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How to Cram the Night Before a Test

Three Parts:Before You CramAs You CramAfter You Cram

Have you ever been in a situation where it's the night before a big test and you haven't even cracked open a textbook or skimmed your notes? We've all been there. Recent research shows, however, that the lack of sleep caused by cramming may cause you to perform poorly, defeating the purpose.[1] Still, sometimes it's unavoidable. You've got a test bright and early the next morning and there's no other alternative. Keep reading to find some good tips to stay calm and save your grade!

Part 1
Before You Cram

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    Find a nice quiet spot to study. Make sure it's not too comfortable (like on your bed or sprawling out on the couch) because you will risk falling asleep.
    • Find or create a well-lit area. When it's too dark around you, your body thinks, "Hey! It's time to hit the hay!" Fool it by turning on plenty of lights, simulating daytime.
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    • Remove yourself from all distractions. That means putting your phone away. You may have spent the entire semester texting during lectures, and this may be your punishment. Turn it off. While you're at it, stay away from the iPad and laptop, too (unless you have study material on your computer) -- Facebook, fantasy baseball, and Pinterest do not exist in your book right now.
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    Eat something healthy. You may think 16 cans of cold Red Bull and five Snickers bars are the best way to go, but, sadly, they're not. Hyping yourself up on caffeine may keep you awake initially, but you'll just end up crashing harder later -- when it's actually test time.
    • Go for fruits. An apple does a better job at keeping you focused and awake than caffeine.[2] It's higher in natural sugars and it is nutritious. Nutrition should be thought of as energy in this circumstance.
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    • If you're full, you won't be thinking about food, another reason you'll be able to stay focused.
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    Set your alarm. Alright, so, worse comes to worst: You wake up in a pile of apple cores with ink emblazoned onto your cheek because you fell asleep on your chemistry notes. But you remembered to set your alarm, so you're not going to miss the test!
    • So do it now, before you accidentally fall asleep. You may be grateful that you did.

Part 2
As You Cram

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    Stay calm. This part may be hard but just take a deep breath and try to gather your thoughts! Remember where you left all those textbooks and gather together some spare pieces of paper and pens. Highlighters and flashcards are also a good idea.
    • If you still have your syllabus, great. Use it as an outline. The topics that pop up more than once are likely to be on the test.
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    Start at the beginning; don't focus on the little details though! Concentrate on the bigger picture -- highlight the important facts that you think could be on the test. Also remember to look closely at the vocabulary! It will obviously help your understanding if you know what a word means.
    • Read the chapter summaries (they usually do a good job at summarizing the important points). If there are no chapter summaries, then skim through the text and write down key ideas.
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    Prioritize. This is the most important part of cramming. You have a very limited amount of time -- you must use it as efficiently as possible. Get down to the nitty-gritty and only study what you think is worthy of being on the test.
    • Focus on the main ideas and learn key formulas. Skip the details for now and only come back to them if you see that you have time after you have learned the key points.
    • Don't attempt to learn everything; focus on things that will get you the most points on the exam. If your professor said the essay will be 75% of your grade, you're best off preparing for that and skipping the multiple choice.
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    Write out important info or recite small bits out loud. This will help your brain process the material better. If you just skim your textbooks or notes you probably won't remember anything!
    • If you're lucky enough to have an insomniac for a roommate, grab them. Ask them to listen to you spout off about certain concepts. Relaying information to another individual is a surefire way to guarantee you understand the ins and outs of the ideas.[1]
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    Make flash cards. This is a good way to quiz yourself and it also helps you process the information when you write out the flashcards and read them out loud! Use different colors for different topics or chapters.
    • Look for parallels, metaphors, and other memory-triggers to help you wrap your brain around complicated concepts.[1] Write the keywords of your metaphor down to jog your memory while studying.
    • Write the information down in mnemonic devices. Dumb Kids Playing Catch On Freeway Get Squashed --Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species (for a happy example).
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    Take breaks. It may seem counter-intuitive, but your brain will be able to process more information if you're not so hard on it. Study in bursts -- cramming like the Energizer bunny is inefficient and saturates your mind, preventing it from taking in more. Though you're studying a bit less, you'll be retaining more.[1]
    • After 45 minutes or so, get up. Stretch your body and walk around. Grab a drink, get a snack, and hop back to it in 5 to 10 minutes. You should feel a bit more refreshed and ready for action.

