We’ve all been there. It’s Thursday night. You have an exam tomorrow. And you are just now sitting down to study for it. Yes, you promised yourself you would never do this again. You may even be in this situation at this moment. Why else would you be googling “how to cram for an exam” at 8 pm on a Thursday night? While you’re tempted to spend the rest of the night beating yourself up for getting yourself into this situation, you know you don’t have time for that and really need to study. So, let’s go through the things you can do to ensure you make the best use of the time you have and get the best grade possible so you can do well in your class.
make a list of topics covered
Before we can study for the exam, we must be clear on what to study. Get out a clean sheet of paper and make a list of the main topics your teacher has covered since the last exam. Most teachers will announce what topics or chapters are being covered on an exam. If they were not that kind, assume the test only will go back as far as the first topic covered since the last exam. Now put a number between 1 and 10 to indicate the priority of the topic. The topics that your teacher spent the most time on in class or homework assignments get a 1. Topics that were covered in passing and were barely mentioned get a 10. Now go through the list and put an H for high, M for medium, or L for low to indicate your confidence level with that topic.
the inner game of test-taking
There is a book titled “The Inner Game of Tennis.” We stole the title for this section from the title of that book. We started to call this section “Mind Games. They’re fun and helpful”. But we like his title better. So what’s the point? The point is that you need to consider the fact that you are not taking the exam in a vacuum. You are not the only person involved. There is another player on the tennis court, and their name is Teacher. Just as your opponent in a tennis match has to decide how to serve the ball and where to place it once they do, your teacher has to decide what questions to ask and how to ask them. Your job is to think about how your teacher phases things. In the game of tennis, you have to anticipate where the player on the other side of the net will hit the ball. Will they slam it in the back corner, or will they gently lob it over the net?
slice your time like a pizza
This study session just turned into a party. A lot of topics showed up at your party, and we want to make sure each topic gets a slice of your time pizza pie. And make sure the slices are all the same size. We don’t want any topics getting mad that other topics got a bigger slice than they did. The truth is we don’t know for sure which topics the teacher will ask about on the exam, so we don’t want to spend most of our time on the first few topics just to find out at exam time they only asked about the last three on our list. Using a piece of paper, write down the hours between when you are starting your cram session through the hour you think you will have to call it quits and go to sleep. Don’t stay up all night. You need sleep to perform well on an exam. Using the list above fill in the hour slots with each of the topics you decided you need to spend more time on. For the topics you feel confident about and only need to do a short review, split the later available hours in half and enter those there. The order is important. Most people make the mistake of starting with topics they already know fairly well because facing the big scary topics they don’t understand is, well scary. If there is a topic you KNOW the teacher will ask, then modify your list to move it further up the list. But keep the slices of time the same size. Its ok to move the topic up the list, but its not ok to spend all night on that one topic and go to bed having looked at nothing else. Big mistake. When you run out of time slots, stop there. You won’t be able to cover everything on the list.
reward yourself as you go
Your brain is not a V8 engine that can go for hours nonstop. It is more like a battery. And not just any battery, but that battery in your old phone that never seemed to fully charge and drained to zero the moment you tried to use it to watch YouTube. And, let’s face it, we are the generation of instant gratification. Sure, it will be great to see the fruits of your labor when you get your exam back with a great grade on it, but you need something to keep you motivated tonight. So, after every forty minutes of studying, allow yourself to take a fifteen minute break to do one of your favorite activities that can be done in that time. Maybe watch a YouTube video (we have some great ones) or play a mindless game on your phone while sitting on your comfy couch. Then use the last five minutes to run to the restroom, grab another diet coke or cup of coffee, and get back to your study station and get back to it. And if it helps attract you back to your study station, keep a bowl of your favorite snack or candies in a bowl there to get you to hurry back. You will be burning calories with that engine between your ears, so you will need to be sure not to run out of fuel. You can start your diet tomorrow.
set a reasonable goal
It would be great to at an A+ on your exam tomorrow, and we really hope you get one. But let’s face it, when you wait until the night before the exam to study, the name of the game is getting a good grade. Aiming for an A+ might cause you to put too much pressure on yourself, leading to a worse grade than you might have gotten otherwise. Just like trying to hit a home run every time you get up to bat in baseball might lead to more strikeouts as compared to if you had set the goal of getting on base every time you were up at-bat. What if you instead set the more reasonable goal of landing firmly in the B to B+ range. What effect would that have? Most likely, it would result in you being able to relax and avoid the panic that would otherwise set in, causing you to give up and turn on the TV. Take a deep breath, put down the remote, set a reasonable goal, and go get that grade that will allow you to get a good grade in the class.
make a plan for your next exam
its the end of the night and all you want to do is crawl into bed and go to sleep so you wake up on time for your exam. We get it. But if one good thing could possibly come from the stressful night you just went through, it would be for it to serve as the experience that helps you decide once and for all you are done with cramming for exams. Yes, you will miss the excitement of living the high rollers life style of gambling with your grades, but you can always rewatch your favorite action movies on Netflix if its excitement that you need. From now on you are going to approach your studies in a very structured way, one that ensures you are ready for your exams long before the night before you have to take them. You know how often you will have an exam in each class. You know based on the syllabus what chapters or topics will be covered on each exam. You know how much time you have in a week you can devote to studying. Be realistic. Saying your going to study 24 hours a day the week before the exam probably wont work. But saying you will study a minimum of one hour a night per class is doable. And you can increase from there until you feel you have reached your limit. That combined with a plan of studying a new topic or chapter each night or two will help you keep a pace that ensures you cover all the material before the night before the exam.
good luck. you can do it!
Well, we know you are excited to get started, so we won’t keep you any longer. We just want to wish you the best of luck on your exam. We know you can do it, or we would not have spent our time writing this. Stay calm, focus, and go get that great grade we know you can get. And if you read this and have the time after you get home from your exam and wake up from your well deserved nap, drop us a comment to let us know how things go. We love getting good news.