Ask a Librarian: How did you get through midterms?

Computer stations are occupied, the scanners are buzzing, tensions are running a little high…

Oh yes, midterms have definitely begun!

Over at the reference desk, we’ve compiled a list of trusted crunch-time strategies from our days as undergraduate and graduate students, long long ago. Hope you’ll give one or two (and especially number three) a try!

1) Although it’s tempting to eat junk food while under the stress of midterms, include healthy snacks like apples, oranges, and nuts. Junk food might be comforting in the moment but healthier food will help you feel good and give you energy (where you won’t crash) to conquer exams and assignments. – April

(I always do).

2) Drink caffeinated and decaf tea & LOTS of water. Try to avoid sugar (crash), coffee (jitters), and energy drinks (flush, heart palpitations, stomach issues, and eventual crash). I always ate lean protein and tried to have some small meals rather than large meals (which made me sleepy). If you’re frustrated, take a walk in Riverside Park or do some jumping jacks, &/or listen to some calming music while working (the ‘yoga’ or station on Pandora works for me!).  – Dina

3) Get sleep! Your brain continues to process information while you sleep! It has been shown to be very conducive to learning, much more so than all-nighters. – Ola

4) Pace yourself, and know when to let go of things. Perfectionism can be hard to resist, but when you have a lot of tasks to complete in a short time period, you have to  eventually settle for ‘good enough’ even if something is not perfect. Make sure to budget enough time and energy to get through everything you need to do. Don’t waste time and wear yourself out obsessing over the details of one project when you still have other tasks to complete. Try to discern between necessary revisions and nitpicking; the latter is just procrastination disguised as productivity. – Malina

5) Try complementing your studying with auditory, visual, and kinesthetic exercises! When you vocalize, illustrate, or make a movement to correspond to a term or concept, you often create a more distinctive memory than when you read silently. – Antonia

6) Have some background music that’s around 60 beats per minute. One of my middle school science teachers once tried to convince my class that we should only listen to classical music from the Baroque period when studying. When I asked her why, she told us that it was because instrumental music played at around 60 beats per minute had been shown to facilitate concentration in reading-based learning activities, and no Baroque music is faster than 60 beats per minute. It’s possible that she figured that no 7th grader would know better. I started listing off pieces from the Baroque period that are played at a brisk clip, and she got annoyed and gave me detention. Later though, I tried studying with a playlist of pieces and songs that are around 60 bpm, and it did hold up for me! – Anastasia

(To see what 60 bpm looks like, click here. It is oddly soothing).

At least you don’t have to wear a corset or a heavy habit à la française while taking your exam!

7) “My pearl of wisdom: when you hit a wall while studying or writing, give your brain a break for 10 minutes. I like to put my phone and computer away and take a quiet walk outside.” – Carly

And last but not least, if you have a research question, whisper it into the ear of Giant Bear on the 2nd floor, and we will hear you…just kidding! Call a librarian at (212) 678-3494, or submit a request at library.tc.columbia/ask.

Wishing you the best of luck on your midterms!