As fall break ends and students begin to settle back into their daily routines, the looming presence of finals returns. Past notes are pulled out, flashcards are made and study groups are established, yet as the week progresses, it becomes apparent that no two study practices are the same. Through years of practice and experience, students, as well as staff, have found their own tips and tricks for success during the end of the semester.
Seniors like Niki Kates (‘20) and Kelly Ewing (‘20) have grown to learn what works best for them. “I would for sure say that you need to find the joy in studying,” said Kates. “My personal favorite thing to do is create games with your classmates that help you memorize or better understand the material on the test.” Common study websites, including Kahoot! or Quizlet, have interactive ways to make course material stick while making the process enjoyable. Listening to motivational music, getting new supplies to study with, eating while studying and changing your environment will also aid in finding enjoyment in studying.
Ewing echoed this sentiment, saying: “I’d say switching environments while studying is super helpful! Once I start losing productivity in one spot, sometimes moving to another place will help me get into a new headspace.”
Other students find that adding routines to their day helps them maintain organization throughout finals week. “I try to give my day some structure. Since we don’t have classes it’s easy for me to lose track of time. I keep telling myself that I have plenty of time to study and I’ll end up procrastinating,” said Daniel Fang (‘21).
Scheduling regular work shifts or study sessions help productively break up the day while giving you chances to take rests. Updating Google Calendar with a comprehensive study schedule, along with meals and breaks, is helpful for some students who struggle with procrastination. Even setting up a study time with just one other classmate can help keep students accountable for working.
Making sure to take breaks and to not overwork is also an essential part of a successful study practice. “This is my first round of college finals, but from other test prep and essay writing this year I have learned to separate my work and leisure spaces,” said Oliver Kushen (‘23). “Sleeping in the same place that I study makes me really unmotivated, so I try to go straight to the library or the Bistro after class, instead of going back to my dorm.” Keeping healthy habits such as this, along with eating and sleeping regularly will keep your mind clear and ready to work.
Kelvin Clark, director of academic support, shared a wide array of knowledge on how to best use your time. One of these tips was “Space distributed practice. This simply means start preparing and practicing early! A week in advance is normally sufficient (if you have a plan). Making a plan entails knowing what you will be assessed on, what materials you needed to study and developing multiple ways to assess your learning. It has been said that in order for information to move from your short term memory to your long term memory, you need to engage with that material in five different ways (studying with friends, quizzing yourself, going to tutoring, creating a study guide, revising your notes or taking practice tests).” Clark also advised using exam planning sheets, which can be located on the Willamette website.
The American Psychological Association released an article stating that there are four ways to study smarter. The first two tips are spacing out your sessions and interweaving your topics. Interestingly enough, these two methods rely heavily on relearning, forgetting and relearning again. Going over material over the course of days strengthens memory because one is forced to recall information from days passed rather than hours passed. Mixing subjects also aids in the forgetting process, as one’s mind is still stimulated, but it is being used in a different way. The third tip is to test yourself using an environment close to the one you will be in for the final. The last tip is to simply take the hard route. The reason why the last three tips work so well is because they are hard to practice consistently. The process of learning, forgetting, retrieving and relearning helps build the course information into our long-term memory, but it isn’t always the easiest process.
Overall, studying is truly a process, and one must figure out what works and what doesn’t for themselves. One of the most important things to remember is that there are always resources to help. The Writing Center offers students help with all writing pieces, from essays to poems. The research librarians can provide help with finding scholarly articles for essays and papers. There are tutors for nearly every class that can be found with the help of Kelvin Clark and the Office of Academic Support. Be sure to use the resources available to you this finals season!