If there’s one thing that every student here at the Smith School can agree on, it’s that finals are about as utterly brain-draining as, well, some sort of thing that grabs your brain and drains out all of your thoughts. I’d say “like an Uwe Boll movie,” but that may be too niche and atopical of a reference. Anyway, it’s finals season here, and that means that stress levels are running high as students flit from room to room, hoping to shore up their fortresses of knowledge with a few last-minute applications of desperate studying.
Since I only just finished up my BA, this feeling of last-minute academic panic is fairly familiar to me, although it’s been some time since I had to cram for quantitative coursework. Still, I know that the majority of my peers (and you future Smith students that might read this at some point) have spent more time away from school than I have, and their good study habits may have gotten a little rusty, so with that in mind here are a few pointers that have helped lower my stress level considerably!
- Don’t cram – spread it out! Studies that I can’t find public links to at the moment tend to agree that shoving facts into your brain at the last minute really isn’t an efficient way to learn a subject. If you break a subject down into more manageable chunks over a longer time – say, an hour a day over the week before an exam – your brain stores the information in a much more useful way. Manage your schedule well and you’ll be sure to have enough time to go over those last troublesome concepts before the test, as opposed to desperately skimming the chapter and hoping you’ll retain some of it. Knowledge isn’t pasta – you don’t throw it at the wall and hope a few pieces stick!
- Get comfortable, but not too comfortable. Different people enjoy different studying environments. Some like the quiet of a library, and some veg out in front of the TV at home. Personally, I put my feet up on my desk, throw on a pair of noise-canceling headphones, and block out distractions with the soothing sounds of speed metal. Find an atmosphere that lets you focus – but not one so comfortable that your mind starts to wander. And don’t let yourself get distracted by the internet, either! Use it as a study tool if you have to, but if like me you tend to get sucked into the mire of social media, I might recommend installing a browser extension that limits the amount of time you can spend on sites like Facebook. Here’s a list of plugins for Safari as recommended by Mashable – and don’t worry, there are just as many out there for Chrome and Firefox!
- Use your brain or lose it. This ties back in with #2 – namely, that cramming and rote memorization aren’t very good ways to retain knowledge. There’s all sorts of talk about the magic of “memory palaces” in the media, thanks to the attention from Jonathan Foer’s hit book “Moonwalking with Einstein” and the reference in a recent episode of the hit BBC miniseries Sherlock, but you don’t need to be able to perfectly reconstruct every detail of your accounting textbook in order to do well on the final. Use tricks like mnemonic devices or word association to help you remember closely associated concepts or difficult phrases. And above all else, practice, practice, practice!
I hope these tips are useful! Got any good study habits (or things to avoid) of your own? Let us know in the comments section! Good luck, and happy studying!