Final exams are starting. All those good intentions you had to spread your studying throughout the term? Well, so much for that. It’s crunch time and you’re panicking. You’ve heard all the tips about eating right and getting enough sleep, but who has time right now? You just need to STUDY. But how do you even get started?
Kristine Peace, associate professor in the Department of Psychology, is a forensic psychologist who also studies memory. For years, she has been using what she knows about how our brains work to teach and advise students about good study habits. Here are some of her tried-and-true tips that successful studiers live by:
1. They know that every single minute matters
Looking at your to-do list and thinking, “There’s no way I can do this” isn’t going to get you anywhere.
“You need to look for the little pockets of time that you do have,” says Kristine. “If you’re not setting tangible and specific goals for that time, then you’re not really accomplishing anything.”
Kristine suggests mapping out your plans and projects on a calendar. Write down all of your fixed commitments—work, family and anything else you absolutely must do—and then look for the time that’s left. Even if those blocks are only 30 or 45 minutes, it’s still time you can use to study effectively.
2. They get rid of stuff
If you’re building a time budget, that means you need to cut the fat. What really matters at this point?
“If you’re strapped for time, then you’re not going to be able to do everything. Focus on spending the time you do have on the things that have the most weighting.”
3. They chunk it up
It’s time for a pizza analogy. Kristine says that even if you’re starving, you’re not going to take a whole pizza and shove it in your face at once. You need to eat it slice by slice—even if you’re going to eventually end up eating the whole thing.
“When you’re studying, you need to make things manageable or you’re going to continue feeling overwhelmed,” she says.
That means setting tangible sub-goals. “Set specific, small tasks for yourself. For example, schedule yourself in to read 10 pages of a chapter during a 30 minute break. Initially, it might not feel like you got a lot done, but when you look back and you’ve read a whole chapter and created a set of cue cards or study charts for yourself across several breaks that you would have normally wasted, it’s going to feel more manageable.”
4. They make a list and check things off
Feeling like you’re not getting anything done, just makes you feel worse. Kristine says that making a list of things—even small tasks—and checking them off is self-affirming.
“Affirming positive behaviours increases motivation—it makes you feel like you’re getting stuff done and decreases the anxiety associated with feeling overwhelmed.”
5. Their studying matches the test
Unless your exam is a test of definitions, don’t spend your precious time studying what different terms mean.
“You need to make sure you’re studying in the same manner in which you’re going to be tested,” says Kristine. “By the time finals arrive, you’ve had at least one midterm—if not two—so you should have a pretty good idea of what your final exam is going to look like and the types of questions that are going to be on it.” Make your studying match that.
Kristine suggests strategies like asking yourself questions about how to apply the material, generating your own examples or making a chart to compare and contrast similarities and differences between theories or concepts. “Rather than simple flashcards, these strategies help you answer questions that are beyond basic-level knowledge.”
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