A lot of people leave studying for their exams to the last minute, myself included. I have yet to meet anyone that would want to sit down and study rather than watch a show (or do almost anything else!). It’s always pretty great until it comes down to the day before the exam and barely anything has been reviewed. I’ve been there. I practically had to pull an all-nighter, and it was not a good experience. I’ve put together some tips so that you can not only survive this exam season, but thrive.
Make a plan
Scheduling is one of the most important (and the most difficult) parts of studying. It all comes down to discipline. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to make a plan and stick with it. Making the plan is the easy part – it’s sticking with it that’s hard! It can seem like a lot if you have activities you need to do, other exams to study for, or if your schedule is just generally busy. The key is to make the time for it. Obviously, it’s hard to sit down for hours and focus on a topic. I recommend not only scheduling study times, but break times, as well. Naturally, the breaks would be timed – ideally no more than five minutes. What you do to relax during these is entirely up to you. How early you should start studying is something only you know, and only you can plan for. The most important part is to be honest with yourself. On multiple occasions I’ve thought I needed less time and then the night before the exam, I was so busy cramming I barely got any sleep, and that never goes well for me. You need to know yourself and make a plan accordingly.
If you study for hours straight, your brain will burn out. It’s a lot to focus on, and your brain needs the chance to breathe. As mentioned before, your break shouldn’t exceed five minutes. I personally turn to playing a quick game or reading a part of my book. Whatever helps you relax, you just need to be careful. Often if I read a book, I won’t want to put it down after five minutes, which is definitely not good for my study time. Talking to friends might be relaxing for you, but again, a one minute conversation can sometimes turn into an hour with your friends. I also strongly advise against trying to watch a show! Five minutes of a show can turn into an entire episode and (if you have Netflix, like me) before you know it, three episodes have passed and no studying has been done. The most important thing with your break is to not get too distracted. I find that the method that has worked best for me in this area is to walk around the house for a couple minutes, or play with your pets, if you have any.
People have different ways of learning. Some are more auditory or visual learners; however, nothing has worked better for me when reviewing that rewriting notes (especially if it’s your own words). It can even help to read those notes aloud to yourself. It might seem a bit silly, to read aloud to yourself, but it really helps the information stick in your brain. The hardest part of rewriting is sitting there and continuing to do it. It can be really tedious and after a while your hand starts to hurt, and then you might start wondering why you’re even doing this and eventually, just go to reading. I know this because I’ve done this for a bunch of my tests and exams, and I never do as well as I do when I stick with the writing. You shouldn’t just write though, you should take the time to process in the information. I thought it was genius when I decided to split my computer screen and watch Netflix while I took notes. I learned the hard way that it was most definitely not genius, and I should most definitely not do that again! It might help a bit if you rewrite, but there’s really no point if you’re not processing the information (which is why reading aloud really helps, even if you’re not an auditory learner).
When studying for exams, you should always find little ways to reward yourself. For example, I’m a lover of books. When I finish studying for one topic in a night, I promise myself ten minutes of reading before I move on to another topic. My biggest motivator is probably if I have any sweets in the house. Depending on the sweet (if it’s big or large) I promise myself I can have it after I’m done studying a subject, or just done studying for the night. Unfortunately, my sweet tooth often results in my family hiding the sweets. So, if you’re like me and usually can’t get sweets, or if you don’t have a sweet tooth, I recommend finding something, like a book or if you really think you have enough time, a show, to reward yourself with. If you don’t feel like these methods would work for you, you might want to create a reward for when exams are over. Maybe your family would be willing to take you to your favourite restaurant, or you could go out and party when you’re finished. Maybe some of these suggestions work for you, maybe none of them do – at the end of the day, only you can know how to reward yourself.
One of the biggest contributors to a good exam is sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, it’s often hard for the brain to focus. This is why pulling an all-nighter before an exam is not always the best, and can at times be detrimental. Furthermore, sleep gives the brain an opportunity to process all the information you’ve learned in a day, which means all that information you spent hours studying sticks more in your brain. You might want to do well on an exam, but losing sleep is not the way to do this. I find I’m always better prepared for a test when I study earlier and go to sleep at a reasonable hour, rather than climbing into bed in the wee hours of the morning.
I know this information can be constantly drilled into your brain and you don’t feel like paying attention or don’t think you need to. I completely understand, I was the same way. Despite this, I can honestly say, I’ve been on both ends. I’ve been the person that doesn’t make a plan, takes way too many breaks, decides to only read as a form of study and gets about four hours of sleep the night before an exam. I’ve also followed my own advice on occasion. I’ve made a plan (and stuck with it), limited my breaks, rewrote all my notes and made sure I slept. Having done both of these things, I found that studying in this way consistently improved my grades. Not only did it improve my grades, but I felt better. I wasn’t walking around like an exhausted ball of stress. Everyone is different. People have different ways of studying. Maybe you feel you don’t need this advice, and that’s completely fine. If what you’re doing is working for you, then you should keep on doing that. However, if you take this advice and modify it to your own study needs, I truly believe it will help.
Maia, Pamoja student at Cayman International School and Student Ambassador for the Global Student Council
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