The final exam. This end-of-semester staple is one of the most challenging and stressful tests that you'll likely face in your academic career. Depending on your school's academic calendar, you may be tested on 8-16 weeks of material in four or more subjects -- all in the same week.
To do your best, you'll need study strategies that help you master your class content and minimize your stress. Here are five tips to consider as finals week nears:
1. Avoid cramming
"Whatever you do, don't cram." Chances are you've heard this piece of advice more than once -- and for good reason. Scheduling your study sessions over longer periods of time (i.e. spaced repetition) can improve your ability to retain the content you're reviewing. Before your finals begin, create a schedule that allows you to study over multiple days, as opposed to cramming in just one.
2. Review concept by concept
Retrieval is the official term for your ability to recall information. When you cram, you rob your brain of the chance to practice this crucial ability. However, using a schedule (as discussed above) and studying systematically can sharpen your retrieval skills.
For instance, try reviewing one concept and its related details during your first study session. Once you fully understand it, you can move on to a second concept. As you progress, be sure to briefly revisit earlier concepts in order to fully cement them in your mind. You can also build quizzes into your study schedule to acclimate your brain to retrieving information.
3. Keep your review sessions short
Longer study sessions aren't always better. In fact, reviewing for several hours straight may harm your retention. As a general rule, it's best to study for no more than 60 minutes at a time, with 5-10 minute breaks in between back-to-back sessions. Your mental stamina is unique to you, so the session length that you ultimately choose may be slightly shorter or longer than 60 minutes.
4. Alternate study spots
You may have been told to always study in the same seat in the same room. But research published in The New York Times concluded that changing rooms when you review can help you maximize your retention and get the most out of your studying.
In one experiment, psychologists asked students to study 40 vocabulary words over two sessions. One group studied the words in the same room, while the other group studied the words in two separate rooms.
The students who studied in two separate rooms performed far better. Why? Your brain forms connections between the material you're reviewing and the environment that surrounds you. Alternating your study spots can help enrich your brain's associations with the information you're reviewing.
5. Exercise regularly
Exercise is great for all parts of your body, including your mind. This study, for instance, suggests that regular exercise can improve your memory. Teresa Liu-Ambrose, Associate Professor at the Brain Research Center at the University of British Columbia, recommends both aerobic and resistance exercise for maximum impact. Exercise can also help with stress, so the next time you're feeling overwhelmed by finals, try going for a run or a walk.
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