Full disclosure: I am not an advocate for waiting until the night before an exam to study, but I know it happens. How are you going to get ready in just a few hours? Here’s how to cram for the exam.
What you will need:
1) The course syllabus
3) Class notes
4) Blank paper and/or index cards
5) Review sheet if one was provided by the professor
How to cram:
1) This one will be hard, but you must put your phone away for the next few hours. It is so easy to divert your attention by checking email, Twitter (my new favorite semi-obsession), and Facebook. In order to cram you will need to harness all of your fabulous student-mental-powers on the material. Keep the phone in a separate room or put it in a drawer so that you will not be tempted to look at it.
2) Using the syllabus (and the review sheet) write each topic that is to be covered at the top of your blank pages or index cards, giving each topic its own blank page. For example, in my Philosophy Course, the students need to know the theories of about 5 Philosophers. If you were studying for my exam, you’d want to take out five sheets of paper and write each philosopher at the top the page. 1 Philosopher per page. This helps to organize the ideas.
3) Under the topic (or philosopher) jot down where the information can be found in the textbook. Example: “Socrates” at the top, pages 3-31. Use your review sheet and syllabus to find the relevant pages. Also, transfer your notes by re-writing them under the relevant topics. Everything about Socrates belongs on one page, everything about Aristotle belongs on another page and so on. Re-writing helps solidify the information in your mind.
4) After you have filled in the pages with key points, definitions, arguments, dates, and your notes, then take out a fresh batch of papers and once again write the topic (or philosopher) at the top of each page. Without looking at the previous pages, quiz yourself by writing down as much information as you can without looking at the first group of papers.
5) Re-read or skim the sections of the book you feel the most confident in first. Master what you know. This bolsters your momentum for when you move on to the topics you are least familiar with. When you re-read sections of the book, add details to your pages of topics.
6) When you are studying, be sure to step away from your work every 45 minutes to stretch, jump up and down, or take a brief walk. Yoga wouldn’t be a bad idea either. This pause helps you to remember the information. If you study 3 hours straight, for example, then you will only recall the beginning and end of your work while the middle part of the session gets lost. In this break, do not turn on the television because it numbs your thinking. Look at a magazine or do something active to get oxygen to your brain. When you return after the 10-15 minute break, start up by giving yourself a quick quiz. I know it is counter-intuitive to break since you are desperate to cram, but trust me, it’ll make the material stick.
7) As you are reviewing, re-reading, and quizzing yourself you might have a couple of questions about the material. Write the question down and get to your exam 30 minutes early. Chances are the best students will be sitting outside the classroom early going over their notes. Grab this opportunity to exchange ideas and clarify the material with your fellow classmates. Having a brief chat about the material before the exam will keep it fresh in your mind. I don’t suggest sending the professor a late night email with the question because you will be hinting to the professor that you are not prepared. As a general rule, if you must email the professor for clarification on the material, make sure it is before 2:00 pm the day before the exam.
Good luck! Click here for more study tips.