Exam Cram

Tomorrow’s the big test and you haven’t studied?? It’s time for an exam cram.

Let’s first say that cramming is the last resort. To get the most out of your learning, the right thing to do is to study the right way. But it can’t always be the case, and sometimes an exam cram is the only choice. In those moments, work from the tips and ideas below.

Keep in mind what exam cramming is

During an exam cram, you aren’t studying to own your material for the long-run. This is about getting as much material into your short-term memory as possible in the shortest amount of time as possible. You will forget 70% or more of this information within a few weeks. So if this knowledge is for your job security or your physical safety, you need to get through this test out of the way and go back to really learning the material asap.

Knowing this, don’t get caught up in experiential learning or other things to help you remember the material over time. Stick to blasting that material into your head through repetition and the other techniques listed here.

Strategize and make a quick plan

Don’t spend hours mapping out your cramming session, but do take a step back and think about what you already know, what your teacher is like and what types of tests have been given in the past. Then look at your study material and decide what you have to hit versus what you can  push to the side. If you know certain pieces of info cold, don’t touch it again. If your teacher gives multiple choice tests, that will affect how you study (you only need to be able to recognize the right one, not remember it cold). If there’s an area where your mind is a big blank, obviously that’s where you begin.

Know yourself and how you cram best

Some people need absolute quiet and alone time. Other people cram extremely well with a study group. Know what setting you need and make it happen. Don’t be pressured to join a group if you cram best alone.

Follow the 80/20 rule

You are not going to be able to memorize everything in an exam cram, so it’s important to be ready to throw some knowledge out the door. Once you feel you know a concept 80% of the way (or that it is mostly memorized), move on. That last twenty percent will more than likely be a waste of time during a cramming session.

Study the first few pages of each chapter of a textbook and the last few

This is where the majority of the things you need to know are going to be laid out. Textbooks typically follow a logical pattern. Each chapter begins with laying out the most important principles and terms and ends with a tying together of the key concepts. That’s your 80% right there. If you memorize what’s in those pages, you’ll be in decent shape for a test.

Don’t forget your notes or get some notes from a classmate

Sometimes teachers flat-out say that quiz from the lecture material. Other times, you are just going to have to learn if that’s true from previous tests. If your teacher quizzes mostly on lecture material and not on the text book, then spend 80% of your time going through the notes, not the textbook. If you don’t have notes, then this is step 1 in your exam cram. Get some from a classmate immediately.

Repeat, repeat, repeat the key terms and ideas. And then repeat them some more.

Repetition is your best friend when cramming. You are just bombing your memory with info – getting enough of it to stick for one class session. You can spice it up, though.

  • Use flashcards or index cards
  • Write out the notes again so your brain processes the words in a different way
  • Use mnemonic devices like acronyms and acrostics for tough terms and repeat those over and over
  • Speak the terms out loud, so you get your hearing involved in the learning
  • If you are with a study buddy, quiz each other out loud. The teaching/repeating model is a great way to soak in information fast

Plan for some sleep and book-end your cramming around it

An all-nighter may be tempting, but your memory will come up short if you are overly tired. Instead cram for a few hours before bed, then wake up extra early to study more. You will feel more refreshed. Study the toughest things before bed so that your brain can help you tie all of those pieces together while it rests. In this way, that sleep is working for you!

Be careful with caffeine and other stimulants

Another big temptation, but if these stimulants are used the wrong way, you may be crashing and burning before the test even begins. Plus, if you are over-stimulated, your focus is going to be all over the place. During an exam cram and the actual test, focus is key.