“Wake up early, eat a smart breakfast, make sure you have a #2 pencil…” We’ve all heard the mythical exam tips that are supposed to help “boost our performance!” You may even have your own memorized ritual or superstitious routine that ensures you test well. For the most part, we all know how to prepare for a big exam (even though we might not all do it). But has anyone ever discussed the unwritten but universally agreed upon rules to NOT do when you have a big test? If you haven't already learned the hard way, here's what you shouldn't do before an exam:
Every professor makes sure to tell you that each and every test is not a test that you can start studying for the before. Unfortunately, this is true. Cramming, or “chunking,” as psychologists like to say, does not give your brain enough time to move information from your short term memory to your long term memory. Spacing out studying in short intervals over a few days not only reduces anxiety but also allows your brain to retain more information.
2. Pull an all-nighter
Seriously if you have the choice between going to sleep and staying up all night to study—go to sleep. At 3 a.m., your brain is not absorbing anything. Sleep resets your brain and allows for your memories to consolidate. Four cups of coffee will keep you awake for the exam, but sleeping will also keep you functional.
3. Fall behind on other homework
This is incredibly challenging. Sometimes it’s necessary to prioritize
studying for an exam over doing another class’s homework, but let me tell you:
falling behind much more difficult. Skipping
a class to study for another class may also be tempting, but after finishing a
mid-term, the last thing you’re going to want to do is have to catch up on
This should be a given. But whether it’s the weekend before or the night before, you never know how you’re going to wake up the next morning. Sure, a drink or two may be able to relax you, but a fun night out is not worth the risk of doing poorly on a test, or worse—sleeping in and missing it.
I know, it’s easier said than done. Getting stumped by the first question of an exam can definitely trigger a panic attack. But here’s the thing: you know what you know, and you don’t what you don’t. Why stress yourself out trying to figure out a problem that you simply don’t know how to do? Hopefully, you won’t encounter this problem, but if you are misfortunate enough to do so, don’t freak out.
6. Study alone
If you’re anything like me, you can be distracted by anything. Professors always encourage students to study in groups, and they’re definitely not wrong. Studying with people who are smarter than you is beneficial because asking your peer questions is way less intimidating than asking your teacher. Studying with people who aren’t as smart as you is also helpful because explaining a concept in your own words helps you better understand it yourself. It may be hard to find the right people to study with, but when you do, it’ll make a difference.
7. Teach yourself material
We’ve all been through the phase where we push off fully understanding something until the exam comes up, and we all know that it doesn’t turn out well. TAs, study groups, office hours, tutors, Khan Academy, or literally anything else is a better alternative to teaching something to yourself. Getting into this habit will not only cause you to fall behind, but it will also lead to unnecessary stress and anxiety when it’s exam time.