How to Cram for an Exam: The Ultimate Guide

This post may contain affiliate links, meaning we get a commission if you make a purchase through our links, at no cost to you.

Spread the love


Do you find yourself continually studying for your tests and exams at the last minute? Maybe you’re always forgetting when the deadline is, or perhaps you’re constantly too busy to squeeze in any studying time until right before it comes up. Maybe you feel like you do better when you try to cram all of your studying into the last minute. No matter if you’re looking for information about how to cram for an AP test or how to study for exams in general, you’ll want to know these steps.

Well, the truth is, if you’re attempting to cram for a test the night before, you need to know how to do it the right way. You definitely can’t afford to just sit down with a book and try to cram in everything you’ve gone over for the entire year. You’re going to need a little bit more focus than that. So, what do you do? What do you need to know about how to cram smart?

What Does Cramming Mean?What Does Cramming Mean?

Okay, let’s start from the very top with just what does cramming mean? Well, in general, cramming means that you’re going to try and learn a large amount of information in a concise amount of time. When you’re cramming for finals or an exam, it means that you’re generally sitting down in the last few days or even last few hours before that test to learn as much as you can.

1. Studying All At Once

In general, cramming means that you’re studying for something all at the same time. You’re trying to make sure that you get all of the information mastered without having to go back to it more than once or to keep studying over a period of even several days or weeks. You want to make sure you get it done in a few hours or a day at most if you’re cramming. But the longer you have, the better off you’re going to be, so if you can start a day or a couple days early, it’s going to give you a little bit more time to get things memorized.

2. Waiting Until the Last Minute

Most of the time, cramming also refers to studying at the very last minute. Most people don’t try cramming a month before the test. Instead, they try to cram all of the information in the last day or the last few hours before they’re going to be walking into that room. It’s a type of procrastination as well and may happen because you forgot about the test, didn’t think you needed any additional time to study, or even didn’t know about the test. Some teachers will tell you there’s going to be an exam the next day without giving you additional time to study and that could mean needing to study at the last minute as well.

3. Learning a Lot in a Short Time

Also, you’re typically going to have a lot of information that needs to be crammed in. If you only have a few things to memorize, it might not be difficult, and it’s usually not referred to as cramming. When you cram, on the other hand, you typically need to get a whole lot of information in your head all at once. You may have to cram an entire chapter or several chapters or even an entire year or the class into a very short amount of time.

4. Memorizing Content

In many cases, cramming doesn’t really refer to learning the material or understanding it. Instead, it’s about just memorizing facts, figures, formulas, or any other information you might need. It’s usually good for short term memory but doesn’t help the information to stick or you to apply that information over the long-term. It’s about just being able to regurgitate different items. If you need to truly understand the material, it’s generally better to wait for that part of studying until later and to focus on rote memorization for now.

5. Prepping for Tests

In general, people cram for tests and exams rather than just cramming for a regular class. This is a method that’s used to make sure that you know the material walking into the test, even if you have been paying attention throughout the class itself. It can be used for regular quizzes, chapter tests, overall exams, AP exams, and a whole lot more. Basically, you could use cramming to help you prepare for any form of testing you might need.

Is Cramming for a Test Effective? 

Is Cramming for a Test Effective? 

The answer to this question is a little more tricky. Some people swear by cramming and say that it’s the best way to study. Some people say that it never works, and they always end up more stressed out at the end. The truth is somewhere in the middle, and it all depends on you as an individual, so you want to think about your own techniques and skills.

The most important thing is to pay attention to how you seem to do. If you cram for a test and you do well, then you might be okay doing so again if necessary. If you cram and you don’t do well, it might not be something that is good for you, and you might want to try and avoid it as much as possible in the future.

Some people do great when it comes to cramming, and others just can’t make it work. Who does well and who doesn’t is all a matter of personality, learning style, studying style and, of course, cramming style. You need to know just how to cram for a test in order to be good at it. So, we’re going to take a closer look at some of the different things you should be doing when you’re trying to cram for a test.

