by Serena Wong, PLA Team leader
For many students, the word triggers a visceral reaction – sweaty palms, tight chest, bloodshot eyes, and a knot in the stomach. I think one of the greatest misconceptions about midterms is that it is a solitary time. Another trap that students fall into is the loss of perspective. In the past, I’ve forgotten to take care of myself – to sleep, to eat, and to be social.
Sleep is crucial to staying focussed. The brain consolidates all the information you have absorbed during sleep. Did you know that writing an exam after you have been without sleep for 24 hours is equivalent to writing the exam legally drunk? One technique that worked for me is setting an alarm for bed and one for the morning, to ensure I get my full eight hours of brain consloidation. Some friends have altered their computer settings so it will shut down at midnight, regardless of what you’re doing at the time.
Healthy eating, too, is undervalued during midterm season. It is all too tempting to skip breakfast, pop open a Red Bull for lunch, and walk to Stauffer with leftover pizza in hand. Those empty carbohydrates and fats will make anyone drowsy by the time textbooks are opened. By taking the extra time to eat fruits and vegetables and some quality protein, you will feel energized for longer. Caffeine deserves its own paragraph for its potential to become abused. What is most interesting about caffeine is that it will unfailingly keep you physically awake, but it fails to stimulate your brain. So if your brain knows that it is supposed to be sleeping, it will begin to decline in function. A healthier alternative to that third shot of espresso might be a brisk walk around the block.
One of the greatest eye-opening experiences is studying in groups. The psychologist Elliot Aronson developed a teaching method called the jigsaw classroom. Basically, he assigned kids into groups, and within each group, one child was responsible for a single task, such as memorizing a single chapter and teaching the others that specific material. Results showed greater enthusiasm for the classroom and better marks. Applying this to a group study context, each member should be responsible for thoroughly knowing a portion of the material. That way, all members work together and solidify their own knowledge by teaching.
The greatest lesson I have learned is to maintain perspective. We are more than a smattering of marks on the transcript. Furthermore, nobody has ever learned anything without making mistakes. Good luck and take care of yourself!