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Finals fear? Don’t forget the five steps of studying
As the holidays and vacation approaches, students spend their time studying, stressing and preparing for the dreaded finals week that looms ahead. Many students, freshmen and seniors alike, share the task of getting through one last week of misery, and as a result we here at the Chronicle have prepared a small but helpful list to prepare for finals week appropriately.
One of the initial tasks that can help any student in need is simply setting up a detailed schedule to keep them on track.
“We don’t manage time, we manage ourselves as regards to the time we have,” said Andrew Delohery, director of the Learning Center at Quinnipiac. “So to plan far ahead I think is the first thing: to really get a grasp of what one needs to do so one can be proactive, not reactive.”
Don’t save everything for the last minute. Instead, come up with a plan to get things done in a periodical manner. By simply realizing what is most important versus what can wait a few days, the mind can become more clear and agile than ever before.
“Stress is the single most devastating challenge to the retrieval of information from the working memory,” warns Delohery. “If you can ameliorate that stress at all by the time you get to the test, you will do a bit better. If no other reason, you feel better working under pressure.”
Students across the nation can attest to the hardship that is stress. In a 2009 poll of more than 2,000 students nationwide, 85 percent reported feeling stressed on a daily basis, with 77 percent of the blame being school work and 74 percent being maintenance of grades.
The way to tackle this stress is first coming to an understanding of the stress. Identify the main factors causing the stress, whether it be that approaching essay deadline or that one test you’re deathly afraid of taking.
“The human being likes comfort. The more stressed we are, the more we crave that comfort,” Delohery said. “It comes down to that inward look: that reflection upon how we made choices to get to a certain goal that becomes very important.”
A lot of people believe in studying in large chunks, whether this is through long sessions in the library or cramming the day before with zero breaks. This can possibly be even more detrimental than helpful.
“We are physiologically wired so that the harder we truly try to engage to the level that we need to learn, we can do that for an hour at time,” Delohery said. “After that, we become incredibly inefficient and ineffective.”
Instead of taking long study sessions, break it down into parts: Study for a solid hour, then take a break, followed by another shorter study session, with an even longer break. This can keep the mind sane and safe from a studying meltdown.
Another process heavily emphasized by the Learning Center is that of repetition. This means not only re-reading notes, but putting them into practice, either through personal trials or artificial testing. This can also get rid of the stressors that come with test time itself.
“When you cram, you place a lot of emphasis on recall or recognition,” Delohery said. “Not continually dealing with the information, not repeating the information is really what happens when we cram and it just does not go to our working memory.”
Finding the right environment to study away may be a major factor in success or failure.
“This idea of distraction, whether it is getting up and removing yourself from suitemates who are not as into school as much as you, or simply leaving your computer at your desk when you go to the library, comes down to the individual variables,” Delohery said. “It comes back to knowing a little bit about yourself.”
Although some places are obviously harmful to proper studying, it is important to figure out where you feel relaxed, whether this be tucked away in one of Arnold Bernhard’s many desks or in your dorm room at the right time.
The distractions to avoid include many computer-related interruptions, loud areas or places with heavy agitation. Get to a place where it is nothing but you and your work, so your mind can process one task at a time.
Sleep, or lack thereof, can be the difference between an entire grade in the right or wrong direction. It has been proven that sleep is needed to complete the learning process, with the brain being just as active during the day as at night. In order to study effectively, proper sleep is important.
“If we’re going to be as effective as we want to be, as we need to be to really learn, the body needs to be also healthy,” Delohery said. “That is not facilitated by a boatload of caffeine, or grinding up someone’s Ritalin and snorting it.”
While many students resort to the quickness of cramming, Red Bulls, and a roommate’s Adderall prescription, these are short bursts of effectiveness, ones that end up hurting the mind even more than educating it. A good sleep cycle and proper amount of nutrition can do the same job, if not an even better one to keep one energized, alert and able throughout a week of tests.
Photo credit: Ilya Spektor