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The Best Way to Cram: 10 Late-night Study Hacks

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How ready are you for tomorrow’s exam? If the answer is “not very,” then it's time to start cramming. Even if you only have one long night of studying available, the hacks below can help you strategize, stay focused, and cram as much information into your brain as you can. Follow these 10 steps to make the most of your late-night studying and last-minute cramming.

1. Don’t Panic

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, “Don’t Panic” is the key recommendation for successful intergalactic travel. It’s also the #1 recommendation when you’re cramming for your exams. After all, panicking is a waste of time, and you need to be using all your time to study and prepare.

2. Figure Out What’s Most Important for Your Exam

When you’re down to the wire, it’s essential that you’re smart about how you use your study time. By figuring out what information is most important for your exam, you can then focus on the material that can potentially have the most impact on your grades. This may mean that your studying will exclude some of the information that you covered in class, and that’s fine. This strategy of information prioritization is a tool to help with exam performance rather than gaining a comprehensive understanding of the entire subject.

3. Use a Study Guide

Prepare for studying by gathering the information that’s going to be on the exam into a single study guide. This will be your roadmap to prepare for the exam. Include critical points from textbook readings, lecture notes, diagrams, or explanations. If you’re short on time, you can skip this step by downloading a study guide that was prepared by one of your classmates. Search OneClass for your school and class to see the focused set of study materials that was shared by another student.

4. Optimize Your Study Style

You didn’t make it to college without a basic understanding of how your brain is most effective at absorbing information. The chances are strong that it’s not through osmosis, and re-reading your textbook is inefficient and likely ineffective. Instead, people who learn by doing can work through sample problems. Auditory learners can benefit from talking aloud about the material or creating mnemonic devices. Visual learners may find it helpful to pull out their highlighters to add color to their study guide. Tailor the way you study to accommodate your learning style.

5. Use Short Breaks to Maintain Focus

An effective cram session can look a lot like a high-intensity interval training workout. Combine sets of high-intensity studying separated by short breaks. Researchers have demonstrated that these brief mental breaks help you maintain focus over a more extended period. A typical pattern is 50 minutes of studying followed by a 10-minute break. The key to getting the most benefit from studying is to be deliberate about how you use your breaks to refresh your brain. Use this short downtime to change your environment, focus on different types of things, have a snack, take a deep breath, or even power nap.

6. Practice Tests and Flashcards

After you get a hang of the material, a practice exam can help you understand where you’re at by separating what you know from the content you’re struggling with. For courses with a lot of memorization, such as UCLA’s Italian 1, use flashcards to quiz yourself on vocabulary. For other classes on more complex concepts, such as Introduction to Biology at the University of California - Davis, a practice exam will be more useful in assessing which material you still need to study.

7. Change Your Scenery

At this point in your cramming, your studying may start to stagnate. It’s probably late. The information that was difficult is still tricky. Your interest may be waning. Yet, the countdown to your exam continues. For a boost of fresh brainpower, change the location where you’re studying. Cognitive scientists found that changing environments while studying enriches the input that your brain receives and can aid in learning, or at least slow down forgetting.

8. Troubleshoot Information Gaps

Unresolved questions about the material can impact your test scores. While many students turn to the almighty Google to find explanations about course material, a more strategic approach would be to use academic communities such as Solvit that provide instant help for a range of subjects. Simply post your question to the community and get responses from other students and subject matter experts. Many students use the platform to help with homework, but during the crunch of exams, the “Express” option is especially helpful for getting answers fast.

9. Sleep!

An all-nighter is a brute-force approach to studying. A smarter approach may be to leverage the scientifically proven sleep-memory connection. During sleep, your brain will consolidate the information you've learned and prepare you to absorb new material the following day. Not only can sleep help with information retention but also reduce fatigue and help you perform better during an exam. Researchers found that one hour of extra sleep (increasing from six to seven hours) improved scores by 8.5 percent.

10. Exam Day

In the final hours before your test, it’s even more important to stay focused on the high-stakes material. Refer back to your study guide to make sure you’ve got a handle on any concepts that might be worth many points on the test. Glean any additional information that you might have missed the night before. After your final round of studying, shut your books, gather what you need, grab some food, and get to class on time. Relax, and do the best you can on your exams. Learn how OneClass’ study materials have helped 90% of users improve by at least one letter grade. image attribution: Drobot Dean -


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