself. Then, when one actually faces the test, it becomes impossible to write or bubble the correct answer as panic processes fear and blocks any relevant knowledge from reaching the surface. In other words, to all of the terrified students out there: take it easy! Breathe in and out at all steps, and focus on the task at hand while striving towards the larger goal.
Keeping this in mind, breaks are also essential to good study habits. While this may seem counter-intuitive, it is actually important to do this while studying because the brain can only stay at one task for a given amount of time. Taking care of the brain through play is thus vital to maintaining one’s sanity during the crunch of finals. This play, in any case, still has to be centered on studying due to the priorities of exam time, but the key here is preserving mental balance. In doing so, one can maintain flexibility and still get good grades.
At any rate, this guide is not meant to be a series of rigid steps but a set of helpful guidelines to help people get the best out of their study time. So, rest assured that these points will help during these crucial two weeks, and remember that these are supposed to lead to confidence – the key to success not just in finals but in life!