Yikes! You have a test coming up and you haven’t been as diligent about studying as you should have been. You plan to buy some super-caffeinated beverages, down some sugary snacks, and stay up all night dumping information into your brain. But is cramming really the best way to prepare for that exam?

Why Cramming Doesn’t Work

An article from the BBC explains, “Different parts of the brain support different kinds of memory … Just because your visual cortex is fluently processing your notes after five consecutive hours of you looking at them, doesn’t mean the rest of your brain is going to be able to reconstruct the memory of them when you really need it to.”

The same BBC article cites a study from researchers at the University of California who found that for 90 percent of participates, spaced-out learning (yeah, that’s learning over intervals, not spacing out while learning) was more effective than cramming. However, 72 percent of people in the survey claimed that they felt the cramming was more effective. Don’t trick yourself into thinking that cramming is the best way to prepare for a test.

Is Cramming Ever Effective?

“But,” you might say, “isn’t cramming better than not studying at all? There has to be some benefit to cramming.” Yes, cramming is not 100-percent bad. If you’re really desperate and your upcoming exam is going to be in a simple format — such as multiple choice or true and false — you might be able to memorize the facts you need in order to get a decent grade. You might not be able to fluently explain the information in an essay, but you could probably dredge up the basics from your study-exhausted brain.

To make the most of your cram session, refuse to get distracted by social media or by your study buddy who keeps insisting on a “Netflix and chill” break. Focus on learning concepts that you know will play a prominent part in the exam. Try not to cram through the night. If you’re well-rested for your test, you’re more likely to perform well.

You should also know your individual learning style. Facts are going to stick better if you absorb them in a way that is easy for your brain to process.

The Best Way to Study

So if cramming doesn’t work, how should you study?

  • Establish a good study routine and use highlighters to mark the most-important information. If you find some ideas to be particularly difficult, note these and review those subjects more often.
  • Try explaining what you learn in your own words. If you can correctly teach something to someone else, you can be confident that you’ve got the topic down.
  • If you’re short on time, review previous tests so you can anticipate the types of questions you might encounter. Try to come up with mnemonic devices for tricky concepts.
  • Stay positive. Stress can negatively affect your memory.

Cramming might be able to help you score a few extra points on an exam, but it really isn’t a good way to study. To perform at your academic best, start preparing for exams as early as possible.

Final exams create a whirlwind of activity as they send students into last-minute study groups and cramming frenzies. The problem, of course, is that each of your professors expects you to memorize a formidable list of facts and concepts and to be able to apply them under pressure. If you’re hoping to boost your memory in time for your tests, put these strategies to good use.

Engage Your Eyes

Reading a sentence over and over might not prove sufficient to commit the information to memory. Perhaps your brain needs more visual stimulation, which means creating a visual representation of the data. If you’re studying history, for instance, draw a timeline and fill in the dates and events or look at pictures of the events. For anatomy, try labeling anatomical figures. Find your learning style and embrace it!

Take Turns Teaching

Vocalizing information can also help boost your memory skills and engage the deepest regions of your brain. Consider getting together with a group of classmates and take turns teaching different sections of the material as though you’re sitting in class. Both the speaker and the listeners will benefit from expressing the information in their own words and hearing it in different ways.

If you don’t have a study buddy or group, use your phone or laptop to record yourself in the role of the teacher. Find a quiet corner on campus in which to record yourself reading back your notes or expressing concepts in fresh terms. When you play your recording afterward, you’ll hear the information anew.

Create Memory Clusters

Students often find it easier to absorb and process information when they organize data into clusters. For instance, chronological notes might not represent the best way to study history. Instead, group similar incidents and people together, then focus on one cluster at a time. Or instead of trying to learn all of the bones in the human body, concentrate on learning the long bones as a group and then teeth and so on. Break down information into smaller nuggets you can manage.

