Picture this. It’s the day before a huge test, and you haven’t started studying yet. You look at a clock and mentally calculate the exact amount of hours and minutes until the test to see how much studying you can fit in. You feel the pressure and your hands start to sweat uncontrollably.
If you are anything like me or any normal student, then you know this exact feeling of anxiety before you’re about to cram for a test or exam. It happens to the best of us, no matter how hard we try. As a self-proclaimed “master crammer,” I’m sharing my best tips for cramming so that we can all get through this with as little stress as possible.
1. The Golden Rule of Cramming: DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE TO STUDY
I know you’ve probably heard this a thousand times from teachers, adults, and students, but cramming should only be used as an absolute last resort. So please don’t use excuses like “I work well under pressure,” or “I can only study with a deadline looming over my head.” I know these excuses because I used to use them, but having a methodical, spread out study plan works much more effectively than cramming, even with these tips.
Okay. So now that we know only to use this cramming guide as a last resort, we can get to the real tips to study quickly and effectively.
2. Begin with planning
Before you haphazardly dive into your textbook and write every word that you see, you should begin by making a plan and gauging how long it will take. This quick step will relieve stress that you would feel throughout your studying and will help you study faster and remember the material better.
3. Use, but don’t abuse caffeine
Caffeine is essential for staying alert and focused long when working into or through the night. Without it, you’ll be tired and the studying that you would do won’t be as effective. Find your caffeine of choice, whether it be coffee, tea, soda, gum, or caffeine pills. Try to use as little as possible to get yourself to peak performance, and then follow your plan of attack!
4. Practice problems/exam!!!
When you make your plan, be sure to include practice problems! Before you study, ask your teacher the format of the test, and then search for problems that are similar to the ones described by your professor. This is key because then when the test rolls around, you’ll have practiced problems of a similar style, allowing you to be calmer during the exam. If your test is an essay or short answer instead of problems, then think of possible questions and topics that will be covered. If you’ve got the time, you should write out a response, or at least a few bullet points. This will help you write a quick, concise, and full response when the time comes.
5. Take breaks if you need to
Taking breaks allows your brain to rest, and when you resume studying, you can go faster and more effectively. Some people follow the 50/10 rule, which is working for 50 minutes and then taking a ten-minute break, splitting the studying into digestible 60-minute intervals. Personally, I get into a “groove” when I’m studying and it can go on for anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. When I’m in the zone like that, I’ll keep working until I become sluggish, and then take a break for about 15 minutes.
Whether it is a small nap or a couple hours of sleep, sleeping remains crucial for brain health. If you don’t sleep at all, then you’ll be worse off than if you had forgone that little bit of studying, and taken a 20-30 minute nap. Sleep refreshes our mental health and separates the late night studying from the day of your exam. When I stay up all night, the days blend together and this ruins my morale going into the exam. Without sleep, I feel as though I have studied for hours on end and then take my exam because that’s exactly what I did. If I separate the two with sleep, then the two periods feel separate, which allows me to feel as though I finished studying, as opposed to just a non-stop sprint through the material.
7. Stay hydrated
Staying hydrated is key to being able to recall all the information that you’ve studied. When I was a freshman in high school, my teacher told the whole class that the most effective thing to do before a test is have a big glass of water. She said that this increases short and long-term memory by 50%. I know that it has helped me tremendously (whether through a placebo effect or real change), and hopefully it will help you too.
8. Isolate yourself
Studying without distractions helps you get into a rhythm and speed through the material with maximum return on time invested. Distractions do a disservice to the work that you put in while studying. If you can’t be in a quiet room, put in headphones and play white noise to drown out the sounds of other people. I personally choose rain sounds because they keep me calm and do an excellent job of creating a continuous, natural sound while you study.
Okay, so now that we’ve studied as much as we could, we need to go over what you should do before the test.
You should eat a hearty and healthy meal for breakfast or before your exam. Eating will keep your mind focused on the task at hand instead of how hungry you are. When you stay up all night, your body does not get a break from consciousness to slow down your metabolism. While you’re studying, you burn far more calories than if you were asleep, despite the relative inactivity of sitting in one spot.
Another thing to do before the test is to have some final caffeine before it starts. Take the caffeine about an hour before the test so that way it starts affecting you during the test because it takes about an hour give or take for the caffeine to take effect. You don’t want to be falling asleep during your test! When you’re drinking your caffeine, try not to drink so much fluid that you’ll have to go to the bathroom during the test. Many exam proctors do not allow you to leave the room before you’re done with the test, and having to hold in a bathroom trip will add unnecessary distractions while you’re taking the test.
The final tip for before the test is to re-read the notes that you’ve taken. If you highlighted what you think is important to know for the exam, then read those especially. This will help you load up your short-term memory for the test, and will help you rest easy as you wait for your grade because you know that you studied until the very last moment.
Cramming is a nightmare, but it does not have to be the worst, most stressful experience of your life if you follow these tips!