As final exams loom, it's always the worst feeling anticipating how you're about to spend your time: hunched over your textbooks in a sunlight-deprived library, eating ramen noodles at 4 a.m., knocking back cups of coffee to stay awake. The toll it can take on your mind and body, in addition to the stress and anxiety you may already be facing, is often enough to make you throw in the towel.
But it doesn't have to be that way: studying is much less of a pain if you learn to use your time more effectively. Here are some very easy tips for making the best of the limited time you have to cram before you head into finals.
1. Get organized
It doesn't matter if you have a few weeks or less than 12 hours before finals begin, the most important thing you should be doing is writing a to-do list. I say write because it is indeed something you should be writing down -- on paper. Your phone or computer screen are two places where distractions inevitably exist, so your to-do list needs to be in a place where you can always see it and be reminded of nothing else.
Write your to-do list in order of priority and difficulty, saving the easiest tasks for last. You'll want to do them first (because they're easy and you'd like to procrastinate) but the harder subjects that need more of your attention should be tackled before. Getting the difficult exam prep out of the way early spares you more time for review later -- and that's a relief you'll be happy you planned for.
2. Study on the clock
Studying in timed intervals is an effective way to keep your mind fresh and retain more information as you spend the seemingly endless hours in your books. One well-known technique for studying in timed intervals, which includes brief breaks during longer periods of focus, is the Pomodoro Technique. The idea is that you spend 25 minutes focused on one task, presumably one of the tasks you've prioritized in your to-do list, followed by a 5 minute break. You can then continue to work in 30 minute intervals (called pomodoros), increasing your break time to 15 minutes if you've hit four consecutive pomodoros. Effectively, in two hours, you will have had 100 minutes of relentless focus and 20 minutes of rest.
I'd recommend the native Pomodoro Technique -- a standard kitchen timer along with a pen and paper to tally your pomodoros -- but this Pomodoro app for iOS or ClearFocus for Android work almost as effectively.
3. Take really good breaks
One often overlooked part of studying is how to effectively spend your study breaks. It's likely you'll use them to check your messages or notifications, or sneak in a quick scroll through Instagram, but a much better way to spend every break that you give yourself is to replenish your mind and body. Stand up, stretch your arms, legs, and back, and drink an entire bottle of water in one go. Use a longer break to snack on an energy bar or a piece of fruit, and walk around.
If you do these small activities during your breaks, rather than stay put, you'll find you'll retain more information, stay energized without caffeine or junk food, and even have a much better sleep.
4. Make it a point to block distractions
An even greater dilemma than managing your time may be managing distractions. Although you could have found the most quiet place to study, your phone going off is like being in a room full of people trying to get your attention. The challenge is keeping that endless supply of distractions far away from your line of focus.
Fortunately (and ironically) technology can actually help you do this.
If you need some access to your phone (like the calendar or phone calls) but want to hide distracting and tempting apps, then try Flipd. You can use it to make your downloaded apps disappear for an amount of time that you choose -- meaning it literally hides Instagram and Facebook from you. It's also helpful in the case you want to study in timed intervals using your phone's timer, but don't want to be constantly tempted to scroll.
Even a single hour of undistracted focus is going to be more valuable to your productivity than three hours with interruptions. But the real key to studying effectively is intentionally benefiting from your breaks. Drinking water, stretching, and giving your brain a much-needed (and deserved) rest from consumption are what will really help you succeed.