Finals are upon us, Falcons; amidst the ceaseless hours of studying, writing papers, and practicing presentations, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and even stagnant with the work your amassing. Believe it or not, though, studying for finals doesn’t have to be all that daunting of a feat—there are plenty of pro-tips to brace yourself for impending exams and help you to maximize your studying!
Optimize Sensory Input
The more senses you incorporate into your studying routine, the more you’ll be able to retain and critically comprehend. By integrating not just sight, but also touch, sound—even taste and smell—you’re constructing a more vivid foundation to frame your understanding.
Speak out loud, don’t just read in your head.
By vocally reiterating key concepts, you’ll experience what’s known as the “production effect,” which helps to stimulate information retention. When you do so, you’re visually seeing the words, audibly hearing them, and cognitively making the effort to produce them by saying them verbally. By absorbing the information through all of these sensory channels, it will be mapped out much more clearly on your brain.
Don’t fall into the typing temptation.
Trust us, we get it. Typing your notes is efficient, clean, and digitally streamlined—and with technology at our constant disposal, it’s tantalizing to use it. In reality, though, our ability to synthesize and retain information is overwhelmingly stronger when we write out notes and study guides the good old-fashioned way: by hand. The process of writing notes with a pen and paper is far more deliberate and painstaking than typing—meaning you’re actually thinking about what you’re writing down as you’re writing it. Beyond the cognitive processes, by hand-writing your notes, you’re building a “muscle memory”—and the use of touch when studying creates a physical sensory connection with the material. Typing your notes is oftentimes a hollow practice, and a Psychological Science study found that when presented with conceptual questions about the material, students who took handwritten notes tremendously outperformed those who typed their notes.
Color coding your notes is a valuable tool towards visually breaking up the monotony of line-after-line text on a page. Colored pens and highlighters help to emphasize and reiterate the most important concepts by allowing them to visually stand out on the page—which allows your brain to organize, file, and retrieve that information more readily during an exam. We recommend using a triadic or complementary color scheme to show the differences between ideas, and a monochromatic scheme to show the links between connected concepts.
Use scents and tastes to jog your memory.
Research suggests that chewing the same flavor gum while studying and while taking a test can aid in memorization—and the same is true for wearing the same perfume scent. When you utilize these subconscious senses while studying, you’re creating a mental association with the material at hand. Then, when you’re taking an exam, you can centralize on these senses—which will spark your memory about the last time you chewed that gum or wore that scent, consequently reminding you of what you were studying.
Listen to the Right Music
Those of you who need radio silence to study will foreseeably want to check out here—but hear us out. A Learning and Individual Differences study revealed that students in a lecture hall with classical music playing in the background all performed significantly better than their control group counterparts, who were in the lecture without music. In conjunction with research from the Duke Cancer Institute, they found that listening to classical music reduced anxiety and increased focus—even without consciously paying attention to the music. Film scores and even video game scores are all artfully orchestrated specifically to keep you engaged, maintain your focus, and further the flow of events—and the same certainly holds true when you listen to this music while studying. Plus, with no lyrics to sing along to, you won’t find yourself getting distracted; instead, you’ll feel encouraged and empowered to take on your assignments with stride.
Create Mental Connections
Steve Jobs himself once said that “creativity is connecting things.” Understanding isolated concepts is important—but what’s far more valuable is having the ability to draw meaningful connections between concepts, tying together the core ideas of the course. Mastery of course material occurs when you can seamlessly “connect the dots” from one idea to the next, and show how one notion supports another. There’s a myriad of resources to digitally map out these concepts—like Coggle and Mind Maps—and you can just as easily draw out an idea-mapping diagram or chart within your notes to help clarify the connections.
Trade in that extra shot of espresso for some exercise instead; working out helps to boost brain function by increasing blood circulation, releasing hormones that help you focus, and giving you some long-lasting energy. According to a report in the Journal of Workplace Health Management, those who exercised during the day were 23% more productive throughout the workday, when compared to those days when they did not exercise. Just briefly exercising improves mental clarity and cognitive discernment; another study published in the Perceptual and Motor Skills Journal found that after exercising, women performed 20% better on memory tests and “increased problem-solving abilities” by another 20%. Admittedly, it’s not exactly enticing to make the trek down to the gym when you’ve got papers and exams on your mind. If you don’t live on Lower Campus right by the Dana Center, instead try to incorporate simple workouts that you can do in the comfort of your dorm. We recommend perusing through YouTube for brief, fifteen-minute instructional yoga videos—not only will it get your blood flowing and keep your mind active, but it’s also a great opportunity to get away from your work and stretch out after sitting at your desk for hours.
By implementing just a few of these tried-and-true study techniques, you’ll go into your exams feeling more confident and prepared than ever before. Good luck on finals, Falcons!