Finals Time! (Study tips and more...)

Monday, May 5, 2014

Being at a school on the Quarter System, I am just starting the whole "finals" process thing. I got my first final project assignment on Wednesday, and let's be honest, it's just a bit terrifying. While many of my friends who go to schools on the Semester system are already finished (lucky), many of my friends are still slaving away in the classroom and library, praying for June 3 to come faster (the end of finals, at least for me... :)

While we are all dreading the end... it is necessary to go through finals to get to the promise land of sun, and all things hot, and SUMMER!

To help with finals, I have compiled a list of things that I do during finals that helps me get through the time relatively unscathed. These things work for me, and this is how I have helped other people study as well.

1. Make a list.

List it all out. Go through every syllabus, every assignment sheet, notes, planner, iCal, etc. to find all of the assignments or exams you need to finish before the end of the quarter/semester/block and write it all out on a piece of clean notebook paper or printer paper, color-coded if you're feeling special. It helps you to see what you need to do, and from there you can make a plan on how to accomplish it all! If an assignment has multiple parts, write down all those parts as sub-bullets on your list so that you don't miss anything. Plus, checking off those items on your list is the most satisfying feeling!

Super-techy people, there is this website I love called todoist, and you can make a super thorough to-do list. I usually use it for my long term projects, like study abroad stuff, applications, etc. You can organize by project, add in a due date, color-code, all the things super organized people love! Plus, when you finish all the tasks you have set for a day, they give you a lovely screen, just like this. Again, amazing feeling, checking off tasks on a to-do list! :)

2. Make a plan.

Plan out your week. I have a planner that I use, but I also use this planning sheet that I've attached. I write down under every day what I'm going to do, when I'm going to do it, and where. If it's a group project, I write where we're meeting. If it's a paper, I write down where in the library I'm going to go, or if it's just some reading, I might opt to do it at my house or Starbucks. Writing down where you're going to go holds you accountable, and it helps you plan out your day later. I usually use this sheet weeks 9 and 10, and if I have a particularly busy finals week.

3. Highlight your notes.

None of my professors let me take notes on my laptop, so all of my notes are in little composition books and spiral notebooks. To review for a test or get material for a paper, consolidate your notes. Put them in the same notebook, or the same folder, or make a master document on your computer. There have been several studies that have found that hand-writing your notes out helps you remember lectures better, and keeps you more engaged in the material and I know that is very true for me. This article from Science Daily does a great job of explaining why it's better to hand-write your notes. Need more proof? Google, my friend.

Downside? I cannot write as fast as I type, and I hate it when my handwriting is messy and terrible. Plus, I'm a doodler. So my pens always bleed through my paper and makes my notes look gross.

Compromise? Writing out my notes in class, then typing them later to have them all in one place, and I can keep them in case I need to reference something in a future class.

If you do take notes on your computer, I always print mine out and highlight them by hand, just because that works better for the way I study. But if you're concerned about the environment or out of printing money (#historymajorproblems), definitely just go through your notes on your computer and highlight/underline/color code them. That way, when you go back to study or fill out a study guide or write a paper, you will have all of the important points highlighted to be able to find easily.

4. For writing papers...

Outlining is key. It's super tempting to just dive in and try to finish the paper as fast as possible, but then your thoughts get so jumbled, and then the paper is an incoherent jumble of mess. So I always suggest just getting your thoughts down. I usually just write my ideas on the assignment sheet, if my professor hands one out, so I can reference specific parts of the question. If not, use a blank sheet of printer paper or notebook paper, and just get everything you think on paper. Then you can organize it! I'm a fan of the roman numeral outlining:

I. Topic
    A. Subheading
         1. Main point
             a. Supporting detail/ references

Then you can make an outline in your word document so you can write your paper in pieces. I almost never write my paper from beginning to end. I usually start with whatever paragraph I have the most supporting details or best argument, and then work my way through. I usually do my intro last, just in case I come across another point, and then I can make sure my thesis statement matches up with what I actually write about. I can't tell you how many times I wrote my introduction, then my paper took a different turn than what I had originally planned. But some people like having their intro down first so that they can reference it throughout their paper. Whatever helps you! Just get your thoughts down on paper before you begin writing!

5. Studying for language exams, or any other exam where memorization is necessary

FLASHCARDS. Flashcards, always. I love making them, because the way I think is really systematic and I'm a fan of lists. I usually make flashcards for French, especially for grammar concepts. It also helps me simplify some of the flowery language of my textbook and come to a concise way to explain the concept. It's also helpful for vocabulary (duh). I have a whole drawer of different size and colors of index cards. I use the really tiny ones for French vocab, and the biggest one for some of my history classes where we are tested on "historical identifications" and I need to write out a paragraph. You could even use half-sheets if need be.

Again, if you're super techy, there's an iPhone app called Study Blue, where you can make flashcards and then share them with other people in your class. I prefer pen and paper, but this is a really cool app!

6. On the day of the test!

Just relax. I have really bad test anxiety, so I always find myself the night before rapidly flipping through notes, flashcards, old tests and papers, etc. I will force myself to stay up until 2 in the morning, hoping for that little bit of cram time.

This isn't healthy, and it actually doesn't help. I usually do my best on exams when I'm relaxed and don't overthink it. When I don't try to come up with a super-smart answer, or complicated explanation, it is easier to show exactly what I know, which is usually more than I think.

If you don't want to go to sleep because you think you need to study more, don't listen to the nerves. When it's late and you can feel your mind wondering to thoughts of sleep and the promise of sweet dreams, listen. Review the hardest concepts right before you go to bed, then go to sleep. Usually, an hour of sleep is a lot better than an hour of anxious cramming. Then get up at your usual time, eat your favorite breakfast, do some yoga or breathe, and then go ace that test!

7. Now that you're done...

Treat yo' self. Go to Starbucks and indulge in a yummy latte or mocha. Get a group of friends together and go to dinner, even if it's to Chipotle or something. My personal favorite reward is the Dirty Cookie and a mani-pedi party with a good movie, usually something Disney and animated (Frozen, anyone?).

Good luck with finals! Thanks for reading. :)


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