“That time” in the semester is once again rapidly approaching. If you are stressing out over your finals and if you have a number of tests you need to cram for, sometimes waiting until the last minute is your best bet.
If you follow these five simple steps, you are guaranteed to retain more information, walk into your exams with more confidence and perform better overall. All without the need for smart drugs.
1. Begin with a plan.
Determine in what order your exams are going to be delivered. Resist the urge to spend more time on subjects yo enjoy or the ones you find easier. Know what topics are going to be covered.
Set aside a day or two to review notes and study materials. Keep all your notes in order and highlight the concepts on which you need to concentrate the most. Have everything you need ready to go when it comes time to actually study for the test.
If the test is going to be cumulative (covering the entire semester or school year), pay particular attention to past exams. Quite often, bits of the same material will show up again on the final. Pay extra attention to things you got wrong last time around or concepts that you found difficult.
2. Make it a group thing.
Cramming in groups is a great way to make sure you cover all the bases, especially if you’ve been prone to miss a class or two (or ten) over the course of the semester. Different perspectives can give you a feel for what the more strategic concepts are – which ones you should be lending the bulk of your time and attention.
Be careful, however, not to simply take other people’s answers for granted. Just because they thought of something useful does not mean they know everything about the topic. Make some notes and look up any concept that you aren’t completely confident you understand.
Studying in groups is also a good way to keep the stress at bay. The social aspect of it will keep you in good spirits and that positivity will rub off on your performance.
3. Write it down.
That goes for everything – write as you study, especially concepts you’ve been struggling to understand. Doing so will reinforce the concepts and help you remember them better and longer. Making flash cards is a great way to employ this particular tip. It fulfills the purpose of “writing it down” and also provides you with a real last-minute resource that you can use right up until the test begins.
Don’t fall into the trap of making too many flash cards, though. Stick with the stuff you really find difficult to remember. The easier it is, the less time you need to spend on it. As you master concepts, remove those cards from the stack. Right before the test, put them back in and give everything a single, comprehensive, final read-through. You will retain the most information this way.
4. Use music and memory triggers.
Create silly song lyrics that will help you remember. Write the best parody to your favorite song you can based on the information you need to remember. As human beings, we retain more information when we give our brains those kinds of associations.
If a strange thought runs through your head while you are studying a specific concept, use it to your advantage. Make the mental association between that thing and the concept. For example, if you want to remember that the symbol for gold is Au, picture a robber yanking a gold chain off your neck and tell him, “Ay, you! Come back with my gold chain!”
5. Take frequent breaks.
Allow your brain time to reset. You don’t necessarily need to put down one subject and start studying another, but you will do yourself a favor to consume the information in bite-sized chunks. As the old proverb goes, the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. There is a good bit of substance to that thought. Take a bite, rest. Take another.
During those break times, be sure not to bombard your brain with more information than is necessary. This is not the time to start scrolling through your Facebook news feed. You want your breaks to be short enough not to lose your momentum but long enough for all those concepts to settle and prepare your brain to manage more.