Exam week is stressful, no matter who you are or what your major is. The pressure of keeping grades to make you, your parents, or the school happy are overwhelming. Lucky for you, there are some simple tips and tricks that will allow you to breeze through exam week with all A’s and a million dollars (okay, maybe not a million dollars but that would be nice).
Tip One: DON’T wait until the last minute to start studying
The longer you wait, the more stressed and overwhelmed you will be. Although cramming may work for a ten question test, exams are a whole ‘nother story. According to the Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center (TDLC), cramming’s an inefficient way to study and leads to poor long-term retention of the information. The best way to study is to use the “spacing effect,” meaning that you absorb the information better when the studying is spaced out rather than consecutive. To retain the information best, you should study BEFORE by reading notes or the book ahead of time, take notes DURING class, AFTER the class go over notes and work practice problems, and then AGAIN a couple days or a week after. This should be cumulative and repeat when you learn new subjects.
Tip Two: Create a schedule
It’s important to make sure you know when you’ll be having what exam and to plan to study accordingly. You don’t want to wait until the week of because then you waste viable studying time on planning a schedule. Start by making a schedule, whether on paper or digital, for the week before and the week of. Write in times you are in class/busy and the times of the exams. This will allow you to have a visual and make it easier to plan. Plan for 2 to 4 hours each day for studying, which can be broken up throughout the day. Allow 30 to 50 minutes and 10 to 15 for a break afterward for each subject (see tip five). Harder subjects should be repeated each day until the day of the exam, while easier subjects can be repeated every other day.
Tip Three: Plan or reserve a studying area
Now that you know when you will be studying plan ahead where you will be studying. It needs to be an area without distractions; study room, library, (quiet) coffee house, etc. It is important that you vary your studying areas so that your brain is forced to retain information in different settings, as well as to allow you to not feel drained by being in the same place all week. If your school library has rooms that you can reserve, make sure that you reserve them as early as possible so that you don’t have to worry about it come the week before and of finals week.
Tip Four: Create an outline for each subject
Before studying, go through each subject and create outlines of the information. This includes main ideas, important vocab, diagrams, and any topics listed on the syllabus. This outline allows you to grasp the big ideas and divide up “main units” or “sections” for better studying. For each subject, it’s best to have three to four outlines. Each outline should include two to three weeks of information or all information covered on a test. For example, outline one covers everything from test one. It helps to study only one outline during each studying session, but make sure that you go back and see how each outline relates. One thing that can help is to color code your outlines (yellow: vocab, green: main topics, etc.), especially if you are a visual learner.
Tip Five: Take breaks
It’s important to use the “spacing effect”, as mentioned earlier, and to study the material in 30 to 50-minute intervals. In each interval, you should focus on one subject and should follow with a mental break. This could be stretching, eating, checking your phone, or just blankly staring at the wall (you do you). This allows for your body to de-stress so that you don’t become overwhelmed while studying. The process should be repeated after each study period.
Tip Six: Eat and sleep
Just because it’s exam time doesn’t mean you can skip out on the important things that your body needs. According to a sleep study done by Stanford University, college students need at least 8 hours of sleep. It’s important to study during the day and sleep during the night. If you’re going to take a nap, keep it around 30 minutes. Also, take time to eat three meals a day to prevent depriving your body of the nutrients it needs.
Tip Seven: Minimize distractions
One way to help minimize distractions is to follow tip three, this helps to get you in a place specifically planned out for studying. Make sure that you let others know that you’re studying and to not bother you, which can lead to you getting off task. Also, put your phone on silent and set it to the side upside down. It’s easy to see a notification on your phone and just get it on it to check it, then 30 minutes later you’re on Justin Bieber’s friend’s brother’s Instagram. Make sure that you follow tip six, it’s easier to get distracted when you’re dozing off or thinking about food. Listen to music without words if you need some sounds in the background, find a playlist on Spotify or Pandora and let it play.