Next week is finals week, which means it's time for exams, essays and projects that will make or break our final grades. Six columnists weigh in on how to prepare.
Emily Shaffer: I like to prepare the week before finals by making a study schedule so I stay on track. I don’t just write down the times and dates I plan on studying, but I also include where I plan to go to study.
One of my favorite places to study is in the East tower of the Herman B Wells Library. I can always count on the fourth floor being quiet and having an abundance of open desks. When I visit the East tower, I like to bring takeout from my favorite restaurant, Little Tibet. The dumplings at Little Tibet make an excellent comfort food and are always a great way to "treat yo self" before beginning hours of grueling studying.
After picking the right desk, preferably one by an outlet, it’s time to set up camp. I plug in my laptop, put on my glasses, pull out my favorite bright-colored pens and get to work. The first thing I do is make a to-do list, color coded by class, of course. I find it’s best to get the little things out of the way first so that I can focus more on the larger tasks when I get to them. After I’ve finished making my list, I put on a Spotify instrumental playlist, and I pray for the best.
Elsbeth Sanders: When it’s getting down to the wire and I have to do some intense studying, I have a set strategy that I follow. I cannot get any serious work done anywhere near my dorm. My tried and true study plan is that I pack up everything I might conceivably need to study over a period of several hours — textbooks, laptop, chargers, notebooks, etc. — and I go someplace that’s far enough away from where I live that I won’t want to make the long walk back until I’ve completed what I had planned for the day.
I’m particularly fond of the Starbucks on Kirkwood. If I can snag a table, it’s the perfect place to sit and pour over my textbooks for hours. The tables are big enough to spread out study material, the chairs are fairly comfortable and there coffee, snacks and plenty of outlets. There’s also the perfect amount of background noise to ensure that no one conversation can disturb me over the sound of everyone else. It’s far enough away that I won’t walk back to my dorm on a whim, but it’s close enough that if I walk back at night, I’ll be safe.
Anne Anderson: One thing that came as quite the rude awakening in college was realizing that being smart is not enough. In high school I got lucky, passing tests without studying, notoriously having good notes without strong effort and completing assignments easily. Then came college.
Being at college forced me to teach myself how to actually study the material I was being taught — not just shelving information away and hoping it came back in time for the test.
One of the hardest things about studying is that everyone is different and retains information best in different ways. The first tip to successful studying is your environment. It is crucial to be in a beneficial environment to do your best work.
For me, I find that I actually can focus more when in a group of other people also studying. However, it could be that solitude is the route for you. Making sure I’m in a comfy place — my favorite spot is Luddy Hall — with limited access to distractions. That means headphones on, phone more than arm’s reach away and snacks on deck. There’s no perfect study prescription for everyone, but remember — drink water, stretch your legs and stay off your phone.
Alvaro Michael: I really enjoy studying at the Pourhouse Cafe on Kirkwood. There’s a lot of space to work there, and the music is pretty relaxed. Plenty of sunlight comes in through the windows during the day, which is ideal for me. They have a lot of wall outlets and tables, both big and small.
To study, I review all the material in a section and use the textbook, the internet and email to answer any doubts I have about my notes. When I feel ready, I put everything to one side, take out a blank sheet of paper and write down as much as I can remember from my review. That way I am actively trying to recall the information. Then I compare my writing from memory with my actual notes, correct myself and repeat. I do this for each section.
If the material involves math or proof concepts, as often happens in computer science, I do a lot of practice problems from the book. Math is an active process. Just re-reading the book isn’t enough for me. You have to do it again and again if you want to remember it.
Ezra Engels: I do what is conventionally considered the worst way to study, which is lying in my bed and looking through material on my laptop. I’m pretty good at cramming, somehow, and do it for most exams. I’ve also never pulled an all-nighter. I sometimes take notes, but I rarely read over them unless I have to. I’ll typically just read through slides or whatever is on Canvas.
I’ve always found that just relaxing in bed works out for me just fine, and going to Herman B Wells Library or the Collins coffeehouse doesn’t cause a noticeable improvement. As long as I get my work done, it’s all good.
To any skeptics, my methods have proven successful since high school. Also, I’m a Digital Art BFA major, so I maybe have one or two major tests a semester. The most I leave my room for schoolwork is to go to the studio, or maybe to scout for photos and videos. I do most of my digital work at home. Ultimately, I’d rather use my "leaving the home" energy for things that make me happier than gen-ed work.
Emma Getz: As an English major, I don't do a lot of traditional studying. The last two weeks of semester usually require writing a lot of literary and critical essays and completing final drafts of a short story or play.
To be completely honest, writing is exhausting. It takes a lot of motivation to sit down and write for two hours. I'm a big fan of the coffee shops in Bloomington — my favorite is Hopscotch Coffee — as they are friendly environments for working for a long period of time. The coffee is good, too.
Every writer has specific things they like in their writing environment. Some people can't write while listening to music — personally, I like to listen to Irish jigs and 20th century Russian symphonies for inspiration. I even make personalized playlists for my different fiction works in progress with songs to match the tone or the characters.
The most important element, though, is getting rid of distractions. I'm obsessed with Twitter and am prone to absent-mindedly opening the app and scrolling through when I should be working.
It's hard work, but each passing semester reassures me that my education is guiding me in the right direction.