How to Study for an Exam in One Day
Whether you're cramming for a test or trying to write and essay quickly, the last few weeks of school can be scary for students of all ages. The situation becomes 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.
The tips in this article are designed to help you save time while you're studying you're whether you have a full day before the exam or just 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
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 15 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 15 minutes—set that timer and be prepared to get to work once relaxation time is over.
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.
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.
8 Steps to Successfully Cram for a Test
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.
- Make a list of important terms, concepts, and ideas.
- Look for summaries in the textbook.
- Make more notes as you go.
- Make use of mind maps, charts, and graphs.
- Teach a friend.
- Review your important terms lists.
- Study out of order.
- Take practice tests.
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.
Set a timer that goes off every 30 minutes or every hour. This spaces out your study time so that you have breaks to look forward to. Scheduling dedicated time slots for studying also helps you stay committed to your task.
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.
Having a good friend assist you with your studies is great, but you should consider hosting a session with a peer from class as well. They might be able to clarify concepts that you did not fully understand or present ideas in a new light.
6. Study Out of Order
It is easy to second-guess this tip, but it can be a effective technique for learning new material if done correctly. Our brains don't always work in a perfect, and we are no different. After thoroughly reviewing your notes in order, randomly go back and read them in no particular order. You will be training your brain to remember the information on its own, instead as a part of a series. If chronology is relevant to the subject, like history, then be mindful of noting chronology, but still change the order in which you study.
7. 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.
8. Take Practice Tests
Although you can not always emulate the high-pressure test-taking environment outside of the classroom, practice exams are a great tools for building stamina, testing your knowledge, and putting everything you learned together. If you happen to encounter the unexpected during the course of your practice exam, you will be that much more prepared when the time comes to do the real thing.
Does Cramming for an Exam Work?
Cramming for the sake of passing a test in the short-term makes sense. However, when it comes to really learning a new subject, cramming is one of the most ineffective measures of doing so. At its core, cramming induces the stress responses of students rendering it even harder for them to gain a deeper understanding of the material. A UCLA research team performed a study that concluded that sacrificing sleep for an intense cramming study session is actually counter-productive.
Spaced Out Learning
It should go on record that the best way for you to make meaningful connections with the material is to engage with it over an extended period of time. Spaced out learning is the opposite of cramming. Instead of trying to learn in an intense period right before the exam, spread out your engagement with the material over a reasonable timeframe to give yourself the best chance to succeed. Do this by following these tips:
- Start Planning Early
- Set Aside Time Each Day to Study
- Read Slowly
- Get a Good Night's Sleep
- Stay Organized
- Study in Shorter Sessions
It pays to slow down and be efficient while getting to know the information. Your future learning endeavors will be anchored on what you are learning now. Cramming allows you to learn "quicker," but that usually means forgetting the information quickly as well. Learn to study smart, and not hard.