How Do You Cram for a Test? 7 Overall Tips

How Do You Cram for a Test? 7 Overall Tips

So, let’s dive into the best way to cram for a test. After all, you want to make sure that you’re making the most out of this process, right? You want to be sure that you know what you’re looking for, and you definitely want to set yourself up to be successful. That’s where we can help you. These seven tips are going to help you with starting your process of cramming, but remember that everyone is different.

1. Get Your Stuff Together

If you don’t have the materials that you need in order to study, you’re definitely not going to be able to get very far, right? So, think about the materials that you need in order to learn the material, which is probably a notebook and pen, your textbook, and any notes you might have taken during the class (especially if you wrote down the items that are going to be on the test). Having everything together when you start your cramming session is going to be the best way to make sure you can study as long as possible.

2. Focus on What’s Important

You don’t want to waste your time on the unimportant details. If your teacher spends five seconds telling you something, it’s probably not going to be an essential part of the test. On the other hand, if they spent a long time going over something you should focus there when you’re trying to cram as well. It’s likely that your teacher is going to bring that information back out again. They wouldn’t spend so long talking about it in class if it wasn’t necessary.

3. Keep it Short

You may think that you should sit down and really go at it for hours at a time because you’re trying to get your studying in during a short period, but you still want to make sure you take breaks. The Pomodoro Technique refers to taking a break after every 25 minutes. Or research suggests that a 27-minute break after 56 minutes of studying is the optimum amount. You can choose which way to go, but make sure you take breaks. These are going to give your brain time to actually absorb the material that you’re reading. If you don’t take breaks, you could forget more than you remember.

4. Create an Outline

Look over the material that you have and then create an outline of the significant points. What are the main aspects that you need to know? Then create sub-points under each of those significant headings. These are the smaller details related to that subject. Don’t worry about getting too detailed, but knowing these two levels of information should be able to help you with anything else that you need to do on the test.

5. Give Yourself a Reward

Cramming takes a lot of effort, so make sure that you have goals set up and that you give yourselves rewards when you get to those. That’s going to help you stay motivated and keep working, even when you really don’t want to. Or maybe build a small reward into each of your study breaks (like reading or listening to music or having a snack). Just make sure that your reward isn’t overwhelming any of the studying that you’re doing (you shouldn’t get a new video game every time you study for an hour, after all).

6. Have a Plan

You should know precisely what you want to achieve during this cram session. Are you trying to learn everything for an exam? Do you need to learn a specific part of the exam? Whatever you need to know, you want to create a good plan that’s going to help you get there. That’s how you’re going to actually follow through. If you just sit down and try to start studying, but you don’t know what you’re doing, you will waste more time than you want.

7. Try Different Methods

Don’t just sit down and read your textbook from start to finish multiple times. Read the text (or the essential parts of it at least), practice some flashcards, do some sample problems, and write out key points. Try different methods of studying because this is going to activate different parts of your brain. The more parts of your brain you get involved in the process, the easier it will be for you to remember that information later on.

How Do You Cram for a Test the Night Before? 5 Tips

How Do You Cram for a Test the Night Before? 5 Tips

What if you have only a single night to get ready for your test? What do you do if you’ve forgotten all about that big exam until the day before and you need to make sure that you’re going to pass? Well then, you’re going to need to follow along with these five tips of how to cram for a test the night before.

1. Keep It High Level

You’re not going to have a lot of time to study all of the details of your subject, so focus on the main points. If you’re studying for history, focus on the generalities of the time period. You don’t want to get too bogged down in a lot of little details because you’re going to find yourself struggling to remember what goes where when the time comes.

2. Find a Quiet Place

You definitely need somewhere quiet to study when it comes to the night before the test, so make sure that you find somewhere you can sit and read or review without being distracted. This is not the time to study with music on or to leave your door open where your siblings can wander through. Make sure the door is closed, the room is quiet and neat, and you are focusing on your materials and nothing else.

3. Write Down What You Know

What do you know about the subjects that are going to be tested? You might be surprised and find that you know more than you thought you did. Writing it down and calling on your recall may actually surprise you with just how much it can help. So, take out a piece of paper and try some free association. Write down the main topics that are going to be on the test and then write down everything you know about them, without looking it up in your book. This is an excellent place to start your studying.

