This semester flew by. First, there was Freshers’ Week with its wave of new students on campus, reunions with old friends and an extensive list of social events. Many of us went to the Scottish Varsity Match. Then came Raisin Weekend, followed shortly by Halloween. Between the above and a plethora of other events, all intertwined with attending weekly lectures and tutorials, we are rapidly approaching the end of the semester. In translation, examinations are around the corner.
With revision week scheduled to start in a few days, all of us St Andrews students are preparing for long and intense sessions of studying. Of course, the ideal student would have studied consistently throughout the semester, but when the student body is as engaged as that of our university’s, revision week is a necessary chance to close any knowledge gaps and ace those last assignments and assessments.
The desire to succeed can nevertheless push students towards study practices that may hurt their ability to learn, rather than aid it – think about the sleepless nights, that endless stress and vast numbers of coffee cups. So how can you make the most out of revision week.
- Sleep: All-nighters are overrated. Skipping sleep weakens the body – indeed, research shows that a single all-nighter can have consequences such as negative moods, lack of energy and decreased focus, all of which last up to four days after the skipped night of sleep. Research shows that memories are consolidated during sleep, so that night you sacrificed for a few more hours of studying before an exam is very likely to backfire in the long term.
- Drink coffee responsibly: As sleep decreases, coffee consumption among students tends to increase. It also works the other way around: you may be depriving your body of good rest by drinking too much of this universal stimulant. Furthermore, your ability to focus will decrease if you are too jittery.
- Do not cram: Cognitive scientists have shown over and over again that people who distribute their learning over a longer period of time tend to outperform those who fit their studying within one long session. Why is that? Well, distributing your learning will allow you to have short and intense study sessions. You can focus on less material during each session, which will decrease the demands on your memory. Cramming is like running a 10-mile run when you are out of practice. Chances are that it will be a long, tiring and overall unpleasant experience.
- Eat well: Eating healthy during revisions week goes hand in hand with getting enough sleep, yet many students skip nutritious meals when exams are approaching, instead surviving on piles of snacks. Did you know that the brain needs the most energy of all the organs in the body? That is because it is doing an essential job: thinking. By not supplying your body with enough nutrients during times of high intellectual demand, you will also starve your brain. A hungry brain will not perform as well as a well-nourished one. That is not to say that snacks are not important – on the contrary, healthy snacks in-between meals could benefit you – as long as the snacks do not replace the meals themselves.
- Music? Some students swear by listening to music during studying, while others despise it. While there are studies that link listening to classical music to improved concentration, others find that silence works best for most people. Lyrics may be distracting to some, but others have no problem ignoring words. If you find that music helps you find a rhythm while studying or writing a paper, by any means, do what works best for you. If it does not, find a quiet study spot.
- Avoid distractions: Studying with friends can work in your favor, but only if you form the group to motivate each other, rather than distract each other. Too many times during the exam period you see students discussing how stressed they are in terms of the amount of studying they have to do rather than simply using that same time to study instead. In addition, it will take a long time to read even just a page of notes if your phone goes off every minute. Just put it away for a while. You will find that your ability to gather your thoughts will increase exponentially.
- Engage with the material: Studying something you are not interested in is hard work. Do your best to let yourself be captivated by the material you are learning. Engage with it actively and try to find connections to things you already know. Research has shown that merely reading and re-reading your notes is much less effective than reading your notes once and then testing yourself on the material. Ask yourself many questions as you can formulate based on the material at hand, and then seek the answers to those questions yourself. When you feel like you have a good knowledge of the subject matter, try teaching it to a classmate! If you can teach it, you know it.
- Think positively: A positive attitude is essential. Performing well on final exams is important, the material is extensive, and you are eager to go home for the holidays. Do not let the stress of final exams get to you. Engage in what psychologists call a “growth mindset” – a realization that learning involves time and effort and that once you are willing to commit to those two things you will be able to see the results. Find what is interesting in the material you are studying and enjoy the process.
If you are ever in need for more advice, the CAPOD website is a great resource. The library staff is also more than willing to help, so if you ever find yourself wanting some advice for searching databases or using library resources, you can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or find a member of the Academic Liaison team. Good luck with finals!