Advice for struggling studiers: eat, sleep, plan

In addition to holidays and colder weather, December ushers in a recurring challenge for college students: finals week.

With the end of the semester approaching, students may be searching for ways to absorb a semester’s worth of material in a few days.

The culprit for this stress? Slacking off throughout the semester, according to one survey.

A 2008 National Survey of Student Engagement found that about 56 percent of first-year college students and high school seniors said they often go to class without completing the required assignments and readings.

Though most University officials discourage cramming, some said taking advantage of a few studying and time-management tactics could curb some of the nail biting and hair pulling.

“The best approach when you know you have a lot to do and a limited amount of time is to take a few minutes to really plan what you need to do and what’s possible given the amount of time that you have left,” said Patricia Maher, director of tutoring and learning services. “I often suggest students take a calendar out and literally block out chunks of time so that you can see that you’ve at least appropriated a reasonable amount of time for the things you need to do.”

Allyson Nixon, program director for the College Reach-Out Program, helps students develop strong study skills. College Reach-Out is a state-funded pre-college program for students in grades 6-12. It introduces students to various aspects of college life and teaches them how to succeed in their classes.

Nixon said students should always take the opportunity to study with a group if possible.

“Some people will tell you, ‘Oh, I study best by myself.’ Well, if you haven’t tried a group, you may not know that that can work for you in some other way,” Nixon said. “Maybe you do study best by yourself, but you can still always grab something else from a group environment.”

Some students, such as freshman engineering major Michael Keane, have tried group studying, but said they find it distracting.

“Don’t study with a big group of friends, because then you don’t get anything done,” Keane said.

Though many students might want to get their studying, project or paper done as quickly as possible, Nixon said they should avoid trying to complete a task all in one sitting.

Instead, students should take short breaks to maintain their focus while studying or working, Maher said.

“The key is to recognize what your own limits are. Honestly, the more interested you are in the material, probably the fewer breaks you’ll need,” she said. “The less interested you are and the more it feels like drudgery, the more you’ll probably have to take a little bit more frequent breaks.”

The breaks should be activities that won’t distract you for too long, such as a short walk or a change of atmosphere, Maher said.

“Even just a few minutes can make a big difference,” she said.

Nixon said students should also try leaving their cell phones behind when they study, since they can become a distraction.

“You may not even want to take it in that room,” she said.

Cell phones may not be the only pieces of technology students should avoid.

“Don’t study near the computer, because then it’s tempting to go on Facebook,” said Courtney Stasi, a freshman majoring in political science.

Food and sleep are also important factors when studying for extended amounts of time, Maher said.

“I know that students get tired of all of us adults saying that sleep and food make a big difference, but the brain is part of the body. Sleep, food and hydration do make a difference as to whether or not your mind will function at its maximum capacity,” she said.

Nixon said the satisfaction of good grades should make the commitment to studying worthwhile.

“You have to want it bad enough,” she said. “If you have it in you and you want to get that A or do well and want to be satisfied, you’ll get your motivation and do what you need to do.”