Part 3
After You Cram

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    Go to bed. If you stay up all night you will be so tired in the morning chances are you won't remember anything! Get up in the morning about 30-45 minutes earlier and familiarize yourself with the highlighted parts of your notes and textbooks. If you made flashcards, go through them again.
    • Try to get in at least 3 hours; that's one full sleep cycle.[3] Waking up in the middle of one less than well-rested will be detrimental to your test score.
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    Eat breakfast. You've heard from everybody that a nutritious meal before an exam will help you use your brain better. Stick to a fairly normal breakfast (you don't want to get sick) and don't load up on anything too heavy if you have anxiety.
    • Think about this: The more food you eat before your exam, the less you will be thinking about how hungry you are, so help yourself by just eating something before your exam so you can stay at least somewhat focused.
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    Take a deep breath. Go through the information a couple of times on your way to school. Chances are if you paid attention in class and got in some good studying the night before you should be fine.
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    Grab a friend to quiz in class. There's 5 minutes before the teacher walks in, so utilize them! Take turns asking each other questions. Start with the points you are foggiest on -- that way they'll be fresh in your memory.
    • Don't do this while you're taking the test -- getting caught cheating will result in a much worse score than you were going to get if you hadn't.


  • Don't try to memorize everything word for word. Try to understand what you are reading and make sure you get the main point.
  • Make sure to stay hydrated! Water is good for your body and will nourish you while you cram.
  • Instead of memorizing everything you pose your eyes on, try to understand what you're reading. By doing this, you won't have any problems with remembering information when doing your exam.
  • If you're feeling a bit tired because of so much late-night studying, take a shower (preferably with cold water); it will help you to feel fresher and awake.
  • If you're very limited on time, you don't have to study absolutely everything. Just do the material that you think will get you the most marks.
  • Think back to in class: What did your teacher cover most? You could also ask some friends what they think about what you should study.
  • Don't have full confidence that you know all the material perfectly. Keep on studying. Research shows it's better if you stress before the exam than saying you know it.
  • If you're done studying but not quite ready to go to sleep, read a book or article related to what you were studying before going to bed. While you're reading, if you see anything related to what you studied, then you will make a connection in your mind if you studied well! If not, then you should probably study some more.
  • Drink coffee if you are having trouble staying awake. If you find this makes you too jittery, try doing some exercise every time you start feeling sleepy.
  • Don't panic. If you notice yourself starting to get anxious, monitor your breathing.
  • If you are writing finals, try looking on the provincial/college University website for expectations. If you know what you need to study, then you can narrow down the time wasted on things you don't need. This on helps a lot if you forgot your textbook somewhere.
  • Summarizing your notes in your own words and studying that might make it easier to remember them.
  • Discuss the important points with your friends.This will help you to remember them better.
  • Underline or highlight important information in red. It increases recall.


  • Don't get distracted by anything on the computer (music, in this case, will probably not help you but make studying harder)
  • Don't drink too much coffee or too much of an energy drink -- it is dangerous to your health and will keep you up past your desire!
  • Remember that cramming is not always a way out. It lessens your chances of actually retaining the material. Cramming for one test is fine, but don't cram for all of them, especially big ones or exams. if you do cram, you will waste some time trying to remember and then understand what is being asked.
  • If you are going to study on your way to school, make sure you are not the one driving; your concentration needs to be on the road!
  • If you can't remember the answer on a test, never cheat, as this may have some serious consequences. It is always better to lose a game of integrity than to win a game of dishonesty.

Things You'll Need

  • Textbooks
  • Notes
  • Highlighters
  • Pens/Pencils
  • Spare pieces of paper
  • Flashcards
  • Quiet Spot
  • Water (Opt.)
  • Presence of mind

Article Info

Categories: Tests and Exams