Finals, Midterms, Exams, Oh My!

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Plans, Study-Buddies, and Nap Time

You might be looking for tips on how to maximize your study habits, or how to set yourself up for the best chance at acing your midterms. But we’re here to focus on some study skills that we tend to put on the back burner, like making a daily or weekly plan, building study groups, and taking breaks. We’ll eventually burn out if we don’t create space in our lives for strategies that promote our well-being under high-pressure circumstances. What do these long-term tactics really look like in the daily life of a UC Berkeley student?

1. Make a Plan

All too often we abandon this one task that could be a game-changer, not just during exams, but throughout our entire academic careers. I know all too well how arduous it can feel to make a plan. My brain scrambles everything together and I can’t seem to pin down exactly what is most important. This is a problem for not all, but many of us. Start by thinking about how much time you actually have to study and how much time you’ll actually spend studying. Be realistic with yourself about your timing and your goals. Think about the time you need to allow yourself for breaks, eating, looking at your phone, etc.

You’re inevitably not going to be able to spend a solid six hours with zero breaks in between just studying. Instead, look at your week and pick out specific slots of time dedicated to studying. Stick to those time slots. Start with whatever content you feel least confident with, but also be careful to not underestimate how much time you’ll need to study for your other exams. Remember that throwing yourself into one class isn’t necessarily going to benefit you more in the end. Try your best to organize your time in a way that leaves room for every subject.

2. Take Breaks

I know, it’s a tough one. But you have to take breaks. Again, we are highly susceptible to burn-out, and running ourselves like greyhounds on a race track won’t do us any good. Let’s focus on the big picture. Zoom out. Remember that you need to sustain your energy until the end of your academic journey, whenever that is. Taking breaks might look different for every person. For some people, it helps to study for twenty minutes, break for five minutes. Others might like to study for longer periods of time, then take a break to go for a long walk, have a shower, or take a nap. If you’re on the way home from a class or library, stopping to pet the dogs from Paws for Mental Health whenever they table at Upper Sproul is a great idea as well. Whatever you do when you take a break, try to make it restorative.

3. Connect With Your Peers

It can be intimidating to put yourself out there. Everybody struggles with it at some point in their life. But connecting with our peers can prove to be one of the best, most beneficial tools during our time at Berkeley. Try asking the classmate next to you if there’s a Discord for the class, or if anyone’s made group study plans in preparation for exams. If you’re feeling shy, try sending a message to someone on bCourses instead. Oftentimes there are things happening in class among our peers that we don’t even realize because we don’t ask. Lectures can feel especially short, and it’s not always easy to find time to connect with others as everyone comes swarming out of a lecture hall.

The benefits of studying with others are endless. It helps us stay on track, remain accountable, and remember things about the professor’s tips for preparation that we might have forgotten. Perhaps someone in your cohort can help you better understand a topic discussed in class that you never got to ask about during office hours. The whole “two heads are better than one” theory really proves itself in study-buddy sessions. Take advantage of it. We’re in a classroom together for a reason!

4. Stay Calm

Okay, I know this is something no one really wants to hear. Whenever someone tells me to be calm, it feels instantly impossible, because I’m being told to do it. But all too often I see my peers putting such an enormous amount of pressure on themselves that their wellbeing deteriorates, and becomes second priority. We must remind ourselves that our well-being goes hand in hand with our academic success. None of our professors want us to work ourselves into debilitating stress over an exam. By practicing the previous three steps, we can set ourselves up for success and reduce stress. If you’re spending so much time studying that you’re barely sleeping, you’re being too hard on yourself. Take a break. Watch an episode of a TV show that makes you laugh. Meet up with a friend to talk about something that isn’t school. But whatever you do, don’t convince yourself that in order to succeed, you HAVE to be stressed out.

5. Eat. Sleep. Study. Repeat.

I told you this post wasn’t going to be about optimizing study skills! Because we can’t improve our studying if we’re not eating and we’re not sleeping. I have been that student who drinks outrageous amounts of coffee and glides through my day on the brink of an anxiety attack when suddenly it’s 2 p.m., and I’ve realized all I ate that day was a Larabar. It’s been scientifically proven time and time again that we do not function at optimal levels if we deprive ourselves of two extremely important basic needs: sleep and food. Sometimes it feels counterintuitive, like taking a nap or actively choosing to sleep for 8+ hours at night is irresponsible, or a waste of time. But it’s not. No matter how many days we can get away with replacing caffeine for sleep, those days are in fact numbered. We will burn out if we don’t rest. So make sure you recharge, and don’t punish yourself for it. You’ll thank yourself on exam days when you wake up feeling well-rested and don’t need 4 shots of espresso to get through the day. Remember: future you will be thanking past you.

The Takeaway

Those are all our tips for today. We hope you enjoyed them. The main takeaway? Aim for imperfection, because perfection is a myth. We only hurt ourselves by trying to take on more than we can handle. Focusing on things like time management will help you feel organized. Basic acts of self-care work to benefit you in the long run. If you’re reading this on little sleep and lots of caffeine, go take a nap, wake up, and find some study buddies. You got this!


Mikena Richards is a third year at UC Berkeley majoring in English. Feature photo of the Gardiner Main Stacks at the University Library by Steve McConnell/UC Berkeley Public Affairs.