It is doable. And you will get through it. Here are some tips to maximize your time in this awful period.
1. Know when to stop –– but make it practical
Look at you.
Now look at that 20-page academic journal that was assigned five weeks ago that you never opened. The Brightspace topic complete bar is white and unread; mocking you.
There’s no shame is not being able to do it all. It is an essential life skill to know when to give it up. It’s two days before the final –– that 50-page reading is not worth your time. There’s nothing worse than having five hours left before your exam with five chapters left to read. Attempting to properly read and learn it will most likely leave you stressed and confused. Just leave it. It’s easy for students to obsess over remembering every last detail — especially when there’s not much time left.
Get the shorter, manageable readings out of the way first. Then figure out if you have enough time for the giant ones. Only do what you can possibly do, then move on if there’s time.
You can do a lot in a week. You can also do a lot in two days–as long as you know that you can’t do everything. Exam cram is a gamble, and don’t always bet on the big stuff.
Across the globe, a universal symbol of scholarship and academia is readings. Assigned readings, short readings, assisted readings, suggested readings, extra-credit readings; it’s a prerequisite of university life that you read.
It takes forever. The sheer volume of readings assigned to university students is onerous and impractical. As students, we know the horrors of being overwhelmed by readings, especially when there’s little time to do them. How do you tackle readings for exams–especially when time isn’t on your side?
Skimming is a method of reading where you extract the main ideas in a body of work, without focusing on the details. Skimming is an art. Much like pouring skim milk into your 12th coffee of the day, skimming is an essential part of studying.
The ability to understand the central idea of each paragraph or subheading will be far more useful that regurgitating sentences. Writing five or more sentences about a concept you understand is better than trying to remember sentences.
To skim, always read the first sentence of each paragraph. Take notes of repeated words and always read the chapter summary. The syllabus can be used as a checklist for your studying.
Google is your best friend during exam time. Complex terms and language can be easily learnt by a quick internet search or YouTube crash course.
Noting down key jargon can also be beneficial for multiple choice exams. Keep in mind what you will be expected to recall during testing. Will you need to know dates? Or perhaps you only need to know the order of events, then draw out a timeline to get the general gist. For essay questions, focus on summaries of topics and any key terms used.
Skimming is beneficial as it reduces the time spent studying without reducing the importance of stuff. Time is money during exam season, and every hour you spend at your desk has to be productive. Stressing over every minute detail is a waste of time and energy. With half the effort, skimming allows you to learn what’s relevant. Ten points for you.
3. A day distracted is a day wasted
Spending two hours on your phone after 30 minutes of note taking isn’t real studying. Self-sabotage will lead to poor grades. There’s no sugar coating this. If you tell yourself you’re going to achieve a task, you need to put in the work.
On the flip side, spending all day in bed doesn’t mean you can’t work. The night is young and anything is better than nothing.
Studying on your bed isn’t practical, no matter what we tell ourselves. Studying with your phone out or Facebook out isn’t practical, despite what we tell ourselves. If you have to plant yourself in the Wallace McCain to get through those seven chapters — do it.
A useful method would be to take short but regular breaks. That means with every hour, take five to 10 minutes to get up, get a snack, water, walk around (preferably something non-electronic.) In total, 50 minutes of the hour should be spent working. Every time you get distracted, work another 50 minutes after that. These mechanisms allow us to be more productive with our time, instead of wasting days half-working.
4. Talk to your professors
Professors are often willing to go into detail if you ask. The only thing worse than studying is studying irrelevant material that serves only to clog your brain and weaken your answers. Like skimming, being able to dissect a large syllabus into a smaller checklist is a necessary skill.
If your professor gives you an outline, follow it. If the exams are multiple choice: don’t study for essay questions. If the exam is cumulative: study everything (you won’t remember the stuff from the midterm, trust me.)
It’s easy for students to create a divide between their freedom and their education. Who cares if you’ve sent your TA five emails? Don’t feel bad. Universities provide several resources for us to get academic help when we need it. Your instructors are there to make your academic career more successful, despite exam worries.
What topics should you focus on? Is there any point to studying both sections? Make sure to get all you can out of your professors beforehand. Armed with some knowledge of what’s ahead, studying becomes a more achievable task.
5. Eat real food
Most of us know eating a diet of whole grains, lean protein, fibre and vegetables will lead to a healthier mind. Our bodies crave escape from tense environments and food is a great way for us to disconnect from reality. It allows us to take breaks in between furious notetaking; and the more snacks we eat the more distracted we can be.
Instead of harping on about health, here’s a list of foods that help boost concentration: coffee (duh), dark chocolate, mixed nuts, carrots, peanut butter, bananas and other fruits. Despite pizza bringing much-needed comfort, oily processed food makes the body feel sluggish. Nourish yourself, please. Your stomach and your wallet will thank you when it’s over.