As far as I am concerned, Wildcats, studying is an art. It will never be enough to open a textbook and mindlessly drone through chapter after chapter. Finals week is undoubtedly the toughest part of the semester, and it’s important to keep both your mind and body in top shape for the challenges ahead. These tips are things that I’ve picked up from other students, been shown by professors, and discovered on my own. Try a couple out – you might be surprised by what a difference they can make!
1. Lay the Foundation
The first step to having a productive study week is to have a solid study plan. During the weekend before finals week, plan out your week, and make a tentative schedule for yourself. This is especially helpful if you have any exams close together. By setting goals for each day, you will keep yourself on track and know how much break time you can take each day without feeling guilty.
2. The Power of the Nap
I know we hear this all the time, but maintaining a healthy sleep schedule is seriously one of the biggest ways you can help yourself this week. Use your study schedule to help you set responsible goals for what time you’ll go to bed, and what time you’ll set your alarm. I know it’s tempting on a day with no exams to sleep until noon but I wouldn’t recommend losing that many hours of potential productivity. If you wake up earlier and start the day with your normal morning routine, you’ll feel more alert and ready to get started. If you’re still feeling tired later on, don’t be afraid of the power nap! Nap for 20 minutes to improve alertness, 40 minutes to boost memorization skills, and more than 60 minutes if you’re working on a creative or problem-solving task. That’s real, live science talking. Again, don’t forget to set your alarm so you don’t sleep the day away.
3. The Good, the Bad, and the Unproductive
Don’t forget to schedule in breaks for yourself during finals week; you’re not a robot! It’s neither healthy nor productive to stay on task for too long. Take five minutes out of every half hour for a quick break, and then take a longer break three or four times throughout the day. But with breaks, like anything else, there is the good kind and the bad kind. A bad break is something that teaches your brain to be distractible. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat – scrolling or clicking through an endless stream of different content gets your brain use to switching from one thing to another. When your break ends, you might even find it harder to focus than before. A good break leaves you feeling refreshed and ready to focus. Get out of your chair, do some jumping jacks, have a conversation with a roommate, sing a song, laugh out loud at a funny Youtube video (preferably featuring a cute animal). These are all things that give your brain a rest and get your blood flowing again. Beware the Bad Break.
4. The Caffeine Monster
Caffeine during finals week is a trap. Don’t fall into it. If you consume an industrial sized load of caffeine on the regular (I’m looking at you, Starbucks junkies), stick to your normal amount. In fact, walking to the HoCo Dunks in the morning could be a good break for you! Get your usual morning coffee to avoid the crash but don’t consume excessive amounts. This will make you jittery and restless and if you’re honestly feeling tired enough that you need the caffeine, stick to the power nap.
5. Let’s Get Physical
Another example of a good break – in fact, a great break – is exercise! It wakes you up, increases the blood flow to your brain, and can help improve your memory. You can set aside your longer breaks for some gym time at the Hamel Rec Center or use your short breaks for some quick bursts of activity. Feel free to read your notes while on the elliptical but don’t obsess about being productive. You’ll get more out of this time if you focus on your workout. On short breaks, run up and down the stairs or break out the yoga mat. Even organize some friends to meet up with at the Whit for a pickup basketball game! If getting exercise isn’t in your normal schedule during the semester, now is the time to start, and watch your productivity skyrocket.
6. Location, Location, Location
Location can make or break your study time. First, let’s get this out of the way right now: DO NOT STUDY IN BED. Ever. This not only makes it harder for you to stay alert and focused during the day but it will make it harder for you to get a good night’s sleep that night because you will start to subconsciously relate your bed with high brain activity and stress. This will also bring down the benefits of power napping. Sitting upright and at a desk puts you in a body position similar to the one you’ll be in when you’re taking your exam, which will improve your memory. It’s also good to change locations periodically. Try not to stay at the same desk the whole week. When you’re having trouble focusing, walking to the library will provide a good break, and a change in scenery that might be just what you need to get you back on track.
To really take your study skills to the next level, employ some psychology tricks! Try chewing mint gum or using a particular pen while you’re studying and taking your exam. This can help you recall more details from your late-night library sessions.
8. Professors Will Be There For You (a la ‘Friends’ Theme song)
Your professors know what they’re talking about and they’re here to help. If you have questions or want some extra practice problems or reading to do, ask your professor! They can provide supplemental materials, and advice on how to best study for their course and which concepts to focus on. This also shows them that you’re working hard and willing to put the time in.
9. Food is Fuel
Brain foods are another great way to up your study game! Avoiding fats, oils, and red meats will keep you from feeling drowsy or lethargic. Try for extra servings of salad this week, instead. Leafy greens are fully of fiber and vitamin D, and will not only help you focus, but help you stay feeling full and satisfied for longer. I know all of us are victims of study snacking out of boredom, but try your best to keep this in control. Focusing on your meal gives you a break and some time for socializing, and also causes you to put more thought into what you’re putting in your body. Never skip meals to study! Grab a to-go box if it’s really crunch time, but going without fuel does more harm than good.
10. Kick Stress Out
Stress is basically unavoidable during finals week. But there is reasonable stress and unreasonable stress and it’s important to know the difference. Reasonable stress can even be a good thing. It can help you focus and drives you to work hard. It’s your body telling you that this is really important! Don’t ignore the instinct but keep it in control. If you let your stress get out of control it turns into anxiety. This can make you drowsy, emotional, nauseated, and definitely less productive. Getting enough sleep, getting exercise and eating good meals are all vital to maintaining a strong mental state. If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, try using a stress ball, doing yoga, meditating, or even turning to the curative powers of a Netflix-ed episode of “Parks and Rec.” More than anything, just keep it in perspective. I know that every final feels like it will make or break your life and career but your top priority should be staying a healthy and happy human.
11. Know Yo’self
The most important thing for studying is knowing what works for you. Are you the kind of person who can get down with some flashcards? Are practice problems your jam? This can change depending on the class you’re taking, so if you can’t seem to find your groove, try a tactic you’ve never used before! Take a shot at writing a song about the Krebs cycle, or drawing detailed pictures of all the important political leaders in WWI. One of my favorites is reading my text book out loud in a funny voice – just don’t try this one in the quiet room in the library.
You can do this, Wildcats. The most important thing is remaining calm and confident while studying and especially, while in your exam. Take some deep breath, and have some faith. You will get through this and hard work does pay off. Your whole Wildcat family is behind you!
Do you have any of your own study tips to add? Let me know in the comments! Happy finals, everyone!