how to cram for exams

before i start, i just want to say that i am not promoting cramming! it's an exhausting habbit to get into. it does happen to the best of us, though, so i personally think it's important to be prepared when it does happen, so there's not extra stress added to the situation. here's a step-by-step guide of how i cram for exams!

first, make sure you know your learning styles so you can study smart! everyone has a mix of different learning styles, so studying techniques should be unique to each person based on your combination.

related: how to study to your advantage

reduce anxity as much as you can

try little stress relievers while you're studying! keeping your anxiety levels down will help you focus more/

  • drink some chamomile or non-caffenated tea
  • exercise while listening/reading material or on your break
  • focus on your breathing
  • hold a pen between your teeth
  • listen to calming instrumental music
  • study with a friend
related: studying with anxiety

read the syllabus

read the syllabus. read the syllabus!!!! it's there as a guideline so you know what to study. those kids that always pass the test because they studied the right things? they read the syllabus. since you're short on time, i would suggest going through and highlighting with three different colors: what you really don't understand, what you could work on, and what you understand perfectly. then study in that order, starting with the concepts you understand the least.

make a study guide

even if you've already made one, make another for the concepts you don't get. repetition is good for memorization, and this is especially helpful if you write your notes on the computer, because hand writing and summarizing notes uses a different cognitive process than typing it all out.

practice tests

having the knowledge about your topic is obviously important, but you need to be able to put it to use. i used to make the mistake of only copying and reading notes before tests, and i always had a hard time in tests because i didn't do any past papers. there are practice questions available all over the internet, look up some short answer and essay questions (or, if you're really pressed for time, just practice whichever type of questions you have a hard time with).

here's a collection of all the past papers from the ib (source)

review materials that you still don't understand

there's always something you get wrong in your practice tests, so review those materials again. some quick ways to review are:

  • youtube videos (at 2x speed if they talk too slow or if it's too long
  • look up study guides for your topic; sometimes other students will post theirs online
  • podcasts (i would listen to these a lot on the way to school before a test)
  • discuss the topic with a friend and help each other on your weak points
  • explain the topic to family or a friend
  • published study guides for your course
  • study flashcards you made or from quizlet
  • exercise while reading/listening to the material  (exercise boosts brain power)

don't overstudy

if you try to cram the entire chapter into your brain in one or two nights, you're going to burn out and forget some of the important pieces of information. another reason to read the syllabus! take breaks in between studying so you can come back with a fresh mind.


don't pull an all nighter. get as much sleep as you normally would so you can preform well on your exam. if you stay up all night, you'll be more likely to forget what you just spent so hard learning, and trying to write an essay style question at your normal standard while sleep deprived is impossible. if a full nights sleep really isn't possible, try to at least get four hours, or have little power naps in between studying.

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