Finals week and exams can be the most stressful point of the academic year. Trust us, even after college or grad school, you’ll never forget that. Collectively, we’ve learned a few things over our educational careers, and have kept up with some amazing research on how to improve memory, retention, and comprehension. They’re lessons that will not only save you during finals week but will help you out in your career to come.
1. Work in spurts and take frequent, short breaks.
Studying in intervals of 20 to 50 minutes, with breaks of about 10 to 15 minutes in between, helps your overall retention of information and is far better for learning than a cram session. Not only will you learn more easily, you’ll feel less bogged down with work and worry over the small details. Stepping away for a short time can help you process information more clearly, and there are even desktop apps for taking breaks to make it a no-brainer.
2. Eat healthy foods and say no to late-night sugar.
You learned it from your mom when you were young and it still applies in higher education: always eat a good meal before your exams. Foods that are high in carbs and fiber stick to your bones better than sugary ones, so making sure that you cook something healthy is important. A balanced diet should start well before exams start to get the full effect of a high-functioning brain — don’t forget those fruits and vegetables!
3. Don’t underestimate the power of sleep.
Unless you’re nocturnal, all-nighters aren’t good for anyone (physically or mentally). Cramming in an all-night study session can feel productive at first, but, actually leads to poor retention and can even make you confuse facts more often. Putting in your solid 8 hours of sleep will make you happier, less stressed out, and completely coherent for all of your big finals.
4. Record and transcribe yourself to improve recall.
For many college and grad school students, finals and exams can mean a lot of public speaking and group-related presentations. Picking up an audio recorder or transcription app and capturing your voice again and again can improve your recall, delivery, and confidence faster than you’d think possible. You can even then convert the audio into accurate text to have a complete set of notes and highlights without writing anything by hand.
5. Give your brain some fresh air.
Go out for a walk or a jog, go hit your favorite hiking trail, bike around town, or just sit outside in the sun for a while during your study time. Fresh air is proven to have all kinds of amazing effects on your mind and body, including a boosted immune system, a burst of energy, and more creative juices. Plus, the scents of nature can make you calmer and happier overall.
6. Skim notes and focus on main ideas.
When you have thorough notes and transcribed voice-to-text, you can take them anywhere on-the-go for a quick review session. Skimming notes and highlighting to focus only on the main ideas is the best place to start. Once you’ve got the basics down, challenge yourself to apply those main ideas to new situations and scenarios. You’ll be better able to provide context to your exams, and will understand the material on a deeper level to ensure higher grades.
7. Change up your scenery from time to time.
The New York Times themselves reported that alternating from room-to-room or space-to-space is proven to help improve information retention. Psychologists found that college students who studied a list of words in two different rooms (one windowless and cluttered, the other tidy with a nice view) did better on a test than students who studied the words twice, in the same room. This happens because your brain makes associations between the study material and the environment – neat!
8. Listen to music that helps you focus.
When it comes to music and studying, there’s a mixed bag of scientific results. On one hand, some studies have shown that listening to music before studying can improve your attention and memory. On the other, some have shown that music can actually negatively impact your memory and effectiveness. One thing we’re sure of is, finding the right type of music that helps YOU focus can make a world of difference — try out pop, classical, jazz and instrumental music to see what fits your productive study style!
9. Break up a study day with some cardio.
Fresh air is one thing, but good old fashioned exercise serves its own purpose, too. Whether your favorite workout includes lifting weights, hitting the elliptical or treadmill machines, taking a few laps around the track, or taking the dog out for a brisk walk, make sure you make time for it during finals week. Exercise will stimulate your brain, give you a break from the computer screen, and help you bust through stresses in a productive and healthy way.
10. Practice, practice, practice.
Repetition is always key for recall. Once you’ve finished highlighting main ideas and preparing flash cards, it’s time to settle in for your 20 to 50 minutes of studying and practice away. Studies have shown that practicing with heavy repetition through flashcards, practice tests and lightning quizzes consistently boost academic performance, even more than traditional re-reading and summarizing. The lesson: write it out yourself, and repeat it often.
Ready to start studying?
Good luck with finals and exams! We’re here to help with any affordable, academic transcriptions you may need to make your study life (and educational career) a little bit smoother.