What’s the best way to study at the last minute?

2 weeks ago Terri Fleming Comments Off on What’s the best way to study at the last minute?

Takeaways:

  1. Last-minute studying can be effective and sometimes more efficient if you approach it in the right way.
  2. Find ways to focus your studying and condense your material into the most concise form possible.

We’ve all had times when we leave studying for a test to the last minute either due to procrastination, a jam-packed schedule or just common forgetfulness. It is generally better to start studying earlier than the night before but that doesn’t always happen. For those times when you need to cram a ton of information into your head the night before, this blog has all of the answers to the best way to so efficiently and effectively. I generally start studying a few days before an exam but then do some concentrated studying or cramming the day and night before and even some review right before. While starting to study from scratch so to speak the night before is difficult to do effectively, concentrated cramming right before an exam can help in my experience especially if you need to remember a list of words or ideas. Here are some general tips though to get you through your next last minute studying emergency.

  1. All of the sources that I have looked at agree that the first and most important thing to do is to avoid getting stressed or worried. Stress and worry can inhibit your ability to retain any information and makes it difficult for you to think of anything other than how little time you have. Figure out what you need to do and accept that you will get it all done. One thing that I always like to think of especially during exams or midterms when I have a lot going on and all I want is for the week to end is that time keeps on moving. It sounds pretty silly and super obvious but just accepting that the week will end as all weeks inevitably do and that you will get your work done as you always do can really help you decrease the amount of stress you have about work. Stop thinking about everything you need to do and how little time you have and just start doing it.
  2. One thing that I like to do to study regardless of whether it’s last minute studying or studying ahead of time is to rewrite or summarize all of my notes or material into one short study guide that is only a page or two of loose leaf paper if possible. I have talked about this in other posts as well but I think it is extremely helpful in a last minute situation to condense the material and make it seem more manageable to study. This both allows you to have a smaller amount of material to review and lets you go through your notes and pick out which information is important or testable and which is superfluous. An article on Helium.com talks about this technique as a way to help you study at the last minute.

“The key to maximizing you study time is to compact the information into the smallest form possible. Take a few pieces of loose paper, and summarize all of your notes into as few pages as possible. Use point form, and only include important information that you believe will be on the test. Most courses will only contain a few pages of solid testable information. Once you have this short summary, you can review it over and over again, and memorize it in a short period of time. Once you have this information memorized, you should have no trouble with any questions that are thrown at you.”

They also add that using this method can improve how efficiently you study.

“With time and experience, you can develop the ability to tell what information is important, and what information is not. As you get to this point, you will become more and more efficient, and eventually get to the point where you do not need a whole lot of time to effectively study for a test.”

(“Best ways to study for a test at the last minute” by D. Trump on Helium.com)

  1. Another article from Helium.com talks about a similar technique of just writing out the information as many times as possible until you can recall it all perfectly. I have always found that rewriting information is one of the best ways to help you remember it. When I used to tutor students, especially in languages, I would have them write out things like verb conjugations multiple times to help them remember it. This practice helps you keep information in your short term memory so it is, as the article explains, especially helpful right before a test to rewrite what you need to remember. Writing things out word-for-word if you need to recall something that way or in your own words in different ways are both techniques that cement material in your mind better than just reading something over. Here’s exactly what you should do to get the most out of rewriting your notes:

“Have you ever had an exam in high school, where the teacher allowed you to make a “cheat sheet” where you could write down as much information as you could in a given space? Then when you went and took the test, you didn’t use your “cheat sheet” at all. Well why do you think that is? It’s because writing information down makes you focus on the information better, and retain it in your memory. Suppose you have to memorize certain amendments in the constitution. Well writing them down, word for word. Do it multiple times during your studying. Take a quick break, and write down all the facts you can remember, then go back to studying.  Keep doing it until you can recall the information without having to look at your notes. Then do it a few more times. This is great to do an hour before the test, while it is still in your short term memory. Recopying your notes by hand is also another good way to study. Along with writing stuff down, making flash cards is a good way to do this. It sounds very elementary, but it does help. Not only can you re-use them later on for quizzing yourself, but you are retaining information.”

