The big exam is right around the corner, and you feel like your brain is just filled with sand. It’s impossible to focus, and even when you do, you forget the information only moments later. Help!
Who hasn’t been here?
There are lots of obstacles to studying for finals, including distractions, lack of motivation, and feelings of self-doubt. This doesn’t mean you’re trying to be a bad student or that you don’t care. It just means you need a little boost.
Here are some useful tips for studying like a pro:
1. Spaced Repetition
If you’ve never heard of spaced repetition systems, now’s the time to learn. Experts say this is one of the best ways to get yourself to remember information.
Most people use this term to talk about innovative flashcard methods. You’ll go through a set of flashcards like you normally would, but each flashcard will repeat at a strategic interval of time. The cards you mess up more on will repeat more frequently, while the ones you seem to remember well will show up less often.
This way, your study tactics are attuned to what you know and what you don’t, optimizing your efforts and your memory load.
If you want to try this for yourself, you can start by using actual flashcards or digital ones, like flashcards for Mac. The flashcard-making process will be another way to review the information you need to remember.
2. Use the Buddy System
Making a friend in class can give you a friendly face in lecture and another voice to commiserate with on long assignments. But if you aren’t having study sessions with your friends from class, you could be missing out on a useful study method.
Studying with others is great because you’ll learn just as much from teaching your friends as you will from what they teach you. Group studying is a way to fill in the gaps in each others’ knowledge while strengthening the information you already have.
3. The Pomodoro Technique
If the hardest part of studying for you is staring at a page long enough to retain anything, you’re not alone. In this chaotic world, plenty of people have trouble focusing on one task at a time.
This is why lots of people use timed routines, like the Pomodoro Technique. This is a short, repeatable schedule of work sessions interspersed with lots of breaks. It may seem a little silly, but the simple knowledge that you’ve dedicated the next 25 minutes to studying can be surprisingly motivating.
4. Treat Yourself
And for those who need a little extra motivation, you can build small rewards into your study routine. Some people use candy, and others use Youtube videos or other short pieces of entertainment. To choose the right reward, you’ll need to figure out what it is that motivates you.
Sometimes this can come in the form of your biggest distraction, but you’ll have to be careful. If you find that you can’t stop texting memes to your friends when you’re supposed to be studying, you could limit your meme-ing to after you finish each chapter.
Just make sure you can curb yourself after a little while. Otherwise, you could just be opening up more opportunities for distraction.
5. Use Sound When Studying For Finals
Some students swear by “focus” soundtracks and browser extensions that produce nature sounds. Even if you get distracted by most kinds of music, there might be a style out there that suits you.
Try some lo-fi beats or classical music. Or you can try white noise, rain sounds, or muffled cafe sounds. You might realize that it wasn’t the music itself that distracted you before, but the words in the lyrics of popular songs.
Sounds for studying can help you stay in a rhythm, and they can also protect you from other sounds that might distract you, like the voices of people around you.
6. Make Study Guides
Preparation is one of the best studying tips out there.
If you have enough time before an exam, you can start making your study guides as you go to your normal lectures and seminars. After every class, if you take 5 to 10 minutes to reflect and jot down the important points, you can build a study guide as you go.
And if you’re already in crunch time, the act of creating a study guide can be a wonderful start to organizing your thoughts. Once you have it, you can use it to help you remember what you need to study. You can also use a study guide to keep track of what you understand and what you don’t—yet.
And even if you’re not that close to anyone in your class, you can collaborate on a group study guide without much risk of awkward interactions. Just create a shared document on Google Drive or Dropbox, and invite others to join. It’s an easy way to get help from others, but you’re helping them too, so everybody wins!
7. Be Vulnerable
If your teacher or professor holds office hours, these can be excellent opportunities to get some answers and brush up on what’s confusing. And even if the class doesn’t have office hours, you can try to set up a meeting to talk about the class material.
Many teachers complain that the only students who show up to office hours are the ones who are already doing well in the class. So what’s holding back everyone else?
Well, if you’re struggling to understand the material, it might be hard to be vulnerable enough to ask questions. You might think your questions are silly, or that your teacher will be disappointed that you don’t understand certain things by now.
But you’ll likely find that this isn’t the case at all. Teachers know that students struggle in class—this is no secret. If they don’t find out now, they’ll find out on the exam.
What you can show in office hours is your ability to ask questions, even the ones you think are silly. Talking things through with a teacher or teaching assistant will take some of the weight off your shoulders and present welcome challenges to the ones responsible for teaching you.
With the help of some key studying tricks, you can take your study mentality from hopeless to highly capable. Studying for finals can actually be a nice, calm experience. Lots of times, it’s a lack of proper methods that makes it feel so difficult at times.
Next time you need to study for an exam, use these tips to help guide you through. And for more advice on handling life’s stressors, check out the rest of this blog!