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  • Abby Cirkles

Surviving The College Cram


So you're taking college classes? Whether you are a full time student or just taking a few classes online, I'm so proud of you!

You're doing it! You're trusting God! You're stretching yourself!

You're walking by faith!

You're filling yourself up, so you have treasure to give! ***A reader's note. Whereas I personally believe college is a privilege and power not to be taken lightly, I will be the first to say, college isn't for everyone. Some people's calling honestly doesn't call for higher education (and it takes faith to say no to college when peers are pushing for it.) If you fall into that category, hold your head up high. There's no need to feel less than. There's also no reason to shame others who purse college. We celebrate obedience no matter what path that looks like. If God called you to college and you obeyed... Yay! If God called you somewhere else and you obeyed... Yay! Whereas the following tips are useful for general productivity, I'm really honing in to those of you who are in the college season.


Here are some of my tried and true tips that got me through those huge research papers, overlapping assignment cram sessions, and final exam seasons. (***Please note, that I was a full time student, so I didn't have to juggle work and school, but I also took 21 hours ever semester and had to maintain a 3.8 or higher for my scholarship... so I get the college grind.) 1. Create a productivity ritual.

Have you ever sat down with your laptop and books to be productive, but then an hour later all you've done was scrolled on social media, ordered a latte (or two), and moved chairs a few times? If so, you aren't alone. Research tells us it actually takes about 20-30 min for your brain to naturally switch gears and get into "deep work" aka "super productive mode". A hack however, is you can actually train your brain to click into "go-mode" really quickly with a productivity ritual. Basically, you create a series of short events that tell your mind, it's time to transition and go to work. Some examples include:

  • Using the same mug with a hot beverage and lighting a candle.

  • Putting on a fuzzy sweater with slippers.

  • Doing a short series of shoulder and neck stretches.

  • Turning off the florescent lights in your office and turning on a lamp instead (or visa versa).

  • Putting on some music (more on that later).

  • Taking a prayer pause to ask Holy Spirit for His help.


These brain triggers are GOLD when you are in a college season and have to make every moment count. I started this in college, but still use it today. For me, something about sitting down at my computer with a hot beverage tells my brain "We're going to be here a bit. Kick in and get creative".


2. Movie soundtracks.

Music is a powerful tool to get your brain in the zone, but finding the right tunes can be a little tricky. If I sat down with a pile of books and a blank document ready for brilliance, and turned on my worship playlist my little burning heart would start saying, "This college stuff is all vanity and doesn't matter at all! I'm going to the prayer room." Or if I put on my favorite musical playlist it was really hard to hear my thoughts over Julie Andrews. So movie soundtracks were the sweet spot. All instrumental, but with fun dynamics.

  • If I was writing an English or Philosophy paper and needed to be insightful - "Pride and Prejudice" or "Becoming Jane" soundtracks helped me feel brilliant.

  • If I was studying for a Religion exam - "The Bible Series" made me feel like I was in ancient Rome right with Paul.

  • If I was on a research quest - Anything Hans-Zimmer because he is just simply a genius.

  • If I was working on a child development project - "Horton Hears a Who" or "Meet The Robinsons" would get me in a playful, creative mood.

You get the idea.


3. Reset with a shower. Showers are one of the best brain breaks you can have. If you are exhausted or hitting a wall, you've just studied for 4 hours and now need to switch gears to write a paper... take a 15 min shower. It wakes up your body, gives you a clean start (literally) and staring blankly at the tile wall in front of you, or having a good overwhelming cry is actually much more healthy for your brain than scrolling through Instagram as a "brain break". Plus you're being productive, because hygiene is very important. (I'm speaking to you, dude next to me in my biology class 9 years ago)

4. Create a delayed gratification list on your phone.

I think my biggest pet peeve in college (and now as a teacher) is when I would see students zonked out in class or bomb an exam and their excuse was "I went out with my friends last night" or "I binged watched an entire season of _____." Here's the deal. You can actually have both good grades and fun times with friends. You can watch the shows and still study. But you can't have it all at the same time. You have to learn about the time management totem pole, and learn that to say no now, means you can say yes later. For me, I I created a note on my phone. As ideas and invitations would come up I'd jot it down. I'd say, "I'd love to go eat sushi, but I have to focus on an exam. Let's go this weekend instead of tonight.", or "This would be so fun, can we do it next month when I'm done with my push semester?" Then during the weekend or at the end of the term I would pull that list out and see what I still actually wanted to do. This list may include:

  • Coffee with Jessica

  • Six Flags

  • Go to a Basketball game

  • Girls weekend

  • Netflix catch up

I get that sometimes concerts, or certain games, or birthday celebrations only happen a certain time. So you plan for that. You learn to say no to other things, so you can study early and still go to the time sensitive events.