(“Best ways to study for a test at the last minute” by Rio Waye on Helium.com)

  1. Often when you get to the point of studying for a test at the last minute, the pressure of trying to cram all of the studying you should have done over the previous days into one night can make you feel the need to study harder and avoid breaks. However, the most important fact to realize at this point in the game is that you simply can’t study in the same way that you would if you had more time. While this means that you will have to pick and choose which things are important to study, it also gives you the opportunity to study more efficiently and waste less time on material that isn’t essential. It is also important to realize both when you are frantically studying and when you are studying in general that at some point your brain just can’t absorb any more information. Taking breaks that allow you mind to completely switch off and stop working for a little bit is extremely beneficial to studying. I personally try to take breaks in between blocks of studying by watching a 20 minute episode of a show. I find that sitcoms or comedies where I don’t have to think and might be less tempted to just watch the next episode are best for this. This practice gives your mind the chance to recharge and study more efficiently when you get back to work. Here’s what an article on YouthLink Jamaica has to say about this:

“Accept the fact and work smarter, not harder

Accept the fact that you will not be able to go through everything in depth. This will help to keep your stress level low and help you to get and remain focused. Next, examine the syllabus in its entirety and select the most problematic topics. Attack those areas first and make sure you understand each one fully before you move on to the next; employ memory aids such as acronyms and mini songs to enhance the process. Check if there are any topics that overlap in other subjects and pay attention to those as well. Kill two birds with one stone. Finally, supplement the areas you are versed in with working examples that will add some spine and depth to them.

Diminishing Returns

There comes a point when your brain gets saturated and you are not able to absorb and assimilate as much as you could have at the start of the ‘study’ session. You will know you’ve reached this point of diminishing returns when you start reading a sentence six times and just can’t get what it’s saying. The best thing to do is to pause. Many persons ignore this phase and press on, only to find that at the end of the study session they aren’t able to recite what they had memorised perfectly at the beginning. Bottom line, it’s always wise to take a break, grab a sandwich and just relax for about 30 minutes.”

(“Last-minute Studying: The dos and don’t of cramming” by Corey I. Lindner on YouthLinkJamaica.com)

  1. This next tip is something that I use especially when I am at the end of my studying session and getting a bit delirious as well as maybe a bit silly. Surprisingly, it actually is very helpful and can and should be used at any point in the studying process. Using silly stories and random memory triggers to remember information can help you remember information come test time. I usually end up doing this as I said towards the end of studying so the triggers can get pretty ridiculous and silly but sometimes that funnier and more ridiculous they are, the easier they are to remember. An article on Yahoo with a whole list of different ways to studying effectively at the last minute has a great example of this.

“Use silly, abstract memory triggers.

Another great trick that’s worth the silliness is to come up with any kind of weird mental story or picture that’ll cement concepts in your head, or connect one thing to another.

For example: when I was seven, my mother taught me this trick as I was learning to identify the 50 U.S. States. She pointed to the edge of Idaho and observed that it looked a bit like an old man’s face, maybe even that of Santa Claus, which would help me remember the state’s name because…Idaho-ho-ho.

This sort of thing seemed embarrassingly silly to me, even as a seven-year-old. But it really, really works.”

Or if you really want to remember something you can always just come up with a song…

“Write song lyrics.

Music has an extraordinary power to stick in our heads, because it connects more deeply with different parts of the brain. This is why we all sing the alphabet song when we’re trying to organize files in the right order.

Just take a tune you know, any tune at all, and make up new lyrics for it using the information you need to remember. It doesn’t have to be good, you just have to be able to sing it to yourself until you remember it. Once you can do that, you won’t forget it.”

(“Tips for Successful Last-Minute Studying-How to Cram” by Lauren Vork on Yahoo Voices)

  1. Finally I have a couple random things to think about when studying. The first is to eat a banana instead of having a cup of coffee to get some energy. As Christopher Middleton says in “Top 10 last-minute exam revision tips” on the Telegraph, “believe in bananas” and get your boost like professional athletes do from the potassium in a banana rather than from caffeine. And finally I want to leave you with this great new word that I found on Urban Dictionary “nyquit.” According to the Urban Dictionary, nyquit is defined as “to give up on studying at around 11om and take NyQuil so you can sleep and study when you wake up.” They add that it is “the procrastinator’s secret weapon.” While I certainly am not advising you to take any form of medicine other than for its prescribed use, going to bed earlier and then continuing to study in the morning is often more effective and efficient than pulling an all-nighter, and it ensures that you are well-rested.

Try out some of these next time you are faced with some last minute cramming for a test and let me know how they work for you. Also let me know of any tips that you find useful for last-minute studying!

