We're talking REAL last minute studying techniques here. Sometimes life gets in the way and you need some tried and true last second study tips to get you through that college exam in a couple of hours - this is for you.

Final exams are nearly upon us. With papers, projects, and presentations piling up (say that 3 times fast!) sometimes life gets in the way and studying for exams is put as a last priority. I totally have been there, more often than I’d like to admit.

When it comes to studying last second, and I’m talking really last second here – cramming 2-3 hours before an exam last second – it can be overwhelming.

I’ve seen a lot of “last second study tips” that start out with “one week before the exam” and, let’s be honest, chances are if you’re reading this right now in hopes of finding a way to pass that test, it’s closer than one week away.

I want to be clear that I am by no means saying that it is okay to forgo studying and preparing in advance for these methods. Studying and getting your work done as early as possible should definitely be your first choice. However, sometimes it just can’t happen.

Life happens and now you need tips for how to get ready to pass an exam that you have to take later today. That’s why I’m here.

These are some tried and true techniques by yours truly, however different methods work for different people so please adjust this to fit your personal learning style.

Each technique here is organized based on the way that you take notes during class and includes special tips for each time frame of cramming. There are tips for beginning to study one day, 5 hours, and 1 hours before an exam while implementing these techniques.

Typed Notes or Lecture PowerPoint Available

last minute study techniques

I type up all of my class notes and the majority of my professors put their lecture presentations online available for download. If this applies to you, or even if you’re a quick typer, start using Quizlet.

Quizlet is a simple to use and super powerful online flash card creator.

Cool features: In addition to note cards Quizlet can take your note cards and turn them into a multiple choice/fill in the blank quiz, a matching card game, and even an asteroid style typing game. Share the link with your classmates and they can add/edit note cards as well as compete with you in the quizzes and games.

Starting to study 1 day before exam:

If you previously typed up your notes, or have a PowerPoint with the lecture on it, go through and copy and paste your notes into the note cards on Quizlet. If you have not previously typed up your notes, take about an hour and go through typing your notes into Quizlet note cards. Focus on key terms/definitions/important dates as priority.

Go through and study these in flash card style for 25 minutes, take a 10 minute break, do 3 quizzes and note down what questions you got wrong. Then go back and ‘star’ the note cards that relate to the questions to missed on the quizzes, then go through and review just the ‘starred’ ones for 25 more minutes, taking a 10 minute break afterwards. Then try the matching game and asteroid game.

Continue to review using these methods both today and the day of the exam.

Starting to study 5 hours before exam:

If you have your notes typed up, or a PowerPoint, copy and paste those into Quizlet note cards to review. If not, go through your notes and type up only the key terms. Flip through the note cards, take the quizzes, play the matching and asteroid games.

Take a break and eat a meal about 1.5 hours before your exam, brain food! Then, get back to studying. Review the flash cards, and ‘star’ any terms that you miss to review separately.

Starting to study 1 hour before exam:

Copy and paste your notes or the lecture PowerPoints into Quizlet focusing on key terms. Review the note cards through twice. As you are doing this quiz yourself in your head before flipping them over to see the answer. Flip back and forth on each card multiple times, reading both the term and definition out loud to yourself.

If there is anything that you remember your professor directly saying would be on the exam, ‘star’ those cards and review them separately a few times.

Download the Quizlet app on your phone and continue to review as you walk to class to take the exam.

Handwritten Notes + Study Guide

last second study tips

If you’re not the kind of person who likes to type up their notes, don’t worry, there’s still some great last minute study tips for you. If your professor provided you with a study guide, you’re in luck – it will make your life a little easier.

There is such a wide range of study guides that can be given out.

Some professors just give a list of topics or even chapters that might be covered (one time my ‘study guide’ was just a piece of paper with “Chapters 1 – 8” written on it.. like, really? No duh. Not helpful.) while some provide a defined list of terms, some have an essay question you can prepare with, some give you a list of specific page numbers or important things to look for. In one rare case, if you’re realllly lucky, they may even give you a copy of the test with the answers bolded (yep, that happened to me today actually.)

Unfortunately due to this wide range of possible study guide types it is hard to give advice on how to utilize them, so for the sake of this post I will be defining study guide as when a professor provides you with a list of specific topics/terms/things to know which will be on the exam – as that is most common.

Starting to study 1 day before exam:

Take out your notes, your study guide, and either your laptop or some note cards. If you want to make online digital note cards (see: Quizlet & it’s perks above) do that, or make some handwritten ones!

Go through and match up each item in the study guide to the answer in your notes, and make a note card for each one. Use highlighters if you’re handwriting to make important info stand out – color code: one color for important dates, one for terms, one for equations, etc.

If there is a concept in the study guide but not in your notes, make sure you reference the book or PowerPoint lectures.

Work for 25 minutes then take a 5 minute break – repeat until all note cards are made. Make sure to make at least one note card for every single point on the study guide that you were given. Take a 10 minute break and then review the note cards through a couple of times.

