How to Study for an Exam in One Day
The last few weeks of school can be scary for students of all ages, whether you're cramming for a test or trying to write an essay quickly.
But it's even more stressful when you've only got one day to study for an important exam.
The good news is you that can prepare for a test in 24 hours, but you've got to be strategic about how you approach the material.
These tips are designed to help you save time while you're studying, whether you're beginning a full day before the exam or even the night before. With some hard work and perseverance, you'll be able to confidently identify and memorize key concepts in the course, even if you've fallen behind in class.
Before You Begin
a. Remain Calm
If you've left studying to the day before the test, it's likely that you're panicking about how you're going to get all of the work done in such a small amount of time. No matter what your circumstances are, it's absolutely important that you don't panic. Stress and anxiety will make it much harder to concentrate, memorize facts, and think critically about the exam material.
If you're feeling overly stressed, take fifteen minutes before studying to clear your mind and relax. Try some yoga, listen to a favorite song, or make a quick call to a supportive friend. Just don't make it any longer than fifteen minutes—set that timer and be prepared to get to work once relaxation time is over.
b. Find a Quiet Spot
It's tempting to study with a large group of friends, especially if you're tackling a particularly hard subject. And while friends can provide some much-needed support, they're not always the best study buddies when you're pressed for time.
If you're serious about getting the work done, look for a quiet study spot away from friends, television, and other distractions. If you need to, turn your phone off, or at least set it to silent so you don't disturb other people around you. Having the peace and quiet you need to concentrate is key to studying effectively when you only have one day.
c. Gather Your Materials
Don't make the mistake of beginning a study session without the proper supplies. Take the time to find a blank notebook, some pens, the course syllabus and textbook, and your full class notes. Organize these materials neatly on a clean work surface, so that you have the freedom and space to access them when you need to.
6 Steps to Success
Once you've gathered your materials, taken some time to relax, and found a great study spot, it's time to get down to business. These six steps will help you study for an exam in 24 hours or less.
1. Make a List of Important Terms/Concepts/Ideas
The first thing you need to realize is that you can't possibly study everything in the course in one day. That's simply impossible and would require way more time than you have.
Think of your study session as a type of "triage," where you only concentrate on the most important concepts, terms, and ideas in the course. The logic behind this strategy is that if a concept is very central to the course, then you will gain peripheral knowledge of other less important topics by focusing on it.
In general, you know something is important if:
- The instructor has explicitly said it will be on the exam.
- It has come up a lot in the textbook and/or lectures.
- It is fundamental to understanding other topics in the course.
- It is highlighted, underlined, or bolded in a course syllabus or textbook.
To begin looking for these terms, grab your course syllabus, a pen, and a blank notebook. Start making your way through the syllabus, jotting down any important terms in the blank notebook as you go. Another idea is to make flash cards for each key term.
Whatever method you choose, make sure you have a complete inventory of these key concepts for review. Keep this list handy so you can add more terms as you work. The idea is to make a kind of "cheat list" for you to review at the end of the studying session.
2. Look for Summaries in the Textbook
If your textbook is well-designed, it should have summaries of each section at either the beginning or the end of each chapter.
Find these summaries and study them—hard. Some professors will also provide summaries of important themes as handouts for the class.
Anything that's labeled Introduction, Conclusion, or Summary is what you want to focus on here, since these sections will synthesize information for you, making it easier to remember.
3. Make More Notes as You Go
Research shows that you learn much better if you write information down. As you study, jot down anything you want to commit to memory.
Unlike your list of key terms, this type of note-taking doesn't have to be neat. Just grab some scraps of paper and write down what you need to remember.
Make sure you're writing and not typing, since typing isn't as effective for memorizing facts.
4. Make Use of Mind Maps, Charts, and Graphs
This isn't something you want to spend a lot of time doing if you're pressed for time, but taking fifteen minutes to make a quick mind map is a great way to synthesize the information you've learned.
One of the tricks to studying effectively is seeing the connections between various topics in the course.
Don't make the mistake of assuming the material in Week One has no relevance to Week Seven. In fact, it's more than likely that Week Seven directly builds on concepts learned near the beginning of the course.
Try using a visual aid, like a chart, graph or mind map, to explicitly identify the connections between the course material. It'll give you a much better understanding of the concepts as a whole.
5. Teach a Friend
Another effective way of memorizing information is to pretend you're teaching it to someone else.
Once you feel reasonably comfortable with the material, meet up with a friend for an hour and present them with what you know. Encourage them to ask questions about the material so you'll be forced to re-explain concepts or think more critically about the subject.
It sounds hard, but teaching someone who knows less about a topic than you do is a great way to cement what you already know.
6. Review Your Important Terms List
Remember the list of terms you made at the beginning of the study session? It's now time to review it and make sure you understand everything on the list.
For each term, try saying a complete definition out loud. If you can't remember a term, put an asterisk next to it and move on to the next one.
By the end of this exercise, you should feel pretty confident about many of the terms, and not so confident about the ones with asterisks. Take 30 minutes or so to refresh your memory on the trickier terms, then quiz yourself again.