By Mafroja Bhuiyan
Let’s face it, when you go to U of T, every day feels like a Monday morning, and with exams just around the corner, that feeling increases exponentially. Going from paper to paper, labs to finals—I’ve been there and know just how exhausting it is. Which is why I decided to write this mini guide to not only help you get through this trying time but to ace it as well. I’ll highlight some study tips I’ve always found helpful; organization for effective studying, study aids, and self-care.
I know you’re studying, but are you studying effectively?
Before diving head first into your textbooks, lectures and notes, give yourself some time to get organized. Personally I prefer to use a planner that I bought from Indigo at the beginning of the year. It’s where I record all my assignments, tests, labs and appointments a month ahead of time so I can properly pace out my studying.
That being said, I know procrastination is very real, and even with all my organizing, I struggle with this. In the ideal case, two weeks before your exams, try to write out EVERYTHING related to school. I prefer to use a calendar to keep track of all my due dates, and I create study times for every single test and work times for every assignment. Sticking to this kind of detailed schedule will help you feel calm and more in control of your work, and it has helped me tremendously over the past few years.
Now, as I said, that’s the ideal scenario, and we all know that that doesn’t always happen. With so many due dates right after another, you might find yourself studying for an exam or writing a final paper a day or two before the due date. Sound familiar? Usually at this point panic has set it, but it is important to remain calm and know your mental health is also very important, and you won’t get any work done if you’re anxious and tense. Certainly not any successful work.
So for all us little procrastinators: Try to quickly organize your studying by each hour, making sure to also time out breaks and little rewards. For instance, this past week I had three 15-page essays to write, and being the organized procrastinator I am, I left each one until the last minute, all while convincing myself I still had time. So I planned to write one page an hour, and if I achieved this, I took small breaks and watched 15-minute snippets of Netflix after every hour. You can also follow this method for exams. If you are cramming a day ahead, try to time out your studying by the hour, for example by deciding to review each lecture and its required readings in an hour.
Use study tools and rotate subjects to make studying more effective and keep yourself on track.
Always use study aids, such as guides (Khan Academy and YouTube videos are holy grails), index cards (which I buy cheaply from Dollarama), written notes, and Quizlet. I find it best to make my notes based on textbook readings and then incorporate my lecture notes into that. I also prefer to type my notes and print them out and later review them, so I am not distracted by my laptop.
Another thing I like to do is switch between subjects when I get tired or bored. This strategy helps when you have two finals very close together, and it also helps you focus better. StudyBlue is a great app available for iPhones and Android, in which you can create, study and share customized digital flashcards for free. It allows you to quiz yourself, track your progress and set reminders.
Location, Location, Location
You don’t want to be SpongeBob, even though the image below is probably all of our brains during finals. You can ease this feeling by prioritizing your tasks and finding a calm study spot combined with an effective study technique that works for you.
On the topic of study techniques, I often see students going to study groups for the first time in weeks at the end of the term, and while study groups are helpful if attended regularly throughout the year, when you’re a week away from finals, I can guarantee you this isn’t your best bet. It can be highly distracting, and you will probably come out feeling as though you haven’t reviewed a thing, especially if you are not on the same page as everyone else. When taking a test you’ll be alone, solely responsible for knowing and understanding the material. This is why I prefer to study alone at the end as well; it keeps me in better check (though there is nothing wrong with asking classmates for help or extra clarifications, of course).
When studying alone, try to find the best possible place for your own unique needs. If you prefer pin-drop quiet, a library is a great place. But if you like listening to your music and having background noise, a student lounge is a great spot. I prefer the latter because I can study alone without feeling isolated, because a lot is going on around me. It makes me less anxious.
Why professors think it’s OK to assign a dozen essays and assignments one week before finals as if we don’t have five other classes, I will never understand. What I do know is that breaks are very important, and you can’t be studying day and night. It isn’t effective, and your brain will thank you for taking breaks and will work more efficiently when you get back to studying. Here are some ways I like to de-stress:
1) Watching an episode of your favorite show;
2) Cleaning your room—a clean environment will help you breathe and focus better;
3) Talking to your family and friends;
4) Napping or taking a long shower.
Here’s another important thing to remember: When you are cramming for exams, sleep is really important if you want to function well. Avoid the all-nighters, study as much as you can, get a good night’s sleep and then wake up early and study again. Whenever I have an exam, I wake up extra early to review all the material, because it stays fresh in your mind. Even when time is running out, having a clear and concise schedule, and sticking to it, will make or break how well you study. It’s also important to remind yourself that one bad grade isn’t the end of the world. Yes, always try your best, but make sure you take care of yourself as well.
To Sum Things Up
Remember Elle Woods? If she could do it, you can too! So believe in yourself and know that studying can be somewhat fun too.
Find ways to study that have a lot of rotation and interaction, so it isn’t as boring. Quiz yourself and reward yourself for every answer that you get right, with either a bite of chocolate or five minutes of your favorite show (or whatever else makes you happy). Creating a game plan in which you can accomplish tasks and be rewarded for them can make studying a lot less gruesome.
Here are my main takeaways:
1) Stay organized—even if you’re cramming, planning out your work by the hour helps tremendously.
2) Use study aids to efficiently and effectively learn the material.
3) Take care of yourself: eat properly, stay hydrated, sleep well, take breaks during study time and reward yourself for work well done.
Believe in yourself and your abilities, and know that in the end you’ll come out of this feeling a lot lighter and happier!