by CLAIRE CRISPEN '15
We are just 24 short hours away from semester exams. To combat the frightful sense of stress sweeping over campus, I have searched St. Ursula Academy top to bottom in order to find the best tips and tricks to get students motivated and confident about tackling our ever-dreaded exams. I have compiled my findings into 4 easy steps that are tailored specifically for the St. Ursula Academy student. The following guide entails a sure-fire way to do well on your tests and feel good in the process.
Get organized. It is often said that a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind. The solution? Tidy things up and focus only on schoolwork. When asked what helps her prepare for exams, senior Mikalia Wenker said, “Whenever I’m studying, I clean my work space up completely. Even if it means throwing everything somewhere else, I just need to move everything away so it is just me and my books or tablet. Anything else is just a distraction.” Another key part of being organized is managing study time in addition to your every day class assignments. It’s important to schedule in a time to review old material every day, even if it’s only for half an hour. Mr. Fleming, a math teacher here at SUA, advises, “Have a plan. Ya know, have a strategy going in.” That means making vocabulary sheets, lists, flashcards, whatever you use to study, in manageable bits each night. He says “don’t wait until the night before, don’t try to pull an all nighter. I tried to pull an all nighter in college and got clobbered. Plus I was just a wreck the next day.” If you’re confused about how to tackle a certain subject, just ask your teacher. They’re here to help, after all.
Study smart. The first step is to find an environment in which you find it easy to study. This is different for everybody, whether it’s a public library, a cozy café downtown, or your own bedroom. Generally speaking though, you need a space with plenty of room to spread out your computer and notes with little to no distractions. The next part is matching test preparation to the best way you learn. Emily Winter ’14 says that it can be hard for her to concentrate because of her ADD, but has a fix that keeps her focus. “If I’m studying from a book, I use gummy bears and I put them in random spots on the page to help motivate me to keep reading, and then when I get to where the gummy bear is, I eat it!” If candy isn’t your thing, you could try music. Many girls, like junior Leah Wolfer, use music to relax and concentrate. She says, “For me to study, music has to be involved. I put my headphones in and have music on repeat. My favorite tunes help me to focus on the task at hand, and keep me from being too stressed.” Other ideas include color coding with fun highlighters and pens, re-writing your notes by hand, or studying in a group of friends (as long as you can stay on task).
There are a million other tricks out there that supposedly also help with studying. Personally, I read once about how a fresh pair of socks helps you stay awake and religiously run to my drawer for a new pair whenever I’m sleepy while studying. When asked about her own quirky tricks, Tessa Wheeler ’15 says, “I heard that you better remember things by a sense of smell. So if you have a mint while you study and then have a mint while you take the test, it’s supposed to help.” This is backed up by researchers at University of Cincinnati who found that even smelling peppermint helps students concentrate on tasks that required sustained focus like course exams. That should surely put your mind at ease.
Something that has been proven, however, is the importance of taking frequent breaks. It is difficult to stay alert and retain information during long periods of studying, so it’s crucial that you take some time to get up and take a walk, grab a snack, or just relax every once in a while. According to Oregon University, for every 45 minutes you spend studying, you should take a 15 minute break. Mrs. Fontaine from SUA’s guidance department stresses the importance of downtime, saying “you need to reward yourself with something, whether it’s an episode of Modern Family or baking brownies.”
Eat right. Treating your body well means being able to work well. Eating the right foods allows you to concentrate, retain information, and feel great.SUA food and nutrition teacher Mrs. Breen says, “We know that the really healthy fats, especially omega threes, like in coldwater fishes (especially salmon and tuna), nuts, and seeds (especially flaxseed), are very good for the brain. The brain is mostly made up of omega threes, in fact.” Mrs. Breen suggests complex carbs, like whole grain, fruits, and vegetables for exam-time meals. “The brain consumes about 20% of the calories that you eat. The brain consumes or uses those calories to fuel its activity. So to not eat is not a good idea.”
While your brain and body need certain nutrients in order to function properly, there are some things that they absolutely do not need. SUA health teacher Mrs. Porter advises us to stay away from caffeine. It affects your moods and doesn’t allow you to concentrate. It also keeps you awake when you should be sleeping. Numerous studies have shown that sleep is crucial to academic success. Junk food and sugary treats are also things to steer-clear of, especially during the winter season. Mrs. Porter says “you don't want to eat very emotionally. And then you feel badly about yourself that way and you have all the other pressure from the exams and the holiday season. It is a time when people tend to eat a little unhealthy.” It’s tempting to turn to sweets during exams but saving time by snacking on processed, unhealthy foods will hurt you in the long run. Just remember: you are what you eat. Ultimately, good-for-you food will result in better performance and a better grade.
Relax and stay positive! When asked how to stay calm during exam time, Mr. Fleming bestowed upon me some wise words of wisdom. "[Teachers] want you to do well. They're not trying to trick you. They're out to challenge you, but they're not trying to trick you. So recognize that going in, that this is a doable, very accomplishable task. This is something for you to conquer.” Often time stress over exams is blown completely out of proportion. Mrs. Breen suggests that students with test anxiety write for about 10-15 minutes before they take their test about why tests make them anxious. “That tends to calm you and make you think about how the reasons you are nervous are probably not legitimate reasons.” This is said to have a calming effect on a student prior to her exam.
Work hard and try your best, but keep exams in perspective. While doing well in school is important, you are more than just your grades. Any A is not worth cutting out all of your “me time.” Freshman and Sophomore guidance counselor Mrs. Renneker says that “it is important to come up with a list ahead of time of things to help you alleviate stress.” That’s right, make a physical list of relaxing things that you can refer to when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Maybe your list will include taking the dog for a walk, reading a book, or soaking in a nice bubble bath.
Beauty enthusiast and SUA junior Juliana DeReamer recommends Lush products. ‘My all time favorite is their Avobath Bath Bomb (only $6.40 at the Kenwood Mall Macy’s).” Also exercise, in any form, is a major relaxer. Mrs. Porter says that "exercise is the number one stress buster for teenagers." Being active boosts endorphins that make you feel good and worry less. The more you exercise during the day, the easier it is to fall asleep at night, and we all know that sleep is vital to good health and a happy brain, especially in teenagers. Try switching off your computer and phone an hour before you go to bed and do something else instead, like listening to music.
No one ever said exams were easy. Often they take quite a toll on us physically and mentally. But luckily, there is help. SUA is a community with tremendous support, whether it be from teachers, guidance counselors, or your fellow students. The bottom line is that everyone here wants to see you succeed. So work hard and keep your head up! Christmas break is just around the corner.