Surfacing from the warm, dark comfort of my room this August, there was one thing I was really looking forward to, more than seeing real people again or trying out cool spots to eat, even more than making new friends. Any guesses?
It was in-person common exams at NJIT, obviously. A 1.5 week block with frantic studying, especially with absolutely no notes or online calculators allowed? A dream come true. For anyone else whose study skills shriveled up like their muscles last year, here are my top five tips to score A pluses on your exams this month — or at least above the 45% average in the physics department.
1. Stay away from your room like it’s infested with lanternflies. Yes, ignore the inviting gleam of your desk and fridge – go to the library between classes or hang out in the infinitely generating lounges on one of CKB’s four floors. You can pick your level of noise – do you feel more comfortable with people arguing about integrals nearby, or do you like graveyard silence? A big bonus is that with other students in the vicinity, there’s probably someone around who can help you. CKB’s lowest floor has tutoring centers, too; you don’t have to rely on The Organic Chemistry Tutor to teach you calculus anymore. There are fewer distractions like a couch or TV, so it’s much easier to stay focused. Plus, I always find that the slight discomfort of the chairs keeps me from dozing off.
2. Short and sweet – go to class. Of course, this doesn’t guarantee success – if it did, I wouldn’t have gotten a 63 on last week’s electric potential homework. But at least it wasn’t a 13! Practicing problems with your class and professor nearby gives you a chance to ask questions as everyone is familiarizing themselves, too. Professors often emphasize topics that will come up on the test during class, so you’ll get a look at similar material early on. No one loves spending eighty minutes in a classroom, but think of it as an investment. Paying attention now means that you won’t have to learn and review simultaneously in three weeks.
3. Study with your friends, but also without. In the college influencer community, this one is a heated issue. Some people say that revising alone is conducive to ordering your thoughts and helps you better understand your progress. After all, you’ll have to take the test alone. Others insist that you’re more motivated with your peers, like when people who decide to work out together end up committing for longer than someone who goes alone. So, I decided to take the courageous position of… both, kind of. I’ve found that solitary reading lets me spend more time on what I need to review rather than what the group wants. But your friends from class are your strongest resource, and studying together can definitely be fun and effective as you fill in the gaps in each other’s knowledge. The ideal ratio seems to be 50:50, so that you have some time to personalize your review after studying together.
4. Write it out. I am, begrudgingly, a member of Gen Z, so yes, you can use your newfangled tablets and Apple Pens. Don’t just watch someone else draw diagrams and solve equations online without following along, though, and this applies to class as well. Writing has been proven to help you remember better than typing, but that’s not even accounting for the fact that the majority of our classes are STEM-related and may not translate easily to the computer. Drawing things out is good practice for a paper-and-pencil exam. In the case that your classes are computer-based, try to write notes anyway. It forces your brain to process the information (at least a little bit) instead of just regurgitating it through the keyboard.
5. Here’s my most important tip: eat before you start studying, but not right before. With a gap of 1.5 hours between ingestion and putting your pen to paper, you’ll be set. Studying is pretty much exactly like a Division I sport; you need to be fueled, but not lethargic. Ninety minutes allows for any GDS-related gastrointestinal emergencies, but it isn’t long enough to feel hungry again or so short that you fall asleep. Bottom line, try to block off a certain amount of time and completely clear any other tasks from it. No answering emails, no walking your dog, no excuses for not working. Fifteen minutes reviewing notes followed by “Maybe I’ll go get lunch now” won’t cut it.
Of course, you know yourself much better than I do, so customize these tips according to your opinion and experiences. Good luck and get to work!