Exams hold you accountable for your subject matter, help your professors form opinions of your work, and determine a significant portion of your GPA. Yet studying – like exercising, reading, or any other important habit – can be easy to put on the back burner. Combat your tendency to postpone the inevitable! Make this finals week your least stressful one yet by replacing ineffective habits with these smart alternatives.
Determine what works. There’s nothing more frustrating than spending an hour reviewing material that immediately slips from your memory. If skimming your notes isn’t doing the trick, try making flashcards, highlighting key passages in your textbook, or talking through course material with a classmate. Be sure to ask for help if you find yourself stuck on one particular concept, and make a note of facts you have trouble remembering so that you can revisit them later.
Turn pain into pleasure. Bring something you love into your study routine. Put together a new playlist for focus. Don a stylish library ensemble. Sip a steaming mug of hot chocolate as you review. As long as you don’t pick something that will distract you from the task at hand, adding subtle luxuries to your work time will boost your morale and relieve some of your stress.
Partner with caution. While two heads are often better than one, a poorly run study group can add to the amount of distraction you must overcome. If you prefer working in groups to studying solo, keep the homework party to a manageable size. Assemble a handful of people that you know are serious and motivated, and commit to using your meeting time for work—not gossip or YouTube.
Get on a timetable. Plotting your time may seem like just another procrastination attempt, but adhering to a schedule will give your exam week structure and flow. Draw up a calendar of when you will study for each exam. The earlier you begin preparing, the more manageable your workload will seem, and having an end point in mind for tougher subjects will make it easier to stay on task.
Work like you play. Turn studying into a game! Divide your curriculum into major concepts, ideas, and skill sets, and assign each section a point value. (For example, if you’re studying three chapters, decide that half of each chapter will be worth ten points.) Check on your point totals at the end of each day of studying (“20/60 today! Almost halfway there!”), and reward your progress accordingly.
Mix it up. Work when other people aren’t. Work where other people aren’t. Escape campus on a Saturday or Sunday morning, and set up shop in a quiet cafe. The absence of your usual distractions will make it easy to squeeze in an extra-productive cram session.
And just because you were able to squeak through this round of exams doesn’t mean you can’t do even better next semester. Try to pace yourself—professors design test questions to gauge your overall understanding of the material, and the best way to build this understanding is to spend time regularly reviewing key ideas. After every class, try to get to the point where you could teach the material to someone else.
Leave your GPA a cushion as well. You may be tempted to ease into your semester, knowing that you’ll have time to repair the damage later, but it’s better to work a little harder from the start and earn the grade that sets the curve.
Next semester, put your new study habits into play from day one. If you put all of the above tools to work for more than six weeks, you’ll likely surpass your own expectations come exam day—and you’ll almost certainly surpass your professor’s.
– Anna Walsh