For me, the end of the semester is coming up, and that means finals season. Now, I consider myself lucky because I don’t have a momentous amount of final exams to study for, in fact, I haven’t heard from any of my teachers about when the final exam will be, but nevertheless, high school has kept me busy. I have many presentations, club events, and other due dates coming up soon, such as HOSA exams and presenting my science fair project, so this is a particularly stressful time of year. So whether you’re busy cramming for finals or preparing for club events, here are some of my tips that I’ve found helpful for keeping sane during stressful times!
1. Take breaks and go on walks
By far, taking breaks has been the most beneficial for my mental health, since for a while I would overwork myself by working nonstop for over 11 hours a day. However, just taking the clear my head by going on walks, even just by walking around the house, has been such an improvement and I’m much less tired now. Studies show that taking breaks can increase productivity, as researchers found that 17 minutes of break for every 52 minutes of work was the most ideal work rhythm.
Yet, breaks don’t mean watching YouTube videos or working on menial tasks that don’t require much effort. Some examples of activities that are most ideal for break include going on walks, reading, or having a conversation with friends and family, all of which are helpful for clearing your head and possibly for giving you ideas and inspiration for whatever you’re working on.
2. Learn to manage your time
One method of time management that many people swear by is the Pomodoro Technique, where in simple terms, you set a timer (preferably a tomato-shaped timer because “pomodoro” means tomato in Italian) for 25 minutes and focus on a specific task for those 25 minutes, blocking out all distractions. After 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break to recharge, and you have now finished one pomodoro. Continue repeating this cycle until you have finished your work, and remember to track how many pomodoros you spend on one activity. For every 4 pomodoros you spend, take a longer 15-30 minute break.
This is a particularly good method for those who are struggling with managing distractions, forget to take breaks, or have work that could take an unlimited amount of time, such as an exam far into the future, since this method helps split up complex projects into chunks that are easier to manage.
As for me, I’ve had mediocre success with the Pomodoro Technique, since I usually don’t have much trouble focusing on an activity once I’m invested in it, and while this method is great for helping me remember to take breaks, I don’t like interruptions once I have an idea and have gotten into the rhythm of working. I do think that this method could help me create more structure and method into how I work, especially since I have many complex projects with due dates far into the future or arbitrary due dates that I tend to put off in favor of other projects though.
However, millions of people swear by this method, so it’s worth it to give Pomodoro a try.
3. Set goals and structure your study time
To prepare for an exam, it’s important to study the right topics, and one way to find out what you know already and what you need to study is to take a practice test and mark the problems that were the hardest.
If your teacher doesn’t have practice tests to study with, you can make your own by gathering some practice problems from the textbook or the internet to create a practice test. Then, create a study schedule based on what you struggled with on the practice exam, and marking the topics that have the highest priority. Before each study session, write down your goals for this study session to give yourself direction and keep you focused.
When you start studying, study in chunks, such as by using the Pomodoro Method, so you’ll be able to work at your maximum productivity and recharge between study sessions. Remember to stick to the study schedule and avoid procrastination. A tip for avoiding procrastination is to set the deadline a couple days or even weeks before the actual due date, which may help motivate you to work on reaching your deadlines. Having a planner or bullet journal can be a great way to track your progress and record your study schedule, and I’ve personally noticed an improvement in my organization skills and planning after I started using a planner.
4. Eliminate distractions
It can be hard to study when there are distractions around, such as the television playing, or people talking in the background. For the most effective studying, it’s important to study in a place where you won’t be distracted and where you can comfortably study.
That can be at the library, which often has designated study areas, or in a quiet place at home. Studies have shown that noises above a typical conversation can negatively affect concentration and productivity, so having a distraction-free study zone is crucial for studying more efficiently. Effective studying often means less frustration too, so that’s a win-win for your mental health.
5. Eat healthy snacks
For students that have taken long standardized exams, it’s often recommended to bring a healthy snack with you that you can eat between test segments. This is because eating certain healthy foods before or during an exam can help boost your memory and concentration.
This applies to studying as well, as studying can sometimes be long and tiresome, but having healthy snacks to munch on during that time can raise your blood glucose and give you more energy. Some of the best healthy snacks to have for studying include oatmeal, yogurt, fruits, nuts, cheese, and beef jerky.
For me, I like to eat carrots when I’m bored, so I’ve eaten nearly an entire pound of baby carrots in one sitting once, which is a bad idea and definitely isn’t recommended, but carrots are my go-to snack when I need to bring a healthy snack for studying or testing.
6. Talk to friends
Whenever I’m frustrated with something, I often turn to my friends to rant or just to talk, since this helps me destress. It can be helpful to have someone to support you, especially during stressful times. If your friends also have exams coming up, creating a study group is a great way to help keep each other accountable for studying or give each other tips and advice.
