5 Tips for Productive Studying

How do you cope with exam season stress?

It’s that time of year again: exam season. Finding the time to catch up on readings, decipher disorganized notes, and eat a well balanced diet can be extremely difficult. As an engineering student at Purdue University, I know this trap all too well. But, in time I have learned to overcome it with some simple changes to my exam rituals:

1. Location, Location, Location

Where you study can affect how well you’re going to focus and how much you’re going to retain during your study sessions. Whether you study in a library, a local coffee shop, or the bleachers of the football stadium, the location you choose should be an environment where you can dive into your notes and books without distraction for hours on end.

For example, if you need quiet then it might make sense to do your studying in the library. But if you like a light noise, then a coffee shop or park might be a good option. Try waking up early and grabbing a spot where you can spread out and buckle down to work. Choosing the right location is the foundation of productive studying. Without it, you won’t be able to focus and risk jeopardizing your exam grades.

2. Create a Study Session Calendar

If you’re always having impromptu study sessions or cramming the night before a big exam, you might not be retaining information as well as you’d like. It’s time to get prepared and develop a study calendar that allows you to cover every course and topic you will be tested on.

Start creating your study calendar a month before the start of your exam season. I recommend buying a large calendar (something like this to limit waste) to help you visualize your weeks. Mark important responsibilities throughout the study month, such as days you cannot study, days you will be traveling, and so on. Next, go through your courses and create a list of topics that will be on the exam. Divide the time you have to tend to each topic equally. If there are topics you struggle with, set aside some extra time. As a rule of thumb, you should study one or two topics a week, giving yourself a week to recap everything before the exam.

3. Silence Your Phone Notifications

Technology is a wonderful thing, but it can also provide a lot of distractions. Before you settle into your study date, turn off your phone’s notifications by turning on the “Do Not Disturb” or Airplane function. If you really struggle with focusing, download an app like Offtime and Moment which locks apps for a set amount of time

4. Eat Healthy & Stay Hydrated
Sounds silly, but of all the bad habits to pick up during exam season, my friends and I often struggle with this the most. Eating a balanced diet and staying hydrated while studying is key for optimal brain performance. According to a 2010 study, researchers found that dehydration negatively impacted brain function and forced students to work harder to solve problems. Avoid falling into the typical routine of struggling to consume enough nutrients by:

  • Meal prepping food for the following week that you can take with you to school.
  • Carrying a refillable water bottle with you to class and study sessions.
  • Adding lemon, lime, or orange slices to keep water tasty.
  • Drinking 8oz of water every hour.

5. Set Breaks During Studying Sessions

Studying sessions, whether they’re an hour or five hours long, need to have built in breaks. This helps your brain retain the information and rewards you for a staying on task.

You can set breaks by:

  • Using the timer on your phone. Set the timer for 45 minutes and dive into your books. When the timer goes off, take 15 minutes to stretch, get some water, or grab a snack.
  • Do chores. Make a list of chores you’ve been putting off for a while. Complete one chore (or at least 30 minutes of it) and return to studying for 30–60 minutes. For example, put a load of laundry in the washer, pull out your notes and start studying. When the washer stops, take your break to put your clothes in the dryer. Return to studying until your clothes are dry.
  • Adapting the pomodoro technique. The pomodoro technique is a time management system that helps you hyper focus while completing tasks. While typically applied to tasks, you can easily adopt the pomodoro method to studying.

Exams can be extremely stressful, but there are multiple ways to lessen this stress. With these productive studying tips from Grant Dennany you can make this the most successful exam period yet.