When you were a kid, chances are likely you had a toy or two that challenged you to fit various shaped objects into their corresponding, matching spots. What you quickly learned was that a round peg will not fit into a square hole, nor would it fit into a triangular one.
It turns out that cramming for college finals is not much unlike that very childhood puzzle: Try to jam too many into one day and you'll quickly find they don't exactly fit.
But what happens when you’re left with no choice but to squeeze more than one final per day into your schedule? Experts say, that's where adequate preparation comes into play, and here are the tips to help you do just that.
1. Re-write your notes.
Becky Splitt, CEO of StudyBlue, said the company has found students have the most success when they organize their thoughts by re-writing their notes onto notecards and compare them with those of their classmates. This helps them to capture what they may have missed and make sure they properly understand the material.
"They then study in small increments, ideally 10 to 20 minutes in between breaks and frequently over multiple days up to two weeks prior to the exam," she said. "Studying helps while using a phone or tablet that is connected 24 hours a day, so these increments can be done anywhere –– on a bus or train, to plane rides back from Thanksgiving break."
2. Enlist your long-term memory.
Dr. Gregory Ford, professor of biology at Morehouse College, said he believes storing information is the foundation of learning and students who learn how to handle the information with "amaze themselves by the volume of information they can retain." Ford teaches two methods for creating and storing long-term memories:
- Utilizing the whole brain to store information
"The process of repetition involves reading before the lecture, taking note during the lecture, re-writing the notes within 24-hours of the lecture and finally making note (index) cards to study with," he said. "I recommend note cards because this technique allows you to focus on one thought at a time and they are mobile; you can review them riding in a car or mass-transit, on breaks at work and between classes."
On the other hand, Ford explained the use of the entire brain relies on the knowledge that different areas of your brain are stimulated by different actions.
"You should write, draw and work in groups were you can speak and listen; this is active learning," he said. "This will increase the number of connections in the brain and the capacity to store memories. Many students think that just looking at books, videos or instructor-generated Powerpoint presentations is enough. My philosophy is that computers put information at your fingertips; however memories are not stored on your fingertips but deep with the brain. Don’t find yourself looking at your fingertips for the answers during an exam."
3. Make a schedule.
Isa Adney, an author, columnist and higher education consultant, said a student should devise a schedule that maps out their studying plans, starting at two weeks and leading up to the day of the test. Adney said an example schedule for a student who is scheduled to take three finals in two days would look like the following:
Set aside as many chunks of hours that you can each day leading up to your exams that you will spend in the library (or wherever you study best)," she said. "And then commit to that schedule. Begin to outline what you will do each day, in terms of what you will study, and what activities you will do. Staring at a book doesn't work, so plan on using note cards, creating practice tests, or using online sites like Quizlet when relevant to put your material into an interactive form that will force your brain to recall and really practice with the material."
"You should be taking your practice tests and then grading yourself," Adney said. "Focus on study plans for the questions you are getting wrong and the things that aren't sticking quite yet."
"This should be your lightest day of studying," Adney said. "You should be taking your practice tests and getting all of them right, perhaps double checking a few questions you might need to hone in on a little bit more. This would be the day to do a light study group as well. It's hard to really study in a study group, but they are great the day before for social learners."
Adney suggests a student takes the leadership role and reach out to other students in order to organize a study group.
"Develop an activity for you to do together –– it can be as simple as quizzing each other with flash cards," she said. "If you've done things right, you'll be the one with all the answers, explaining things to other people who aren't quite as sure. Teaching is the best way to learn! Then, go out for lunch or coffee or something with everyone and just relax. Enjoy yourself and get plenty of sleep."
"Wake up at least an hour or two before your first exam so you aren't rushing to class," Adney said. "Have a nice breakfast and do not study on the day of the test –– just relax."
Adney suggests taking a walk around campus or listening to your favorite music. She also emphasized that it doesn't hurt to dress the part of a successful student.
"Wear an outfit that makes you feel confident," she said. "Get to class at least five minutes early and just relax in your chair. Watch everyone else scrambling with their notes and just breathe and smile and know that you're ready."
- Re-write your notes to improve memory of the material and compare them with other students' to help emphasize important points you may have missed in class.
- Increase long-term memory by drawing, writing and speaking information that must be remembered for a test.
- Make a two-week schedule that outlines how you will go about preparing for upcoming finals.