As finals week approaches, it is time to get into the groove of studying so that you can perform at your peak. It’s not too late to get started, even if you have not been the best of students so far this year.
These smart study hacks will help you focus on what needs done and help the material stick, so that it is all easier to recall when those big exams are put in front of you. Some of these hacks we all know…but rarely use, so they bear repeating. Putting these simple strategies into action are sure to lower your study stress while improving your scores.
Plan Like A General
Set up a study schedule and stick to it. Not only does this help ensure that you get all of your studying done without missing out on sleep, but it puts your mind at ease that you can, in fact, get everything done that needs doing. Defeating stress goes a long way towards increasing your capacity to remember information.
Review Your Material
Studies prove that studying over a period of time produces much better test scores than cramming. Study for each class by reading over your notes and the highlighted sections in your textbook each day.
This method of studying doesn’t feel as daunting, plus it is much superior to pulling all-nighters!
Chew Gum – Strange But True
Did you know that there is now scientific proof that chewing gum helps you focus? It’s true, especially while chewing mint gum.
Though I won’t go into all of the neurological details, chewing gum considerably increases alertness, accelerates reaction time and increases the speed at which you learn new information. If you are feeling sleepy or restless while studying, chew some gum.
And don’t forget to use this tip while taking exams too. Not only will it improve your focus, it will recreate your study environment, which translates to better recall.
Sleep – Don’t Stay Up All Night
Pulling all-nighters is heralds as a rite of passage in college, but it is one of the worst ways to retain the material you will need to produce on an exam. When you plan your study schedule, make sure to allow for the amount of sleep that you need to feel refreshed.
De-Clutter Your Surroundings
One of the biggest challenges for college students during exam times is the stress of it all. It’s easy to feel that you don’t have the time to stay organized, so you just throw your stuff around and leave it wherever it lands.
But studies show that an environment that is cluttered leads to increased anxiety-a cluttered work space means a cluttered mind. During your short breaks, put items back where they belong, take out the trash, blow the crumbs out of your keyboard. This serves several purposes: it gets you moving, which increases blood to the brain, it makes you more organized so that you don’t waste time looking for items you need and it helps keep your mind clutter-free. Each of these increases your likelihood of test success.
Snack – Oh Yeah – You Gotta Eat
Keep healthy snacks close at hand so that if you get peckish, you don’t give into going hungry or grabbing junk food. Snacks like dried fruit, nuts, jerky, vegetables and hummus or dip are all snacks that will keep your brain performing at its peak. Avoid skipping meals also. Food fuels your brain as well as your body.
Even though many students believe that they can’t live without their iPod, studying in silence may help you recall information on exams because it mimics the testing environment.
For a majority of your exams, you are not going to be allowed to have your earbuds in, so it is best to study in silence, unless you know that your professor is going to allow you to listen to music while taking the exam.
If you are going to have this option, listen to the exact music while studying that you will listen to while taking the exam. This use of one of your five senses will make recalling the material much easier.
Smell Good – Aromatherapy
One of our strongest allies for recall is our sense of smell. So why not use this fact to improve your test-taking? While studying, spray a pleasing scent in the air or on your body. Then, before taking that exam, spray the same scent on your wrists. During the exam, take sniffs of the scent to continue bringing up the memories of what you studied.
You may want to get creative and use different scents for different exams. Make sure not to over-do how much scent you wear to the test though. Many people are allergic to or bothered by strong smells, even if they are pleasant. You don’t want to make recall more difficult for those around you.
Meditate – No, Really
When our minds are stressed, it’s impossible for us to think straight so that we can do our best on tasks.
And while meditation is no longer seen as a hippy-dippy activity, you may not have ever tried it. Now is the time! When you start to feel overwhelmed or like you can’t remember one more thing, close your eyes and concentrate on your breath.
Even just a few minutes of this can help your brain and body relax so that you can go back to studying in a more mellow state. Feeling stressed before or during an exam? No matter where you are, you can do this simple meditation to calm yourself so that you can recall the necessary information.
Walk-Instead of checking for your latest texts and notifications on your phone while you walk, study. Light exercise increases blood flow to your body and your brain, which keeps you from holding tension in your shoulders and neck, while improving your memory. Another great time to take a walk is right before an exam. You can clear your mind and get your blood flowing to improve your performance.
Another way to relieve stress and increase blood flow is through massage. This doesn’t mean that you need to shell out $100 to a massage therapist. Instead, suggest to your study group that you exchange massages for 10 minutes, focusing on the neck and shoulders. Or, ask your roommate to swap them. Most people will jump at the chance to get some relief from stiff, sore muscles from bending over their books and computers.
Reduce distractions-This is easier said than done in our technological world, but it is vital to your learning and preparation for test-taking. Turn off your phone-don’t just put it on silent because you will still be distracted every time it lights up, letting you know you have a new text. If you are using your computer to study, use one of the free programs available that block distracting websites for a certain period of time. Then, after you have studied undisturbed for that amount of time, reward yourself by taking a break.
While you may believe that writing information is kicking it old school, studies show that the act of writing, rather than typing, engages the mind more completely. This occurs partially when acupuncture points in your hand are massaged while using a pen or pencil, which leads to the brain being stimulated. Also, if you will be writing down answers on the exam rather than taking it on a computer, it simulates the texting environment, which stimulates recall.
Many disciplines require students to make connections between smaller concepts so that the whole is understood. One of the best ways to understand how these concepts relate to one another is to map them out. You might choose to use one of the free mind-mapping apps available, or better yet, write them out on paper (see above). Go it one step better and use different colored pens to write out the information. This color-coding aids you in grouping ideas, which helps you remember their relation to one another better.
Take breaks-It’s tempting to just keep plowing through material even though you are fatigued. Taking short breaks of 5-15 minutes between study sessions of up to 30 minutes improves retention of information because it helps you focus. You may want to use one of the free Pomodoro Technique apps or extensions available to help you remember to take breaks.
Most of us are habitually dehydrated. This is bad for our general health, and it also makes it difficult for us to focus. Instead of reaching for another energy drink or cup of coffee, drink water. While you may feel that those sugary, high caffeine drinks give you a boost, they also drop your blood sugar later, which will make you feel sluggish. These drinks also can make you jittery, especially if you are already anxious about your exams. Finally, since caffeine dehydrates you, choosing these drinks over water creates a vicious cycle of ups and downs that leave you feeling drained, which detracts from your ability to study.
Write redux-Right before your exam, write down the information you wish you could have with you during the exam. These pieces of information will be the ones you are most concerned about remembering, so it will be one last time to make that information stick in your brain before heading out to the exam. You may even want to read it over as you take a walk to help you relax and get your blood flowing before sitting down to the test.
Jacqueline Myers M.A. is a long-time online college English professor who offers college students writing tips on her blog, Nitty-Gritty English. Connect with her on Twitter.