Before you start studying, make sure you have got everything you need. On your table
should be class notes, the syllabus, required books, teachers slides, the tools you need,
and ideally examples of previous exams so you know the structure and how it'll be
graded. In your fridge there should be superfoods: almonds, fruits and veggies should
do the job. Even if your brain's weight is only around 2% of your body weight, it uses up
around 20% of its energy. To avoid procrastination, shut down all distractions and tell
your friends not to disturb. Ideally, you should start studying weeks before, but let's
assume that you have just 7 days and 3 hours a day.
On day 1, your aim must be to get the context, to see the big picture.
This is important because context acts like a memory network, to which you can attach
all details. First, you make connections and then later remember things easier. To get
there fast, read the class syllabus, skim through textbooks and review all the materials
without going into details. If you're studying roman history, watch an epic movie about
Caesar in the evening. If its physics, go visit a science museum and try to understand
whats going on.
Once you see the big picture, chunk it up and make a plan. If there are 10 chapters to
learn and 5 days to do that, cover 2 chapters each day.
Day 2. Now it's cramming time and you have to learn 2 chapters. To study effectively,
make handwritten notes in your language. Even better, try to explain it in your own
simple words out loud to check your understanding. Every 30-45 minutes or so, take a
short 5-10 minute break. That will maximize your retention and keep creativity up. Also,
keep snacking on nuts and fruits to boost your brain's energy. Finish your session with
an instant self-test to check your understanding. Such quick tests can improve retention
by up to 30%.
Day 3 to 6. Start by reviewing your summaries and the material from the previous days.
Look at your instant self-test and check what you got right and what you got wrong.
Where there are gaps, fill them. As you have 3 hours, spend 1 hour on that review and
2 hours learning the next chapters of the material. Like the days before: start reading,
take notes, summarize in your own words and then finish with a self-test.
Day 7. Again, start by reviewing yesterday's work. Then spend the remaining time
reviewing everything one more time: all 10 chapters. To check your understanding, you
can use the table of contents, which is like a very short summary of the entire book. If
you have time left, write an essay to summarize all the materials into one big chunk or
do a full test-exam. In the evening, pack your bag and everything you need for the exam
day. Then go to bed early. Good sleep before the test can increase your performance
by 30% - dreams are essential in remembering.
Exam Day. Get up in time, so you don't start the day already completely stressed out.
Begin your day by eating a good breakfast to give your brain the energy to run for the
next hours. Research suggests high-carb, high-fibre, slow-digesting foods like oats or
Then leave home in time so you arrive at the exam room in time without being in a rush.
Stress mixes up your hormones and should be avoided.
Once you sit in the test, skim over all questions so you get an idea of what's on it. Then
try to see how each question relates to each other. When you realize how each
question connects to the next or the big picture, you will have higher recall and find
betters answers. If you are afraid you might run out of time, do some quick math to
figure out how much time you have for each question. Then start.
Carefully read the question. You get more points for answering a question poorly than
writing the perfect answer that's off-topic.
If a question is too hard, skip it first and go straight for the easy ones. While collecting
points for easy questions, our brain can subconsciously work on the harder questions
and an answer might pop up.
If you get too stressed, take a short break and a couple of long deep breaths. This gets
your brain back into thinking mode. If you're doing a multiple choice question and you
are not sure, go with your first guess. Usually, your first instinct is right. If you have NO
idea at all but there is no punishment for being wrong, then just guess anything quickly.
In the end, if you still have time left, use it to review your answers or correct your
If you have an exam soon, don't stress. Even if you would fail it's probably not the end
of the world. As Jack Ma said: "I flunked my exam for university two times before I was
accepted by what was considered my city's worst university." Today he's China's
biggest success story. Good luck!