Summer holidays are synonymous with a great many things; beaches, lazy mornings, family trips, and epic parties. But for those entering their final year or planning to attend university, there is one association that you may wish to avoid.

Brain drain.

We all know the feeling of opening a textbook at the beginning of the term and realising that we have forgotten a sizable portion of what we learned the previous year. Or worse, the difficulty of getting our mind to kick into high gear to learn the new material. This is brain drain, the cumulative effect of avoiding anything that could be even remotely considered academic for weeks on end. And if you are suffering from brain drain during critical periods of your academic career, you could see a dramatic reduction in test scores and overall performance.

So how do we avoid brain drain without ruining your entire summer? It’s not hard, but it does take some planning on your part.

The first thing to remember is that reading is the best and easiest way to keep your mind fresh. Read what you enjoy. Read cheap romance novels, literary classics, self-help books, whatever tickles your fancy. What you read matters, but the fact that you are reading matters more. I highly recommend finding a reading list, such as 25 Books Every College Student Should Read or something similar. A simple google search will turn up dozens of book lists under any category. Use these curated lists to help you decide what your summer reading will look like and turn those lazy moments into horizon-broadening experiences.

The second recommendation is to take advantage of your travels. Going to Greece for a week? Take some time before you go to learn a bit about the culture and history. Explore a few historical sights while you’re there. Even stay-cations can be used to keep your mind fresh. Chances are, there are some historical, cultural, or scientific sights close to you that you don’t know about. Once again, google is your friend when it comes to finding them. You don’t have to become an amateur botanist to enjoy a trip to the botanical gardens, and you don’t have to travel to Egypt to see some pretty awesome historical sights.

Set up a testing plan. Yes, an actual plan to prepare for the exams. Studies show that students who prepare for exams in small, regular study sessions over a longer period, generally, perform better than their counterparts who don’t. Its never too late to begin deciding how you will prepare, and mapping out your weaknesses.

Get an early start on applications. College applications, internships, even job applications all have seasons and cycles. Now is a good time to begin working on those personal statements and essays that will inevitably crop up when it’s time to submit your applications. You have the time to work with a professional to edit and refine your applications and to get a little counselling on how best to navigate the application process.

And finally, perhaps the best way to avoid brain drain without killing your free time is to pursue a passion project. Passion projects allow you to explore your creativity and to deepen your knowledge of a subject that interests you. They say that if you do what you love you will never work a day of your life. The same principle applies here. Find something that you love, and pursue it while you have the time. It will stoke the fire of your curiosity, and keep your mind in learning mode.

Written by Jameka Neil