productivity, School, self-care

6 Ways to Avoid Cramming For Finals

Happy Spring, everyone! If you’re a confused college student – and there sure are a lot of us – maybe it’s not so much a happy spring, because finals are on the way. But hey, who’s to say that finals have to be stressful?

As it turns out, there are plenty of ways to avoid stressing over final exams. Here are a few of my favorites!

1. Start Studying as Early as Possible

Okay…I think almost all of us would say that we *want* to begin studying several weeks before the exam, but don’t, because life happens. And who can blame you? When final exams are several weeks in the future, it makes sense to focus on immediate obligations, such as papers and homeworks that are due, let’s say, tomorrow. And when you’re a really busy student, you may not have time to study for something so far in the future, especially if you’ve got some really difficult tests happening right now. So what can you do to make sure you don’t put it off to the very last minute?

Well, the first thing you might do is make sure you know when your exams are. At most universities, it’s common to have a schedule handed to you right at the start of term which outlines major deadlines, such as midterms and finals. Put these on your calendar. No joke. Highlight them. Draw little hearts and stars around them. Make sure you get them in your view.

Next, you need to do something really important: give that date a number. Don’t let it hang out there in the ether – trust me, you’ll lose track of time. Personally, I have a running countdown which lets me know exactly how many days I have to study for this test. Whether you do this the analog way (writing it into your planner, like I do) or have a countdown on your phone/some other device (there are plenty of apps out there which can help with this), it really helps remind you to study before hand.

2. Gather Essentials and Prepare Your Workspace

The second most important thing to do when thinking about finals is to make sure you clear any obstacles which get in the way of your studying. Personally, I can’t study if I know that my kitchen is dirty. Another thing which stops me is that I often have to search around in my notes for my study material. Also, my desk gets kinda cluttered. All these things prevent me from studying.

So what do I do? I get those things out of the way. I give myself 15-20 minutes to clean up my work space, do the dishes and locate everything I need, including the mandatory coffee and Teddy Grahams. Then, when I’ve begun studying, I set my phone on Do Not Disturb and set to work, minimizing the distractions, whether they are in my head or in my home.

3. Prioritize

When I have a huge amount of studying to do, oftentimes I can’t seem to focus on anything, because while I’m studying one subject, I’m worrying about the other five I’m not currently studying. This is detrimental to everything.

I think the obvious solution to this issue is to prioritize. Some subjects need more studying than others. Some need less studying, but take more time. When I sit down and decide where I’m going to spend my time, I prioritize subjects in this order:

  1. Urgency
  2. Difficulty
  3. Time Requirement

In other words, I do the things that are due the soonest, then the things which require more brain power, then the things which require more time. But then I do something more important, which I recommend to you and to everyone who will listen:

4. Set a Timer

This is the most important aspect of your studying. I call it the Fifteen Minute Method – and it really works! For almost three years now, I’ve used this method and I get A’s in almost every class, and I also have time for other things, like cleaning and reading my favorite books. 

How it works: set a timer for fifteen minutes. For those fifteen minutes, you are 100% focused on the subject of your choice (see the list of priorities above). After those fifteen minutes are up, switch to something else. For me, I like to do an on-off period, where I do fifteen minutes of homework followed by fifteen minutes of blogging, reading or cleaning. Then, hit the fifteen minutes again. Repeat.

Why does this work?

I’ve discovered that, personally, I can’t sit in a chair for more than fifteen minutes without getting really wiggly. And if I anticipate having to study for hours at a time, I’ll lose focus before I even begin. But when I use the Fifteen Minute Method, I’m 100% engaged with the material and actually get more done in those fifteen minutes than I would otherwise get done in an hour.

This method helps me write papers, complete complicated problems, and study for tests, but more importantly, it helps me to avoid burnout. During the summer, the season when I devote my time to novel-writing, this helps me to crank out some of my best work.

Another really useful way to use this method is to alternate study material – and by that, I mean switching subjects every fifteen minutes and having them on a rotation. That way, even if you only have an hour to study, you still get some quality time on everything that you need to do. You may not memorize every little fact and detail, but you’ll be better prepared on all subjects, rather than really acing one and failing the other four.

5. Review, Review, Review!

After the initial memorizing process (or whatever process you use), it’s really easy to say, okay, I’ve got this now. Do you know what happens?

You forget it.

It doesn’t matter who you are – memorized information fades eventually. So if you’ve started studying early, if you prioritized, if you used the Fifteen Minute Method and feel totally prepared, you still run the risk of blanking completely on the day of the exam. Unless, that is, you review.

Here’s what I like to do: a few weeks before my exam, I have a memorization period, where I memorize everything I need to and work on problems to help me get the hang of the subjects I need to know. This gets the heavy work out of the way. Then, every day, I review for, you guessed it, about fifteen minutes, up until the day of the exam. This really works, because the stress of trying to remember everything often makes you actually forget.

So don’t forget to review! Set aside a little time, and I’m talking like a few minutes, every day to at least read over (although if you can engage with it somehow, like using flashcards, you’ll have a better result) the material and keep it fresh in your head.

6. Don’t Freak Yourself Out

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