Let’s assume that you’re reading this either the day before or the day of your exam and you haven’t even studied yet. How should you cram for the exam in the time you have left so you won’t fail?
You’re in luck— this article will not only tell you how to pass but how to pass with an A. Chances are, what you think you should do is probably exactly what you should not do. Keep reading until the end because we create a FREE study guide for crammers (No email necessary).
Stop highlighting stuff! Right now!
I’ve been to many study sessions where I see my classmates hopelessly highlighting handouts from class. As the article The 7 Dumbest Things Students do When Cramming for Exams perfectly stated: “Highlighters aren’t magic”.
When you highlight something, you’re really saying “This piece contains more useful information than the rest of the stuff around it.” That’s good if you have a lot of time, but highlighting something won’t help you remember it.
Instead, you should compile the information you would normally highlight into a handwritten study guide. In doing that, you’ll have already helped yourself in two ways.
First, you will have handwritten all of the information, which automatically helps you remember it. In a 2014 study, students who took notes by hand performed better than other students. Even better than students who electronically transcribed the whole lecture.
You will also have a study guide with all of the information that should be on the exam.
Pro Tip: When creating your study guide, use a few different colors. I often write related concepts in the same color. When I take an exam, thinking of what color I wrote with helps me recall the information.
Don’t Re-read… too much.
Looking around, I found lots of hate for re-reading among other guides about passing exams. In fact, re-reading also made the list of The 7 Dumbest Things Students do When Cramming for Exams.
Re-reading deserves a chance, but it can’t be the backbone of your cram session. You also can’t re-read from handouts or the textbook. The problem with re-reading is that the information is not in your own words. They are in the words of someone else explaining their understanding to you.
Research confirms that teaching someone else is one of the best ways to learn. Write your study guide in your own words—as if you are explaining your understanding to someone else. Translating concepts like this will give you a more complete grasp of the subject.
Once you have a complete study guide in your own words, it’s beneficial to read over it. Read it once or twice at a time with breaks in-between. You should also pay attention to the order of concepts on your study guide—it might help you visualize the information later.
Contributors of both WikiHow and Quora mentioned the Pomodoro Technique, which is why I suggest breaks in-between re-reading. The technique works because you have about 25 minutes before you start experiencing lapses in your focus.
By adding short breaks between periods of fully-focused re-reading, you can learn more overall.
Re- Write and quiz yourself.
In my sophomore year of high school, I was in a predicament in my Chemistry class. I had to score at least a “B” on the comprehensive final exam to pass the class. Chemistry is not my strength by any means, and there was a lot of material.
I made my 3-page (Front and back) study guide, but was having trouble recalling the information. I decided to re-write the whole thing, then try recalling information immediately after. It worked wonders and I’ve re-written all of my study guides since.
Get out a piece of paper and re-write your whole study guide exactly the same way you did the first time. Put them right next to each other and transcribe.
This is the most important part—it’s like the second coat of paint. If you mess up the first coat, it will be okay as long as the second coat is good.
Re-writing should be done as close in time to the exam as possible. This short-term memory copy of the study guide will help deliver better results. So it’s okay to quiz yourself before you re-write, but study after as well.
Quiz yourself however you see fit. Personally, I think writing down questions is overkill. I just hide my study guide while trying to recall answers to questions. Of course, if you can’t think of questions you can defer to textbook questions.
Go take the exam.
This is what you have been frantically—but strategically—preparing for. The only requirement here is to not be late. However, I can offer you one final (highly recommended) pro tip.
Pro Tip: When you enter the classroom, keep headphones in for as long as possible. If you can’t take headphones to class, do your best to not listen to anyone. There will be a room full of classmates—some with negative mindsets—talking about the exam. You don’t know if any of them even studied! Do not let background discussions corrupt your knowledge.