Last-minute studying for exams: THE survival guide

12 Oct

At first, a semester feels almost like eternity. You keep telling yourself something like: “I will study later, there is plenty time…“ Unfortunately, the “later“ never comes. Once you are too busy finishing a project, then you simply need to attend the coolest party ever  (and recover from a hangeover for the next two days)  and then you fall asleep after opening the book for the first time. If this rings a bell and you find yourself in deep sh… trouble, than this article is for you: How to survive your exams (i.e. pass) and not to go nuts in the process.

Say you have three days left. Suppose you haven´t studied at all so far, but you have at least attended (most of) the lectures and have (at least some) notes (hey, nobody says that these need to be your notes). How to deal with the immense amount of information you need to understand for the exam?

First and foremost, plan. Make a schedule where you clearly indicate the time dedicated to studying, eating, sleeping and relaxing. There are a couple of rules you should follow.

  • Study in blocks and take breaks between the blocks. You cannot reasonably expect to be able to focus for six hours straight. That´s insane.
  • Sleep at least 8 hours per day. If you are tired, you do not learn as fast.
  • Eat – and eat healthy stuff. Even if you would prefer having three hamburges for each maths exercise you finish, a salad will not make you drowsy(/sick). As for drinks, I heartily recommend green tea.
  • Little treats (Twix bar, anyone?) are fine! (In breaks only.) In reasonable amounts, right?

Now that you know how much you can dedicate to each subject and have it planned, start studying. Remember to learn the theory first, then go and do the exercises. It does not make sense to do it the other way around – but you would be surprised how many people fail to follow this simple rule.

The second often neglected rule of thumb is revision. Always revise what you have learned on that day so that you do not find your mind completely blank once you get the exam questions.

The third thing people usually forget about is natural procrastination. If you tend to check Google+ every time you turn on your PC, BLOCK that site for the next few days (I know, so painful). Alternatively, designate a ten-minute block for social networking sites during the day so that you do not suffer from withdrawal symptoms.

And finally, do not panic. It does not help, really. If you know there is no way you can learn everything, focus on the more important concepts and make sure you know how to solve the most important examples discussed in class. Remember that even if you do not know every detail of a particular theory unlike the unpleasant know-it-all who sits in the back row, it does not mean that you cannot get a decent pass.


Posted by on 12 October, 2011 in Education


2 responses to “Last-minute studying for exams: THE survival guide

  1. patricklundcph

    12 October, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    Some good suggestions. I know the feeling too well, not keeping up and having to catch up just before exams.
    I’ve never been at structuring (or at least sticking to the plans that may have been set up). A suggestion is also to get an overview of what topics you have the worst knowledge, and then reading up on that. Then you know that, and move to the second worst topics.
    You may not end up being able to ‘ace’ an exam, but it takes away the worst exam nerves, since you have fewer and fewer ‘black holes’, where you would fail completely.

  2. lenkah

    12 October, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    True, but the “black holes” do not necessarily have to overlap with the most important stuff that was covered. Sometimes it is thus better to have a couple of “black holes” but to know the fundamentals.


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