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Takeaways:

  1. Last-minute studying can be effective and sometimes more efficient if you approach it in the right way.
  2. Find ways to focus your studying and condense your material into the most concise form possible.

We’ve all had times when we leave studying for a test to the last minute either due to procrastination, a jam-packed schedule or just common forgetfulness. It is generally better to start studying earlier than the night before but that doesn’t always happen. For those times when you need to cram a ton of information into your head the night before, this blog has all of the answers to the best way to so efficiently and effectively. I generally start studying a few days before an exam but then do some concentrated studying or cramming the day and night before and even some review right before. While starting to study from scratch so to speak the night before is difficult to do effectively, concentrated cramming right before an exam can help in my experience especially if you need to remember a list of words or ideas. Here are some general tips though to get you through your next last minute studying emergency.

  1. All of the sources that I have looked at agree that the first and most important thing to do is to avoid getting stressed or worried. Stress and worry can inhibit your ability to retain any information and makes it difficult for you to think of anything other than how little time you have. Figure out what you need to do and accept that you will get it all done. One thing that I always like to think of especially during exams or midterms when I have a lot going on and all I want is for the week to end is that time keeps on moving. It sounds pretty silly and super obvious but just accepting that the week will end as all weeks inevitably do and that you will get your work done as you always do can really help you decrease the amount of stress you have about work. Stop thinking about everything you need to do and how little time you have and just start doing it.
  2. One thing that I like to do to study regardless of whether it’s last minute studying or studying ahead of time is to rewrite or summarize all of my notes or material into one short study guide that is only a page or two of loose leaf paper if possible. I have talked about this in other posts as well but I think it is extremely helpful in a last minute situation to condense the material and make it seem more manageable to study. This both allows you to have a smaller amount of material to review and lets you go through your notes and pick out which information is important or testable and which is superfluous. An article on Helium.com talks about this technique as a way to help you study at the last minute.

“The key to maximizing you study time is to compact the information into the smallest form possible. Take a few pieces of loose paper, and summarize all of your notes into as few pages as possible. Use point form, and only include important information that you believe will be on the test. Most courses will only contain a few pages of solid testable information. Once you have this short summary, you can review it over and over again, and memorize it in a short period of time. Once you have this information memorized, you should have no trouble with any questions that are thrown at you.”

They also add that using this method can improve how efficiently you study.

“With time and experience, you can develop the ability to tell what information is important, and what information is not. As you get to this point, you will become more and more efficient, and eventually get to the point where you do not need a whole lot of time to effectively study for a test.”

(“Best ways to study for a test at the last minute” by D. Trump on Helium.com)

  1. Another article from Helium.com talks about a similar technique of just writing out the information as many times as possible until you can recall it all perfectly. I have always found that rewriting information is one of the best ways to help you remember it. When I used to tutor students, especially in languages, I would have them write out things like verb conjugations multiple times to help them remember it. This practice helps you keep information in your short term memory so it is, as the article explains, especially helpful right before a test to rewrite what you need to remember. Writing things out word-for-word if you need to recall something that way or in your own words in different ways are both techniques that cement material in your mind better than just reading something over. Here’s exactly what you should do to get the most out of rewriting your notes:

“Have you ever had an exam in high school, where the teacher allowed you to make a “cheat sheet” where you could write down as much information as you could in a given space? Then when you went and took the test, you didn’t use your “cheat sheet” at all. Well why do you think that is? It’s because writing information down makes you focus on the information better, and retain it in your memory. Suppose you have to memorize certain amendments in the constitution. Well writing them down, word for word. Do it multiple times during your studying. Take a quick break, and write down all the facts you can remember, then go back to studying.  Keep doing it until you can recall the information without having to look at your notes. Then do it a few more times. This is great to do an hour before the test, while it is still in your short term memory. Recopying your notes by hand is also another good way to study. Along with writing stuff down, making flash cards is a good way to do this. It sounds very elementary, but it does help. Not only can you re-use them later on for quizzing yourself, but you are retaining information.”

