By: Mark Koepsell
Founder and Navigation Guru
Cramming sessions, all-nighters, practice tests, study groups, and plain old – study exhaustion. All conversations that pop up this time of year as students prepare for their final examinations. Many people believe you can never study too much. Whatever it takes to get that “A” – right? However, that is not actually true.
There is such a thing as overstudying!
It’s that point where you are doing more harm than good, called the point of diminishing returns. Instead of increasing your ability to do well on a test or exam, you can actually harm your ability to perform, and your own health at the same time.
Don’t do what I did!
I remember pulling “all-nighters” when I was in college. Once I studied all night and thought I would just take a quick nap. I ended up sleeping right through my final! Thank goodness my professor took pity on me as I came frantically to her office, and she let me take the exam sitting at her table. I was so shaken that I didn’t perform all that well, but it was better than the “F” she could have given me. Another time I drank so much Mountain Dew to stay up all night that I was so jittery I couldn’t think or perform. Needless to say, neither is a good scenario!
Why this doesn’t work
Taking your body to that point of studying too much can cause an inability to concentrate or remember anything you are studying. That sense of failure to remember can cause anxiety and panic. Both of those work against your ability to perform under pressure for the exam itself. If you do try to sleep, that same anxiety can create a scenario of sleeplessness – again something that simply works against your ability to perform. It is also shown that people who have an overwhelming sense of anxiety can feel exhausted even after a full night of sleep. The body can only handle so much, and when it is being abused – it responds by requiring more sleep.
All of this, of course, does not even take into consideration the other health issues that can be caused. Anxiety often times leads to depression and other psychological issues. I don’t have data to back up my claim, but I know from working on campuses for nearly two decades that the reality of suicide on campus increases going into final examinations. The despair that comes from a fear of failure simply pushes some students beyond that which they feel they can handle.
How do you avoid the overstudying downward spiral?
- Spread studying out. Don’t try to cram a semesters worth of learning into those last few days before the exam.
- Make sure to take care of your body and mind as you enter the end of the semester. Continue to eat well, get enough sleep, and try to carve out some time for physical and social activities.
- As you are studying, take breaks along the way. If you feel you have lost your ability to concentrate or retain information, simply take a 15-30 minute break and then come back to the subject at hand.
Remember, your final exams are supposed to be a reflection of what you’ve learned all throughout the semester and not a recording of how much you can quickly learn and retain in a few short days. If that learning has been happening all along, there shouldn’t be such a need for that last minute push.