Sometimes it can take more than a sharp mind to survive the gauntlet of tests, reports, papers, and late nights that make up final exams. Sometimes the week of finals can feel more like an episode of the Walking Dead than the last week of college. But – it doesn’t have to.
- Spread it out
This may seem like a no brainer, but logic quickly goes out the window when you’re facing 5 exams in 4 days. While you may be tempted to spend all of your time before each exam only studying for it – don’t. By breaking your studying over a few days and through a number of different sessions, you’re studying will be much more effective.
- Take breaks
It may seem counter intuitive to spend time not studying when you only have a limited time before the test. But studying for long periods without giving your brain a break is like trying to run a marathon without water stops. It isn’t pretty and usually your time is much worse. Take a short breather every 15 minutes so you can let your brain stretch.
- One step at a time
Since you’re breaking up your studying sessions into 15 minute blocks, only focus on the step that is right in front of you. How do you survive the zombie apocalypse? One day at a time. Trying to take in everything can quickly get you bogged down and overwhelmed. You don’t have to do it all, you just have to do this little bit next. By directing your energy into ‘kicking butt’ for the next 15 minutes, you will be setting yourself up to ‘take names’ when the exam comes around.
- Brain food
While eating brains won’t help your exam grade any, giving your brain the fuel it needs to excel is critical for the mental gymnastics that finals can demand. First, eat often. Keeping a steady flow of calories to your brain is critical for keeping it in top shape. Nuts, berries, avocado (guacamole!), and dark chocolate are all great choices because they are high in the healthy fats that make your brain faster, low sugar so you don’t have a sugar crash, and easy to sneak into the library.
- Learn. Sleep. Learn again.
One of the best things you can do is to make your sleep as productive as possible. The easiest way to do that is by using sleep to break up your studying. Over night, your brain takes the opportunity to clear out any information that it doesn’t need. By studying something before and after a good night’s sleep, you are doubly reinforcing what you’ve learned. This is also why it’s better to wake up an hour early to study the next morning rather than stay up an extra hour the night before.
- Put your muscles to use.
Although your brain will get the biggest workout during exams, make sure you don’t neglect the rest of your body. Take those short study breaks to move around and get your blood flowing. Not only will it help you work out that kink in your neck from reading so much, it will also kick your brain into high gear when you return to the books. Even something as simple as walking outside to get some fresh air can give your body the break it needs to chug through another study session.
- Caffeine & A Nap
It may be easier to fly to the moon than make it through exam weeks without caffeine. Whether you prefer black coffee, Diet Coke, or an electric blue Mountain Dew Voltage – caffeine can provide that extra perk that gets us through the day. But, it takes approximately 20 minutes for the caffeine in your drink to start working its magic. Coincidentally, that is also the ideal amount of time for a nap (another essential for surviving finals). A small cup of coffee and a power nap can be a one-two punch for making it through another study session. Best of all – it’s science.
- Stick with the routine.
I’m the kind of person who always likes to sit in the same spot in class. After an entire semester of learning in a certain area, the final exam isn’t the time to see what the room looks like from another chair. If you moved around every class, now isn’t the time to start ‘settling down.’ Sticking with your usual routine for a final exam gives your brain and body a familiar setting to pull on all the information you’ve learned there throughout the semester.
- One. Step. At. A. Time.
Once the big test is upon you, there isn’t anything left to do except to take a deep breath, trust in yourself, and forge ahead. Whether you’ve put in weeks of work or just a few hours, try not to spend time thinking about what you can or can’t remember. Take each question one step at a time and give it your all. If you don’t know the answer, move on to the next question. The following questions might trigger something that gives you the answer you were looking for before. Just like studying, taking an exam one question at a time help you give you the extra clarity to knock it out of the park.
Just turned in a massive paper? Take some time to celebrate before you get back to the grindstone. Just as important as working hard before a test is rewarding yourself afterwards. Enjoying the big victories (like nailing an exam) and the small ones (making it through your flashcards without a mistake) makes studying a little less painful. It also gives you something to work towards. So, work hard, but all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Just try not to celebrate at an empty ski lodge in the middle of nowhere.
Whether your exams are a zombie apocalypse or a real live version of the Hunger Games, approaching them with the right set of tools can make you more prepared to succeed than the best “doomsday prepper.”