How to study for an exam when you have no time

That frightening moment when you get a reminder of the date of an exam and it’s only 6 days from now… you start panicking because you’ve only studied the first 3 lessons! I really hope you don’t have to go through this, but if you do…


What to do? Well, I’ve been there, I’m not going to lie, here’s a piece of advice to get the best possible results with the little time you have, use your time wisely and promise yourself to use a study schedule next time to have your mind at ease the last week before the exam.

Stay in your comfort zone 

What a weird advice, nowadays the trend for everything is stepping out of your comfort zone, right? But this is an emergency! Fight or flight! And we’re fighting here, the best way to do this is doing what has worked before for you. Are you a night owl? Don’t try to become a morning person for the sake of an effective study routine, not at the last minute, it won’t work.


If you need to stay up late to get through the most information possible and you work best at night then do it.


Be smart when choosing your learning resources

If you’re struggling to understand a single paragraph of a textbook, and you go over and over it, more than 4 times, skip it, if you find it hard to get the whole concept of a page or a chapter consider finding an easier, more digested source of information; is there a reliable Youtube channel you know about where you can find this topic shortly and with a simpler explanation? Go and look for it.


Don’t waste time trying to understand something complicated when someone else has already made a simple explanation, you’ll get frustrated by digging into the textbook’s words, I’m not saying you should do this for every exam, just right now you have to use your time and energy the smartest way to get the most of your study.


Do you have friends years ahead that could help you out? Reach out to them, ask them what to focus on, how did they study, borrow their notes, this is a shortcut you shouldn’t always rely on, making your own notes and getting the information from recommended textbooks will give you better results, but, just for this one time, we need to use everything on hand to make it through the exam.


Don’t break the flow

Once you’re in the mood and started to study, you’re losing track of time, don’t stop unless it’s necessary or your body is asking you to do so. Turn off distractions… put that phone away… in another room… of another house… locked in a safe cage… and lose the freaking key! Sorry, I panicked a little here, but you get the point.


Try to avoid distractions as much as possible, don’t stop unless you’re tired, or your brain needs a break. If you are used to studying in short breaks then stick to 4 but instead of watching a YouTube video on your 5-minute break do some physical activity, get that blood pumping to stay alert, and be able to continue studying. 


Scrolling through social media, or a quick tv break is a no-no in this situation, this will take your mind away from the study mood, too many distractions will make it harder to get in the flow again after your short break.


Reward yourself

Cramming isn’t fun guys… You’re doing a really hard work, you managed a 6 hours study session and still, your nerves are wrecking! Stressing over the exam and feeling guilty you didn’t study before, it’s okay, I’ve been there.


Only after you’ve accomplished a decent amount of study. Now you can take your phone… finally! If that is a reward for you; if you were actually craving going for a run to free your thoughts a little bit that’s up to you. Reward yourself with whatever makes you happy.


Try to have a nice rest the night before

Time’s up, you made the best you could with the time you had. Now we don’t want a fatigued brain, that won’t get you anywhere even if you understood everything you managed to study.


Take a warm shower, get a nice meal (not too heavy), and go to bed on time, you’re probably very tired for overworking anyways, so hopefully, after you relax you’ll be able to sleep all night. Don’t forget to turn on the alarm!


During the exam

The moment of freaking out is over, now you have to be as confident as possible with the information you managed to digest. Skip through the questions and answer the ones you already know, if you’ve got any essay questions included write on the side the crucial words that come to your mind and expand on those later.


Focus on the questions of the topics you managed to study. Don’t waste time trying to guess over a question you might have read somewhere. Instead, try to make sure you got right the ones you understand. 


After the exam

We both know that cramming wasn’t the best learning experience you had. So, take responsibility and go through the topics again, with the exam questions still fresh in your head, write down as many as you can remember, and reinforce the topics that need reinforcement. 


Study the topics you didn’t get the chance to even read, and being honest if you failed that exam this reinforcement could be helpful if you need to repeat it, or to get a higher grade on the finals and step up from this little slip.


Break the vicious cycle

Cramming is exhausting, stressful, and painful, nobody wants to deal with this situation on every exam of the career. Besides, is like playing Russian roulette with your grades, you might pass 1 or 2 exams, but you won’t always be lucky, someday the lessons you didn’t get to study could be most of the exam’s questions and you’d fail.


Commit yourself to study on time for the next exam, you deserve better than average grades. If you’re a serial procrastinator try starting even before the semester begins. What do I mean by this? If there are no exams to study? I mean start building the habit of studying every day, even if it’s only 30 minutes, pick a topic of a subject you love and read about it, make notes, every day.


If you’re not familiar with creating long term habits you could find the book Atomic Habits really helpful, here I go over 15 great advice from it to help you build any habit you’d like to conquer.

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