5. Go to a public setting.

A change of scenery is a wonderful tool. It breaks up the mundane and being in public gives you more accountability to actually do work and not sneak in another nap in. My favorite study locations were local coffee shops, Starbucks, college libraries, Paneras, and outside (I'd put out a blanket on a pretty day by a tree). If it was final exam season, and I knew students would be swarming every possible plug and coffee mug in the city, I would plan a short day trip. For me, going to Baylor in Waco, I would pack up early (7-8am) drive to Austin, and pick two coffee shops to camp out at for the day. One in the morning, then I'd grab lunch, and switch for the afternoon.

6. Use the sweet and sour method.

The Sweet and Sour method is a habit hack that researchers swear by. Basically you pair an undesirable task with a "treat". For instance, you have to study for your organic chemistry exam (which you dread) so buy a bag of m&ms for yourself as you study. My favorite sweet and sour method : If I was behind on a ton of reading, I would go get a pedicure. While I was getting pampered and just sitting there, I would get an hour of reading done. That usually jump started me to finish my whole reading list.

7. Set social media time limits.

You can actually set social media time limits on your phone. So once you are on social media for say, 30 min, it'll lock for the rest of the day. This is really great on days you need to get stuff done. Airplane mode is also a winner to cut all distractions out, but sometimes you need to be able to stay available to texts, so cutting social limits off is a better option. Another options is to delete the app for a day or week. If social media is your biggest time drain, get rid of it for a few hours. You'll be so surprised how productive you'll be when you're not glued to your screen.

8. Flash Cards.

Call me old school but I attribute my academic success to flash cards. As in, physical index cards, write the stuff out, rehearse them over and over" flash cards. I know that there are apps now, I tried them, the magic isn't the same. The success is in the repetition of you writing it physically, and holding it physically. I made THOUSANDS of flashcards in college. Every subject, for vocab, for dates, for facts, everything. What was really great for me, was as I made flash cards throughout the semester for different lectures and exams, by the time finals rolled around, I already had golden study material done, I just had to refresh myself.

9. Learn your natural rhythm and lean into that. We all have certain hours of the day that our brain is most alive. Find your natural "sweet spot" and expand on that. I'll give you an example. I am a morning gal. I get more done from 7am-9am than I would my entire day. And on the flip, if you asked me to study at 2am it would be the must fruitless endeavor. So on those cram weeks where it seemed like everything was due at once, I would wake up early, around 4am, cram cram cram, go to class, do the stuff, cram, cram, cram and go to bed by 11pm. It was still exhausting, but I knew that I had a higher rate of success with my brain by getting up early than staying up late. For you, it may look like taking a nap from 2-5pm so you can cram from 11pm-3am. Getting those extra hours in have to happen (even if it's not fun) so try to link them to your natural rhythm.

10. When you get in a groove, keep dancing.

This is the most important. We've all had those days when you get in the zone, the flow, the grove, call it what you may and you are just ROCKING IT. You are writing fast and insightful, you are a studying pro, you are digesting information. They are rare moments, and if you get into one of those grooves, keep going! Skip lunch, cancel the "coffee date", and turn off your phone. I'm serious. I'm not saying be flaky and unreliable, I'm just telling you from experience, if you get into one of those productivity zones, and you leave for lunch, you won't be able to jump back in. And when you hit one of those grooves, the coffee is good, the atmosphere is right, the assignments are getting checked off, it's like an academic vortex and you'll look up and have gotten 2 weeks of work done in 6 hours. I would always pray for moments like these and when Holy Spirit helped me, and pushed me in the groove, you better believe I learned quickly to keep my head down and just keep dancing. To the students in the thick of it. I AM SO PROUD OF YOU! Let me encourage you: You're not going die.

You're not going to drop out.

It actually is worth it.

Degrees are doors God uses to get you into places so you can walk in your calling.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

You are representing the character of Christ with the choices you're making right now.

I believe in you! Give it your all!

Abby ***Don't forget, The Cirkles are cheering you on!

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