Develop a Better Diet

Late-night cram sessions often involve copious amounts of sugary (and caffeinated) beverages, fast food, and leftover pizza. Don’t fall into the empty-calorie trap, however, if you want to sharpen your memory. Reduce your meat intake and fill in the gaps with nuts, vegetables, fruits, and other foods that are high in memory-enhancing antioxidants.

In addition to improving your ability to recall information, a better diet will also keep your energy levels up while you’re preparing for finals. If you find yourself falling asleep with your can of Red Bull, it’s time to rethink your dependence on caffeine and sugar and to develop better college eating habits overall.

Set Up a Sentence or a Story

Mnemonic devices — memory techniques that use one kind of information to help you encode another kind — can work well in this regard. Create your strategy around your strengths. Learning about taxonomy for Biology class? Just remember that “King Philip came over from great Spain.” Wha?!!? Check it: Just that one sentence (an historical truth, no less) can help you remember the descending taxonomy of Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. Golden!

Developing a better memory can take time, but the above tips will sharpen your recall skills in a hurry.

The final research paper for a class might make up a large portion of your course grade, so it’s vital that you produce something you can be proud of. Writing a research paper is tough, however, so we’ve put together a brief guide on how to get through the process.

Start Early

Start on your paper as soon as you receive the assignment and set deadlines for when you want to have each phase of the process completed. For example, you should set a date for finishing your outline, for completing your rough draft, for your first round of revisions, etc.

Gather Your Sources

Whether you’ve been given a reading list or you have to do most of your research on your own, try to gather as many sources as you can before you start amassing information. Having a well-rounded selection will help you gain a comprehensive view of your subject. Your course textbook is a good place to start looking for basic facts. Be sure that each source you use, whether it is electronic or in print, is of high quality (yes Wikipedia is great but no it is not an academic source). Verify the credibility of both the author and the publisher and notice the date of publication. Some older books retain their relevance, but you should still check to see if there is a newer edition available or even new information that could replace or invalidate the old. One word of caution: this is a big project and you will find a lot of interesting information that may tempt you to pursue tangents. Stay focused on your topic.

Take Notes and Create an Outline

As you dig for information, take notes. Be sure that your notes are well organized. One option is to color code them according to source or subject, or if you’re using a software program for your notes, create headers for easier navigation. Get a few different colors of sticky notes so you can mark the places in books where you found information. After you have a basic understanding of your topic and you’ve collected some notes, put together an outline. In addition to jotting down the information you want to include in each section (and attributing the source), make notes about how long you want each section to be. This will ensure that you don’t end up with a lopsided paper.

Write Your Rough Draft

Use your outline to create a rough draft. As you write, think about things like whether the information flows the way you want it to and whether the voice you’re using is appropriate for the topic at hand. Don’t worry too much about details like grammar and punctuation; you can polish those things up in your final review. This is the time to make sure you avoid plagiarism. If you find a fact in your notes that you didn’t write down a source for, either find the source or use a different fact. Use attributions in the text, along with endnotes, to make sure you give credit where it is due.

Check Your Work

After completing your rough draft, have a peer look over the paper. A fresh set of eyes can point out flaws in logic and other errors that you might have become blind to. Then, go over your paper one more time to correct any minor issues related to format, syntax, grammar, or spelling. Remember that running spell-check is not the same as proofreading or editing.

Writing a research paper is tough, but it’s easier if you take your time and follow these logical steps.

Remember that one time you volunteered? You were probably busy all day and when you were done, you were exhausted but you felt great. You might not think there’s room in your schedule to make volunteering a regular part of your life, but there are some reasons you should try to squeeze it into your weekly or monthly routine.

Personal Satisfaction

Which causes matter to you? Perhaps you’re personally moved by animals that have been abused, people who lack food security or permanent shelter, or individuals who struggle with a particular illness. Get in touch with your cause and connect with an organization in your local community that would welcome your service. You’ll be able to have a meaningful share in something that really matters to you.

Your Health

Volunteering is good for you!

