Thursday, November 17, 2016

College Journey: Preparing for Finals

If you're just discovering College Journey for the first time, welcome! This is a series I post twice a month on the last two Thursdays of each month (with a break during the summer). It's one part diary, two parts advice. I'm by no means the best source, but I think I'm a pretty good source, since I'm currently living the college experience.

For returners: yes, I know, I've been promising a dorm/campus tour. This really is my bad. Time has been getting away from me! So I promise, before February 2017 is over (yes, it seems far away, I'm sorry) there will be a tour of both up. There will probably be snow, but my goal is to record before the snow hits. I really am sorry for this taking so long but I fully intend to do it and deliver a good final project. Just give me a little more time.

Now, it may seem a little early, but it's already time for finals, at least for me. In fact, they're this weekend (finals on a weekend? yes it really is the torture it sounds like) but seeing as they're my fourth go at this sort of thing you'd think I'd be prepared. That might be a stretch, but I certainly am more equipped in knowing how I study most efficiently even if I'm not, what you might call, "prepared". Here's my best advice to prepare, for those taking finals for the first time and for those who have done it a million times.

Give yourself time- but not too much. I planned out two weeks of studying in order to get ready for this year's, and that's more than enough time for my classes this term. In fact, it was too much. If you pay attention during class and generally know what's going on then two weeks are probably too long. To play it safe, go with a week and a half for each final. Of course, if you think you need more, go with more! But don't go with more than three weeks. You'll stop learning at a certain point and there's also important information still being taught at that point that you can't ignore. It could hurt your grade in the classes unintentionally.

BREAKS are VERY important. Trust me. Don't over plan what you want to study, is a good rule of thumb. That's why the range of a week and a half to three weeks works well. This year I was able to spread a chapter out over the course of two days for my classes, so, say, I would study chapter thirteen on Monday and Tuesday, take notes as I go, and then move onto chapter fourteen on Wednesday and Thursday. It worked well and I was never overwhelmed. Even if you do this- TAKE BREAKS. You're brain stops processing after about an hour (it's actually less, but I don't know the real number and it is slightly different for everyone). As a rule I don't spend more than an hour at a time on one thing. In fact, I try to only spend half an hour, take a break, and then return for another half hour. And I never spent more than an hour and a half each day studying a topic. Why? I didn't want to burn out and lose motivation. This way it really was spread out. Some break ideas: a short walk, particularly during golden hour (which is this really cool time of the day where the world turns golden. Since it changes every day the best option is just to google "when is the golden hour today" and you'll find it); reading a chapter (though I don't recommend it because it will distract you more than you might think); eating lunch or dinner (pairing food and break works well for me but it may not for you); showering (my favorite sort of break); spending time on tumblr or twitter, as long as you can control that time spent; listening to music, which is actually proven to have a positive effect on your mental health (sometimes I would lay in bed, eyes closed, earbuds in, and then feel infinitely better); or just hanging with friends (again, if you can control this time you spend together).

Write things down. Whether that means transcribing your notes again, or retaking them fresh as if you hadn't already, or making notecards, write things down to get it in your head better. Yes, the computer can be a fine place, but I really recommend actually printing it on paper with a pen. It just helps. I know there's actually a scientific reason, too, but even just speaking for experience I do better on tests when I do this. And don't be afraid to use a but-load of colors in your writing! I use at least five because it makes the taking of the notes interesting and when I look back over it I can easily identify what's important for what reasons and be pleased by the colors.

Get a lot of sleep. Okay, not too much, don't be lazy, but don't let exhaustion get the best of you. 8 hours a night people! And not just the night before the exam (which is really, really important, alongside a breakfast) but every night leading up to the test for like a week. The rest will help both your studying and your test taking. It reduces stress and tiredness (obviously) and you'll feel all around better. I know sleep can feel unimportant when you need to remember all those important facts, but, really, this can save your grade. Seriously.

Prepare for winter break. This isn't directly related to finals, but for me, when finals are over I have a really long winter break. It lasts, this year, from the week of Thanksgiving to January 2nd. Which means I have to pack clothing to bring back home to wear and anything else I might need. I need to clean up my room so I don't come back to a slobbish mess and I need to make sure there's no left over food. This goes along with a lot of things I said when I wrote my Preparing for School post.

These are best pieces of advice. And there are so many other great pieces of advice too! If you have any you'd like to share, please do in the comments. Next week will be a combination post of advice from the comments section and online sources and also some advice for returning home from school and dealing with post-culture shock and depression at home. It'll be an interesting post!


  1. As an English major, I had quite a few papers to write rather than exams to take - which I actually preferred.

    You guys do have a long break! We went a couple of weeks longer but still had a month off.

    1. Normally I have a lot more papers to write; this was the first term I had only tests.


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