October 6, 2011

A Procrastinator’s Guide to Midterm Exam Season

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Hey kids!  Once again it’s time for midterm exams!  Don’t you just love this time of year?  Some people are fully prepared for it.  They’ve kept up to date with the weekly readings, they’ve attended every lecture and tutorial, and they’ve taken a good amount of notes.  Perhaps they’ve even read the recommended readings and done extra research.  This rare breed of dedicated students are classified as the keeners.  Well they don’t need any extra help.  This guide is not for them.

Rather, this guide is meant for the proud (or maybe not so proud) citizens of what I like to call “Procrastination Nation”.  Yes, you know who you are.  Don’t deny it.  This is the other, much larger subset of students.  The students who like doing things last minute.  The students who prefer to go out on a Friday night rather than review their lecture notes.  The students who don’t open their textbooks until the day before their exams.  This guide is for them.

I’ve been a procrastinator throughout my university career.  Despite that, I have managed to maintain a solid, but perhaps not stellar, 3.33GPA.  My motto has always been, “it doesn’t matter when you start as long you meet the deadlines and get the results you wanted”.  These are the strategies I use to study for midterm exams.  They may not be what your typical professor, teaching assistant, tutor, or student advisor might recommend, yet from my personal experience they work.  And that’s really all that matters.

So it’s the day before exams, and you are way behind.  What should you do?

1.  Get ready for an all nighter!

Don't do this

Just face it, you are going to have to sacrifice sleep on this occasion.  You need to absorb as much information as you can, so there’s no more time for shut eye.  One surefire way to make sure that you will be able to stay up all night is to watch a scary movie before studying.  Trust me, if you pick the right film, you will be too frightened to go to bed.  Something like Paranormal Activity or Insidious should suffice.  But only do this if you have trouble staying up because watching a movie cuts in to your potential study time.

Don’t convince yourself that you can get a couple of hours of sleep and study again early in the morning.  This usually leads to a constant pounding of the snooze button.  You are better off studying as much as you can then sleeping maybe an hour or two before you need to get up and leave for your exam.

2.  Grab your favourite snacks and drinks!


I find that having your favourite snacks and drinks close at hand provides some comfort while studying.  I don’t know why but I don’t feel right unless I have a bottle of Coke and some chips ready for me to consume.  Food and drinks will also give you a much needed energy boost throughout the night.  Plus it’s just fun to munch on stuff every now and then.

3.  Read your notes

I’m assuming you at least went to class and took some notes.  If not, I hope you’ve made friends that will share their notes with you.  Lecture notes are important because they highlight what concepts are important to the professor.  What he or she talked about in lecture is usually the most crucial thing to know.  If you took good notes, studying them alone may be enough to get a decent grade.

4. Open your textbooks

Textbooks: yes they can be quite boring…

If there’s ever a time to start reading your textbooks it’s probably now.  This is especially important if you didn’t attend class or didn’t take notes.  Go through what the assigned readings were for each week.  Sometimes multiple readings will talk about the same thing so focus on reading one and maybe skim through the others.  Unless you’re a fast reader, you probably don’t have time to read everything word for word.  Look at headings, words in bold, and key definitions to find out what’s important.  Focus on the main concepts.  Don’t worry so much about the little details.  You can’t expect to learn everything, but at least learn enough so you have some idea how to approach whatever questions you might face.

5.  Listen to music

It’s always nice to have some music playing in the background.  Some studies say that classical music is the best genre to listen to while studying.  Don’t believe that crap.  Unless you want to be knocked out and drooling all over your textbooks within 5 minutes, leave your Mozart mixtape on the shelf.

Instead, find a playlist that is a perfect balance between being upbeat yet not too distracting.  A personal favourite of mine is the “Return to the Ashburn Study Part 2”.  This mix, curated by the members of The Madbury Club, is meant to inspire and motivate.  They built this playlist specifically for college students to listen to during their cram sessions.

Pick a playlist that is around 45 minutes to 1 hour in length.  Press play and stay focused on studying until it ends.

6.  Take Breaks

I recommend having a 5-10 minute break after each hour of studying.  Stand up, stretch, turn on some Avicii and have a mini dance party, or watch a funny Youtube video like this:

Just do something fun that will get your adrenaline going then get back to work.

7.  Look Your Best

Look Sharp

When it’s time to go, put on a slick outfit.  Take a shower to refresh yourself.  Look your best.  I know some people believe that you should wear your most comfortable clothes when writing exams.  This just makes you look lazy, tired, and too relaxed.  Getting dressed to impress will not only make you look smart but also feel smart as well.  You may not know everything, but at least you will exude confidence with the way you look.

8.  Don’t Drink Energy Drinks


Bad idea

No matter how tired you are, do not drink energy drinks before an exam.  From my experience, it’s a terrible idea.  First of all, you will probably get the “shakes” from the all the caffeine.  You don’t want to be shaking and shivering during the exam.  Shaky hands means illegible answers.  Secondly, drinking too many of these will make you want to go to the washroom.  Every minute you have to write this exam is valuable.  You don’t want to waste any of it on a pee break.

9.  Do your best!

Well you’ve done all you could in the short time frame you’ve given yourself to study.  Just do your best.  If you don’t do well, then maybe you should consider studying earlier!


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