How to Cram for An Exam

Let’s be real for a moment – cramming for an exam is not ideal.  Properly studying for an exam takes time – reviewing material, memorizing, doing practice exams.  Those things should not be crammed in the day, or night, before a test. But sometimes even the most prepared students find themselves short on time to study.  So, how do you cram for an exam effectively?  Here a few things you can do to give yourself the best chance of success in a small amount of time. 


1. Review past exams to find out exactly what to study

Now is not the time to be studying unnecessary information. If you are cramming for a test, make sure that you review your Professor’s previous tests so that you understand what will be tested and how the Professor is likely to test it. Passively reading your text book hoping some of that material shows up on the test is not a good use of your time.  Make your studying targeted by finding out what you are most likely to see on your exam.  If you don’t have previous exams to refer to, look at your class notes.  What things did the Professor focus on? What did you spend most of your class time discussing? Did she write things on the board or highlight them in a slide? Those are good indicators of things your Professor finds important, and are good places to focus your limited time. 

2. Use active studying techniques

You might not have time to make flash cards if you are cramming the night before a test. But don’t just read and re-read your books and notes.  Take pen to paper and write things out that you have to memorize. Research shows that physically handwriting things make them easier to remember. So write things out. Also do practice questions when possible. Not only will this help you spot your weaknesses, but it will also help with memorization. It is easier to remember things when you see them in the context of a question, rather than just in the vacuum of your text book. 

3. Study in a place free from distractions

If being in your room, or around friends, makes it hard to stay focused, then change your location!  Go to the library or another quiet place where you can study without interruption. If you have gotten to the point where you need to cram for your exam, you don’t have time to waste chatting with your friends.  Also, turn all of your devices onto airplane mode. Or better yet – put them somewhere inaccessible while studying. If you need to cram for a test, it’s important not to waste precious time scrolling TikTok or Instagram! Check out this post with more time-management tips to use when cramming for a test, or just in your day to day life.

4. Get a good night’s sleep

It sounds counterintuitive to suggest getting a good night’s sleep when you are cramming for an exam. But sleep is SO important.  You need to be well-rested in order to perform your best.  It won’t benefit you to stay up all night studying if you are too tired to focus when it comes time for the exam. Also, during sleep, your brain is processing everything you have crammed the night before.  A proper night’s sleep will help you remember and recall the information you studied. So, set a cut-off point where you will stop studying and go to sleep.  You can wake up early to review a bit prior to the exam.  Doing some passive review (ie, re-reading your notes from the night before) in the morning is a great way to wake up and get your head in the game. So be sure to set a schedule that will allow you to go to sleep at a decent hour, and wake up with enough time for a quick review of your notes. And don’t forget a good breakfast!  

Good luck! 


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