By Rowan P. Marshall
We’ve all been there: it’s the end of class and suddenly your professor is saying that the big exam is in two days. Two days?! How did that happen? You haven’t started studying at all yet and there’s a lot of material to cover – what do you do?
As the end of the semester nears and final exams are looming, many students are either starting to study or pushing it off until the day before the exam. Hopefully you’re in the former group, but if not, here are some of the best tips and strategies for cramming for an exam.
1. Rewrite everything
One of the best ways to refresh your memory is to go through all of the information again and write it out. This forces you to thoroughly read through your notes, which will help you remember details and specific concepts that might be on the exam. If you have the time, hand-writing the information will help you remember it better. But if you don’t have the time to do that, you can also type it up. An alternative strategy is to read those notes out loud. It might feel silly at first, but pretend that you are presenting this information to someone who has never heard it before (learn more about this in tip #5). If your professor provides PowerPoints from class you can also use those!
2. Find a new study spot
Sometimes all you need is a change of scenery to get into a focused mindset. It’s best to find a study spot that is not your bedroom because your brain and your body associate that space with sleeping. This will cause you to be easily distracted, and might lead to you taking a nap instead of studying. You can go to your living room or common area, a library, or some other space that works for you. Some people like to go to public places such as coffee shops because that setting automatically makes them feel more productive. Just beware of running into people you know and hanging out with them instead of studying!
3. Break it Up
You might find yourself sitting down to study and immediately becoming overwhelmed with how much information you need to go over. Don’t lose hope, you’re perfectly capable of getting through it all! Break the material up into smaller sections, such as the units or modules that you had in class. This will create smaller amounts of information that are easier for your brain to focus on, learn, and absorb.
Another way to break things up is to take frequent breaks for yourself. Studying can be exhausting for your brain so it’s good to stop, process, and recharge before continuing. Make sure to keep these breaks short, but do something active and engaging. Get out of your seat and have a five-minute dance party, go stand outside in the sun, or grab a snack and some water. It’s good to try to take a break every thirty minutes or every hour so that you can avoid mental exhaustion and stay focused. Some people like to use time management strategies, like the Pomodoro technique, that involve setting timers for scheduling study breaks.
4. Make Flashcards or a Quizlet
Taking the time to make flashcards for yourself can be extremely beneficial for your studying. Even the act of making the flashcards is a form of studying in and of itself! Creating them forces you to read through your notes and write out important information. This also connects back to the first tip about re-writing your notes. If you don’t want to make physical flashcards, Quizlet is a great resource. You can create your own study sets using this site and it will quiz you and track your progress. Quizlet also has multiple study games that are good for different modes of learning. You can do basic flashcards, match terms and definitions, complete practice tests, and more. Creating any sort of flashcards is a quick and effective way to learn information in a short time.
5. Teach the content to someone else
One of the best ways to ensure that you know your material is to teach it to someone else. A good way to do this is to get together with a study group or a group of friends and have everyone teach one of the topics on the exam to the group. This gives everyone a chance to become an expert on one of the topics while also giving study time for everyone else. Make sure to ask each other questions and work together to find the answers. This keeps everyone engaged in studying. If you don’t have time to form a study group, you can also teach the content to your roommate, your cat, your plants, or anything else that will listen!
6. Repetition, Repetition, Repetition!
Finally, one of the best ways to study is simply to keep repeating the information until it sticks in your brain. Keep reading your notes, keep writing things out, keep looking at your flashcards, and keep teaching the content, even if it’s just to yourself. The more you go through the material and the more you engage with it, the more you’ll learn. Good luck and happy studying!
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