If you aren’t the 1% of students who has spent every week reviewing their notes and keeping the information from the first week of classes fresh, then this weekend seems completely nonexistent. Now that finals week is about to be upon us you may be like myself, desperately trying to figure out how to fit in all the information from the last 16 weeks in the next three to four days. The only way is through a beautifully chaotic cramming session. Cramming has a pretty bad reputation with college students pulling all nighters, falling asleep at their desks just to wake up minutes before their exam. But it doesn’t have to be like that and with just a few tips you can have your own productive cramming session with an optimal payout.
Snacks and Drinks
It is important that if you are going to be cramming for any long period of time you have sustenance at the ready. If you put yourself in the position where you have to walk away in the middle of studying to get food or water you risk getting off track. You also don’t want to just power through the hunger or thirst because your mind will be more focussed on its needs than the information you are trying to retain. So grab a bowl and fill it with your favorite snack along with a couple bottles of water and get started.
Although you want to stay focussed, it is important to take set breaks. There are many methods of this that call for 25 minute intervals with five minute breaks which could work for you. For myself I like to do 45 minute intervals broken up by five minute breaks. I hate being interrupted when I am on a roll and 45 minutes seems to give me just the right amount of time to feel like I’m losing traction. The crucial part of taking breaks is not so much the interval of time you spend working, although I recommend no more than an hour, but that you are strict with break time. A five minute break can easily turn into a 20 minute break if you don’t hold yourself accountable. I use a stopwatch to make sure I don’t go over my break time, and even when I really want to keep scrolling on Facebook I force myself to turn the phone off and get back to work. It also important that after four or five intervals you give yourself a 20 minute break. This is a time to not only relax, but also to motivate. Use this time to remember why this is so important and how close you are to the finish line before jumping back into studying.
Although we all have our own favorite tunes, the soundtrack of your study session should be limited. It is best if you listen to instrumental music because lyrics can be distracting. For some though, the genre is most important; it could range from Jazz to Classical. I listen to the Piano Man station on Pandora which has a wide range of instrumental music from classical to current hits. Find what works best for you. If you are singing along and giving your attention to the music, you will not retain the information you’re studying as well. So make sure the music you choose is just background noise, not the main event.
This is a personal choice. I cannot study in my own home so I have to escape in order to get a solid study session in. Being at home offers so many distractions, from chores that need to be done to my soft bed and T.V. I always go to either the local library or a coffeehouse. Both tend to offer free wifi and plugins for your tablet or laptop. When you are in a space that is more public you will naturally be less comfortable, which is good. Throw in your headphones and you completely zone out, giving all of your attention to your work.
Friends make everything better, right? Definitely not in this case. It’s ok to do study groups if it’s with people who will keep you on task, but it’s rare that these lead to very productive studying. IF you have friends who want to study together, plan an hour or two for them after you’ve done your own personal studying. Make sure you go in with problems to work on, and instead of just stating answers try teaching each other how you came to the answer. If you can teach it to someone then you can definitely ace it on the exam.
If your teachers offer any sort of assistance, take advantage. They may give study guides, allow notecards, or even hold their own study sessions. These may take some of your time, but they are definitely worth it if done correctly. Use study guides to make your own flashcards. You will now have not only seen each term, but have written it and the answer already, making the pathway in your brain stronger and easier to recall for later reference. For notecards it is important to not put anything that you already know. Do not clutter it just so it will be full. If you can’t find what you’ve written in a few seconds, then there is no point in doing it. So make sure to have a specific orientation and organization. When professors have their own study sessions it is the perfect time to ask about anything you are feeling uncertain about. They will help you, and anything you learn from them you know for sure is the correct answer.
This is the most important and most forgotten part of cramming. You MUST get at least six hours of sleep the night before your exam. The closer you can get to eight solid hours the better. For your brain to be able to retain long term memories correctly it needs time to rest and build them. If you don’t get enough sleep the answers will be inside your head, but you will have limited access. A cramming all nighter will do nothing for you, so make sure you close the books and catch some sleep.
Cramming isn’t the top way to study. It would be better to have been studying since the beginning, but at this point there’s no turning back time, and worrying about the “what ifs” is just a waste of your very limited time. So just do the best you can with what you have and “May the Force be with you”.