10 Ways to Cram for Big Tests
Just like parents encouraging their child to eat vegetables while chowing on potato chips themselves, I will give cramming tips for exams while acknowledging my inexperience to perform well on most exams. I am the example of how NOT to study, but again I have called upon friend's experiences to formulate the following tips.
We've all been there. It's 7 p.m. the night before an exam, the week has been flooded with unexpected distractions, and in 25 hours - at 8 the next morning - there is a high-stakes exam (aren't they all?). You have to learn a lot with little energy and of course, little time. You will study because you have no choice, but how you study will determine a letter grade. It's time to prepare well.
First, a pre-test:
- Fill in the blank. I study well ________ (location) because it allows me to ________ (learning style).
- Multiple choice: I need to consume ______ to stay awake: a) coffee b) latte c) soda d) Red Bull e) just water for me d) I drink only victory.
- Essay question: In less than 500 words, describe your most deleterious test-taking experience and how you can improve this time.
Now for some rules I try to adhere to:
1. Just like real estate, it's about location. Don't mess around with a distracting location or waste any more time getting to an "ideal spot." Get ready to stay put.
2. Start with the older material first. This is what you're rusty on, and if you have time you can always go back to review. When you do, you'll know what you really don't know well yet.
3. Don't just read. Some of us have photographic memories, but chances are that just reading material won't result in test-day retention.
4. Use tactile learning techniques. Get a white board so you can write and rewrite those difficult words of concepts. It is never too late to drill the important stuff.
5. Make a checklist. Pick a methodical order to go through your material. Panic can be your worst enemy, so fight against it with a consistent way to get through all those pages, problems or PowerPoints.
6. Sleep. A no-brainer, yes, but how many times has stress and panic stopped us from doing the obvious? A host of studies confirm that sleep improves memory consolidation. Even a little sleep helps. In my own experience, studying, sleeping a few hours, then waking up to study again can improve overall performance.
7. Make a memory-jog sheet. Grab a single sheet of paper and put what you think are the most important facts. In the morning, in your last review, make sure you know this sheet.
8. Take a walk with your flashcards or notes. Wanna be extreme? Do pushups just to show the exam you mean business.
9. Talk to someone or something. Tell your dog how the Kreb cycle works, record your voice on the computer, or annoy your study buddy. If you can't teach someone else the material, chances are you haven't learned it.
10. Tell yourself, "You shall pass." No exam is going to kill or resurrect your career aspirations. It is just a test.
Number 10 is the most important for me. I've been a "B" science student my whole life and nothing I do seems to change that. But the bottom line is I've gotten through. I want to be a PA so I can watch people be healed and a 3.0 is all I need right now. I like to remember that I'm learning for someone so that I can be a better provider. Of course, nobody wants to cram. But as long as I get what I need to get through, I'll take it and try harder next time.