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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, Online Learning Tips
With the holidays behind us, many college students now face the unenviable reality of studying for final exams. Some students meet the challenge by “pulling all-nighters,” often aided by a high-caffeine drink or tablet to help them stay awake.
Dr. Zack Carter, a communication professor at Taylor University, says “Don’t fall into the trap of thinking a Red Bull all-nighter cram session will do it for you.” Writing in Psychology Today, he warns that all-nighters have been “shown to actually have adverse effects — i.e., poor grades.”
Instead, Carter suggests you “break down your studying into increments (let’s say over the course of one week before exams), and then cover new material each day, while also reviewing content studied the days prior. This will help with memory and recall.”
Also, put your smartphone away before you begin an exam. Shut the phone down so you can effectively digest course material. If you don’t have your phone close at hand, you won’t be tempted to try to check it for messages as you write.
Skipping the Final Week of Class to Study Is a Mistake
Students who skip the final week of class to study for exams are making a mistake. “Some profs use study guides, others simply tell students what to expect, while others, like yours truly, use games,” Carter writes. Regardless of your professor’s methods, that final week of class can provide you with clear insights, clues and hints about what to expect on the exam.
Preparing for Final Exams
QS Top Universities.com, an online guide to colleges and graduate schools, offers the following steps to prepare for final exams:
1. Set up a timetable for your study. Write down how many exams you have to take and the days on which you will take them. Then prioritize your study accordingly. Give some exams more study time than others, so find a balance that you feel comfortable with.
2. Make sure you have enough space to spread out your textbooks and notes. Have you got enough light? Is your chair comfortable? Are your computer games out of sight?
Get rid of all distractions, and make sure you feel comfortable and able to focus. For some students, this might mean almost complete silence, for others background music helps.
3. Visual aids can be really helpful. At the start of studying, challenge yourself by writing down everything you already know about the course material to be covered on the exam. Then highlight where your gaps are.
Closer to the time you take the exam, condense your notes into one-page diagrams. Getting your ideas down in this brief format can help you to quickly recall what you need to know during the exam.
4. Studying as many hours as possible can actually be counterproductive.If you were training for a marathon, you wouldn’t try to run 24 hours a day. Likewise, studies have shown that for long-term retention of knowledge, taking regular breaks really helps.
Everyone’s different, so develop a study routine that works for you. If you study better in the morning, start then and take a break at lunchtime. Try not to feel guilty about enjoying the sunshine for a bit instead of being hunched over your textbooks.
Remember Vitamin D is important for a healthy brain. If you’re more productive at night, take a bigger break earlier so you’re ready to settle down to study in the evening.
5. What you eat can really affect your energy levels and focus. Keep away from junk food. Keep your body and brain well-fueled by choosing nutritious foods that have been proven to aid concentration and memory, such as fish, nuts, seeds, yogurt and blueberries.
The same applies on the day you take your exams: Eat a good meal before the test, based on foods that will provide a slow release of energy throughout the day. Sugar may seem appealing, but your energy levels will crash an hour later.
6. Being well hydrated is essential for your brain to work at its best. Make sure you drink plenty of water throughout your studying and also during your exams.
All of these tips may not apply to you. But they offer some food for thought as you prepare for your final exams.
Keep the tips that work to use again as you continue toward your degree. You should see visible proof of their value when you get your grades.