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Helpful Study Tips to Keep You From Freaking Out During Finals

Yes, it is that time of the semester again. Finals are upon us. This weekend we will have to trade in our cutest shorts and tanks for our laziest groutfits, walks down the road for walks into Fogler, and our favorite Snapchat filters for textbooks we probably haven’t cracked since January. Although these aren’t the first exams we have been through this semester, they are definitely the most difficult (and sometimes painful) to get through. Here are some studying tips that are cognitively proven to better your memory for all that material you tried to retain in lecture!


  • Go beyond reading and highlighting, use your imagination. Too many of us college students have a nasty habit of printing out notes, simply highlighting them, and mistaking it for “studying.” This is almost entirely ineffective because all this method does is familiarize yourself with the material, which is far from actually learning it. (I am pretty guilty of highlighting my notes to “study” too.) What is truly effective for maximum retention is extenuating the material beyond what you have written down. Apply the concept you’re studying to a real life example or draw a picture. Chances are you’ll remember a situation you made up in your own mind way better than you’ll remember the fact you highlighted it. 


  • Use testing/quizzing materials like Quizlet or flashcards. This contributes much more to our long-term memory than we realize. Testing yourself on the information quickly and immediately is super effective for fast retrieval. Techniques like this require you to constantly keep your mind active and is a great way to practice the trial and error method to short terms and concepts. Keep in mind that the more you see the concepts, the easier it will be to recognize their meaning as well. 


  • Find someone you can talk to about the topic. This is super useful if you know your exam will include some essay questions. Walking someone else through a specific process or topic  allows yourself to really include the nitty gritty details that will make your essay response as detailed as possible and will give you great practice to put your thoughts into a format that makes the most sense. Talking to someone out loud about a subject has shown to increase retention rate of that subject because it is self-generated. It doesn’t hurt to hear things spoken out loud either—remembering how things sound is a huge factor of how we remember them later. 


  • Slow and steady. This study suggestion has probably been beat to death since your were the age of 10, but that’s because it is true! Studies show that people who study for an exam semi-effectively—but consistently over a weeks time— perform significantly better than others who study thoroughly the day before the exam. This is because it is less likely that you will transfer every single topic you need to know into your long-term memory if you are cramming. Not to mention it is nearly impossible to sit down for hours at a time and do nothing but study. Not many people’s attention spans are built to function for that long, so it is best to study in multiple short intervals consistently before the exam. 


  • Change your setting. This is something that we don’t usually remember as a good study tip. However, it is cognitively proven that studying in a similar setting to where your exam will occur will effect a better performance. Also, think about how boring it would be to sit in the library for hours on end with no change of scene. This also applies to music: some people show better retrieval when they consistently study to a specific genre of music. The constancy of listening to a particular genre of music, or studying in a couple different places can greatly effect retrieval cues to later remember information. 


  • Keep yourself and your notes organized. This one is kind of obvious, but it is something you can do strategically to increase efficiency when studying. Besides establishing particular times you’ll be studying for each exam and keeping all your materials in order, it is also important to organize your notes in a way that is meaningful to you. If you are studying multiple related concepts, maybe make a web of important details that connect all of them together or create an outline of the most important points. Studying in a way that will actually help you understand the material—and not just remember it—will be much more effective when you go to take your exam. 


Of course, everybody is different and have study habits that work best for themselves, so if you know what is best for you then go for it! These are just some study methods that I have used since I started college and have found to be pretty successful (and they have a lot of scientific backing to support their efficiency). One of the most important tips for studying is to remember that this is the home stretch, and while this week may feel like you want to give up and drop out, summer break is right around the corner! So bust through those exams and have a great stress-free summer. 

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