Ace your exams: Finals Week Preparation

Finals week is a test of endurance on your brain and body. For some, it will be hell. So to make sure you don’t end up like this during finals week, we offer some tips to get you ready and prepared for a week full of exams.

You need to be mentally ready to take on finals week: A sharp brain starts with proper sleep and a healthy diet.

Step 1: Get Proper Sleep

The amount of sleep you get has a major impact on your academic performance.

No all-nighters here: Your best bet is to get a full night’s sleep when studying before exams.

Researchers at UC Berkeley found that when we sleep we boost our ability to learn. Much of this brain boosting sleep happens in the second half of the night, so if you sleep six hours or less, you are shortchanging yourself and might not be able to learn as much.

Research has shown that brain waves during the latter part of the sleep period promote our capacity to store fact-based memories. “This discovery indicates that we not only need sleep after learning to consolidate what we’ve memorized, but that we also need it before learning, so that we can recharge and soak up new information the next day,” says Bryce Mander, a post-doctoral fellow in psychology at UC Berkeley who led the study.

Sleep not only refreshes the mind, but can make you smarter. The more hours we spend awake, the more sluggish our minds become. Therefore, pulling an all-nighter, a common practice during finals week, decreases the ability to learn new facts by nearly 40 percent, due to a shutdown of brain regions during sleep deprivation.

Studying All-Night

Image: The All-Nighter. Is this you right now?

Take a nap after long study sessions

When it comes to napping, power naps actually work. Naps under one hour long can dramatically boost and restore brain power. Anything longer can make you feel sluggish when you wake back up. Even a 20 minute nap will greatly benefit anyone who feels they need a recharge as it will improve overall alertness, boost mood and increase productivity. Therefore, after a long study session, it may be beneficial for you to take a quick nap so your brain has time to “file away” all the information you just took in and give it time for a quick recharge.

Read more on how much sleep college students should be getting.

Getting Alert

After a good night of sleep it can be a good idea to start your day off with a nice cup of coffee. Indulging in a caffeinated beverage of your choice will make you more alert. You don’t want to overdo the caffeine and become jittery, but a nice cup or two should help get the brain spinning.

Have a Study Plan

Take the time to plan out a study schedule for finals week. Decide how much time you will set aside, what tasks you will complete in this time and the order in which you will complete the tasks. When creating your study plan think about the times when you are most productive. If you find it easiest to study in the morning but hard to concentrate at night, schedule as much of your study for the mornings as possible. Be realistic when developing your game plan, otherwise it will be useless. Once you have a plan, stick to it and disregard all the distractions that come with college life.

Block out All Distractions

When it comes time to study you need to be 100% focused. This means blocking out all physical and mental distractions, including facebook and your cell phone. Always study in an environment that you are comfortable in that allows you to do your best work. You probably already know what sort of environment you are most productive in so try to recreate that environment when you choose to study.

Bonus Tip: Try switching around your study environments rather than using a single location to study. Studies show the environment you choose helps you remember things better. Simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention as the brain makes subtle associations between what it is studying and the background sensations it has at the time. Studying in a more natural setting with a view can be even more effective.

Make Effective Use of your Study Time

It is important to make the most of the study time you have to maximize the results from the effort you put in. Know where you currently stand grade wise in your classes so you know how well you will have to do on the final to get the grade you desire. This will also help when it comes to prioritizing what class you need to study for the most.

Take Regular Breaks

As finals week looms, you might start getting the feeling that you need to work for hours on end, but in doing so you are actually doing yourself a disservice. Retention of information is best when your mind is fresh, so take short breaks regularly and remove yourself from studying so you can come back refreshed and ready to absorb more information. Maybe even consider exercising as a break. Exercise is said to sharpen the mind.

Don’t Stress: Overcome Test Anxiety

Preparing for Test Day

Make a checklist of things you need to bring to the exam and consult with it on exam day to make sure everything you need is on hand.

Use Office Hours

Take advantage of office hours and discussion sections before big tests. Students who properly utilize office hours often do better on exams and papers. The week before exams and finals are times in which your professor will be in high demand, so they may schedule additional office hours during that time.

Many office hours go unused by students, which is unfortunate because professors are such a great resource of information (they know what will be on the test). It is essential to visit during these times because professors are typically in the process of determining what will be on the exam and can give away clues about what will be on it.

It is important to ask lots of questions and make sure you are clear on what the exam will cover so you know you are focusing your energy wisely. If you can cut out material you don't need to focus on for the upcoming exam, you'll save yourself hours of study time. Knowing what to study (and what not to) before a test can be very beneficial.

Review Previous Tests

Go over previous tests that have been given throughout the semester. Spend most of your time learning what you got wrong. You should also take the time to get to know the format of the final so there are no misunderstandings later. Be sure to ask your professor for an old final exam for review purposes.

Study Time: Make flashcards for review

Flashcards are an excellent way to learn material and learn it quickly. It works in two parts because you are learning while you write the information down on the flashcards and then when you test yourself later, the information is reinforced. Run through these cards as much as possible to help the information stick in your mind.

Create flashcards for review using StudyBlue, an excellent tool to help with acing your finals.

StudyBlue is a free tool to help you study and prepare for exams (and better yet, actually learn and remember the material). With StudyBlue you can create digital flashcards with images and audio and use them on their free mobile app, making it great for studying on the go.

When reviewing flashcards, the application will remember what you get right and wrong so you can focus on the material you haven’t learned yet. With this technology you can also create personalized practice quizzes to further prepare yourself for the upcoming exam.

Using these tips can help you get better prepared and organized for a long, grueling week of exams. After finals week, a nice semester break comes well deserved. Take some time to unwind and enjoy some fun in moderation. Maybe even pull a dorm room prank or two.

Featured Study Tip:

Study on the go using audiobooks. Download a free book at Amazon.