Study habits are like anything else, a matter of practice. With some preparation, you’ll avoid some pretty awful stress, and you just might get a top grade.
1. Outline: While reviewing, highlight or, better yet, get out your laptop and type an outline of the material. This will reduce a lot of information into a manageable size. The very process of outlining will reinforce the ideas and information. Study from the outline as you get closer to the test.
2. Review: Don’t cram. Cramming only wears you out physically, mentally and psychologically. Go over your gathered materials and refamiliarize yourself with everything. Then read it all over again carefully. Cramming will only fill up your short-term memory and guarantee that you’ll miss something.
3. Exercise: Ingesting mass quantities of caffeine might be a good way to stay awake, but eventually you’ll get diminishing returns, and if you do decide to take a rest, you won’t be able to sleep. If you feel drowsy and have more good study hours in you, get up and take a walk, kick a football, work out—whatever you need to get the adrenaline flowing.
4. Eat Well: Your brain needs fuel even if you’re sitting front of a computer all day. Take a multivitamin every day (which will help guard against illness) and eat plenty of brain food. Lean protein, green vegetables (fresh, if you can get them), fruit and nuts are best. Skip fast food and avoid sugary snacks. Your blood sugar will skyrocket and then plummet, leaving you without energy. High-fat foods will just make you tired and sluggish. Try green tea instead of coffee. Mix hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, shelled sunflower seeds and raisins or chopped figs in an airtight bag. Keep it nearby for snacking.
5. Ask for Help: If you just aren’t getting something, try joining a study group. Study groups help make sure you aren’t missing anything in your outline and give you a sense of camaraderie and support. Ask your prof a question. He or she (or your TA) would rather see you before the exam with a question than after it with a complaint about your grade.
6. Turn Off Your Mobile: If you need distraction, get out of the dorm or the library and say hi to friends, but don’t let your concentration be interrupted by your phone. Once you’re in the zone, you want to stay there. Cancel your social life the week before finals.
7. Sleep: Include time for sleep in your study schedule. Everyone hits a wall, and your brain keeps working even when you’re asleep. Get a good night’s sleep before the test. What you will gain in clarity and efficiency will far outweigh any unlikely benefit from a few hours of cramming. Arrive at the exam fresh and on time. Go over your outline once, but don’t study right before the test.
8. Learn From the Experience: If you find yourself cramming or needing to pull all-nighters, you might not have worked as hard as you should have all semester. Also, if you’re sweating a final exam to save your grade, chances are you haven’t been the best student you could have. Prioritize, triage the worst, and make a deal with yourself to be better organized in the spring.