It’s final exam time again, and for many students, exam time means cram time. It’s a scenario that Becky Piety, director of the Student Academic Resource Center (SARC) and the University Testing Center, has witnessed many times in her 25 years at UCF.

“We always tell students to consistently prepare in any class that you’re in,” says Piety. “But some students struggle with time management, some have work or other commitments that eat into their study time, and some just procrastinate. Whatever the reason, it can be very stressful knowing an exam is just days away and feeling unprepared.”

Many students who find themselves in that situation turn to marathon, all-night study sessions to try to make up for lost time. Between 25%  to 50% of students cram for tests, according to Faculty Focus, a teaching-centric publication.  But the unhealthy aspects that often accompany cramming actually make it more difficult to learn.

“When you’re overcaffeinated, stressed and tired, those are the worst conditions for trying to take in and retain information,” Piety says. “Cramming just leads to burn out, stress and a lot of anxiety.”

Instead of cramming, Piety recommends taking action as soon as you realize you might be unprepared for an upcoming exam.

“If you haven’t been preparing all semester, you have to start studying now,” says Piety. “Don’t wait until the last minute, don’t wait until the night before (an exam).”

Here are some tips and resources Piety recommends to help make last-minute studying a little less stressful and a lot more effective.

Tip 1: Get in the Zone

Find the study environment where you feel the most comfortable and productive. That won’t always be sitting at your desk at home. Some students seek out someplace quiet, like the library, the Student Academic Resource Center or the All-Knight study locations at Ferrell Commons and Knights Plaza. Others prefer a livelier atmosphere, like a coffee shop or outdoors.

“The important thing is to just settle in and get comfortable,” says Piety.

Tip 2: Break it up

People tend to delay tasks that feel too daunting, so Piety suggests breaking course content into chunks that can then be tackled one at a time. Take the same approach to the blocks of time you dedicate to studying. Rather than trying to study nonstop for hours at a time, break that time up into 25-minute intervals separated by five- or 10-minute breaks.

“You have to break the material up, take it in and then give your brain time to process that information,” she says. “That’s how it becomes long-term learning.”

Tip 3: You Don’t Have to go it Alone

Whether you do it in person or remotely, studying in a group can be helpful — especially if you’re struggling with specific class concepts. One approach Piety recommends for study groups is for each student in the group to pick a topic from the course, then teach the rest of the group about that topic.

“That benefits you because you have to have a good understanding of that material in order to explain it to someone else,” says Piety, “and it benefits the rest of the group because they’re learning what you’re teaching them.”

Tip 4: Be Wise About Diet, Sleep and Exercise

Trying to fit study time into already-packed schedules leads many students to throw good diet, sleep and exercise habits out the window. But final exam time is when students should be paying more attention to their health, not less.

“They need to take care of their whole self when they’re preparing for final exams,” Piety says.

Plan and be intentional about your meals, and eat a balanced diet so you can keep your energy level high and stay focused. Stay active — rather than reaching for the game controller or your phone during those five- or 10-minute breaks, get up and take a walk. And lastly, make sure you get enough sleep.

“Sleeping for seven to nine hours a night will help combat fatigue, but it goes beyond that,” says Piety. “A good night’s sleep gives a student’s brain time to shift all of what they’ve been studying from their short-term memory into their long-term memory so they can remember what they learned for that upcoming final.”

Campus and Other Resources:

From April 23-27, SARC is partnering with the student union to host Study Union, a series of dozens of final exam review sessions available to students both in-person and online. A schedule of the sessions is available on the SARC website, which is also where students can join live sessions remotely and view video recordings of completed sessions.

Piety also recommends a variety of apps that students may find helpful as they prepare for finals, including Headspace, Buddhify, Insight Timer, Simple Habit and Unplug. Forest and Flora are apps that help students to unplug from their phones and develop habits to help them be more productive and present.

Piety points out that this can be a time of high stress and anxiety even for students who have been preparing for finals since the first day of class. On  April 26 at 1 p.m., the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) office is offering a virtual stress management workshop. Students can find more information about the workshop on the CAPS website. CAPS also offers a 24/7 crisis hotline (407-823-2811) for students who are in distress.

“We see a higher incidence of that around finals time,” says Piety. “We always recommend that students call that hotline if they feel like they need help.”

Last but not least, students should feel free to reach out to their instructor.

“A lot of students are afraid or reluctant to reach out to their instructors, but that’s why they have their office hours posted,” Piety says. “So, if they’re not understanding something or if they do need help, one of the first places they