If you struggle with depression or low self-esteem, regular volunteering might be the boost you need to brighten up your outlook. Everyday Health cited a research paper that claims volunteering is connected to increased well-being, lessened depression, and even a reduced risk of dying. It is possible that volunteering is a mental-health super-medicine because of the social connections it helps you forge or simply because helping others usually comes with a sense of happiness.

Your brain isn’t the only part of your body that benefits when you volunteer. Many volunteer opportunities involve physical labor. Whether you’re cleaning up a local park, playing football with disadvantaged kids, or lending a hand at the homeless shelter, you’ll get some good exercise.

Build Relationships

Whatever organization you volunteer for, you’re bound to meet other individuals who share your passion for making a difference. This is a chance to form long-lasting friendships. Convince the friends you already have to join you in volunteering and you’ll probably connect more deeply with them as well. Having a circle of close friends is an essential part of maintaining a balanced life as a college student.

Your Career

Whether you’ve just started your undergraduate studies or you’re well on your way to obtaining an advanced degree, it’s never the wrong time to think about your career.

The relationships you build while you’re volunteering can lead to job opportunities. That person who is picking up litter next to you could be a manager at a local business or could have other connections that can put you at the front of the line for your dream job.

You may even be able to learn new skills as you volunteer and you can polish the skills you already have. Plus, employers like to see any type of volunteering on a resume. It shows that you’re an energetic person with a desire to help others. It also demonstrates your commitment to your community and your willingness to put yourself out there for something you care about.

Has it been a while since the last time you volunteered? Look at your routine. Maybe you could shuffle things around so you can spend one weekend a month or a few hours each week volunteering. You won’t regret it!

Your impending graduation might fill you with a mixture of excitement and dread. You’re excited because all of your hard work is about to pay off, but you might feel a little trepidation because you’re not sure how to prepare for what happens next. Use this checklist to ease your stress so you can focus on the joys of reaching graduation.

Network Like Crazy

Whether you want to take a summer to travel after graduation or dive right into the job market, now is the time to put out career feelers. Collect as much contact information as you can from your fellow students — particularly older students who already have job experience — as well as your professors and any professionals you know who work in your chosen field.

Build Your Professional Wardrobe

Yoga pants and basketball shorts are comfortable fallbacks for long study sessions, but if your wardrobe is all casual, it’s time to go shopping. Start your search now for clothing that you can wear to job interviews. If you have the money, you might even want to get a suit tailored to fit so you can really impress.

Polish Your Resume

Often, your resume is how you make a first impression on potential employers. Research what makes an effective resume, and think carefully about skills you can include. Past summer jobs as well as volunteer experience can enhance your resume. You may want to stop by the campus career center for help with refining this all-important document.

Research Places to Live

You might already have a favorite city in mind, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t explore your options. Research the job market and cost of living in cities across the nation, or across the world if you’re feeling adventurous. Be sure to also look at other opportunities in places where you’re thinking about moving. Perhaps there is a well-reputed volunteer program that could help you gain the experience you need to get into graduate school.

Prepare a Budget

You likely already have an idea of how much you’ll be making when you land your first job, and it might feel like you’ll be rich compared to your current budget. However, be careful not to overestimate what you can afford. Just because you’ll eke out enough money for that awesome downtown apartment doesn’t mean you should. Plan to have enough money to comfortably make all your payments each month and still have some left over for savings.

Manage Your Reputation

Companies often look at a job candidate’s social media accounts. If you have posts that show embarrassing moments from parties or otherwise portray you as unprofessional, delete those posts before you start sending out resumes. If your friends have posted unflattering information about you, ask them to delete it or, at the very least, untag you.

Enjoy Yourself

Senior year should be a time of celebration. You’re close to achieving a long-term goal! Forge deeper bonds with your classmates, go on weekend road trips, and attend parties. The memories will stay with you for a lifetime.

Don’t let the stress of graduation get to you. Start preparing now for post-college life so you can truly savor your accomplishments.