It’s finally exam time! And, as everyone who’s ever gone to school or studied for a big test knows, it’s not a good idea to “cram” for tests. The idea of cramming implies that you have to stuff a lot of information into your head in a short period of time. It implies waiting until the last minute. I always think of cramming as trying to put 10 pounds of groceries in a 5-pound bag. Usually, something gives. It’s just not the best way to learn.

If you find yourself in the position of cramming for finals – the first thing I want you to do is make an honest and sincere resolution never to do this again. Do a better job next semester in allocating your time along the way to go over notes, read your assignments, study with others, attend review sessions, and prepare for tests.

Okay, though, so you didn’t prepare well this time, and now you’ve got to cram. Here are a few tips.

1. Use your time wisely.

Don’t despair. Don’t assume that because you did a poor job of preparing up to now, that nothing can be done. Even if you only have a little time left, use it!

I remember being in exactly the same position one time in high school. As the exam approached, it dawned on me that even though I foolishly gave myself only a few hours to prepare, I should use them in the best way I could. Though I didn’t do as well in that course as I should have, I can promise you the two hours of studying made a huge difference. You can make a difference even with just a few days or a few hours before a test. Resolve right now to use your time wisely.

2. Develop a plan for studying.

Take the calendar out and look at your final exam schedule. Take careful note of how much time you have in total, how much time you have prior to your first exam, and how much time you have between tests. If you have two tests on the same day and they’re on the first day of exams, then obviously you’ve got to split your time between those two subjects.

Both tests deserve your attention. Don’t give up on studying for the one that’s the hardest, and don’t assume the course that has been the easiest for you thus far doesn’t deserve any attention. Don’t blow the good grade you’ve already got by not studying for the final exam.

So, you’ve got the calendar out, and you’re calculating how much time you have before the first test and between tests. Now, allocate the time you have. Divide it up evenly if you can, but pay attention to which tests come first, which test you expect to be the hardest, and which tests are most important for the grade you absolutely have to make in order either to pass, or, in some cases, the grade you need to get into graduate school or some other professional society. Some tests need more time to prepare, so try to “weight“ the time you have accordingly.

3. Aim at the target!

By the target, I’m saying you’ve got to think and plan for the kind of test your professor is going to give. Study for the things you think will be on the test! Again, this approach may not be the best when you start a new semester and a new course, but you’re in a jam and minutes count – aim at the target.

Ask yourself what kind of test your professor usually gives. Multiple choice? Short answer essays? Dictionary/vocabulary terms? Longer essays? Does he/she use the textbook a lot? Or, does she/he want you to depend upon the lecture notes or handouts?

To accurately target the test, you should also talk to some classmates who are working hard and doing well in the course. Figure out what those students are targeting. Are they going back to the textbook, and/or are they going over notes? Put yourself – and ask your classmates this question too – in the position of the professor. What kind of questions would you ask if you were the course professor?

Professors have patterns. There are certain kinds of questions that they like to ask. Think back through your previous tests and study for the kinds of things that were asked prior to this exam.

4. Go to the test review session.

Finally, if there is a review session, make absolutely sure you go. Most professors genuinely want their students to succeed. Go to the review session – if you missed it, try to get help from a classmate – and take careful notes about the kinds of things the professor emphasizes in the review session. In other words, your professor is showing you what the target is, so aim at the target.

And one more point.

5. Be smart while taking the exam.

  • Since you might be staying up late, make sure to set your alarm and get up in time to be prompt for the test.
  • When you get the test, take a deep breath, don’t panic, and glance over it. Allocate your time evenly for the length of the test that you have.
  • Read the questions slowly and carefully. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen good students miss a question because they didn’t read it carefully. Read the question and ask yourself what’s being asked. Don’t assume you know what’s being asked based on a few keywords.
  • Take another deep breath. Say a silent prayer. And start.

When that first test is over, use all the time you have to study for the next test. Repeat that pattern until every test is taken.

And make sure you never get yourself in this position again! Come on now, you can do it!

Other study tips for finals week:

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Dr. Robert Sloan is president of Houston Baptist University in Houston, Texas.

Edited by Joannah Buffington

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