Despite being in my fourth year of college, finals week still seems to sneak up on me. Luckily, I know myself well enough to study effectively and utilize a variety of flexible, constructive study techniques. Whether you are a finals newbie or a seasoned expert, it always helps to learn about the strategies your peers find most effective. In this article, I break down five finals tips that can help you stay on track and get the grade you deserve. And remember, while it may seem impossible in the moment, you can and will get through this; finals will be done before you know it!
1. Use Thanksgiving break wisely.
Thanksgiving break should be a time of rest and relaxation. After a long and difficult three months of classwork, the break is a great opportunity to recharge and get organized for the difficult weeks ahead. Though it may be tempting to drop all responsibilities during the week-long hiatus, don’t wait until Sunday night to get back into school mode.
When you arrive for classes again on Dec. 2, you don’t want to be shocked by final projects and tests you are unprepared for. Use the break as an opportunity to catch up on work and make a game plan for finals. Try to balance relaxation with preparation by putting small chunks of time aside each day to focus on work. Though self-care should be a priority, doing a little work every day will help you transition back to school. Your future self will thank you.
2. Make your workspace distraction-free.
Be mindful of setting up a distraction-free workspace. With more and more studies pointing to the negative effects of smartphones on concentration, your phone should be the first thing to go. Researchers Adrian F. Ward, Kristen Duke, Ayelet Gneezy and Maarten W. Bos at the University of Chicago studied the effects of smartphones on concentration in a 2017 study. They found that having your phone nearby can reduce your ability to focus and drain cognitive capacity even if you are not actively using it (See their article “Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity” in Journal of the Association for Consumer Research). When setting up your workspace, get rid of smartphones and other distracting devices that may lead you down a technological rabbit hole. Turn down your ringer and place your phone out of sight. You know what they say, “out of sight, out of mind.”
. . . consider using Microsoft Word instead of Google Docs. Though you may prefer using Google, going down an internet wormhole is only one new tab away.
If your writing assignments don’t require internet assistance, consider using Microsoft Word instead of Google Docs. Though you may prefer using Google, going down an internet wormhole is only one new tab away. If you are extremely prone to going on internet tangents and can complete an assignment without internet assistance, consider turning off your internet altogether. As many of us know, the internet can quickly turn from friend to foe when trying to complete assignments.
Distractions can also come in the form of people. While it’s always nice to have solidarity, not everyone can work in groups. Understand the difference between a study session and a social session and use an agenda to keep your group on track. If you are prone to distracting conversations, you can utilize some of the library’s quiet spaces to work independently. There’s always time to chat after your studying is done.
3. Work in short increments.
Though this may not be applicable for everyone, it is often easier to focus exclusively on one topic for a short period of time. The Pomodoro technique developed in the late 1980s by Francesco Cirillo encourages such an approach, suggesting an ideal working interval of 25 minutes with breaks in between. After each work period, a short break ensues where you can regather your mental energy and prep for the next study interval. Setting a timer can encourage you to get the most you can out of a limited period of time. You may be surprised at how much you can do in a short time when you are sufficiently focused.
4. Reward yourself.
If you’re anything like me, working sometimes requires an incentive. Incentives can have varying forms, though it’s often best that your reward is something that won’t distract you for prolonged periods of time. Take time to meditate or go for a walk. Both activities are free, convenient and can clear your mind between topics. Other productive breaks include taking a snack break (make them healthy snacks, please!) and tidying up your work area. Short creative activities may also be beneficial, so don’t be afraid to let your mind wander for a few minutes by drawing, writing or coloring. Set a timer for your breaks so you can keep yourself accountable and get back to work when necessary. Breaks are a necessary component of studying, so make sure you are stretching and drinking water during studying lulls.
5. Use study guides. And if you don’t have one, make one!
Though this may seem like an obvious piece of advice, use the study guides your professors give you! You may feel tempted to just skim through notes, but study guides can point to topics of particular importance and are often good roadmaps for exams. If your professor doesn’t give you a study guide, I encourage you to make your own. Ask yourself what the most important topics from each unit are and take particular note of important definitions and recurring themes. Dedicate the majority of your time towards topics you are unfamiliar with and end with what you feel the most confident about. Be wary of using note cards to study, however. It’s too easy to cheat yourself and flip them over before you give yourself the time required to think. Use a combination of study techniques that work for your individual learning style, and utilize professor-given or homemade study guides that summarize and analyze the most important points.
Celine Butler is a fourth-year history and psychology double major with a minor in French. CB869071@wcupa.edu