How to Cram for Exams

I know, I know, I know. It’s too early to talk about cramming, because you will totally have studied and managed your time wisely...until you wake up one day and realize that it’s two days before/the day before the ten thousand exams/projects/papers you have due, and you (surprisingly) HAVE NEITHER STUDIED NOR PREPPED. AT ALL.


A really awesome person once told me that adaptability is key in the twenty-first century, and that is no lie. You spent reading period sleeping rather than reading. It’s fine. It happens. You spent reading period drinking and writing Q scores. Also fine. It happens. You spent reading period reading HerCampus articles rather than your slides and/or textbooks. That’s fine--excellent, in fact, carry on...just kidding. But we do have some very useful tips for studying.


So if you’re panickedly scrolling through this right now, don’t fret. It doesn’t help you, and as a comforting fact, you can usually retain pretty close to 90% of whatever knowledge you crammed from the night before. But anyhow, here is some advice on how to cram:


When you’re low on time, know how to prioritize.



The same wise person as above also told me, “Sometimes it’s not about being strong in everything; it’s about being so strong in what you’re good at--shining at it so brightly that nobody even begins to notice your other shortcomings.” In real life, people specialize, and you can too! There’s not enough time in the world to be good at everything, but you can do so well in one thing, and let that be your defining feature.

If you get an A in one class, and a B in another, it’s about the same as getting a B+ in both. But if you want to pursue sociology as a career, your grade in the astrophysics class you took for a gen ed might not be terribly important. An A in Sociology and a B in Astrophysics is actually better, in that case, than B+s in both, and maybe even better than A-/A- situation. If you can excel in Sociology and just ride the curve for Astrophysics, that could actually be your best option.


Physically write down a schedule



Not just a to-do list, but a schedule. Plan your day out in 15 or 30 minute chunks. If you say you’re going to get up at 9:00, get up at 9:00. If it says shower at 10:30 and go to sleep at 11:00, do so. Follow your schedule. You’ll actually find that it helps you so much in terms of time management.


Take the practice exams first



This one has always been controversial, but has always been one of my favorite things to do when studying in general. I think it’s also especially helpful when you have limited time and need to cram. So you’re out of time to study. Take the exams first. There’s nothing better to get you into the mindset and to identify what you do not know by taking the exams. Actually do the exam before pulling out the answer key/referencing class notes, and take note of your strengths and weaknesses.


Try to find patterns in the exams


(I’m not sure how the GIF is relevant either, but it’s so funny.)


Exams test mostly what you’ve learned, but they also test your student skills. Exams, especially in a well-established class that’s been taught consistently, will generally follow clear patterns, whether that’s in terms of format or in terms of content. Maybe they will begin with True or False or multiple choice, then move into short answer and finally long answer. Maybe they always have one question from each of the larger units in class. Maybe they always feature one specific topic, again and again. Maybe the answer to the question about divergence is always zero. These patterns will make you more comfortable with the exam, and help you use your time where it needs to be used.


Eat & sleep



Don’t skip meals or your Zzzzzzzzzs. It’s incredibly important to keep your body happy before exams, even if you feel like you should pull an all-nighter, or that you don’t have time for nourishment.


Look at the bigger picture.


Not as in get all existentialist, but as in realize that one class in one semester of college ultimately won’t ever be the thing that makes or breaks you. Maybe somebody told you that if you get a C in orgo, you can kiss med school goodbye, or maybe you feel that anything less than a 4.0 would simply be a bad mark (literally) on an otherwise perfect record. Rest assured that one bad grade will not ruin you, and the best thing you can do now is give it your best.  


Good luck on exams!!!