I love finals week. Wait, don’t click off this page in disdain… Hear me out. It is a planner’s dream to approach finals week—for one week out of the semester, time seems suspended as classes don’t meet and you have these arbitrary times when tests are to be taken. Suddenly, it seems as if you’re in control of your destiny. And the words “finals week” gets you out of pretty much any event whatsoever. So in a way, time stops while millions of students the world across sit and study.
But really, I know that most students hate finals week. So without further ado, here are a few things I’ve learned over the years about studying.
1) Map it out.
The first thing to do for any finals week (or upcoming test) is to plan out the time you’re going to devote to it. This is helpful for all of us. If you are the type to not spend enough time studying, this holds you to a standard; if you are the type that spends every hour awake studying, this makes you stick to a schedule and not turn into a zombie during finals week.
Pro Tip: If you have a take home final, plan the exact hours you’re going to take it. Even if this is spread out over a few days, it is much better than taking it in the wee hours of the morning because you forgot it was due the next day. I do not appreciate take home finals, but you can create an exam-like situation by turning off your phone, getting dressed for an exam, and having plans afterwards. Oh, and have a teapot full of some caffeine to keep you alert.
The goal here should be to create a realistic schedule in which you are not neglecting any class (or your health). There are two types of study schedules:
In this sort of schedule, you set a time you want to devote to each subject for each day. This is the schedule I did for this week, so I’m spending about an hour and a half on each class per day. This is helpful if you could spend days studying one subject because of the depth, but need to focus your study on what is most important. Also helpful if you only have so many free hours per day. This prevents cramming for one exam, then cramming for another, etc.But even with this type of schedule, write out what you plan to do each hour, or else you may find yourself staring into space.
For this schedule, break up what you need to study over the days that you have. If you have 7 chapters of Spanish to study for the exam on Wednesday, start on Tuesday the week prior, focusing on one chapter a day (excluding Sunday and the day of the exam). You may like this sort of schedule if you are unsure of how long each subject will take you. The danger in this schedule is studying yourself to death, so be sure to keep tip #4 in mind.
2) Shut off the WiFi.
I’ve spent…let’s see…about 17 years in school, and I still get distracted while studying. So don’t beat yourself up about it—find solutions. Something I started doing in college was putting my phone on airplane mode while studying and turning off the WiFi on my computer. If you still need your phone, or the WiFi, there is such a thing as turning off social media notifications or blocking websites that you frequent (yes, many of us have blocked Facebook while studying). And when you get back on social media after studying, think about how much more exciting that will be!
We can talk about the epidemic of distraction another day. It’s a problem.
3) Develop your own study habits.
I will go to the grave singing the praises of flashcards and timelines. My students know this (and some don’t appreciate it). Find what works for you and stick to it. Here are some ideas:
- Create a “study guide” for yourself that includes key terms, definitions, and even diagrams
- Make a timeline of major movements, people, and events
- Go back and highlight your notes in different colors based on topics
- Study with other people in your class IF all of you are committed to actually studying
- Make flashcards–there are apps for this, which are great because you can study whenever, wherever! But it is also helpful to be forced to write out the information on physical flashcards, as the act of writing assists in memory. Pick your poison.
- Have a “location” for each study session. This could be moving from room to room, sitting at a coffee shop for a few hours, or going to the library. Anything that gets you out of a rut!
4) Remember the physical world.
Look back at #2. That’s right—if you actually study when you say you’re studying, and not distracted by social media or texting, you’ll be able to get much more sleep than planned. I’m not saying that late nights won’t happen—because they will—but find a schedule and stick to it. Remember that your brain is actually part of your body, and if you aren’t functioning correctly, your thinking will be impaired. Here are some ways to take care of yourself:
- Set a consistent sleep schedule. For me, during finals, this is 1am. to 9am. You might have an 8am exam, so your schedule should be something more like 11am. to 7am. Take advantage of your natural tendencies–if your brain works best at midnight, like mine, then stay up until then. If you’re a morning person (how do you do it?!) wake up at 6am and get started.
- Stick to your exercise schedule, if you have one. Don’t create more stress for your body by not following your schedule. And if you don’t workout, this is not the week to start! Just take a stroll every once in a while.
- Don’t study non-stop all day. I know, this is the best part. You should absolutely take breaks! Get some fresh air, call a friend, cook a meal, exercise. This should also be mapped out in your schedule.
- Eat well, especially on test days, and especially breakfast. If you’re tempted to indulge in holiday sweets, see my next tip…
5) Treat Yourself.
In the abyss of studying, I sometimes promise myself something that acts as motivation. For me, it’s usually food (“Stick to my schedule today and then I’ll go get a pint of chocolate ice cream tonight!”). Now, I don’t plan on gaining weight during finals week (because it will easily snowball into holiday weight) so remember that #4 is also essential. Maintain a generally balanced life while studying and a pint of ice cream won’t kill you. If, however, you’ve been surviving on 3 hours of sleep a night, haven’t showered in four days, and decided to forego your workout for the past two weeks, then sugar is the last thing I’d recommend. You’ll regret it.
If you are not motivated by food, we can’t be friends. Just kidding, but I’m not sure who isn’t. Here are some other possible motivations to get your studying done:
- Go see a movie
- Invite a friend over
- Start that novel you keep saying you don’t have time to read
- Buy a sweater
- I really can’t think of anything else that doesn’t involve food.