Whether your university runs on semesters, trimesters, or quarters, it’s officially exam season. Planning out your schedule becomes crucial, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you have three term papers due (one of which needs to be turned into the professor and not online), a research proposal pending for approval, and a multiple choice exam that is deceivingly simple.
If you’re bored with your typical study habits and would like to change it up, here are some options that you can try over the next few weeks.
1. Chew Gum to Improve Alertness and Memory
Surprisingly, chewing gum while studying does seem to exhibit some benefits for exam takers. According to Andrew Smith in Nutritional Neuroscience, "chewing gum increases alertness, " and chewing gum "improved the accuracy of performing the Alice Heim test which confirms the benefits of gum on test performance seen in an earlier study. " In ScienceDaily, Kate Morgan from Cardiff University expands on this research, explaining that “chewing gum helps us focus on tasks that require continuous monitoring over a longer amount of time.”
Studying for dense exams is a tedious task, and it’s fair to assume that this does require “continuous monitoring over a longer amount of time” since, according to Hershner and Chervin in Nature and Science of Sleep, “50% [of college students] report daytime sleepiness and 70% attain insufficient sleep.” Plenty of students are familiar with pulling all-nighters or, at the least, extended hours of studying around exam season. Though chewing gum is like pressing a band-aid on a gushing wound, the rhythm of chewing and using the same flavored gum during studying and during the exam can marginally help.
A study published from Wheeling Jesuit University suggests that the smell or flavor of peppermint can improve reasoning, problem solving, and other cognitive functions, and participants who chewed peppermint or cinnamon-flavored gum had higher memory test scores. When combined with Wired’s advice of chewing gum when the questions become more difficult or when your focus begins to decrease, there is a fair chance that you can increase your concentration temporarily.
2. Shorter Equals Smarter
The American Psychological Association advises that studying in short bursts over time is comparably better than doing one long study session. For example, “if you have 12 hours to spend on a subject, it’s better to study it for three hours each week for four weeks than to cram all 12 hours into week four. And, for the most part, the more time you take between study sessions, the better off you are.”
All-nighters are not as great for retaining information when compared to the spacing effect method of studying. Instead of sitting down in the library until the sun rises, study in brief intervals. For example, take a practice exam for 45 minutes without glancing at the answer key, and then follow that up with a 15 minute walk to refresh your brain. After that, you can come back and look at the answer key with a reset mind. Max yourself out at three or four hours of studying so you prevent burnout.
When it comes to the term paper, you can write it in sections and even have it looked over by your university’s writing center if you give yourself enough time before the due date. This could mean spacing out your time over a few days or weeks, but it will prevent you from burning out and will decrease writer’s block. Coming back to your paper with a refreshed mind is always beneficial since you may come up with better conceived ideas as you keep analyzing it.
3. Stay Away from Your Phone
Though this may not be surprising, there are various studies that explain how your cell phone can be a distractor when it isn’t in use. As summarized by Business Insider, placing your phone in another room can significantly increase your focus, which can help you during your preparation for exam season. According to the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, results for the study’s participants were better when their phones were in another room. Even when compared to when the phones were simply off but in the same room as the participant, those that placed their device in another room still performed better. When asked if the phone’s location affected their performance, participants generally said that it hadn’t, which underlines the idea that phones affect people unconsciously.
It may not always be possible to keep your phone elsewhere while you go through your short studying sessions, but make an effort to place it in an area that is difficult for you to access. You can place your phone in your closet and lock the closet, for example. This makes it easier for you to focus on your work since it’s already out of reach. If you want to be daring, ask a friend to hold your phone for you while you study and have them purposefully keep it away from you unless there’s an emergency. Your friends will admittedly have fun taunting you with your own device, but it’s an effective method to prevent yourself from being distracted from constant vibrations and notification beeps.
Exam season is a difficult time for all university students. In the larger scheme of life, it’s important for people to remember that exams aren’t going to stick around forever. Focus now, and eventually exam season will cease to exist! The work you put in now will set you up for whatever you pursue down the road, so prep yourself well for tests and keep your head held high until it’s all over.