It’s almost time for final exams. Stress runs high, sleep runs short, and note cards are everywhere! Here are some last-minute tips to help you through:
- Take it one exam at a time.
If you have several exams to prep for, consider how much effort you need to give each one. You will find that some classes / subjects come easier to you than others. Or some final exams just don’t require as much of your energy to score well. However, you will also find that some require as much attention as you can give them. Make a plan for how much time you should be spending on each, then approach them one subject at a time, beginning with the exam that comes first. Once you’re ready (or that exam is done), you can then move on to the next subject.
- Find a partner.
If you work with another student to study for exams, and you can stay focused on the material, there can be a lot of benefit. Talk about the material that confuses you, quiz each other, or better yet, find someone who doesn’t know the material and teach it to him/her. If you can explain, in your own words, what the material is about so that someone who hasn’t had the class can understand it, you’re in good shape.
You must. Sleep is necessary for long-term memory formation and accurate recall. Not getting enough sleep will make it harder to focus on what you’re studying, take longer to get the material into memory, and mean that the information will be less accurate when you recall it from memory later. On top of that, it will increase your stress level, your frustration level, and your cravings for high-sugar / high-carb / high-fat foods.
- Take breaks.
Yes, I said it. You cannot study non-stop, even for final exams. After about an hour, your attention starts to wander and you won’t retain much of the information you’re trying to study anyway. Take a break, get up, move around, check out what’s going on online, have a snack, and then go back to it. Set a timer to remind you if necessary.
- Turn off distractions.
That being said, when it’s study time, it’s study time. Turn off the phone, shut down the browser windows with social media sites that call your attention, turn off the TV, and get rid of anything that distracts you. Use an app to lock down the phone for a specified period of time, or a program that restricts the websites you visit on your computer during certain time frames if you need the extra help. Also, know yourself … if music or some type of background noise actually helps you focus better, you should leave those on; however, if it’s distracting – get rid of it!
- Get rid of worry.
Worry is not your friend. Most of us know that worrying by itself will not change the outcome of a test or class grade. Worrying about which questions will be on the exam or what material to spend the most time on will not change the content of the exam. But we still do it – mostly because it feels like we have some control over the situation, when really, we don’t. So use the energy you would’ve spent on worry to focus on things that will improve your outcomes – ask your instructor about what material to focus on or which specific topics will be on the exam. Pay attention and when you notice yourself beginning to worry or get stressed about something, take a step back and ask: “Is there anything I can actually do about that?” (Like asking for more information, spending some more time studying, asking for help from a tutor) – if there’s nothing your can do, set it aside. Remind yourself that worry only uses up time & energy better spent actually studying. If there is something you can do, do it. In the end, worry and stress will only interfere with your ability to understand and retain information.
- Take care of yourself.
It is important to sleep, take breaks, and tell worry to take a hike. But taking care of yourself extends to other areas as well. Eat well – be sure you’re including enough healthy protein and veggies, while limiting the amount of processed sugars and bad fats; and be sure to include healthy fats like fish, olive oil, avocado, and others. Stay active and get some exercise. It can be hard to convince yourself to exercise when you’re tired and stressed from school and / or work, especially if you have so much more to do. But it’s important and in the long run will improve your mood, increase circulation (including to your brain, which will improve overall cognitive performance), and help you feel better physically. It’s worth it.