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A Failsafe Guide to the Successful All-Night Study Session

So you have to do an all-nighter. It happens to the best of us! It may be hard, but it’s doable with these key tips for a successful session.

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You, like so many before you, have fallen into the dreaded All-Nighter Trap. With an exam in the morning, the next few hours are essential – let’s use them well! For those whose study style is more Haley than Alex Dunphy, this guide is for you. 

For many of us exam season is right around the corner, and with that comes the prospect of an all-night study session. If we’re going to lose a night’s sleep, let’s make sure that we make that night as productive as possible. So, for all you crammers out there, I’ve scoured the web and compiled a list of 5 tips and tricks to make tonight run smoothly!

1. Stay Caffeinated

Credit: Shutterstock/ Inara Prusakova

Caffeine, the nocturnal academic’s best friend, is a saving grace for many when studying through the early hours, so make sure to maintain Red Bull stocks throughout exam season. But let’s not get too crazy – caffeine is a double-edged sword, and it’s important that you stay alert, as opposed to a jittery mess – so keep your coffee intake at around a cup every other hour. If we’re getting technical, studies have shown that taking smaller doses of caffeine (espresso shots or caffeine pills, for example) throughout the night is more effective than taking one large one. It’s also very important to remember that caffeine, as great a tool as it is, is extremely dehydrating, so make sure you’re drinking plenty of water alongside it. 

2. Take Short Breaks

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As the night goes on, your mind is going to need some more breaks to prevent burnout. For that energy boost, naps can be risky (though @capri.lynn pioneers the ‘coffee nap’, claiming that a half-hour nap straight after a cup of coffee is great for replenishing energy levels), so I’d encourage finding other ways to recharge. Some of our favourite influencers hail the Pomodoro method as a great way to give your brain the rest it will inevitably need. This study technique works with a 25/5 work-to-rest ratio; study for 25 minutes, and take a break for five, repeat. Pop a timer on your phone, or even better, use a Pomodoro ‘study with me’ video on YouTube (those by @angofftheclock being some of my favourites), where your on-screen study buddy can take breaks with you.

Now, I know you’ll want to, but DON’T PICK UP YOUR PHONE! Put it somewhere, anywhere, that isn’t close by – that break will have stretched from five minutes to forty-five before you know it.

3. It’s Mind Games

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Though I’m not usually one to encourage manipulation, a large part of warding off drowsiness is tricking your brain into thinking it’s daytime. For example, switch on all of your lights – the brighter the better – I’m afraid the time for aesthetic academia has passed. An overhead white light is far more likely to keep you awake than the warm glow of fairy lights.

In fact, ghosts of all-nighters past have taught me that a bowl of cereal can come in handy in times like these – replicating aspects of your morning routine, like eating breakfast or having a shower, are some lesser-known late-night hacks. And absolutely, under no circumstances, study in bed – few can resist the temptation. Instead, sit at a desk, in a different room if possible – or even better, study somewhere like a 24-hour library. 

Prioritise

It's important to organize before any productive study session.
Credit: Shutterstock/ Respiro

Time is something that we unfortunately don’t have in abundance, so it’s essential that we spend it well. The first, and arguably most essential, step in this process is organising your tasks: as they say, “failing to plan is planning to fail”. You can do this by writing a short list of your assignments in priority order and assigning the time you have between them. Planning, though it may seem trivial, is a really great aid for staying on track. Having a list can also help boost your morale as the night progresses and spirits flag – crossing off your tasks as you do them can give you some much-needed encouragement.

Choose Your Method

various study materials such as paper, sticky notes, and highlighters.
Credit: Shutterstock/ Lokana

Your use of study methods and techniques can be the key to success in situations like these and are invaluable tools for information retention. We’ve already discussed the Pomodoro Method, but there are a whole host of others which are praised for both efficiency and effectiveness – choose your fighter. For example, the Feynman Technique, based on the idea that the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else – a great one for study buddies. Alternatively, the Leitner System, a method of using flashcards to aid memory retention, is great for fast learning. By allocating flashcards to ‘easy’, ‘medium’, or ‘hard’ status, you are able to focus your time on the aspects of your knowledge which are most lacking. 

There you have it. Five tips drawn from the internet’s most seasoned study pros. All that’s left to be said is good night! (And good luck).

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Hey, I'm Stella, a final year English literature student at University College London. As well as writing, I love to read, watch films, and explore the city!

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