Last Minute Study Guide

A photo of a person writing down notesWritten by: Emily Passfield, 4th Year Psychology

Photo by: nappy from Pexels

We’ve all been in a position where we didn’t chunk out our studying enough, and we’re left with a day to read 4 chapters. Even though it may seem like a lost cause, there are still ways to be successful!

1. Organize Your Documents

I like to create 3 documents to work on simultaneously for each subject—the first document is definitions, the second is theories/theorists and the third is general notes. I think the order of these documents is important, because an overall summary can be skipped if there isn’t as much time. Having a list of definitions will help you to identify key terms, especially in multiple choice answers. Having a list of key theories and theorists will help you save time during the exam, especially if it's open book. Being able to open a document and Command+F to find the information you need takes far less time than searching through pages of notes or a textbook. If your exam isn’t open book, having these documents separate will help you to categorize information easier and recall it faster.

2. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

I try to look for information that is repeated 3 or more times. In first year, one of my professors told me that repeating information is almost always an indicator of content that will be tested. If something is mentioned multiple times in lecture and then again in the textbook, focus on these sections for longer than points that don’t repeat or don’t take up a significant portion of the lectures or textbook readings. Especially when studying at the last minute, efficiency is key, so try not to spend time on things that quite frankly don’t matter. It’s easier said than done, but as time passes it will be easier to determine what is important and what isn’t.

3. Eliminate Distractions

Eliminate distractions while you’re studying in order to optimize the time you have left. As hard as it may be, I always put my phone on silent and across the room from me while studying. I keep notifications on for some people in the event of an emergency, but there is still yet to be a time where this method hasn’t worked for me. Without being reminded to check your phone, you can get into focus-mode and grind out your work. It’s always hard to focus when you’re getting texts to come party, so eliminating the fear of missing out by not checking social media will help you to prioritize.

A North American research study determined that studying in a different environment than normal increases the efficiency of studying. Working around others who are doing the same increases motivation and focus. Depending on when you’re studying, your chosen location makes a difference—for example, if you know that you’ll be up late, avoid being in your room or somewhere too comfortable at the risk of falling asleep.

4. Try The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a method that has been proven to boost the efficiency of studying, especially after procrastinating. This is a proven productivity method where you focus for 25 minutes then take a 3 to 5-minute break. You can use this time to stretch or take a short walk, the fresh air and physical activity helps to keep you energized and focused. Even in longer lectures we are given break time, so apply this to your studying habits at home too! After repeating this pattern 4 times, take a 10 to 15-minute break and get a healthy snack, such as pistachios, or call a friend, go on TikTok, spend some time catching up on what you may have missed in the past hour, but do not get too distracted—it's easy to lose track of time and scroll for an hour. This technique is also effective because it helps to chunk out tasks—it seems far more manageable to study intensely for 25 minutes then stop for a bit than to study this intensely for an unspecified time. Creating clear goals and boundaries for yourself will help to reduce the stress of studying. Over time, this also helps you to more accurately determine how long it will take you to complete tasks of a similar nature.

5. Speak

I’ve found that reading concepts out loud and pretending that I’m verbally teaching it to someone else helps me to make sure I understand concepts as well as their application. When my roommate is home, I often explain concepts to her and she will do the same for me. This can be difficult when we don’t have shared knowledge on specific subjects, but talking through it helps to reinforce learning since it activates 3 stimuli (speak, hear, and read). Through speaking the material out loud, you are in turn hearing it, which reinforces the connections. In almost all situations, simultaneous reinforcement is beneficial for memory formation and retention due to the strength of the stimulus. This also allows you to determine gaps in your knowledge and focus on those, especially since it is the last minute.

Last-minute studying seems hectic and rushed in some cases, but this doesn’t mean you’ll do poorly. There are always ways to be successful, even when it may not seem like it at the time. Around 70% of students procrastinate, so you’re not alone—but try not to make a habit of it (even though that’s easier said than done)!

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