Don’t freak for finals

With finals week fast approaching, now seems like a good time to crack open those textbooks, find a new box of pencils and brush up on some long-neglected study skills.

Or should you have started doing all of that weeks ago?

Actually, with just days to go before the first exam hits the fan, there may still be enough time to get ready for the upcoming test blitz, said Faith Pawelski, a student services coordinator in the Old Library’s Academic Skills Center.

“Even starting (studying) next week I think would be good,” she said. “I think you just want to make sure that you study several days leading up to each final.”

But as for cramming? The usefulness of such a tactic may depend on who you ask. Some students say it can work, though a psychology professor on campus warns against cramming – at least for those students who want to retain material long after the last Scantron circle is filled in.

How NOT to cram
One of the most important steps in preparing for finals week is organizing study time, preferably using a calendar, Pawelski said.

A sample calendar provided by the Academic Skills Center breaks down, by hour, each day in a 10-day period to help students plan for class time, lunch breaks and, most importantly, study sessions.

Senior Seth Klotz, a tutor in the Academic Skills Center, said students may be surprised at how much free time they find in their schedule when they plan their time using a calendar.

“If you mark off every single bit of time that you’re using – that includes a job, that includes classes, that includes everything – and you look at what you have left,” he said, “there is a considerable amount of time still left.”

Klotz also said it is important to budget enough time when planning study sessions, and he added that overestimating that amount of time is key.

“If you think you’re going to need three (hours),” Klotz said, “budget five.”

Finding incentives to study is also key, he said, adding that helping students get motivated to prepare for exams is one of the toughest things tutors deal with at the Academic Skills Center.

Usually reminding students of why they are in college in the first place is a good way to increase motivation, though other students say they have their own ways of incentivizing studying.

Freshman April D’Water said giving herself a reward can help her stay on track during study sessions – a method Klotz acknowledged can work well for certain students.

“If I don’t have something to be looking forward to at the end of studying, I won’t focus,” D’Water said.

Does cramming even work?
A student who burns the midnight oil the night before a test might pull an A++, said psychology professor Allen Keniston. But whether that student will remember much of the material afterwards is unlikely, he added.

He suggests studying things “steadily as you go” as opposed to cramming up to the hour before the exam, adding that more prolonged study tactics allow students to delve deep into materials and give them a better handle on a subject even long after a test.

“It allows you to relate what you know to other things that you have known,” Keniston said of more in-depth study tactics, adding that such techniques allow information to become “part of what you know – not part of what you remember.”

The usefulness of cramming may also depend on the type of exam a student is faced with, Keniston said. Cramming may work well for exams that ask students to merely affirm that they have seen something and can recognize the right answer, he said, but probably will not work as well on tests that require students to know and explain information more in-depth.

So, to cram or not to cram?
Whether or not cramming is a “tried and true” method of preparing for an exam may depend on who you ask, though even some who admit to getting away with an occasional cram session say they won’t be relying on any last-minute tactics next week.

“Personally, cramming works very well for me,” freshman Kayla Lake said, “but as far as finals go I’ll probably study way far in advance just because it’s more than one test per week.”

While Pawelski acknowledged a cramming tactic can work, she noted the practice is likely an unhealthy one and that she encourages students to study in advance.

“I think people can work well under pressure for a short period of time, but it’s hard to sustain,” she said. “I know people will cram somewhat, but I think people could relieve a lot of their anxiety if they tried to spread it out some.”