[books]Your head is buried in a book, pages of notes are scattered around and the last drop of coffee is exhausted when you feel your eyes begin to close. With a jerk—you’re up again and as you glance at the clock—you get that sinking feeling. It’s 4:00 a.m. and your exam is exactly five hours and ten minutes away.
Many of us cram, especially for finals, and most of us also know that short-term studying only has short-term results. But with busy schedules of balancing classes, work, activities and the all-important social life, who has time for anything else? Well, it may pay off to start studying earlier, unless you want all that tuition to go to waste.
As we begin studying for finals, we are more often than not studying to remember for the exam, but not necessarily to gain knowledge. But to increase our understanding, what we are studying needs to be learned not just the night before, or a few days before, but over months or years.
Psychology professor Norman Abeles suggests studying in small portions so not everything is crammed into the night before. “One difference is you’re more likely to feel like you’re going blank and panic during the exam, and another problem is students will do it the night before and not get any sleep.”
MSU students have many study-time strategies. “I write things out,” Noora Kobty, psychology senior, said. “That helps me memorize better than reading.”
Biosystems engineering junior Matt Lindsey takes a different approach. “I repeatedly do problems over and over until they are pounded into my brain,” he said.
Andrea Bozoki, M.D. and assistant professor of neurology at the MSU Clinical Center said that if you are successful at learning the material from a college class, the information will end up in your long-term memory. “For now, it’s just an episodic memory,” Bozoki said.
Both students agree, the greater the interest they have in a subject, the more likely they are to remember the information later, something Bozoki relates back to the brain.
[lack] “You become aware of something in your environment via a sensory organ (such as your eyes, ears or hands),” Bozoki said. “This awareness is modified by how much attention you are devoting to it and to what degree you analyze the incoming information.”
But awareness isn’t the only thing that can help with recall. Another way is through rehearsal, which is either re-encoding the same data or forcing repeated retrieval efforts.
“Lack of sleep makes it more difficult to pay attention to questions, and the details of questions,” Abeles said. Bozoki adds that at the cellular level, each time a particular set of neuronal connections are re-stimulated, it results in chemical changes that reinforce the strength of the binding.
“This process is referred to as Long-Term Potential,” Bozoki said. “Establishing these chemical changes also take time, [even] days. This is why it helps to study the same material several times and why you are better off beginning to study for an exam well ahead of time.”
Lindsey takes this kind of advice to help his study habits. “I try to start about three or four days before, no more than an hour and a half at a time.”
But like most MSU students, Frank Dinito, first year student at Cooley Law School, studying the night before or “cramming” is something that always seems to happen.
“I start studying the night before, more cramming than anything,” Dinito said. “But we have to memorize and apply, so I do learn the material.”
But quickly studying before an exam, Abeles agrees, is better than not studying at all. “The more ways you attempt to the learn the material, the better,” Abeles said. “Rehearsing the material several times is also helpful.”
Her study suggestions include reading, then outlining the reading, having someone else ask you questions, and then studying with others to review.
Another suggestion Bozoki has for students is to study the material in the same state you plan to take the exam. “No drugs or alcohol while studying, unless you plan to take that same substance when you go in for the test,” Bozoki said. “Research shows that what someone learns in an altered state is best recalled in that same state.”
[side] She also said making connections between the material you’re learning and things you already know, eating foods high in protein and sleeping after studying are all ways to improve your memory of the information you’re trying to learn.
“It is important for professors to make up exams that will cover the material in a comprehensive manner, and not focus on details that will be forgotten later,” Abeles said. “I like essay exams, but I understand that in large classes that is not possible.”
So whether you start studying for an exam two weeks before, or crack open that book for the first time all semester, the night before, the trick is to just study.
Of course, it will probably pay off—both for the exam and for lifelong learning—not to put off hitting the books until 4:00 a.m. of finals week.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *