Dealing with any big task - final papers, the SAT, the MCAT, or just the final exam - can be absolutely terrifying for some students.
Success on any academic exercise generally requires a sustained commitment of time and effort. Simply beginning to study for the Big Test or write the Final Paper can seem like an overwhelming task.
In honor of Finals week, here are a few tips and study skills for dealing with final exams that I’ve found helpful in getting me through.
1. Plan a Schedule.
Get an old-fashioned paper calendar (print one out if you need to) and write all the important dates of exams and papers on it. Tape the calendar somewhere you will see it everyday. Think about how much studying or writing needed to succeed and realize that between today and the Big Day, you’ll have to do all that work.
When you realize how much work remains, the first thought may be overwhelming panic. Hang on to that primal fear for a second, then let it go. The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Thinking about when the test is allows you to divide the effort required over that period and allows for lots of quality time. Set up a regular schedule of time working.
2. When studying or writing, eliminate all the distractions possible.
Turn off your phone, don’t visit websites like facebook or twitter. Spend all the brainpower possible while working. The most important thing is just spending time thinking about the material. Even if it feels like nothing is getting in, just going to the library and planting yourself in a chair and studying will help you.
3. To steal from Frank Herbert, “Man is a fool not to put everything he has, at any given moment, into what he is creating." You're there now doing the thing on paper. You're not killing the goose, you're just producing an egg.
In short, I don't worry about inspiration, or anything like that. It's a matter of just sitting down and working. I've felt reluctant to write on some days, for whole weeks, or sometimes even longer. I'd much rather go fishing, for example, or go sharpen pencils, or go swimming, or what not. But, later, coming back and reading what I have produced, I am unable to detect the difference between what came easily and when I had to sit down and say, "Well, now it's writing time and now I'll write."
By allowing plenty of time to study, you can keep doing the other parts of your life that are fun. Remember to eat well, exercise, sleep well. If you get sick, you won’t be able to do well in anything, so stay healthy.
4. Finally, talk to anybody who knows the material better than you do.
Ask an academic tutor, aprofessor or a TA for help during office hours, talk to your friends in the class who understand the material. Even better, try to teach the material to someone else. Nothing reveals gaps in understanding than having to go over an entire process.