In the ideal situation, every student would have at least a week to prepare for an exam and develop a study guide. Students would have organized materials, blocks of time set aside to study, and a quiet, stress free study area. However, many students do not have these luxuries. With part or full time jobs, families, and other commitments, many students are forced to study with very little time. If you find yourself in a similar situation, where you have very little time to prepare for a test, there are some tips to help you get the most out of your limited time. It is important to understand, however, that cramming for an exam may work in some situations, but it is not a good tactic for long term learning.
The first step in cramming for an exam is to preview the material that may be covered on the exam. If the instructor has outlined main ideas, key concepts, and important vocabulary words, this should be used as a guideline. Next, skim over chapters looking for important points to help refresh and review these ideas. Concentrate only on the main points instead of trying to study every single fact or idea.
One technique that can be used to quickly organize materials and ideas is to begin with five sheets of loose leaf paper. Try to identify the five most important topics or ideas that will be covered on the exam, and write one of these key concepts at the top of each piece of paper. Then, write a summary, explanation, or definition of each of these main ideas in your own words. This will help you to gauge how much you know about the topic. The next step is to compare what you have written about the main ideas with classroom materials, such as your notes, the textbook, and handouts. Using this information, edit what you have already written. This includes adding additional information, erasing or crossing out irrelevant or false information, and completely rewriting the summary or explanation so that it is more thorough and makes more sense. Finally, organize the five sheets of paper in order from most to least important.
If you have time and you feel that there are additional key concepts you should study, add another couple of sheets of paper and repeat the above process. Try not to have a total of more than nine or ten sheets of paper and key ideas. Too many sheets of paper may become disorganized and cluttered, which will actually make it more difficult to study. Stick with only the most important ideas that will be on the exam. Review the sheets of paper, from the most important to the least important, the night before the exam and on the day of the exam. This technique will help to organize what might otherwise be a chaotic and stressful night (or morning) of cramming for an exam.