How can I stay productive and focused this finals dead week?
December 1, 2012 4:10 PM   Subscribe

I am a first-year university student. There are eight days of no class until my week of finals. How should I stay productive and focused?

I have a fairly good idea of what study strategies (practice exams and questions) and such I'm going to use (but sworn favorites are always accepted).

My basic question is that I have 211 hours (minus sleep) until I have four difficult (yet manageable) final exams. How should I spend my individual study time to maximize my productivity and motivation? I don't want to not get as much done as I could because I know I have so many days.

I'm fairly new to the pomodoro technique but I kind of enjoy it, though I often underestimate the pomodoros required for a task, or get frustrated when a task takes longer than it should. Anyways, I was planning on just filling my days with roughly 24+ 25 minute pomodoros (taking 5 min breaks in between , and 15-20 minute breaks for every 4). Any suggestions?
posted by ptsampras14 to Education (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
When I would be studying in my dorm room and simply could not take it anymore, I would get up and move. I'd pack up my stuff and take the long way to the library (walking). Set up at the library, and keep going. When I couldn't take it anymore, I'd pack up my stuff and take the long way to the Art Building, where I'd find a quiet corner and keep going. And so forth. I'd talk to people along the way, get exercise from the walking, and grab food when it was mealtimes. But when I was set up to study, I was focusing. I do the Pomodoro technique at work and I think it's great.

I guess my point here is: make sure that you get exercise, eat, sleep, and talk to people on a regular basis. When you feel burned out, take a break. Moving from one location to another really helped me to not go crazy.
posted by Elly Vortex at 4:27 PM on December 1, 2012

Not so much a study time maximization trick as it is a study time structuring trick, but this is what worked the best for me:

Study for your exams in reverse order.

You have eight days, so what I would do is something like this. Split those eight days into four two-day* blocks, and devote your first block with your last exam, the next to your second-last exam, and so on. On the last two days, you study for your first exam (so the material is fresh) - and then between your first and second exams you brush up on what you studied for the second exam, and so on so forth.

This puts everything in your head when you need it, lets you devote your attention to one subject at a time (which is the most efficient), and has (to me, anyway) the psychological advantage of reducing "Whatever, I have 8 days" to "I only have 2 days for each exam" which makes one take it more seriously.

*Doesn't have to be two days each exactly. If one exam is going to be hard and another is easy, you can spend 2.5 days on the hard one and 1.5 on the easy one - or however you like.

Also- you probably already know this, but do at least one practice exam under exam conditions if you can (clean desk, quiet room, no music, not in pyjamas, no breaks).
posted by Xany at 4:29 PM on December 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't know from pomodoros, but when I was in college (just a couple years ago) I learned I absolutely had to stick to a schedule during dead days (or reading period or whatever it's called at your school), or everything would just go to hell.

What worked well for me for several semesters was making sure I got up at the same time every morning, showered, ate, and studied/worked on papers for a few hours before taking a break. That way I was guaranteed to get stuff done each day instead of lazing around in the mornings and letting the day get away from me and then promising myself I'd make up for it the next day (and of course never catching up). Plus if there was a particular subject I struggled with or something took longer than expected, I still had plenty of time to get it done, and I could even choose to take a long break and then return to it at the end of the day with a more or less fresh brain, which often seemed to help.

On days when the temptation of the bed or the couch seemed too great, I'd pack up my laptop and head to a nearby coffee shop to work.

My final semester I had an overwhelming amount of work and studying to do and too many other distractions in my life, so I did something radical and switched to a schedule where I cycled between being awake and mostly working (with occasional breaks for food) for 10 hours and sleeping for 4 hours. Which I guess might sound like a typical finals week schedule, but I did it for dead week and into finals week and stuck to it, It worked well for me because it forced me to get a decent amount of sleep (without which my cognitive functions are diminished) and put my schedule just off-kilter enough from the rest of the world that I didn't get distracted by all those fun things I'd rather be doing. If you're going to do something like this I highly recommend plotting it out in advance so that your exams are at the beginning of a waking period, so you're recently-slept and refreshed.
posted by rhiannonstone at 4:43 PM on December 1, 2012

Currently in the midst of my final exam/paper season (I'm a senior), totally feel your pain! This time of year is really difficult, and exhausting. Couple key things I've learned over the last couple years. I love using adventure studying as a technique to keep myself motivated (similar to elly's approach). Key idea here that took my two painful exam periods to learn, no one cares how or where you study!! Currently, my favorite study haunts include the greenhouse in the biology wing, a tiny resource library with full length windows, hiking and studying with summary guides at nature area near my house, and a coffee shop downtown with my favorite coffee. You know all those people who spend all hours of their day at the library torturing themselves into studying? Don't be one of those people. Go somewhere unique that you enjoy.

First thing I would do before anything else is to set up a plan of what exam is when, how much time you think you need for studying before. This is the method I currently use, lots of great stuff on Cal Newport's study hacks site. Well worth taking a couple minutes to check out his exam studying archives. Good luck!
posted by snowysoul at 4:47 PM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Make room for exercising and a little social time into your schedule. Make plans to have at least one meal a day with other people, for instance, rather than studying through all of them. Take an exercise break in the late afternoon or early morning or whatever works for you. YMMV, but making study dates with people (especially in the morning!) might help you keep on track. Nthing changing your location any time you get totally distracted or just can't take any more sitting still.
posted by MadamM at 4:58 PM on December 1, 2012

You might want to consider studying in the rooms where you will take the exams, if possible. Studying in the same environment can help later with recall on the test.
posted by lharmon at 6:37 PM on December 1, 2012

Some things that help me:

- Going to the library really helps me get into the studying headspace. I also avoid bringing my laptop with me to remove the temptation of wasting time on the internet.

- Taking regular breaks, and sitting outside or going for a walk and getting some fresh air. I always feel refreshed when I sit back down, and I often I find I can solve a problem I couldn't figure out for the life of me before.

- Keeping a regular sleep schedule - waking up and going to bed at the same time everyday, and not studying in my pyjamas also helped.
posted by goodnight at 7:36 PM on December 1, 2012

Come up with a few rewards for yourself. Small things. Like a night out to a movie or Snickers bar. Whatever. Then make up a sheet of paper with squares on it. Put this on your fridge or next to your computer. The squares represent hours studied. Black out a square for every hour you complete. Every ten hours or so get yourself one of your rewards. The squares should match your hourly goal. So if you are going to study for 175 hours. Make 175 squares. The visual record of success was a big motivator for me in college.
posted by hot_monster at 9:39 PM on December 1, 2012

I always found it useful to have a concrete list of tasks to complete, otherwise I would spend "study for biology day" floundering and stressed and unproductively trying to cram a semester of knowledge into my head. Things that helped me was doing practice problems, re-writing notes, writing flashcards with important facts on them, and making "cheat sheets" (I didn't use them in the actual exam, but it was helpful to have made an index card with the 10 most important formulas or whatever).

I also found it helpful to know when to give up. I'm a morning person, and I'm realistically not going to get anything else learned after 9pm. Seeing a friend for an hour or two at the end of my day really helped me wind down and not feel so overwhelmed - though I wouldn't allow myself to drink anything or stay out to late lest I kill my motivation for the next day.
posted by fermezporte at 4:50 AM on December 2, 2012

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