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Each year before the holidays, college students find themselves staring down the barrel of exam week. Fortunately, they're totally serious about learning the information and they aren't getting up from this desk until they do! Unfortunately, desperation can only be directly converted into high scores on reality TV. But this crawling panic and insane workload is a great learning experience. College is all about preparing for the real world, and this is one of life's favorite lessons to teach: You've screwed up badly and there will soon be a reckoning. How do you deal with that?

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Plan A

The first and most important thing is to actually deal with it, because running away from college only dumps you in the real world faster. And make no mistake: In the game of life college isn't even easy mode, it's the bonus level. You want to enjoy it all the way to the end. Here are seven ways your brain can trick you into studying without actually learning anything.

7
Osmosis Doesn't Work

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Listen, students, this might sound crazy but it's important: You are not squirrels. You may be hyperactive mammals frantically running around trying to mate, hibernate and look hilariously retarded in online photographs, but there's an important difference: Hoarding things doesn't help you. Students spend the days leading up to exams stockpiling handouts, photocopies, printouts and textbooks by the video game logic that simply owning books makes you smarter.

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My INT score is higher than my IQ.

Your head won't absorb knowledge because you built a library on your table. If you find yourself doing this, simply take a deep breath, and tell yourself it's not your fault. You're trying to cram three months worth of information into a brain that stress has tricked into thinking it's being chased be a bear. Hell, you're lucky you're not wearing your socks on your hands right now.

But that doesn't mean you should let yourself off the hook when you notice yourself doing this. In my time working at universities, one thing I noticed without fail was that the terrible students would "study" by piling up work all around them, then sit there wasting time and being miserable until the clock said they were finished. Which is actually brilliant preparation because that's exactly the type of job they'll get.

Instead, try starting with something manageable like reading one book you were supposed to have read. And when you do, keep in mind that ...

6
Highlighters Aren't Magic

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If you've ever been to college, or a coffee shop within two miles of one, you've seen a student painting their notes like a My Little Pony in drag. In Thailand. We shouldn't have to explain that highlighter pens aren't like supermarket scanners -- they might drag bright lights over things but they don't instantly upload data.

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If fluorescent pink burned information into brains no one would be against gay marriage.

Again, this is just your brain flipping out. People having nervous breakdowns revert back to infancy and start flinging their poop around. You're having 40 percent of a nervous breakdown, and reverting to preschool logic. "I'll take the most essential parts of my course and COLOR THEM IN! Yay!"

It's understandable, but it's profoundly stupid. If you notice yourself lighting a textbook up like TRON fanfic, drop the highlighter. Instead, try writing out the key points of your reading material on a separate page you can study easily and anywhere. If that sounds like too much work, well done, you've just found out why people highlight instead.

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5
Stop Nest Building

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In times of stress, the Examinated Student (Stressus Procrastinatus) can spend over an hour crafting the perfect study nest to defend itself from guilt. It all has to be just right, from lighting to coffee, because every single thing that needs to be fixed is another reason not to actually study yet. Some students spend longer trying to reach the perfect setup than Buddhist Monks spend trying to reach Nirvana, and with less tangible results.

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I simply can't study without at least one photogenic minority in shot.

4
If You're Re-Reading, You're Probably Not Really Studying

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Re-reading your notes does not count as studying, even if it is the easiest way to technically study while watching Mad Men. Also, you're ruining Mad Men. Watch Mad Men, and then set aside time to actually engage with the material. If you're in science or engineering, do problems. If you're in history, write out key elements of a period in a paragraph, or try to teach the chapters you've read to your lazy roommate who didn't read them, and have him try to teach you the ones he read.

If you're in English lit, put down the play you already read, and write a one page essay discussing how Hamlet was the greatest pussy of all time. Do something, anything, which tests your knowledge or makes you actually think, then use your notes to find out what you'd forgotten. Then do the problem again. Instead of sitting and reconfirming, "Yep, I sure can read this language all right!"


You've surely earned a B.A. in Cracked Appreciation by now.

Fake studying is the worst waste of time since the American pilot of Doctor Who. If you don't want to study, there are bars full of other people having more fun than you while not studying. And while they're screwing themselves, they figure they might as well screw each other. You'll always find the best college parties just before the exams. You're missing that by studying, so make sure it's worth it.

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3
Do Exam Problems

There is no way to say this without sounding patronizing: If you're preparing to do an exam, prepare by doing exams. Every year millions of students do their first exam-style problem in the exam hall, and if there's one thing we learned from college it's that the first time you do anything important, you suck at it. Even if you suck at it.

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"I wish he'd study a little harder. And not fall asleep during the first question."

Odds are your course wasn't created this term. They've been asking the same questions for years, and the only reason they even pretend to change the wording is because they'll lose their accreditation if they don't. Exam banks, older students, just Googling your course code and the word "exam," there's no excuse for not practicing what you actually have to do. Many students think of preparing for exams like Dragon Ball Z: You focus and concentrate all sorts of power with endless text for weeks, then fire it all out in one perfect blast. But exams are just like everything else. You get good at things by doing them as many times as possible. Which is also most students' real plan in college anyway.

2
Skip the "I'm So Screwed" Competitions

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"I'm so screwed!" The attention-seeking cry of the idiot, one who knows they desperately need to fix themselves but would rather have attention for being useless instead. It's the American Idol of exam season.

SCENE: Library, two dumbasses.

A: Omigod I'm so screwed for this test!

B: I didn't go to half the lectures!

A: Well I didn't go to any!

B: Well I ran over the professor's wife!

A: Well I'm brain-damaged because I was having sex with her in front of the professor when you hit her!

B: Oh hey, I just realized that there are other college students having sex with each other right now!

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1
Don't Complain That the Lectures Didn't Prepare You for the Exam

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Complaining that the exam was unfair is generally the best way to go through the uncomfortable process of failing a class, while not learning that any of the above strategies are bullshit.

The most common post-exam complaint is, "Why didn't the lectures just teach us how to do the exam?" For the same reason sex isn't just wetting a condom and throwing it in the toilet. Your professors are actually trying to teach you the subject. Exams aren't the point of education. They're the flaccid little appendix we still sort of need to test if people have been turning up. Exams used to be walking into a room with all the smart people and just talking to them until they decided whether you were a dumbass or not. We suspect most students don't want to go back to that.

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I'm sorry, but here at The Real World Incorporated there's no multiple choice section. You actually have to know what the fuck you're talking about.

Now that higher education isn't just for nobility we can't do it that way. Hundreds of thousands of people get into higher education. This is progress. But it's not going to be a perfect system.

You're in college to learn how to think and do things. Exams are an extremely small part of that. If you treat the only minor obstacles in four years of opportunity unmatched in the entire history of human civilization as a huge hassle to be avoided, you're right when you say the educational system isn't working for you. But it's not the educational system's fault.

For more emergency exam advice you can read 11 Exam Study Tips For The Completely Screwed, or review The 6 Best College Majors (For Filling You With Regret).

Luke McKinney has three degrees and has therefore undergone more examinations than Moon rocks. This scientific background lends an air of professionalism to his complaints about Modern Warfare 3 players. He also tumbles and has a website.

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