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Starting a New Semester? Study Smarter This Time Around

by Abby Thompson
January 17, 2017 | I ❤️ PBS

You just finished your fall semester and you told yourself you weren’t going to procrastinate with your coursework again this spring. Then again, you tell yourself the same thing every semester. You also tell yourself you’re going to use fabric softener and cut off that “on again, off again” thing with the guy from your bio lab. That's okay—college students aren't expected to be perfect.

But you shouldn't downplay your abilities to achieve your goals, either. History is a predictor of the future and if you haven’t been able to kick the procrastination habit to the curb yet, there’s a good chance you’re going to get to the night before a test, open your textbook, realize you're entirely unprepared and be forced to endure a very long night.

study smarter

We all know cramming for a test isn’t good. If you're trying to rapid-fire study for a major exam that you know little to nothing about the night before, the odds are truly not in your favor. Yet, once in a while, time gets away from us and our good intentions to make academics a priority get lost in busy days at work or hazy nights with friends.

If you’re stuck in a bind the night before a big test, never fear! Here are five tips on how to cram effectively (Note: You shouldn't use these tips all the time—they're a “break glass in case of emergency” kind of thing):

Use mnemonics!

Mnemonics are little "word tricks" to help you remember lists. They work best when they're visual and make a little sense—like “Never Eat Soggy Waffles” to help you remember the directions on a compass rose, or "Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge" for the musical notes on the lines of the treble clef, for example. Associating something you can remember with a tricky concept makes it easier for your brain to pull out the information when you need it.

Take a "Crash Course"

Have you ever gotten to the end of a college course and realized you might not have paid as much attention as you thought you had? You might have come out of the semester with some really nice doodles in the margins of your notebook, but not a great understanding of the concepts you were supposed to be learning. Acclaimed YouTube-ing brothers Hank and John Green (yes, that John Green) have your back with PBS Digital Studios' "Crash Course," an educational series in the form of mini lectures with clever animations, making quick learning both easy (no reading, yay!) and even, dare I say it, a little bit fun. The best part—the videos are pretty short so you can digest all the crucial info without taking too much time out of your study session.

Because of the popularity of “Crash Course,” the project has grown beyond John and Hank and now covers 17 diverse topics from literature to chemistry to intellectual property. Odds are you'll be able to use these videos to supplement at least one of your courses. Major shout out to Crash Course hosts Jacob Clifford and Adriene Hill for getting me through my economics class last semester. You guys are the real MVPs.

Now ditch the screen

study smarter

Reading and studying while looking at a screen can be good when you're on the go, but if you’re sitting down to cram the night before a big exam you might be better off printing off the pages (sorry, trees) and hand-writing notes and ideas in the margins. New research suggests you can read faster and retain more information from a piece of paper rather than laptop or tablet screens. It might not be the most environmentally friendly option—or the cheapest if your school makes you pay for printing—but your GPA might thank you later.

Listen to music

No, we’re not talking about cranking the new Childish Gambino album—that can be your celebratory soundtrack after you actually finish the test. According to the Stanford School of Medicine, hitting up your Pandora app and cueing up music by obscure 18th century composers will help activate parts of your brain that will keep you focused and help you make predictions. If “obscure” isn’t really your jam, here’s a collection of Spotify playlists that can help you get the grade.

Go to sleep, for Pete's sake

study smarter

College students are known for spreading themselves pretty thin. It’s a competitive world out there and our resumes aren't going to build themselves—we’ve got academics, work, school organizations, a social life, maybe time to take a shower? With all that we’re doing, our hours of sleep can dwindle—but they shouldn’t. We all know by now that all-nighters aren't usually worth it. You can’t learn anything when your eyes are half open and your brain is saturated with caffeine. According to research by the University of Notre Dame, after you learn something, GO TO SLEEP. Your brain will retain more and absorb the info more effectively than if you were to continue studying through the night.

Abby Thompson
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