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Race Against Time: When Your Only Alternative Is To Cram For An Exam

Online Learning

Posted by Saint Leo University Online on Feb 25, 2016 8:00:00 AM

It can happen to even the most experienced online student and skillful time manager: you run out of time to study and the exam is tomorrow. Here are seven tips to help.

Saint-Leo-University-OnlineYou’re a firm believer that if you’re not 10 minutes early for an appointment, you’re late.

You’re always the first one in your class to respond to a discussion post. 

You study the course syllabi at the beginning of every term and map out your workload for the weeks to come, including scheduling extra study time the week before the final exam.

But the days leading up to exams this term got away from you.

The baby was up every night teething. Your spouse was away on a business trip. And your manager moved the deadline up on a major project.

Your carefully laid plan to start studying for finals several days in advance is shattered.

So you’re cramming. Not by choice, by necessity.

Saint Leo Student Life Specialist Jessica Schuckert is an online degree student herself, enrolled in the university’s MBA program. Here are some tips for cramming for an exam that she shared with online students in her webinar, “Cram for the Exam.”*Saint-Leo-University-Online

1.  Study only what’s most important.

Clearly, you can’t study everything, so where do begin and how do know what’s most important?

If your professor shared a study guide with you, the answer is simple. You study what’s on the review guide. Consider it a huge gift.

Questions at the end of the chapter are another good place to focus. If your instructor pulls any test questions from here, you’ll know where in the book to find the answers.

Scan through your discussion posts, modules, PowerPoint presentations and videos and look for repeated concepts. Chances are if you see the same concepts several times in your materials, you’re going to see them again on the exam. Create your own study notes by focusing on these concepts (see #4).

2.  Focus on one task at a time.

It’s easy to say, “Don’t get overwhelmed.” But if you’re cramming for an exam, you’re already stressed. The best thing to do is to take one step at a time. Jot down a quick game plan when you start your study session to prioritize your tasks. Then you can check items off as you progress. Remember this is not the time to multitask, so don’t divide your attention.

3.  Stay energized.

Follow the 50/10 rule: for every 50 minutes you study, take a 10-minute break. This gives you the opportunity to clear your head and move forward. Stay positive by doing something that brings you a bit of joy while you’re studying. Sip your favorite tea, or use a break to play with the dog. And don’t pull an all-nighter. Sleep is extremely important to help you focus the next day on the exam. It also gives your brain critical time to commit the information you studied to long-term memory.

4.  Write notes by hand.

Research shows that there is tremendous benefit in taking notes by hand and in rewriting information in your own words. So try this: take one of the repeated concepts that will probably appear on the test and read up on it. Then write out the main ideas, making careful decisions about what you put down. Don’t copy word for word, rather, paraphrase, summarize and map out the main concepts.

Studies have shown that students who create their own notes do better on exams than verbatim note-takers because they are reading for concepts and for understanding. They process the information more deeply and that processing improves retention.

5.  Work through problems.

If you’re preparing for a math or science exam, make sure you can solve problems on your own. Don’t just review examples in your text that show how to solve a problem. Looking at a solution will not help you understand how to get the answer. Actually work through the types of problems you find most challenging and then check to see if your answers are correct.

You can also use Smarthinking, the online tutoring service available to all Saint Leo students, to connect with an e-instructor. In addition, you can often find helpful videos on specific types of problems on YouTube.

6.  Reach out to a classmate.

If you’re struggling with a concept the night before the test, don’t hesitate to reach out to a classmate via email or social media. Most likely, others are studying at the same time, too. Again, keep Smarthinking in mind.

7.  Eat breakfast in the morning.

You make sure your kids eat a healthy breakfast before they take off for school, and you should do the same thing. Research involving both children and adults indicates that breakfast improves cognitive function, including memory and attention span. Nutritionists recommend a breakfast that balances good carbs from whole grains, fruit and vegetables, with some protein. A healthy morning meal not only increases your energy and concentration, it makes a difference in your entire day.

Have you ever had to cram for an exam as a last resort? How did you do on the exam?


*Watch Jessica’s presentation in its entirety: click here for an archived version.

Image credit: alphaspirit on Shutterstock.com

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Topics: Study Skills

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