4. Skim the Textbook

Look at the chapters that are going to be tested. There is usually a summary section that you can review (it’s only a few paragraphs long) and maybe some key points. You also want to look at the key words and anything in the book that’s in bold or highlighted. Take a look at graphs and charts as well. These are the things that are most important, and you’re likely to find some of the most important information here. If you have enough time, go through the questions at the end of these chapters too.

5. Create Mnemonics

You have a little bit of time left when it comes to a day before your test, so this is a good time for you to create different mnemonics that will help you remember information. Keep in mind that the key is to memorize and be able to regurgitate that information. Examples of this are HOMES for the Great Lakes in Michigan or the 5 W’s in English. Create mnemonics that will work for you and help you remember critical information and focus on memorizing them.

How Do You Cram for a Test the Day of the Test? 5 Tips

How Do You Cram for a Test the Day of the Test? 5 Tips

What happens if you’ve just realized that you have a test … in a few hours? Well then, that means you’re really going to need to buckle down, right? You want to make sure that you can get a good grade. That means focusing on the most critical aspects and cramming in just the right ways, with these five tips to help you with how to cram for a math test.

1. Skim the Textbook

Take a look at the chapters that are going to be on the test, but on the day of the test, you just want to review the bolded words. Look for key points that are usually listed in bullets at the end or beginning of the chapter and read the vocabulary that’s highlighted or bolded throughout the section, so you get a good idea of what the topic is actually about or the focus of the chapter.

2. Don’t Get Distracted

Put your phone down and make sure that you’re not getting distracted by friends, social media, or anything else. This can be difficult on the day of the test, but it’s important because you don’t have a whole lot of time. You need to cut down distractions as much as possible, and that might mean finding a secluded area at school or getting up early in the morning before you head to school.

3. Ignore the Rest

Okay, so this isn’t going to be a great thing, but you want to ignore everything else associated with the day. Don’t worry about the other classes that you have that day. Focus all of your attention on the one class that you have a test in. This is the only way that you’re going to have enough time to study. Don’t worry about studying for a class that doesn’t have a test and don’t worry about homework that you’ve already finished for another class. This isn’t the time to go over your answers to see if they’re good before you turn in a paper.

4. Use All Your Time

If the class you have a test in is your last class of the day, especially you should be using all of the extra time that you have to study. Take out your materials when you get to another class early or when you’re in the halls between classes. Study during any free period that you might have or during lunch. Even if you only have a couple of minutes, use that time to take out your notes or your textbook and study one more thing, so you’re getting the most out of it.

5. Write Down the Main Points

Write down the main areas that you’re going to be tested on. Chances are your teacher told you what these were going to be, so put them on a piece of paper. These are the things that you need to focus on. You’re going to look at the overarching aspects of the test and try to remember as many of the other things as you can when you get there. Chances are if you remember the essential points, you’ll be able to put out more than you think when the time comes.

How Do You Cram for an English Test? 3 Tips

How Do You Cram for an English Test? 3 Tips

Getting ready to take an English test and need to be able to remember key points from the stories you’ve read? Or maybe you need to be able to remember the right form of their, they’re and there. No matter what you’re studying in your English class, these are some of the tips that are going to help you prepare in as little time as possible.

1. Use Online Summaries

In an English class, you likely have books, poems, plays, or other literary materials that you should have been reading throughout the class. These are typically what the exam is going to cover. If you haven’t read them or even if you have check out the Cliff’s Notes or Sparks Notes available online (or print copies if you can get them) to see the most essential points. These notes will give you the critical information that you need, and some commonly asked questions by English teachers so you can at least have a foundation.

2. Practice Writing Essays

If you have a bit of time, you may also want to practice writing short essays. Your English test is generally going to require you to write out at least short answers to most of your questions. You want to practice writing out the answer to a question in a cohesive way. Remember, your answers need to take a stand, and they need to be easy to understand. Your teacher isn’t going to give you the points if you ramble and never really get to the point. You may want to practice writing in short and long answer format so you can be ready for anything.

