Finals season is quickly approaching. Although it can be tempting to leave everything to the last minute and see how much you can cram, this isn’t a strategy for success.
As a fourth-year student at UVic, I’ve written a lot of final exams and final papers. I’ve also read countless articles on university study tips to try to get a sense of what I’m supposed to be doing. When I was a first-year student, I had no clue how to study for university exams.
Honing your study skills will take some trial and error. Some of these tips might resonate with you and, as a result, help you ace your finals.
Take care of yourself
The first and most important tip is to take care of yourself. Students often joke about pulling all-nighters or eating meals that lack nutrition. These habits are actually really harmful, especially if you go multiple days or weeks without adequate sleep or nutrients.
I know it can be hard to get in those eight hours of sleep when you’ve got multiple finals to write. During one of my finals seasons, I had five finals in three days. For those three days, I was cycling from writing one exam to finishing my revising for the next one. I was able to do it and stay sane because I had lots of snacks and prioritized my physical and mental wellbeing.
Your health is extremely important. The last thing you want during finals season is to get sick. Because your body is already under stress, you’re already more likely to get sick during this time.
To-do, doing, done lists
I find finals season overwhelming. There are multiple deadlines to keep track of and my revision list can seem never-ending in the beginning. In my second year, I came across a study tip for university students called the “to-do, doing, done list.”
Instead of doing a typical to-do list, the to-do, doing, done list forces you to think about what you have to start and what you’re already doing. For example, if you have a 30-page reading and you only finish half of it, you can write that under the doing column. Some people use Trello to streamline this process, which is an online to-do list platform with multiple columns.
I use a version of the to-do, doing, done list. On my list, I label three columns: fast forward, play, and pause. Instead of organizing my study list by what I’m doing, I organize tasks I have to do by level of urgency. If something is urgent and needs to be done today, it goes into the fast forward column. If something is on the back burner, it goes into the pause column.
You can try tweaking your study to-do list and see what methods work best for you.
Texthelp Study Skills
Texthelp Study Skills is a Google Drive add-on that allows you to highlight sections of a document and then automatically organize those sections into a new document.
I always use this when I am researching for a paper or summarizing lecture notes. For lecture notes, this university study tip works best if you summarize your notes within 24 hours of your class. Highlighting your lecture notes at this point will help your brain remember them and give you a clearer idea of what your professor was saying.
Although Texthelp Study Skills does offer a paid version, the free version still allows you to highlight and organize your notes easily without creating an account or adding a credit card.
The Pomodoro Technique
This is a classic study tip for university students. But there is a good reason it’s a classic — it actually works.
The basic idea behind Pomodoro is that we are overwhelmed by big tasks and like to accomplish things in small chunks. With Pomodoro, you study in small time increments and take small breaks. I typically do 30 minutes of studying and take five-minute breaks. The original Pomodoro method is 25 minutes of work and five-minute breaks.
There are a lot of Pomodoro timer apps that you can use. You can also just use a stopwatch or watch a “study with me” YouTube video that has a Pomodoro timer built in. Although it definitely doesn’t work for everyone, the Pomodoro Technique can be really helpful if you’re having trouble with focussing or procrastinating in university.
Study help centres on campus
There are multiple places on campus that can help you if you are struggling in your classes. I have personally used the Centre for Academic Communication for writing help. Other centres include the Learning and Teaching Support and Innovation Centre and the Math and Stats Assistance Centre. The Centre for Accessible Learning is also available to support students with disabilities.
There are also a few UVSS services in the SUB that can help with studying. For instance, the Peer Support Centre has a Study Flow virtual event on Friday nights where you can join a call and study alongside other students.
Of course, you can also attend office hours with your professors or TAs to get help in your courses.
Master the basics of the SQ3R study technique
This is a study hack that is based in psychology. The acronym stands for survey, question, read, recite, and review. It is meant to be used for reading but it can also be used for going over lecture notes.
First, survey or skim the material and look for any bolded segments, key tables, and subheadings. Once you have a general idea of the text, write down a few questions you have that you think this text will answer. I typically base these on the subheadings.
Next, try to read the text without stopping to try to comprehend everything. After you’ve gone through the text, you’ll go back to your questions and try to answer them based on what you have just read. For the last step, review, you’ll re-visit any difficult sections of the reading and try to understand them further.
The SQ3R method is a great study tip if you have trouble reading for classes and retaining what you have read. It works better for articles about specific research studies and doesn’t apply as neatly for theory, but the general premise of active reading is good to keep in mind.
Reach out to a librarian or use library guides
Librarians are angels. They can guide you through research on any topic, especially if you ask them specific questions about what you are looking for. Although they will never do your work for you, they can definitely help teach you research skills and point you in the right direction.
The UVic library has subject guides and subject librarians. You can find more information about these supports and others on the library’s website.
For papers, use bibliographies to your advantage
A bibliography can be a treasure chest. If you find a book or academic paper that fits with your topic, it likely has a few related papers cited in the bibliography.
I usually read the body of an article and then skim the bibliography, noting any key texts in my research notes so that I can come back to them later. With a relevant book, I can typically find two or three other interesting papers in their bibliography. Sometimes, this study tip leads to dead ends and irrelevant papers. But whether you find dead ends or gems, bibliographies are always useful for giving you a better idea of what scholarly work is already out there in your topic area.
Another study tip for university students writing papers is to use the bibliographies as a clue to the current leading scholars. If you go through 10 books on a subject and look through their bibliographies, you should be able to easily spot some repeated names.
Of course, as with any research, you should never plagiarize the work of another scholar or solely rely on another scholar’s bibliography as your own. Use bibliographies as clues to further your own research, not for plagiarizing.
Remember that your grades don’t define you
It’s easy to get caught up in the importance of grades when you put so much time into your classes. However, try not to tie your self-worth to your grades. Good or bad, you are more than the marks on your transcript.
If you get a bad grade, remember that you can usually recover in later semesters. You always have options, and you can also change programs or even change universities. If university isn’t right for you, there is also no shame in dropping out and pursuing a different path.
Over the course of your degree, you will take so many courses that you likely won’t remember the occasional bad grade. That being said, I hope you do well in your finals. After they are all done, I also hope you get a chance to relax.