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For those times when you absolutely must cram

By Kaija Kaarid, 2nd-year Life Sciences student

Sometimes school and life can become a whirlwind of events and suddenly you find yourself with an upcoming exam, having too much to know and too little time to study it all. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. Although it’s not a great situation to be in, you can still make the best of it in a pinch. When cramming, ensure that you focus on the important material, plan out your time and, most importantly, take care of yourself. Keep reading to find out how!

What to study

 Start off by figuring out what the main concepts are. Good ways to do this are to look for a list of “Learning Objectives” (which many professors provide) or to look for headings in lecture notes. Spend 75% of your time on the main concepts and 25% on the rest. If you’re cramming you’re probably not going to remember every minute detail of what you learned. That’s okay. As long as you know the big concepts you can make educated decisions on the test/exam. Focus on learning the things that you don’t know. Start with whatever material you’re least comfortable with and move onto the stuff you already know if there’s time.

Planning your cramming

Before studying you should always make a study schedule with whatever time you do have. Decide which topics you need to study, how much time you have and set strict timelines. Make sure that you stick to the schedule. A really awesome strategy to use while you’re studying is the 50/10 rule. I love using this tool because it keeps me incredibly focused. Work hard for 50 minutes without any breaks or distractions, then follow it up with a 10 minute break. If you can help it, try to only study for 3 hour chunks at a time, followed by hour-long breaks. Remember to also use study tools. Use mind maps to relate concepts and summarize the material. Use cue cards to practice and to test yourself. Also recite things aloud to help drill them into your memory.

Staying happy and healthy

Try to hush up any negative thoughts about why you’re in this situation. Being hard on yourself is counter-productive. We’re all human and we learn from our mistakes. Remember that every little bit that you study now is more than you knew before. Eat healthy food and drink lots of water to keep yourself going. Try to avoid energy drinks and high amounts of caffeine, as you’ll just end up crashing. Finally, get some sleep! Sleep will increase your memory of the material and will help you perform better on the test/exam – trust me! Once the exam is over, you can think about how to avoid this kind of situation again in the future.

So, if you absolutely must cram, remember to focus on the main ideas, plan out your study time and take care of yourself both mentally and physically. I know you can do this, good luck!

Photo courtesy of Charl Cater under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.