April 12, 2017

Last minute studying: what should you do?

Have you ever forgotten to study a chapter, or left studying until the last minute? Even with little time left, you can still study strategically. Mebbie Bell with the U of A Student Success Centre shares her secrets for last minute studying. 

It’s the night before your exam. You've been studying for the past week or two, making sure you are prepared for this final. After covering the last section of your textbook, you review to ensure you have gone through everything that could be on the exam. Except! …you forgot to cover the last chapter and have only a few hours to study before bed.

We've all been there, whether we forget to study a section of the textbook or leave our studying until the day before the exam. Even with limited time to work through material, you can strategically study and commit some information to memory. You may not understand the information as well as you could, but you need to accept that any knowledge you do gain is better than none. Here are my strategies for last-minute studying that will help you get the most out of those few hours. 

Don’t cram.
This first strategy might seem counter-intuitive, but trust me, cramming is the last thing you should be doing. Cramming is the frantic, last minute (and sometimes all-night) memorization of information, otherwise known as the least effective way to use those last few hours. Since cramming uses your short-term memory, which is easily overloaded by too much information, any information you do “cram in” will not be kept for very long and you will forget it. 

Identify the most important material.
Many professors will let you know in advance which topics/parts of chapters/lecture notes will be on the exam. Identify this material to help you filter out the other information that, while nice to know, is not a priority at the moment. Knowing your exam will help you go a lot further in those few hours than studying without a plan. More advice on sorting out your exams can be found here


Make a mind map and pick three things to focus on.
Take 15 minutes to map out all of the themes you have covered this semester, and then choose three that have been the most important in your lectures/notes. When making this decision, think about what your professor is most likely to test on as well. Once you have identified your three themes, put away all other textbooks or notes. Focus only on the material you have for the three themes and try to not be distracted by anything else you may be missing. It is better to try and master those three themes than barely familiarize yourself with six.


Quiz yourself.
After reading through the material, you can quiz yourself in several ways: develop your own practice question for every piece of information, or look at your mind map and cover up different sections, reciting the definitions or main points. If you are in a problem-solving class, try making a flow chart of steps needed to answer a question. Find out if you are allowed to bring a formula sheet to the exam and, if so, create one. For each formula, create a practice question to familiarize yourself with the process. 

Last of all, ensure you give your body and brain enough sleep. You've done as much last minute studying as you can, and you need a regular amount of sleep. Sleep will help consolidate what you've just learned. When you go into the test after a restful night, you will be able to make better decisions and strategically guess on the questions you don’t know. 

Check out more advice on getting through the exam season, including self-care and how to get past “the moment” of panic when you sit down for the exam.

Have suggestions and advice for last-minute studying? Share them in the comments.