Mid-terms and finals are the bane of most college students’ existence. One final exam would be bad enough, but at the end of the semester we often have to take two or three exams in a single day! It’s enough to make even the most studious among us pine for the life of a beach bum.
If you find yourself in this unenviable position, here are some tips and tricks to help you make the best of a bad situation.
The quick list…
- Get to work NOW
- Map out your path to success
- Cut out the non-essentials and distractions
- Identify and concentrate on the big payoff items
- Don’t mistake work for progress
- Maximize your learning ability by working with your brain (as I’ve posted on throughout this blog)
- Avoid the big mistakes students make in these situations
Read on for the full scoop on how to apply each of these!
Get to work now! Stop daydreaming about being a beach bum! While it may sound glamorous and carefree, those with actual Margaritaville experience can tell you it’s not all shrimp boils and hammock snoozing. You’ll also have to contend with unsightly overweight tourists in way-too-revealing swimsuits, skull-battering hangovers, and embarrassing tattoos that you don’t recall getting. Daydreaming when you should have been hitting the books is what got you into this mess in the first place. As one pundit observed, “If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.”
Map out your path to success. That is, come up with a plan to maximize the time you have left; then stick to the plan. Sketch out a daily plan from now until test day(s). Don’t waste time searching the internet for the perfect online scheduling solution or fritter away precious minutes trolling the aisles of the office supply store weighing the merits of the $40, leather-bound planner versus the $14, plastic version. Those are procrastination tactics designed to delay the inevitable. Pull out a couple of pieces of notebook paper right now and map out an hour-by-hour schedule for each day from now until the end of the ordeal. Block off all those necessaries such as sleep time and classes.
Cut out all the non-essentials and distractions and send appropriate email apologies. For instance, email your buddies a quick “Sorry. Can’t make the monster truck rally this week. Finals are eating my lunch. Pray for me!” Turn off the cell phone (or other technology distractors) for most of the day. Plan a few times each day to turn it back on and check messages. Respond to the most urgent and delay the others. You may have to go somewhere new to study. For instance, I knew that studying in my dorm room or at the library was not very efficient because friends would come find me there and my TV and computer constantly called me to come procrastinate. I might go to a coffee shop on the other side of town to study. One that none of my friends were likely to visit.
[hidepost]Identify and concentrate on the big payoff items. You probably have oodles o’ stuff to study. The temptation is to study the least intimidating or boring items. Don’t do it! For each test, decide what to study based on how many points it’s likely to get you. Be strategic! Hint: Just because the prof assigned it, doesn’t mean it’s worthwhile. You could spend two days reading that 300 page ethnography of the OompaLoompa tribe on the off chance that there might be an essay question over it, or you could take an hour to read the intro and conclusion, commit a couple of key points to memory, and spend your time going over those (coma-inducing) class notes on “Coprophagia in Canines” that the prof got so excited about (so you know it will have several big questions/essays on the test).
Don’t mistake work for progress. This is one of the biggest time savers you will ever learn! When I was in college, back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, I quickly discovered that when my friends moaned about studying for twelve hours at the library, what they actually meant was that they had spent twelve hours at the library with various books open in front of them. They had actually studied only two or three hours and spent the rest of the time flirting with the hotty at the next table, discussing the relative of merits of crinkle versus fold (we’re talking toilet paper here people … try and keep up), going for coffee breaks, giggling at the dirty words in the dictionary, etc. I also realized that reading and highlighting my textbook was not the same thing as learning what I needed to know from the text book. Reading and highlighting makes you feel like you are studying, and it is marginally useful. But consider, you highlight so that you can go back and study the highlighted parts later–that’s probably what you’ll be doing as you study for the upcoming exams. If you study as you read–turning those passages you would have highlighted into actual flashcards or notes in your study stream as you go–there would be no need to highlight. Reading and highlighting is really a way to avoid real mental work while letting you check some studying off your to-do list. In general, reading over your notes or assigned readings is NOT studying! You must be actively trying to recall information or working out actual problem sets before it can be considered study.
Maximize your learning ability by working with your brain. Take frequent breaks. Use mnemonics. Reward yourself. Use a schedule or the flash card method to force yourself to recall information you’re trying to learn. Teach the info to someone else (or at least pretend that you’re doing so). Rehearse it verbally. I’ve already covered all of this in different posts … a quick search will turn them up.
Avoid the big mistakes students make in these situations. Do not go into panic mode and try to cram! It’s counter-productive. When trying to overclock your brain for a few days, it’s uber-important that you take frequent breaks, get regular exercise, get plenty of sleep, and eat right. It’s like sprinting to complete a marathon for which you haven’t prepared. You’ll burn out after a few miles and be useless while somebody who walks will get much further in the long run (no pun intended).
Lastly, take a few minutes to think carefully about how miserable it is to be in this situation. Use those feelings to spur you on to better study habits for the next round of tests. It’s easy to get all your studying done without any last minute push if you just begin early enough and learn the material as the semester progresses.[/hidepost]