Well, it happened again. You have an exam or paper that you’ve known about for a few weeks and yet here you are, the night day before, staring at a blank screen or an unopened textbook. Let me make myself perfectly clear—this article does not come from a place of judgment. Yours truly is currently staring at a barely typed Word document at 9:53 p.m. with a 6 a.m. deadline hurtling towards me.
I have spent an inordinate amount of my college career frantically running from one deadline to another. I am not qualified to be giving academic advice, but I can give a few tips for when you find yourself in a last minute procrastination panic. I do not, from the depths of my heart, ever recommend you leave your responsibilities to the last minute, but hey, life happens.
1. Make an outline of what needs to get done and a loose schedule for your work.
When you have a test in fourteen hours, you can feel like you don’t have a single second to spare. However, it will be extremely beneficial if you can quickly jot down the important topics to cover or a loose writing schedule for the next few hours. This simple task can take you from blind, all consuming panic to at least one stage of grim acceptance.
You will realistically not be able to cover ten chapters, twelve readings and half a semester of lecture notes in a night. Hopefully your professor has shared a breakdown of the exam content that you have or can get your grubby hands on. If not, focus on the heaviest chapters or most repeated topics.
3. Make a work-friendly environment.
Make sure wherever you are studying is well lit. Light close to your eyes, like a laptop screen or lamp, helps to kick your body into full awake mode. If you’re able to control the temperature, try to keep the heat around 75 degrees. Melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy, kicks in at around 65 degrees.
4. Get rid of the distractions.
Turn your phone off or put it on airplane mode. When you’re in the weeds, it’s easy to retreat to a state of denial and endlessly scroll through memes. Turn. It. Off. If you don’t absolutely need the internet, use an app like Self Control to block sites. I personally love Self Control because once you start the program, you can’t visit blocked sites no matter what. Restart the computer, logoff—it doesn’t matter. Until the timer runs out, you’re stuck.
5. Take frequent breaks.
Not only do all-nighters wreak havoc on your body, they’re also incredibly difficult to make it through without dizzying flashes of exhaustion. Taking breaks every fifty minutes or so to move around and bit, drink water, and eat healthy—protein rich snacks will help keep you awake more effectively than coffee ever could. Hydrate constantly, keep your blood flowing (yes, you’ll look weird, but whoever else is sitting in the library at 3:17 a.m. likely has bigger things on their mind) and steal those weird looking protein balls from your Pinterest obsessed housemate. Avoid carbs, as they will likely make you sleepy.
6. Set alarms.
If there’s one thing you take away from this article, please, please set an alarm (preferably more than one, just in case) before your test. That is until it’s 11:09 a.m. and your test started at 10:30 a.m. but you just wanted to rest your eyes for one tiny second. All of this ridiculous, exhausting preparation will not make any differences if you don’t make it to the exam.
1. Try something new.
Now is 100 percent NOT the time to try some new and unfamiliar ways to stay up. Maybe the closest you’ve come to coffee is a Frappuccino, but now it seems like a great time for a triple shot latte. Or you’ve never thought about energy drinks, but your roommates’ stash of Red Bull is sitting there so invitingly. If your body isn’t used to it, now is probably not the best time to take something new out for a spin. You’ve got very limited time to work with. Don’t spend an hour trying to get your heart rate back to normal after pouring half a dozen Five Hour Energy drinks into your Camelbak.
2. Work by your bed.
If you do this, you are playing with fire. Once you get into the wee hours of the morning and the sleepiness really strikes, your exhausted brain will come up with almost any excuses to collapse onto your bed. If I try to do any work in my apartment after 11 p.m., I am somehow asleep in my bed thirty seconds later. Unless you have the world’s strongest willpower, go to a location outside of your dorm/apartment to work.
3. Completely skip out on sleep.
Unless the need is absolutely dire, you should at least try to get a few hours of sleep. Even a twenty-minute nap is better than nothing. A former Navy Seal suggests you should begin any all-nighter with a nap to top off your metaphorical well before you get started. An all-nighter may be more helpful if you try to turn in a paper in the morning than if you have an exam in the afternoon. If it’s the latter case, you absolutely need to get some sleep for a chance at being alert.
4. DO THIS AGAIN.
Think of the toll this takes on your poor body. The majority of us run on a combination of low quality coffee, free pizza and poor decisions. The least you can do is to regularly get a decent amount of sleep. Also, keeping your stress levels from reaching seismic proportions every few weeks would be nice. So congratulations, you survived—now go to bed!