As you review go through and set aside ones that you are struggling with to review separately and focus on more. Play a “guessing game” with yourself, quizzing yourself on the answers.

Hand them to a friend or roommate and ask them to quiz you. Speaking the answers out loud can really help improve memory! Remember to take breaks.

The day of the exam continue to quiz yourself, separating note cards that you are struggling with from the ones you know well helps to retain information.

If there is an essay portion of the exam and the study guide happens to contain the essay question or question options, take time to research your answer and write a rough outline of what you would write for the essay question. No need to write the entire essay, unless you’re really worried about it, just an outline should do.

Starting to study 5 hours before exam:

Gather your materials (notes, study guide, highlighters, note cards) and get to work.

Highlight only key terms on your study guide that match key terms in your notes and copy these into note cards which are either online (Quizlet!) or handwritten. Don’t waste time writing the info that you already know – write the info you don’t know or aren’t completely sure of.

Make sure to cover as much of the info that is on the study guide as you can, but stop after 2 hours maximum to make sure you have enough time to actually study the cards.

Now, review them. Quiz yourself, set aside a pile of the cards that you struggle with and go over those more intensely by themselves.

If your exam includes solving problems or applying theories create examples for yourself or look some up online to test your knowledge.

If you have time, give a friend your note cards or your highlighted notes and ask them to quiz you. Use the ‘teaching’ study method where you teach your friend the concept, which helps you remember and understand it better in return.

Make sure you eat a small meal at least 1 hour before the exam to help you focus! Then, continue to quiz yourself with these note cards and review any extra terms in your notes that you did not copy onto cards.

Starting to study 1 hour before exam:

Being strapped for time doesn’t have to mean panic, but it does mean you have to move fast. Get out your study guide, notes, and a highlighter.

Highlight the terms in your notes that match the terms from the study guide – but make sure you are actually reading them while you do it! After you highlight something, review it 3 times in your head and 2 times out loud before moving on to highlight the next thing.

Focus on the terms that you don’t quite know or understand, don’t waste time on the concepts you already know. After you highlight the info from the study guide, go through and review it over and over again.

Don’t waste time on writing note cards, but if you have a friend nearby give them your highlighted notes and ask if they can quiz you by asking about the concepts.

When your friend asks you a question try to ‘teach’ them the concept so they understand. This helps you to understand/remember the information better yourself!

Continue to go through and re-read the notes, both in your head and out loud. If it works for you, re-write the concepts on a separate piece of paper. Then, it’s exam time!

Handwritten Notes Only

last minute study tips

No study guide? Or typed notes? Not a problem.

Starting to study 1 day before exam:

Take out those handwritten notes, another piece of paper, note cards, and highlighters.

Read through your notes (actually read them!) and highlight any terms or concepts you may not understand. Let’s focus on those. Now, this is fairly similar to the technique for when you do have a study guide, except you are going to focus on the terms that you don’t quite know instead of the terms on the study guide.

Transfer these notes into online or handwritten note cards, give them to a friend to quiz you, quiz yourself and set aside those you continue to struggle with to review separately.

At this point in this blog post, this is very similar to what I said in the previous section. Remember to take breaks but also to get back to work afterwards and power through and keep it up.

When you don’t have a study guide you have to review and memorize more general concepts and probably more of the material than with a study guide, so try to focus on what you don’t already know or remember well.

Starting to study 5 hours before exam:

Take out any notes that you have and your textbook. Go through and find key terms and concepts. Again, focus on the ones that you don’t already know or understand.

Especially focus on those that are in both your lecture notes and the textbook. Copy those on a separate piece of paper and review them.

Take some breaks, eat a small meal an hour before the exam, and continue to review the terms and concepts you wrote down. If a friend is around give them your paper and ask them to quiz you with it!

Starting to study 1 hour before exam:

Start with your lecture notes and textbook. Go through and highlight any terms/concepts in your notes that are also in your textbook. Review. Continue to go through and read these concepts repeatedly both in your head and out loud.

Take a small 10 minute break about 20 minutes before you have to leave for the exam, then study again as much as you can right before you leave.

Are you a pro at studying last minute for exams? What is your technique to get the most out of a tight time frame?



Last Minute Study Techniques

3 thoughts on “Last Minute Study Techniques

  • May 11, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    Quizlet was my saving grace when I was studying Russian! I knew I had my vocab down when I could be given the English and type it out in the Russian (that was only the final step of the process of course). This guide is extremely helpful, will definitely be referring back to it for my next test!

  • July 11, 2017 at 2:31 am

    We have the same routine! I know some friends of mine who study a week ahead before the exams and I was like wondering how do they find the inspiration to study ahead. I study 2 days before the exam and also the night before the exams that’s where I study the hardest and sometimes I do an all-nighters. Anyways, thanks for sharing such an amazing post! Keep it up!


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this:
Read more:
School Supplies Necessities For Under $25