It’s that time of year again, Princetoniennes. Dean’s Date is right around the corner, and final exams will be here before you know it. After coming back from a restful and relaxing winter break, how on earth are you going to get everything done? Don’t worry! Read the following tips, take a deep breath, and get started.
I cannot stress enough…make a plan! Print out a January calendar, circle Dean’s Date (January 14th this year) and any days you have final exams, and write what you want to get accomplished each day. Remember to set SMART Goals so that you can be more certain of how you’ll tackle all your assignments. Also check out the Study Hacks Blog to help with handling large amount of writing before Dean’s Date.
Another great way to manage your time effectively is to have a study buddy/group keep you accountable for course material. If you are responsible for “teaching” members of your study group about a certain topic, you will be more likely to get this done well before the test and less likely to cram at the last minute. Check out Duke University’s tips for successful study groups to get the most out of studying with others.
For when you’re actually studying, try the Pomodoro Technique. This is a time management technique that helps you to retain more information by giving your brain small breaks to “digest” what you just learned. The ideal study time is 25 minutes, immediately followed by a 5-minute break. Use a timer to make sure that you won’t get fatigued during long study sessions, and you’ll be surprised at how effective you can be!
Last but not least, review the McGraw center article, Principles of Effective Time Management for Balance, Well-being, and Success. They cover things like prioritizing tasks, flexibility, and much, much more.
Flashcards are a great way for memorizing things. From Spanish vocabulary to molecular biology concepts, this method is a surefire way to remember large quantities of information in a short span of time. You can use web- and mobile-based apps like Quizlet, or you could go the more traditional route of good ol’ index cards. Either way, flashcards are your friends, so make the most of them!
Another really great way to study for exams is to take practice tests. These really help you learn the material and recognize what you know and what you don’t. It’s easy to fall into the trap of reviewing all the stuff you already know and ignoring the difficult things you don’t really understand. But what you really need to focus on is the latter. Many professors will provide you will past exams with which to practice, so find out what you don’t know, and review that!
When your lecture notes and power points just aren’t cutting it, don’t be afraid to look for outside resources to help understand problematic material. MIT OpenCourseWare, Khan Academy, and Course Hero are all great sites that have info on a wide range of subjects. Whether you’re studying Aristotle’s logic or discrete math, there’s bound to be a few study guides out there that will help clarify things for you.
More generally, McGraw has some great articles on Making Your Time More Productive, Preparing for Exams, and Exam Success: Taking Exams. Review those, along with any posts from HowToStudy.org (they even have subject-specific “How to Study for… guides!) for even more study tips.
When it comes to actually hunkering down to write or study, there are tons of options to help you focus on what you’re doing. One of my favorites to help write a lot in a short amount of time is Write or Die. This free web app (or paid software) will make you reach a certain word count in a set amount of time… otherwise horrible noises will fill your ears until you start writing at a reasonable pace again. One of the most extreme settings is “Kamikaze Mode,” where if you are idle for too long, the application will literally start deleting what you already have written, so beware!
If you just want a simple word processor without any distractions, try downloading OmmWriter. This application is full-screen and has four basic options for you to choose: background color, font type, audio tracks, and keystroke sounds. The minimalistic design is perfect to keep you focused and on track to writing your best Dean’s Date paper(s) ever!
If you really get distracted from the Internet, SelfControl (Mac) and SelfRestraint (PC) can help to block sites and keep you on track. Just add websites to your black list (sites that you don’t want to be able to access, like Facebook) or your white list (only sites you can access, like JSTOR), set how much time you want to concentrate, and you’re ready to go. Pair this with one of these Zen-friendly websites (my favorites are Simply Noise, Rainy Mood, and focus@will) for maximum effect.
Amid all the stress of writing papers and studying for exams, don’t forget your mind and body! Make sure you’re getting enough sleep each night, eating healthy, and exercising to keep your energy levels up. Additionally, taking small breaks in between writing or studying will help keep stress at bay.
If worst comes to worst and you absolutely must cram for an exam, follow this simple infographic by Jennifer Lebowitz on optimizing and prioritizing your cram time. Make sure you’re in a distraction-free area and stay calm. Also remember that any time you spend sleeping will drastically improve recall and focus when the exam rolls around. All-nighters will not help, so do yourself a favor and hit the sack for a few hours before test time.
Good luck, Princetoniennes! You can do it! As always, email me with any questions any time at kbushko@.