You’ve got turkey on the brain, but there’s more to November than Thanksgiving break. Midterm exams can creep up quicker than you realize, and finals will be here before you know it, too. Even if you pride yourself on putting the “pro” in procrastination, it’s a wise idea to start studying for exams sooner than the night before.
Everyone studies differently—what works for your friends might not work for you—but if you take advantage of a few of these study tips, you just might ace your exams, end the semester on a good note, and earn plenty of bragging rights during winter break.
1. Go to class, even if it’s optional.
Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.” There may not be official statistics to back up his claim, but making a conscious effort to attend your classes means you’ll know what’s going on, receive any important handouts, and learn about due dates. If your professor or TA schedules an optional study or review session, don’t use the word “optional” as an excuse to skip out. You could get some one-on-one advice or have the chance to get answers for things that confuse you. Some teachers even use study sessions to go over the format of the upcoming exam.
2. Identify your learning style.
People acquire, process, and remember important information differently. Various experts have come up with learning style models and theories over the years, but the basic types of learning styles include:
Most colleges have tutoring centers or academic success centers that can help students identify their learning styles, or you can try an online inventory such as this one posted by the University of South Dakota.
3. Motivate yourself.
Even self-starters who can motivate themselves to do just about anything can have trouble studying for midterms or other exams. Be real, it’s not very high on most students’ lists of fun stuff to do during college. Give yourself a pep talk or write down a quick reminder of why you need to study. Grades and your GPA are important, but even something as basic as “As soon as I get this over with, I can go out and celebrate!” is enough to motivate some people.
4. Prioritize your exams.
It’s a given—some of your classes are harder for you than others. For that reason alone you might have to spend more time studying for those exams, but you should also consider how “heavy” exams weigh on your final grade. What’s that mean? If the midterm for one class makes up a third of your grade but the midterm for another class counts just toward 10% of then overall grade for that class, you may decide to adjust your studying accordingly.
5. Find a good place to study or alter your environment.
The middle of the crowded, noisy dining hall isn’t an ideal place to study for most people, but the library isn’t everyone’s cup of tea either. Figure out where you can study best and get the most accomplished. If it’s your dorm room, you might have to make some “modifications” like cleaning your desk to eliminate any potential distractions. Oh, and if you have a usually-noisy roommate, let him or her know you’re going to be studying for midterms and see if you can work out some sort of study schedule that works for both of you.
6. Study in chunks. Don’t cram.
Deciding to study for three days—or even three hours!—straight will drive you insane. Study in chunks, or blocks. Set the timer on your phone as a reminder to get up and stretch or walk around every hour or so. Procrastinating college students who swear by all-nighters may want to argue otherwise, by a study conducted by UCLA researchers found that cramming may not be beneficial at the high school or college level, who tend to have poor sleep habits to begin with.
7. Eat something. Something healthy!
For many people, studying is just like watching TV—a good time to gorge on chips, pizza, candy, and other comfort / junk foods out of sheer habit. Instead, eat when you’re honestly hungry. Choose foods that are rich in protein rather than sugary, carb-rich snacks that can actually make you sleepy.
8. Watch the caffeine.
You’re probably tempted to chug coffee or swig energy drinks when you know you’ve got to study, but pay attention to how much caffeine you’re actually consuming. Side effects of too much caffeine can even include an increased heart rate, anxiety, nausea, depression, vomiting, and—of course—trouble falling asleep.
9. Get sleep.
And speaking of sleeping … the researchers who conducted the study mentioned above found that the lack of sleep that is a side effect of cramming for exams is actually worse for you than the cramming itself, and other experts have found similar results. A similar study mentioned in Science Daily found that students who studied in sessions and took breaks retained their knowledge for an exam given six months better than those who crammed during one lengthy study session.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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