13 Hacks to Ace Your Final

by Arden Izzo
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It’s that time of year again! Welcome to Dead Week where college students across the country stress over finals and pull all-nighters in the library. But preparing for your finals doesn’t have to be a painful, over-caffeinated experience.

Here are some tips to help you work smarter and make the most of your study time:


1. Make an Infographic

Sometimes called a mind map or flow chart, an infographic organizes information in a visual way which helps us see the bigger picture. Use an app like Coggle to create one for free or pay for something more advanced like Mindmaple.

No time to create an infographic from scratch? Many text books already have flow charts which you can rewrite on a separate piece of paper. It may seem like a wast of time, but studies show this repeated interaction with the information helps retention.


2. Spray an Unfamiliar Scent or Chew New Flavor of Gum

Ever wonder why the smell of freshly baked apple pie reminds you of Thanksgiving? Or how the smell of a cologne can immediately conjure memories of an ex? The sense of smell is strongly linked to memory. Try chewing gum or spraying a perfume while studying and then doing the same right before the test. In addition to the olfactory memory triggers, chewing gum also gets blood flowing to the head which has been shown to improve memory (source.)


3. Eat Brain Food Before and After Studying

The best foods for brain nourishment are foods that are high in healthy fats, nutrients, and water, but are low in carbs and glucose. Some of the best super foods for memory include nuts, blueberries, eggs, green leafy vegetables, and dark chocolate. In fact, studies show that blueberries greatly improve memory, verbal comprehension, decision making, and numerical ability.

So what should you eat while studying or on the morning of an exam? These Scrambled Eggs with Spinach and White Cheddar take just a few minutes to make (you basically dump everything into a pan and stir!) and they will give your brain all the nutrients needed to power through the test. Extra credit if you pair that with a side of Blueberry Yogurt topped with Dark Chocolate and Almonds !


4. Chunk your Studying

This is an age-old study hack that has several names and variations. Some call it the Pomodoro Technique which uses a pomodoro timer (like an egg timer) to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. Another variation is the Farrow Focus Burst Method, which alternates equal intervals of work and rest. Whichever method you choose, studies show dividing your time into short bursts of study improves stamina and learning.


5. YouTube It

Sick of reading your text book? Try a simple google search for a lesson or topic and you are sure to find a variety of videos. Some search results will yield broadcasts of lectures and Power Points but depending on the subject, you will also find more entertaining lessons. Try Drunk History, Ted Talks, or The Skimm.


6. Use Mnemonics

Do you still use the acronym HOMES to remember the names of the Great Lakes? Or what about the rhyme “30 days has September, April, June, and November” for the number of days in a month?  Mnemonics are a study hack frequently used in elementary and middle schools and for good reason! Studies show making associations like this greatly improves memory. Whether it is a phrase, a short song, or an acronym, these techniques simplify the complexity of memories and make them easier for retrieval.


7. Make a Cheat Sheet (for Studying)

A few days before your exam, try to consolidate all of the information and facts on one sheet of paper. Include things like important names, places, subject-specific terminology, formulas, processes. Read the sheet over several times (between classes, before bed, etc.) Before the test you can quickly skim it for last minute test prep.


8. Write Down Any Formulas You Need at the Beginning of the Test

The first thing you should do after writing your name on the test, is jot down the hard-to-remember facts or formulas in the margins and at the top of the page. Doing this allows your brain to focus its power on more complex things like answering the questions.


9. Listen to Music

Research shows that listening to music can aid studying. According to an article in USA Today, a medium level of stimulation is ideal for studying — not too agitated and not too relaxed — and music can also be an effective tool to help you get to that level. Many suggest classical music is best for this because the rhythm is in line with a resting heart rate but any music that does not over distract can have the same effect. 


10. Draw a Picture to Remember Facts

(Photo Credit)  Visual association and imagery has been found to improve memory. Draw a little doodles next to your notes and in the margins while you study. These doodles don’t have to be elaborate or time consuming, a simple stick figure will work just fine (though using color does make it more fun.) It sounds elementary but this technique is especially effective for memorizing high-level, content-rich material. These images help jog your memory for larger pieces of information and are easier to access in your brain when taking the test.


11. Download a Flash Card App

While there is something to be said for writing out definitions and facts on index cards, there are so many other options available that won’t make your hand cramp. Use a flashcard app like Cram, Quizlet, or StudyBlue.  Click HERE for a review of all 3.


12. Good Lighting

Lighting has a huge impact on mental conditions. In fact, a study out of South Korea shows that lighting can be optimized for a variety of academic activities like test-taking and reading. As explained by an article in the Huffington Post, this lighting can be characterized by measuring their CCTs — or different correlated color temperatures — from “warm” to “cool” using the Kelvin scale. So what’s the best lighting for studying? The South Koran study shows students performed best in a classroom with 6500 K lighting.


13. Use an App to Block Distractions

(Photo Credit) Sometimes you need an extra push to get you off the web and onto studying. If you just can’t seem to get off Instagram, or find yourself going down the rabbit hole of Pinterest searches, thankfully, there is now an app for that!  Try SelfControl, (for Mac) or ClearLock (for Android.)





Happy Studying! Now get off Brainhackers and hit the books!


Arden Izzo
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