You stare at a blank screen with nothing more than a flashing cursor ticking down the limited time you have left until finals. As you struggle to get started, your brain wanders, your hand travels to your phone, and suddenly you find the tv remote in your lap. Before you swipe or stream, and decide to study at another time, consider these ways you can prepare for finals instead of avoiding it now and cramming later.
Ways to Prepare for Finals
- Procrastinate, but only a little
There is no shortage of articles telling you that procrastination leads to creative and divergent thinking, but there are limits and balance is key. Researchers continue to explore the claim about links between procrastination and creativity, and while there appears to be some truth, it has its critics. High levels of procrastination do result in higher levels of creativity, and lower levels of procrastination do not result in dull brain power either. In fact, moderate or average levels of procrastination exhibit curiosity, task complexity, risk-taking, and fantasy (Rumyantseva, K., & Movchan, L, 2022). Balance is key.
- Schedule time
You carry a calendar in your pocket, and it is a useful tool for keeping you on track. If you have trouble committing to large blocks of time, consider scheduling 40-45 minutes in your calendar, and don’t forget to set a reminder. When you carve out time and document it, you are more likely to keep the appointment with your textbooks. Prioritize subjects that give you the most trouble.
- Set a timer
Okay, your calendar alert went off and it’s time to study. Now, set a timer. One of the most popular methods is the Pomodoro Technique. Set a timer, about 20-25 minutes, and work on a task without distractions. Don’t look at the timer, just work or study until you hear it chime. Take a 2–5-minute break, and then resume for another 20-25 minutes of uninterrupted working time. Repeat this until the task is done or until you must walk away.
- Listen to a podcast or watch YouTube
Study in a way that works for you. Reading is not always the most efficient use of someone’s time. At times when you are not connecting with the materials, finding a podcast or YouTube video that helps you understand the content and concepts, expands the study tools at your disposal, especially if you are an auditory learner or visual learner.
- Quiz yourself and use flashcards
One of the best ways to assess just how much you know is to quiz yourself. Take mini quizzes or create a set of flashcards. Pull out the topics over which stumble and prioritize them when you schedule your next study session. Self-testing is a “generative strategy” that allows you to create new content and associations with the content for longer retention through the process of retrieval.
- Change your view
You are an hour in already, and now you are bored again. Your mind wanders, your back aches, and honestly, the walls feel like they are closing in. It is hard to feel inspired and focused in the same space all the time, so move your study space to a place with a new view to improve retention. Studying in various locations can help you create different associations with the materials and a renewed perspective.
- Snack and sip
Put down the empty calories and reach of nutrient-dense, protein-loaded foods instead. Avoid the sugar too if you are feeling thirsty. While comfort snacks in moderation are okay, research proves that healthy eating habits have a positive effect on undergraduate students’ academic performance. (Reuter, Forster, Brister, 2020) However, the researchers point out that other factors, such as sleep hygiene may be more important. We will discuss this one later.
- Walk away
Walking is an underrated form of exercise, but walking boosts your heart rate and your brain power, which leads to creative thinking. According to a Stanford study, “walking improves the generation of novel yet appropriate ideas, and the effect even extends to when people sit down to do their creative work shortly” (Oppezzo & Schwartz, 2014). Plus, cardio is linked to cognitive improvements as well.
- Go to sleep
Start early and pace yourself to avoid panic and cram sessions. Research continues to prove that cramming is not an effective study method. Cramming for a test overloads the brain, leaving you and your cerebral exhausted, frustrated, and fatigued, preventing you from retaining information. A good night’s sleep improves the ability to retain information, so when it’s late and you feel exhausted, do not waste time cramming. Get some sleep and start again. If you paid attention to tips 1 through 8, you should not feel panicked or rushed to study.
3 More Tips for Online Finals
If you are taking online classes, there are a few more tips to consider.
- Find a space with a good connection
- Have a solid understanding of the platform and tools
- Give yourself plenty of time to finish a final BEFORE the last possible minute it is due