You’ve all heard it; you’ve all said it. You’re all probably scared of it, though you know how important it is. That’s right, today we’re talking about the ‘E’ word:
Sorry if I startled you with that. Exams, after all, can be terrifying – especially when they’re worth a significant portion of your grade. We always know when they’re coming, generally we know exactly what we need to do to prepare for them, and we know that if we study hard enough we’re sure to get good grades. Knowing all of that, why are they still so threatening? Exams are the dark cloud looming above a beautiful, shimmering lake on a summer afternoon; they’re the bull quickly approaching the china shop, the Boston taxi speeding straight towards you, even though you have the right of way. If you see them coming and know what to do when they get here, they’re manageable. But if you stay in the water too long, or can’t divert the bull from your china shop, or walk too slowly across the crosswalk, they will absolutely wreak havoc. Because you only get one chance to be ready, and if you aren’t, it could be the difference between a 40 and a 100 in the subject.
Still, we procrastinate. We tell ourselves sweet little lies like “I’ll study tomorrow”, “I can’t study now, I’m too hungry”, or even worse “I don’t need to study, I’ve totally got this”. As a self-diagnosed procrastination expert, I am more than familiar with all of these tropes. Every year when exams roll around I find myself caught in this loop. I should probably be studying right now, but clearly, I’ve decided this blog post is more important. Every semester, without fail, I do manage to get some studying done. However, my exam scores have been admittedly mediocre throughout my college career, really just high enough to get by without my parents wondering what the heck I’m actually doing in school.
With all of my hypocrisy in mind, I’ve decided to make a list of the tactics that I use to get myself studying, once I’ve finally convinced myself that it’s time to start. These methods are not guaranteed to help you ace your finals, but if you’re okay with a B- like I am, then they ought to be good enough.
1 – Get out of the house!
When you’re sitting at home in your PJs with a bowl of microwaved leftovers, the lights on dim, and a glass of nice, warm tea or coffee, it can be very hard to focus on your studies. You’re also bound to be distracted by the many fun things we humans like to keep around us, such as a smartphone, video game console, musical instrument, or web browser with Netflix idly open. Just yesterday, instead of catching up on my biology lectures when I had planned to, I decided to watch the 1980 comedy cult classic Airplane!, in its entirety. Have I seen this movie before? Yes. Is it at all relevant to my studies? No, I’m a linguistics major. Did I somehow convince myself that it would help me focus once I was done watching it? You betcha. Of course, this was a monumental waste of an hour and a half that would have been better spent doing literally anything else. But Airplane! is a darn good film, and I just couldn’t resist the sweet temptations of the funniest movie ever, statistically speaking. Had I decided to leave my apartment and head to the library, or perhaps an empty, boring classroom with nothing to tempt me, I probably would have gotten my work done much sooner. Who knows? Maybe I would have even had time to watch Airplane! later that night, as a reward rather than a distraction.
2 – Know Your Limits
Most of us are under-studiers. We study too little, do poorly on our exams, and then tell ourselves we’ll get ‘em next time. A smaller portion of college students, however, are over-studiers. These people panic (like, properly panic) about exams every semester, acting as though the fate of the world relies on them scoring a perfect 100 on their underwater basket-weaving final. These people hit the books as hard as they can, so hard that it probably damages the books, but they just keep going and going and going. They start studying a month before finals, and they barely get any sleep in the process. I don’t do this, but I have plenty of friends who do, and every semester they somehow still end up disappointed with their scores. Obviously the solution is to study harder, right? Clearly, 3 hours of sleep per night was far too much, that time would’ve been better spent studying. WRONG. Oh, so wrong. You are working too hard! Just as important as studying is getting enough rest to actually let your brain absorb the information. If you don’t rest enough, it’ll be like endlessly trying to cram a square peg in a round hole. You’ll get some of it in, but lots of crucial information will be forgotten cause you just can’t fit it all in that way. While studying, make sure to take frequent breaks and do something healthy like going for a walk, taking a nap, or drinking a smoothie. Your brain will thank you, and so will your transcript.
3 – Study in Groups
Finals season is the perfect time to make friends with the people in your classes. Everyone is stressed at once, all about the same thing, meaning almost anybody with enough free time will be willing to study with you. I understand that many people prefer to study alone, but I genuinely think studying with other people can be the best way to do it. Practically every time I get together with a classmate to study or work on an assignment, they bring up something that I hadn’t even considered, and vice versa. No two people get the same experience out of a class: you remember different things, you think about things differently, and you likely have totally different methods of studying and notetaking. Having lots of variety in your study group will, somewhat counter-intuitively, help you to view things more objectively and therefore understand them better, leading to better exam scores. Also, it’s way less boring to study with other people! If you get along, it can just feel like hanging out, and it’s nice to have the feeling that you’re all struggling together.
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I hope you’ll take this into account as you prepare for the end of the semester. If you’re like me at all, maybe all you need is a swift kick in the pants to get yourself going. Whatever your preferred method of studying is, just remember that I believe in you! Now get out there, kick some butt, and do it all again next semester!