Sometimes exams come on quickly, and the time you thought you had to prepare for them vanishes.
Here are some steps you can take to concentrate and make the most of your studying if you find that you only have a short amount of time (possibly due to a busy exam schedule).
Step 1: Prep the environment
Determine the location and procedures for your exam and replicate them in your study space. This may entail putting your phone away, turning off the music, and donning earplugs.
Take a few deep breaths before starting your study session to induce calmness and focus, just as you would during an exam.
Step 2: Review
Figure Out How Much Time You Have For Each Topic
- Set aside time for each chunk of the material after dividing it up
- Include breaks and some time in the end to test your skills.
- Choose the topics you want to focus on the most—if the exam is cumulative and you already took a midterm for the course, give the post-midterm topics top priority (but don’t forget to go over the solutions!).
Revisit The Learning Objectives
- Find the course’s primary goals by consulting the syllabus.
- Review the key ideas related to these learning objectives because you’ll probably be tested on them.
- Practice responding to questions pertaining to these goals on paper or, as we’ve found helpful, aloud.
Quickly Look Through Your Notes And The Lecture Slides
- Concentrate on the testable material (i.e., what was covered in class); do not simply read your textbook again.
- If you didn’t take everything down during the lecture, quickly review your notes or open the slides.
Devote More Time To Concepts You’re Not As Comfortable With
- Don’t waste time on details that won’t be tested or aren’t important to the big ideas.
- Create brief reminders for yourself regarding items you might have initially forgotten.
- Mark any questions you have and the ideas and information that confused you.
- Search Piazza (if your class uses it) to see if another student has asked the same question after you’ve gone through all the course material or gone over troublesome areas with a friend.
Pro tip: Make a list of the errors you made while answering practice questions to ensure you don’t repeat them. List any material you missed while studying as well. Return to this piece of paper to review before your test!
Step 3: Practice
Do The Sample Exams If They’re Provided, And Time Yourself
There’s a reason that this is our top tip in this section. If you only have time to do one thing, you should do the sample exams and review the answer key.
Do past exams if you can; they’ll show you which concepts typically get tested and how you might perform on the actual final. Past exams are likely to be similar to what you will encounter. Compare your responses to the answer key.
Pay close attention to the questions you find most difficult. Ensure you comprehend the ideas behind them by reading your notes again, asking the professor or teaching assistant for clarification, or asking a classmate.
Revisit Past Problem Sets And Quizzes
If you still have time (or if you don’t have sample exams):
- Redo problem sets
- Add to the list of questions that threw you off
If Your Exam Is Open Book...
- Quickly review the texts and notes so you can remember which section to refer to during the exam.
- For easy access, make a table of contents for your texts.
- In particular, load sample solutions to problems that stumped you the first time you tried to solve them (or print them out for faster flipping).
Bonus Step: Think About How You Think
What study techniques have been effective for you in the past? How do you learn best?
According to studies, students with higher levels of metacognition—a greater awareness of one’s learning process—perform better on tests than students with lower levels of metacognition.
Choose the study method that will be most successful for you because those who are successful for someone else may not be as successful.
Important Things To Remember
After studying for an exam on a time crunch, there are several important things to remember:
1. Get up regularly to get your blood moving and prevent burnout
Get up and engage briefly in light exercise every 40 to an hour. Utilize a timer! This can be as simple as stretching or a few jumping jacks—anything to clear your mind and wake up your body. Hey, regular exercise can actually help you retain information better.
2. Get enough sleep
Information is easier for you to remember (so that your hard work is not wasted!) and when you are well-rested, you will be able to think more clearly during the exam. Don’t neglect your sleep!
3. Take a break right before the exam
Give your brain some time to rest by stopping your study 30 minutes before the test. Huge hugs, and know that you did the best you could with the time you had.