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Finals season is upon us, which means the time for last-minute study sessions is imminent.

I know that the advice is, generally, to get started on studying early, so you don’t have to pull all-nighters in order to achieve that sweet, sweet A+. However, I think that it’s one of those situations where people are unlikely to practice what they preach.

For me, personally, all my studying is done last minute; it’s the only way I know how to prepare for tests. I work best with looming due dates and deadlines threatening my very existence; it’s just the way I roll. So I figured that it would be more appropriate to give advice on how to cram study instead of giving the constantly reiterated advice of “make sure to adequately prepare for things; you’re an adult now.”

The first step to properly cramming actually happens the day before! Make sure to get a good night’s rest; you’re going to need it in the morning when you begin the painful trial of studying several weeks’ worth of material for multiple hours in a row. This is the easiest part of preparing, but its importance cannot be understated.

Another important step pertaining to prep is confirming that yes, you do have a good supply of caffeinated drinks and easy-to-make foods. Forgetting to eat and drink during the cramming session won’t make the information stick as well as it would if you took the time to prepare some things to tide yourself over. You’re already forcing yourself to retain a lot of information in a short amount of time; the least you could do for your body is make sure it’s well-fed and hydrated.

Now, onto the actual studying part of the cram session. Make sure you have all the material you need to study out and ready before you actually begin. This will make it so you can simply reach for the appropriate textbooks and notebooks when the time for them is necessary, instead of having to get up and leave your study space in order to go look for it. I find that removing myself from my actual place of work gives me far too many opportunities to just leave and get distracted. Having everything close by makes it so you’re less likely to become distracted from this necessary last-minute work!

There are a few ways that you can format your study periods, but I’ll focus on the one that’s helped me the most. The best method for studying that I’ve found is the “Pomodoro Method,” which is a fairly simple technique that helps me focus my attention far better than any other I’ve come across.

This method focuses on working in short burst intervals. You set a timer (I use the one on my phone) for 25 minutes and as those minutes progress, you work non-stop in that burst of time. It gives you a specific time period where your brain knows it’s required to focus, and I find that helpful for me personally!

Once the 25 minutes are up, you give yourself a timed five-minute break before setting the timer up for another 25 minutes, rinse and repeat! After the third or fourth round of this, you’re encouraged to take a larger break from any time between 15-30 minutes before getting back to work. This helps to prevent cram study burnout.

This method of studying is efficient and easy to understand. I’ve used it for reviewing before and found that working within strict time limits and having strict breaks set out for me is the way I work best. It helps me to avoid running myself completely ragged by working for long stretches of time at once. The brief breaks allow me to refuel, or even to just close my eyes and relax before beginning again! I can’t recommend this method enough, especially if you need to cram for a few classes over the course of a week! It’s what’s gotten me through the last few semesters of school, and I hope that it can become an effective method of studying for others.

Mikaela is a current student of Virginia Commonwealth University.
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