This time of year is always crazy, whether it be high school, college or life. If you are like me, you have a boatload of work piling up, finals looming, have finally some nice weather to distract you, and the stress of moving out of a room and getting everything back home. That’s April, and it’s crazy. However, throughout school, I’ve learned a few things here and there about managing stress, time efficiency, and optimizing performance which has helped a lot, especially now that I am in college. In school or not, these are some tips to help anyone get through this time of year.
- Managing what and how you eat
- It might be cliché, but you really “are what you eat”. I find that if I control what I’m eating and make sure I get a lot of nutrients, my mind is more alert and productive. Also, eating well makes your body feel better all around, putting you in a better mood and thus, making you more willing to study. I’m not saying you have to go on some sort of strict diet, it just a matter of being mindful and controlling yourself. Stress-eating is not the answer to solving stress, but eating a little something sweet is good to reward yourself while in the thick of finals.
- Another way to ensure that your mind is in tiptop shape for exams is to exercise. Many people find that they don’t have the time to hit the gym while studying, but I find that doing only 30 minutes of cardio is just as beneficial for me as studying. Not only does it trigger endorphins in the brain, but working out also provides for a great little break in the day. I personally can barely get through a day without working out since it motivates me and keeps me going. If you are really stressed about time, you can also watch review videos or read notes while running on the treadmill. There are many ways to study and exercise at the same time!
3. Take mini breaks from whatever you are doing
- To ensure that I don’t get restless while working on something or studying, I always make a point to get up every hour or so and walk around. I might just go to the bathroom or maybe I’ll talk to some friends, but either way, I find that I always need a little bit of a break to keep me focused and concentrated on my task. Even now, as I write this post, I’m taking breaks every so often to keep my mind fresh! Going off of the exercise thing above, your mind needs you to move, so walking around is a great choice and a great way to procrastinate!
4. Find an environment that motivates you whether that be with or without other people
- Everyone studies differently, and everyone has different ways of studying the best. I find that I like being around people, but people who are not talking since it motivates me to study alongside everyone else. Some people need to be alone and some people need to talk, but it’s important to find what works best for you. I also love going to different environments such as coffee shops since it keeps my work interesting. One place I can’t get anything done: my dorm room as I associate it and my bed with sleeping and watching tv which means that I am not as productive. Figure out what works for you, and it will make a huge difference.
5. Listen to energizing music while studying, preferably classical or instrumental
- You’ve probably heard of the Mozart effect, the theory where listening to classical music makes you smarter. While that might not be totally true, there is a lot of scientific evidence that listening to classical music helps with focus and relaxes the mind, therefore, making it perfect and beneficial for studying. I personally cannot do any work without music, and I find that for studying and reading, I need something a little more upbeat. I like “Epic Classical” on Spotify for this, or I’ll listen to full dramatic symphonies. Although classical music might seem dull, it keeps studying interesting. Over time, you learn to rely on it and appreciate it.
6. Reward yourself for motivation (you deserve that 1 Netflix episode!)
- This goes for what I said before about treating yourself to a little dessert during finals. You are working super hard, and you are doing fabulous- so you deserve something to take your mind off of finals, at least for a little bit. I find that putting an hour aside the night before a final to watch a tv episode and eat a small dessert is a great way to relax and make myself feel at ease for what is ahead. With that being said, however, don’t get distracted and don’t reward yourself too much!
7. Review any notes or study material right before going to bed the night before an exam or test
- After I “reward” myself, I quickly skim through my notes right before going to bed which makes sure that the material is fresh in my mind. A lot of people swear by this strategy, and although it could be the placebo effect, I really think it does work. Plus, it’s easy and rather mindless to do!
8. Drink a lot of water!!! And try to limit excessive caffeine!
- You’ve probably heard this one before, but drinking as much water as possible keeps the brain hydrated which, in turn, makes it able to function better. Caffeine, on the other hand, dehydrates you, making your brain less optimal. While caffeine can be definitely a necessity (I’m guilty, especially while studying for finals), it is best to not consume a lot. If you cannot help yourself, drink even more water to substitute the liquid lost from the caffeine. I rely on water to get rid of any junk food cravings while studying and to keep me concentrated (water works, it seems, in a similar and healthier way as caffeine). I tend to “stress drink” water instead of “stress eat” which is super effective and helpful.
9. Put away your phone and take “phone breaks” every once and awhile
- I might sound like a parent here, but we waste so much time on our phones; time that could be put into studying. I’m guilty, but I’m trying much harder to limit my access since I get distracted easily by my phone. Put it on do not disturb, turn it off, whatever, but it really does make a difference. And, every once and awhile, reward yourself by letting yourself spend time on your phone.
10. Most importantly, try to sleep!
- What might be the biggest study cliché of all, but hands down the most important- sleep. We all need it, even if we think we don’t, and we’re much better off getting a full 8-hours the night before an exam than staying up to study even more. I’m a stickler for sleep, and I definitely feel the effects of being tired versus the effects of being well-rested. I believe that to do well on finals, you have to get sleep to stay focused! I know everyone’s different, but we all need it. I often will take melatonin before a test, so I sleep well and am not kept awake by stress.
Hope that helps! And good luck to everyone taking exams right now or later this spring!