In addition, if you need any help with understanding the material, take advantage of the resources available to you! Oftentimes, professors or teachers will hold office hours to help students, but if your teacher doesn’t offer office hours, another option can be to ask other classmates for help.
Recently, some of my classes have been creating class group chats to help each other study and answer questions, which is an incredibly helpful way to communicate with classmates.
However, if you are unable to get help from teachers and classmates, sometimes searching up the question on Google can help guide you in the right direction, and some sites that provide answers to homework questions include Yahoo, Free Math Help, and SciBuddies Ask An Expert. For math class, an app called Photomath can help solve math problems with the steps needed to reach the answer, and this is helpful especially if you are completely stuck.
Yes, we all know that finals season means a lot of studying, but studying the right way is just as important as taking the initiative to study. Make sure to actively engage in your studying, such as by rewriting notes into a notecard and doing practice problems, instead of just passively reading the textbook or highlighting every other sentence.
Taking practice quizzes is also a great way to practice for the exam, and it’s recommended to take the practice quiz in the same environment where you will be taking your final exam. In addition, some apps can help with studying.
For example, for studying vocabulary words, Quizlet is by far one of my favorite apps for that. It has many different options for helping you study, including flashcards, a “learn” option, practice tests, and two vocabulary games. I like to use the learn option for studying my French vocabulary words, since it has you match the term to the definition and write out the term. The matching game is another fun one too, since every week, our French class would have a bit of a competition to have the highest score, which was a fun way to learn vocabulary words.
If you don’t feel like making your own study sets, not to worry! Just search up the topic and there is likely a study set on Quizlet that has already been made.
8. Find the best stress management techniques for you
It’s important to learn to manage your stress, and for me, I like to manage my stress by playing flute and piano, going on walks, and exercising. However, some of the methods include meditation, aromatherapy, yoga, or even just using a stress relief ball. Meditation generally involves sitting still, focusing on your breathing, and observing the thoughts that wander through your mind, just taking the time to clear your mind after a busy day.
In addition, aromatherapy is a stress relief method that has been rising in popularity, as studies suggest that aromatherapy reduced stress levels in teenagers. This method uses scented items such as essential oils, bathing salts, and body oils or creams to work through smell and skin absorption. It has been suggested that aromatherapy can be used to help treat diseases, but these claims have not been backed by research.
Another method for stress relief is to create artwork, such as drawing zentangles or coloring in a coloring book. There are many methods for stress management, so try some different methods to see which one works for you.
9. Get enough sleep
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 73% of teenagers nowadays aren’t getting enough sleep, and it is recommended for teenagers to get 8-10 hours of sleep. This may be due to many factors, but a common one is schoolwork.
However, staying up late to finish schoolwork can often make you tired during the school day making it harder to focus in class, which repeats the cycle of not focusing during class and ending up with tons of schoolwork to catch up on. Since it’s also recommended to get enough sleep the night before a big exam, don’t spend the day before the exam cramming, since that’ll only make you more tired in the morning when you have to take the exam.
Spend the day before the exam getting enough exercise and rest so you’ll feel more energized on the day of the exam. Getting enough sleep is crucial for your health, so it’s important to go to sleep on time even though you may have more homework to do.
If you’re constantly needing to stay up late or pull all-nighters for class, it could be time to switch to an easier class, because after all, your health and mental well-being is more important than taking the most rigorous course schedule. In fact, the most rigorous course schedule means the most rigorous course schedule you can handle, so if you have to take easier classes than your friends, that’s much better than burning yourself out by taking more rigorous classes than you can handle.
10. Develop a testing strategy
As a last minute strategy, having a testing strategy can be a way to gain those extra points. For exams like the SAT, it’s recommended to skip questions and fill in a random choice for questions you don’t know if the question is taking too long to solve as the SAT doesn’t deduct points for wrong answers, and it’s better to fill in a random choice with a ¼ chance of getting it right than to waste time doing one problem and run out of time.
Similarly, on other exams, if you’re stuck on one problem, skip that problem and come back to it, since you may discover a hint buried in some of the later problems. Also, in the beginning of the exam, write down all the formulas that you can remember, so you won’t forget these important formulas later on.
Then, scan the entire test and make a plan for how much time to spend on each section, and pace yourself according to the plan. I always make sure to go back and review my answers after I finish the test to avoid mistakes, but when you’re reviewing your answers, make sure not to second-guess yourself too much. It’s always frustrating to realize that your first answer was correct, so to avoid that, only change your answer if you can identify the error that you made.
Finally, test-taking is stressful, but it’s important to maintain your confidence and keep test anxiety at bay. One tip to managing anxiety is to close your eyes, breathe in to the count of seven, then exhale to the count of seven. Just remember, you can do this!
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