Finals are quickly approaching, which means many of us have reached the most stressful time of the semester. Stress is often the result of neglecting a few simple things that could help you to stay at the top of your game mentally and physically when it matters most.
Write Down Your Commitments
This seems like very straightforward advice, but every semester, students accidentally miss their finals. The good news: avoiding this mistake is fairly easy. Check and double-check the dates and times of your finals, then record them in your calendar, planner, phone, or whatever works for you. After you have a basic skeleton schedule, add in all of your other responsibilities around your finals — whether academic or not — so you can keep track of all your commitments throughout the week. Once your schedule is written down, you’ll feel less overwhelmed and you’ll also have an easy way to stay organized when obligations arise.
Know What Motivates You
Whether this means keeping Domino’s on speed-dial, asking your mom to send cat pictures from home, or rewarding yourself with an episode of Stranger Things, you know yourself well enough to know what motivates you. Working in intervals of focused, dedicated study with regular intervals of breaks or reward time can help you increase productivity rather than blankly staring at a page of notes for hours on end while hoping to magically absorb the information. For example, I love sushi. I know that if I bribe myself with sushi, then I will study hard so I can earn that delicious sushi. Knowing that my hard work will bring me closer to sushi (and a better understanding of the material) helps me to study more comfortably with less self-imposed stress.
Teach Someone the Material
Oftentimes, you learn best when you teach someone the material you’re trying to master. By teaching others, you will quickly discover which information you have a solid grasp on and which areas are still a bit fuzzy. Teaching also gives you the opportunity to retain information in a pressurized situation before you have to prove it to your professor for an important grade.
Friends or roommates who are not in your classes might be too busy to hear your pitch — so why not take this opportunity to call a family member? That way you’ll keep in contact with grandma and let her know what you’re doing in school while preparing for your marine biology final at the same time. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.
Commit to Healthy Amounts of Sleep
Sleep is vital for your body to recuperate after a day of focused mental and physical activity. Sleep debt builds up after repeatedly losing as little as an hour of sleep every night for a prolonged period — and taking a long afternoon nap after a week of sleep deprivation isn’t going to eliminate the sleep debt you owe your body. Make a sincere effort to help your mind and body heal at night by getting enough sleep, especially during this time in the semester when you need your mind to function at its best and recall loads of important information. Try making a written commitment of when you’re going to sleep and awaken, keeping in mind how much rest your body needs. Place this goal somewhere you can see it. Studies have shown that we stay more consistent with our goals when they are written down, and even more so if we share the goal with someone else.
Aside from sleeping at night, be aware of what is the best length of a nap to take. Many students will simply nap as long as their schedule will allow, but the truth is that certain nap lengths will make you feel groggier and less productive than if you had just stayed awake. If your focus is fading and you want to increase alertness, a short power nap of 10-20 minutes is best. To help your brain remember facts like names, dates, and places, a 60-minute nap is ideal. Finally, a 90-minute nap (a full REM cycle of sleep) is best for boosting procedural memory used for activities like playing a sport or instrument. Make sure you avoid napping for 30 minutes because this length will force you to wake up in the middle of deep sleep, resulting in extreme fatigue afterward. Also, remember not to nap less than three hours before you intend to sleep for the night, as napping too late can affect your ability to fall asleep for the night.
Don’t Forget to Exercise
After studying, get some exercise in the way you enjoy best. Try dancing, lifting weights, running, or just going for a long walk. Exercise will keep your brain from losing the information you worked so hard to retain. When demanding so much of your mind, don’t forget to take care of your body as well. If you’re worried about time, there are several ways to accomplish two things at once. Maybe record yourself while studying, or find an audio version of the material, and listen to it while walking or running. Practice your vocab words and every time you get one wrong do 10 push-ups. Integrate your tasks to accomplish more and save time.
In the end, perhaps the most important advice is to remember that you know yourself best. You have a different learning style than your roommates and your study habits may not be the same. Know yourself. Can you focus better in the morning or night? Does it help to discuss the subject with others or to listen to music? How is your time best spent? There are many ways to study, so work to discover which method helps you most and take advantage of the resources available to you. No one knows better than you what study techniques will work best for you, so it’s your responsibility to figure it out, use them, and rock the end of this semester.