How to Cram for an Exam

 Despite every best intention, for many, revision is often left to the last minute, resulting in a last minute cramming session.  But don’t worry; ignore anyone telling you that “if you don’t know it by now, you never will”, because in my experience, it simply isn’t true.

1) Take a deep breath.  The most important thing in a cramming session is not to panic.  If all your thoughts are taken up with negative I’ll-never-be-able-to-learn-all-this-by-morning statements, then you won’t be able to take in anything that you read.  So take another big breath; there is time, and you can do this.

2) Start by looking at your class notes.  This will be where your lecturer is getting the exam questions from, so look particularly for any clues and key points.  These are often reiterated several times in the lesson.  From this, draw a spider diagram with the main topic in the middle and all the main points coming from this.  Try and keep it simple.  From these main points, write a key fact, opinion, analysis or whatever is required.  This spider diagram will now be your bible for this topic.  Create a diagram for each subject matter.

3) The next stage is often variable depending on your learning style, but if you’re anything like me, then variation is the key.  Reread your new spider diagram.  If you’re a visual learner, add some colour to it, so that each topic is associated with a different colour.  By doing so, you will be able to picture the sheet better when trying to recall information.  Read it out loud.  It sounds stupid, and you’ll no doubt feel silly doing so, but try reading it aloud in funny voices, or putting weird accents on certain words; it will no doubt make you laugh, which is more likely to make it stick in your mind.  This is particularly useful for key points.

4) Ask someone to ‘test’ you.  Give them your spider diagram, and talk them through it from memory.  It doesn’t have to be word for word, as long as you remember the gist of it.  If you get stuck, ask them not to tell you what’s next.  Instead, ask for clues, such as what it sounds like, looks like etc.  Not only is this still testing you, but once again it can lead to amusing images or cues being created in your mind, which all helps you to recall information.  If you’re friend doesn’t mind, do this a few times until you really feel that you know the information.

5) Look, cover, write, check.  At primary school, we spent many a lesson using this technique to learn spellings.  But it still works with bigger, more complicated topics.  Read through your spider diagram again.  Then cover it up.  Get a new sheet of paper, and replicate the diagram without cheating.  Don’t worry if you forget things at first.  Once you have written everything you can remember, check it against the original and make a note of what you got wrong or missed off.  Do this a few times, and gain confidence each time that you get more right and remember more!

6) Do get some sleep.  No matter how tempting it is to pull an all-nighter, you’ll be too tired to function properly during the exam if you do.  Get at least one cycle of sleep, and you’ll feel much better for it.  Read the notes again just before you go to bed.

7) Make sure you get up early enough the next day to both have a good breakfast, and to read through your notes one last time.  This will make sure it’s fresh in your mind before the exam. 

A final tip, and a crucial one for confidence, is not to talk to your classmates about what you’ve revised just before the exam.  This often leads to needless panic that you’ve not done enough or revised the wrong thing.  You’ve done everything you could have now, so walk into that exam room with your head held high.  You can do this.