Even if you aren’t the best test-taker, there are some simple ways you can improve your readiness for graduate school final exams. Conversely, there are always some ways to “blow it.” The key is always preparation—graduate school requires a lot more of it than undergrad. Don’t let any of these mistakes ruin those big exams and hurt your graduate school success!
Don’t Cram the Night Before
Graduate school final exams are not the type of test you can successfully cram for in one 24-hour period—taking any test exhausted is a surefire way to wind up with bad scores. Make sure you are sleeping regularly at least six hours a night in the weeks leading up to midterms. Information “sticks” in your brain better if it is revisited in short bursts over an extended period of time, and you will only be able to memorize so much information in a short span of time.
Cheaters Never Prosper
The best graduate schools are institutions with strong academic policies and extremely strict cheating punishments. Whether it’s on a multiple-choice final or a thesis essay, don’t ever, ever cheat. We’ve all heard the phrase, “cheaters never prosper,” and it’s true! Character and integrity is part of what you came to grad school to build, and cheating doesn’t prepare you for success beyond academia. On a practical level, there is no guarantee that on test day, the person you are cheating off knows the correct answers, or that the person whose essay you copy is any more convincing than your own thoughts would be. If you are caught cheating, it could lead to a serious blight on your academic records, and you could even be dismissed from the school. Trust that you are capable of doing well on your own.
Exercise, even in small bursts.
We all know we should exercise, but it can be tough to find even 30-60 minutes a day to go for a jog or take a Pilates class. Even if you have no time to get a true workout in, make yourself take at least three five-minute stretch/meditation breaks—one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one before bedtime. For each break, set your phone alarm for five minutes and quickly stretch out on the floor. Stretch out your spine and listen to yourself breathe. This will allow your muscles (especially those around your head and shoulders) to relax into the floor, and remove any tension you may be subconsciously “holding” in your body. See yourself succeeding on your exams!
Take your electronics away from where you sleep.
We’re all guilty of studying in bed, cross-legged, furiously typing away at a last-minute paper, but studies have shown that our bodies becomes conditioned with routines. If you consistently use your bed as your office-space, it will be harder for you to mentally “switch off” once you climb under the covers. If possible, do most of your computer-work at a desk or kitchen table, away from your bedroom (or at least a few feet away from your bed). It’s always good to sign off.
Manage your time well
The single most important skill to develop to successfully navigate graduate school is to learn how to budget your time efficiently. There is no one way to manage your time, Everyone has a different approach, which also may change over time.
From there, make a things to-do list for your grad school career, and each semester. Then, you can break it down month by month and day by day. The critical piece is not to feel overwhelmed but to mark down all the details on paper. Do this for assignments, too. It’s important to “allocate time for everything. Take advantage of organizational tools, such as Google Calendar and good old paper planners. You have to play with it and figure out what works for you. Always keep the big picture in mind. When you don’t, “you get tangled up in one task,” For instance, it’s easy to spend all weekend writing and editing one paper and neglect other tasks. But this inevitably leaves less time for the rest of your to-do list and becomes a big stressor.
Finally, “Don’t let unhealthy perfectionism keep you from attending to all of the demands of graduate school and doing well on your exams.
Best of luck on your exams! You can do it!