3. Read

Reading is always a good idea, and it doesn’t have to be about reading material that’s actually on your test or that you’ve studied in class (though skimming through those books doesn’t hurt either). You can also read anything and focus on understanding the message that the author is trying to get across or getting a better idea of the different ways that authors can express thoughts and ideas. This will give you a better ability to read information that might be presented on the test and give good, cohesive responses to it.

How Do You Cram for a Math Test? 3 Tips

How Do You Cram for a Math Test? 3 Tips

Math can be complicated in some ways and a little easier in others. For one thing, you have to be able to memorize a lot of formulas, but if you can memorize those formulas, you can do just about anything on the test. There’s no interpretation going on here. But what can you do to help you when you don’t have much time to get moving?

1. Memorize Formulas

You may want to utilize mnemonics or something similar to help you memorize the formulas that you’re going to need. These are going to be the most crucial part of most math tests, and if you can’t memorize the formulas, you could be in trouble when you get that paper. Now, if your teacher has already said they are going to provide you with a bank of the formulas, this may not be important, but many teachers expect you to remember the information yourself.

2. Use a Tutor

How much time do you have? Getting a tutor or even checking out online options that will walk you through different formulas that you might struggle with is going to be an essential step if you can. Maybe you even have a family member that’s really good at math or a friend who can help you walk through specific formulas. No matter what or who you’re working with, you want to make sure you have someone who can give you advice and guidance on the things you don’t know.

3. Practice the Problems

Go back through old tests or homework assignments and pick out a few of the problems. Rework those problems or work through problems on a practice test or study guide if your teacher gave you one. This will give you a better opportunity to really work on those problems and see how well you know them. If you do know them and feel confident, move on to the next formulas. If you don’t, then work on getting that tutor or other support system to help you out.

How Do You Cram for a Science Test? 3 Tips

How Do You Cram for a Science Test? 3 Tips

What about that science class you’ve been putting off? Are you ready to take that exam? Well, if you need a little bit of extra help, you can take a look at these three tips that are going to give you a bit of a head start and help you along the way. You might be surprised just how much these can help you.

1. Study Lab Notes

If your science class has any type of lab component, this is likely going to be a significant part of your test. Make sure you’re looking over any notes that you have related to lab experiences that you’ve done in your class. You want to make sure you’re comfortable with procedures or anything that you’ve already done. While you may not have to do any lab work for the exam, you might have to answer questions about what you would do in a lab or what the results were of specific experiments that were done in class.

2. Review the Vocab

Just like in an English class, the vocabulary in your science classroom is critical. Whether you have a class that’s based on a lot of lab work or one that’s based on things like earth sciences you want to know what the different terms actually mean the more you know about them, the better you’re going to be prepared because you’ll likely need to use them during the exam. Look through notes you’ve made from class or look at your textbook for any vocabulary words and work on memorizing those.

3. Use the Cornell Method

This one is generally best if you use this method while you’re taking notes in the first place, but you can use it later as well. You want to put a line down the middle of a piece of paper (or close to one side) then make notes down only one side. These notes should refer to the main areas that you’re studying. Then on the other side, you write down anything that you can remember about that topic. This helps you with your recall and makes sure that you’re remembering things rather than just reading and copying notes over from your textbook.

Wrapping Things Up: Keys to Cramming Smart

By the time you’re done here, you should have some of the best tips to cram for your next test. Whether you have a few days, a single night, or even a few hours, you’re going to have no problem getting yourself on the right path once you know what to do. Cramming smart is going to be your key to getting further ahead in your classes, and this exam cram guide will definitely get you there. Take a look at some of the tips on reading for your English study prep or memorizing the formulas you’re going to need in math. And definitely remember to give yourself some breaks to really memorize the information.

Did you enjoy this post? Then you may also want to check out some of our other high school study tips or all our posts. Here are a few of our top picks:

> How to Read a Textbook

> How to Be Successful in High School

> How to Get Straight A’s

> How to Study Smart

Picture of Professor Conquer
Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

If you found this helpful, help us out by sharing this post!


Readers of this post also read...

A Guide to Effective Study Group Strategies

A Guide to Effective Study Group Strategies

Perhaps you have exams coming up and you’re considering studying with your friends but aren’t sure how to kick things off. Crafting the ultimate study group involves making sure that the time you spend together...

Read More