Short-Term Study Strategies: How to Ace the Exam That’s Just Around the Corner

CramSheila has an exam coming up in Advanced Biology.  It had been announced weeks ago, but she has a full course load.  She studies every night for several hours, and sometimes she gets overwhelmed with all she has to do.  And that’s the problem:  She is so overwhelmed that she completely forgot about the Advanced Bio exam until today. Now it’s tomorrow and she has to study–FAST.

Todd, on the other hand, keeps up with his studies and knows when every exam is scheduled.  There’s just one problem. Today, his Economics professor announced a pop quiz for tomorrow’s class.  This sends everyone in the class, including Todd, scurrying home or to their dorms, to find out how to squeeze some study time into their schedules.

Obviously, as different as Sheila and Todd are, they have one dilemma in common:  a test tomorrow that they have little time to prepare for.  So what’s a conscientious student to do?  Here are some suggestions for taking advantage of a short amount of study time for that unexpected test.

1) Spend an hour making sure that you have all the information you need. This means you need to find that person in the class who has perfect notes, and find out if he / she can fill in the gaps in your own notes.

2) Find a place with zero distractions. While some distractions are acceptable when you’re studying for a test over a period of days, when it’s an unintended cram session, you have to focus.  That means:

* Go somewhere that you don’t have a clear view of lots of activity, or a clear day of a nice spring day.

* Place a “Do Not Disturb” sign at your study spot, and enforce it.

* Make sure you have all necessary supplies at your study spot with you, so you won’t have to keep getting up to retrieve items.

* Turn off the TV and the loud music (Some people do fine with soft music in the background).


3) But the real key to studying on the spur of the moment is operating from an outline of the material to be covered. This doesn’t have to be as difficult as it sounds.

For starters, many textbooks already have fairly good outlines.  Either they’ll start the chapter with one, or the section headings themselves make good outlines.  Either way, copy it out into your notes.  The writing helps you to remember it, plus, it keeps all of your study in one area:  your notebook.

Even if your textbook is not a great place to start for outlining, some people take very organized notes.  These notes, when well-done, are a good source for your outline, or in many cases, are already done in outline form.

You can either make an outline as you make your notes, or use the textbook outline.

Once you have your outline, your study time can begin in earnest.  Read through it once, just to get basic information.  After that, reread it to make sure you understand all of the terms.

If you have time, use the outline to make some questions and put them on flashcards. Put the answers on the back.  To truly understand the material for most tests through flashcards, you need at least 30 cards.


Read through the outline once, just for basic information. Then, read again and make sure you understand each term. If you are studying with someone, you can quiz each other by using the outline; make each heading into a question and try to answer them.

After you’ve gone through your outline thoroughly, it’s time to work on a point-wise summary.  To do this, make up a brief summary of the chapter or material that you’re studying.  Do this in such a way that all contents are in the form of points, and arranged in a logical order.  This means that you’ll have a main title first, followed by subtitles, and then points that illustrate the main point.  Assign numbers to these points so that it’s easy to remember them.  It might even be smart to make another set of flash cards, with each point, in order, so you can quiz yourself with them.

Make no mistake:  This method will take several hours of intense study.  But it will help you ace that test that comes up on the spur of the moment.




Written by:
Modified: September 25th, 2017
Published: May 10th, 2011

19 thoughts on “Short-Term Study Strategies: How to Ace the Exam That’s Just Around the Corner”

    1. Yes it does work – depends on the course and how much material is covered. I have done it and I got a pretty good mark

  1. i think that working with past questions is also a good way to prepare. it gives you an idea of the kind of questions to cover

  2. off course cramming works if you have the brain capacity to take volumes in a short time. some people require a length of time to learn, understand and retain.

  3. The best way is to take a timer and challenge urself to finish off one pg in 10 min. If u go in this rate u ll get enough time to revise tooo

  4. I thank u so much,u have really helped me
    Im studing mechanic,but i have a problem in terms and understanding.thanks

  5. I think study and learn old question papers is good for short term preparations. But if you start your preparation before exams, you can easily get good marks.
    If due to some reason, if you didn’t prepare for exam then these tips will help a lot.
    Study…study and study…
    Thanks a lot

  6. i started studying for psychology the night before the test, i used a lot of colors to separate the work under headings and sub-headings, and i put sticky notes next to my summaries with a very very short explanation of what that part of the summary is about, and i got an excellent mark !

    1. yes yes …..that works, i used to do that a lot and my friends thought it was childish but hey! i have got amazing marks.

  7. Im have a chemistry test all theory about 38 pages of notes in a week. If i read this stuff, like i do understand what’s written but i literally can’t remember shit after an hour. I’m lost in all that stuff. I never had to study before in school but now i’m in college and need to study for the first time. Help

  8. Okay here’s something that helped me
    I put aside reading my notes and revision sheets for if i have any excess time left.
    After that i went straight for my textbook as it has the most information out of every other. I took to highlighting the key points and then writing them down in short forms on the white small spaces between texts. then after i got through a whole page i summarise the page from those little things i wrote. keep it to a bare minimum as so it fits the white spaces. For instance i would use arrows and small sketches to get the idea! And i put sticky notes for the explanatory things.
    Then after that the notes, revision sheets and past papers flew we’re all just repetition of what i already knew!

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