Well, it’s that time of year again, folks, the wonderful week that rolls around twice a year and eliminates any remaining shreds of sanity or a social life: Finals Week. Perhaps you’re one of the rare few who actually has their life together and you’ve been prepping your study guides since spring break. If so, kudos to you! More likely, you’re like me and suddenly you have three days to learn an entire semester of chemistry, and at this point crying seems like the best option. Regardless of which side you fall on, or if you fall somewhere in the middle, fear not! There are a lot of things you can do that will make studying for finals suck a lot less and actually help you learn something.
On your mark:
Before you can start doing anything, you have to figure out what you actually have to do. You can’t conquer an empire or even tackle the end of spring semester without a plan, so now is the time to prioritize. Consider the classes you’re taking. How many finals do you actually have? Are all of them tests, or are some of them papers or projects instead? When is everything due? Get out that planner (you know, that little book you haven’t touched since syllabus week) or throw together a schedule. It doesn’t have to be pretty, and it certainly doesn’t have to be color coded— although if you have the time it can really help you out; it’ll make life easier if you have a visual of what you need to accomplish each day. Microsoft Word or Excel are great tools for this, or use online planning tools like this one to help you out. Time management is about to be your new best friend for the next seven days. It’ll be difficult, but you can do it!
Bonus tip: Don’t book yourself solid for two days if you have a week to spread out work. Also, don’t forget to plan for non-study activities. Packing up your entire dorm room is going to take some time, and you probably won’t be feeling up to it when you’re drained from your anthropology final.
Don’t expect to sit down and read thirteen chapters of a textbook, write a ten-page paper, or miraculously understand cellular respiration in an hour. Create a space that’s conducive to learning. If you never get work done at your desk, go to the library, go sit in the grass, or even make a blanket fort. Get comfortable, but not so comfortable that you’ll be tempted to nap. Make a study playlist— classical music has been shown to help make your studying more productive, but I’m more partial to movie or videogame soundtracks. They’re specifically composed to not distract you (Pacific Rim*, anyone?). Finally, get some snacks. Find the balance between fueling your body and mind, but also treating yourself. Don’t load up on high-sugar, low-nutrient foods like candy, you’ll crash after an hour. Complex carbs and protein, like apples and string cheese, will keep you full and focused.
Bonus tip: temperature can also play a huge part in your cognition; being too warm can make you sleepy, but shivering will also distract you. Don’t bundle up in bed if you’re in your room, or pack a sweatshirt if you’re headed to the library.
The moment of truth: time to study. Split your studying up so you have breaks in between. MIT advises 45-50 minutes of studying, followed by a 10-minute break, but keep a timer. We’ve all been there, suddenly 10 minutes turns into four episodes of Parks and Recreation. So study hard for almost an hour, then take a breather. My roommate coined the term “30-second dance party” last semester and it has become my favorite thing while studying. Here’s the gist: when you’re ready for a break, turn up a jam and dance like an absolute idiot until you’re out of breath. The classic “Every Time We Touch” by 2006 pop icon Cascada is always a good choice, if you ask me. This gets your blood pumping and blows off some that built up tension, plus you get to laugh at your roommate’s awful dancing.
If you’re easily distracted, keep moving. My brother could never remember anything unless he heard it while kicking around a soccer ball. Sound like you? Turn on some Khan Academy or Crash Course and do something active. Another idea is turning your trashcan or laundry hamper into a basketball hoop and doing a flashcard for every shot you make. Or you could just walk around the room while explaining your anatomy notes (double points if you can point to all the muscles you’re describing). No one can sit still and study for four hours, so use physical activity to your advantage. You’ll remember the muscle movements when you’re taking the test, which will help you ace that final!
When you feel your motivation crumbling, change tactics. Reward yourself with an M&M or Sour Patch Kid at the end of each section of your textbook reading. If concepts aren’t making sense, draw it out. Not only will this give you a visual to remember, but also the physical act of recreating it will cement it in your memory. If you just can’t bear to write more of that boring paper, go on a keyboard-smashing rant. You might actually stumble onto a great idea! Just don’t forget to change “Denmark’s angstiest little punk ” back to “Hamlet” before turning in your paper.
All in all, studying is hard, but in the end it’s up to you. Find what works and doesn’t work for you and roll with it. Take care of your mind and body. Get some exercise and don’t forget to sleep. You’ve learned so much this semester and college is hard, so go show off how amazing you are and kick butt! It’ll all be over soon, and then you’ll be reunited with your Netflix, your dog, and your bed.
*Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, and Mad Max: Fury Road are also excellent options