(“Best ways to study for a test at the last minute” by Rio Waye on Helium.com)

  1. Often when you get to the point of studying for a test at the last minute, the pressure of trying to cram all of the studying you should have done over the previous days into one night can make you feel the need to study harder and avoid breaks. However, the most important fact to realize at this point in the game is that you simply can’t study in the same way that you would if you had more time. While this means that you will have to pick and choose which things are important to study, it also gives you the opportunity to study more efficiently and waste less time on material that isn’t essential. It is also important to realize both when you are frantically studying and when you are studying in general that at some point your brain just can’t absorb any more information. Taking breaks that allow you mind to completely switch off and stop working for a little bit is extremely beneficial to studying. I personally try to take breaks in between blocks of studying by watching a 20 minute episode of a show. I find that sitcoms or comedies where I don’t have to think and might be less tempted to just watch the next episode are best for this. This practice gives your mind the chance to recharge and study more efficiently when you get back to work. Here’s what an article on YouthLink Jamaica has to say about this:

“Accept the fact and work smarter, not harder

Accept the fact that you will not be able to go through everything in depth. This will help to keep your stress level low and help you to get and remain focused. Next, examine the syllabus in its entirety and select the most problematic topics. Attack those areas first and make sure you understand each one fully before you move on to the next; employ memory aids such as acronyms and mini songs to enhance the process. Check if there are any topics that overlap in other subjects and pay attention to those as well. Kill two birds with one stone. Finally, supplement the areas you are versed in with working examples that will add some spine and depth to them.

Diminishing Returns

There comes a point when your brain gets saturated and you are not able to absorb and assimilate as much as you could have at the start of the ‘study’ session. You will know you’ve reached this point of diminishing returns when you start reading a sentence six times and just can’t get what it’s saying. The best thing to do is to pause. Many persons ignore this phase and press on, only to find that at the end of the study session they aren’t able to recite what they had memorised perfectly at the beginning. Bottom line, it’s always wise to take a break, grab a sandwich and just relax for about 30 minutes.”

(“Last-minute Studying: The dos and don’t of cramming” by Corey I. Lindner on YouthLinkJamaica.com)

  1. This next tip is something that I use especially when I am at the end of my studying session and getting a bit delirious as well as maybe a bit silly. Surprisingly, it actually is very helpful and can and should be used at any point in the studying process. Using silly stories and random memory triggers to remember information can help you remember information come test time. I usually end up doing this as I said towards the end of studying so the triggers can get pretty ridiculous and silly but sometimes that funnier and more ridiculous they are, the easier they are to remember. An article on Yahoo with a whole list of different ways to studying effectively at the last minute has a great example of this.

“Use silly, abstract memory triggers.

Another great trick that’s worth the silliness is to come up with any kind of weird mental story or picture that’ll cement concepts in your head, or connect one thing to another.

For example: when I was seven, my mother taught me this trick as I was learning to identify the 50 U.S. States. She pointed to the edge of Idaho and observed that it looked a bit like an old man’s face, maybe even that of Santa Claus, which would help me remember the state’s name because…Idaho-ho-ho.

This sort of thing seemed embarrassingly silly to me, even as a seven-year-old. But it really, really works.”

Or if you really want to remember something you can always just come up with a song…

“Write song lyrics.

Music has an extraordinary power to stick in our heads, because it connects more deeply with different parts of the brain. This is why we all sing the alphabet song when we’re trying to organize files in the right order.

Just take a tune you know, any tune at all, and make up new lyrics for it using the information you need to remember. It doesn’t have to be good, you just have to be able to sing it to yourself until you remember it. Once you can do that, you won’t forget it.”

(“Tips for Successful Last-Minute Studying-How to Cram” by Lauren Vork on Yahoo Voices)

  1. Finally I have a couple random things to think about when studying. The first is to eat a banana instead of having a cup of coffee to get some energy. As Christopher Middleton says in “Top 10 last-minute exam revision tips” on the Telegraph, “believe in bananas” and get your boost like professional athletes do from the potassium in a banana rather than from caffeine. And finally I want to leave you with this great new word that I found on Urban Dictionary “nyquit.” According to the Urban Dictionary, nyquit is defined as “to give up on studying at around 11om and take NyQuil so you can sleep and study when you wake up.” They add that it is “the procrastinator’s secret weapon.” While I certainly am not advising you to take any form of medicine other than for its prescribed use, going to bed earlier and then continuing to study in the morning is often more effective and efficient than pulling an all-nighter, and it ensures that you are well-rested.

Try out some of these next time you are faced with some last minute cramming for a test and let me know how they work for you. Also let me know of any tips that you find useful for last-minute studying!