Finals week is stressful; there is no way around it! After an entire semester of studying, your already tired brain is required to push through a demanding week, calling to mind information from the entire semester. Final exams often account for a large percentage of your class grade, so the pressure to succeed often feels intense. The good news is: you’re almost through! And a shift in approach can take you from “barely surviving” to “nailing it!” Following these simple steps can take your finals week to the next level:
DON’T Procrastinate. As tempting as it may be to wait until the day before a final to study, pacing yourself makes the most sense. Our brains do not learn best under pressure, but when information is repeated over and over incrementally. In other words, you’re better off studying for 20-30 minutes per day in each subject than to cram in hours of study right before a final. Plan accordingly! It’s best to schedule out your studying a week or two in advanc
e, planning to rotate between subjects in well-spaced rotation, and then stick to your schedule, making sure to give priority to your toughest classes.
DO Study Smarter (not Harder). Re-reading your notes is not studying. Skim through your notes or highlighted textbook but then write down any key points you still haven’t mastered. Just the act of rewriting unfamiliar content can act as a review. It’s important to know what kind of test you’re studying for. If it’s an essay test, make sure you understand overarching concepts. If you’re getting drilled on vocabulary, consider making flashcards with the words you need to memorize. Studies show that students who take practice tests on any given subject improve their memory. If there is practice test available for your class, consider creating one for yourself or your study partners. Try drawing illustrations to help you remember key facts or speak important concepts into your phone and listen back while you drive, exercise or rest. Additionally, mnemonic devices can be helpful tools (remember “Every Good Boy Does Fine” that helped you memorize the lines of the treble clef?) so don’t be afraid to get creative!
DON’T Pull an All-Nighter. Somehow, we’ve made this a “right of passage” for every college student. But all the research shows it’s a terrible idea! One study from St. Lawrence University found that the sleep deprivation caused from one night of missed sleep impairs memory and reasoning for up to four days. Missed sleep won’t just hamper your performance the next day, but possibly for days to come! Sleeping actually reinforces memory, so consider tackling your toughest subject for the hour before you go to bed and then sleep on it for helpful memory fortification while you rest.
DO Take Breaks. Studies show that for every 30-60 minutes of study you need a 10-15 minute break to recharge your mind and body. This could include anything from stretching and getting a healthy snack to watching a funny YouTube video. Research has shown that 20 minutes of cardio exercise increases your memory, so opt for something that gets the blood pumping whenever possible. (Just don’t let your breaks become an excuse to get blown off course)! Keep track of time and stick to your schedule.
DON’T Multitask. Recognize what diverts your attention and keep those things at bay. For example, it’s almost never a good idea to study with your phone nearby. Silence it and put it out of arms reach! If you’re someone who enjoys studying with music on, think about listening to music without words to eliminate distraction. The same thing goes for social interaction. Some people find study groups helpful; but for others it can be too tempting to goof around or get off topic. Knowing yourself will be helpful in finding a study location for maximum efficiency.
DO Change Location. One interesting study found that students who reviewed vocabulary words in two separate rooms for 30 minutes at a time remembered more when tested than students who studied the same vocab for a straight hour in the same room. Researchers theorized that the students who switched rooms were giving their brains an advantage because of subtle visual cues in each room. So, try switching up your study location every so often for a fresh perspective.
DON’T Skip Breakfast. Fueling your brain for finals is a crucial step for success. The CDC reports that “skipping breakfast [is] associated with decreased cognitive performance (eg. alertness, attention, memory…and problem solving).” Alternatively, one study found that participants who drank a berry-based smoothie experienced increased attention and accuracy on testing over a six-hour window, compared with a placebo group. Berries contain compounds that may improve memory. Other foods that have been linked with enhanced academic performance and memory include nuts, avocado, fish, eggs and citrus fruits.
The bottom line is: pace yourself, load up on healthy brain food and make your study time as versatile and interesting as possible. Yes, finals week can be stressful, but handling it with care and thoughtful strategizing can set you up for a win!