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Indeed, it is that time of year again when the strike of a gong will soon commence the commonly dreaded: exam season.

During this difficult time, you may find yourself spending countless hours studying without ceasing. Cramming before exam-ing, so they say (?)

Undoubtedly, this might be a nightmarishly hard time of the year due to your burning obsession to succeed. What’s more, this is especially true when given that you haven’t done as much revision in advance as you should have.

However, today I’m going to share with you a few key last-minute exam revision tips; these will help you use your time as effectively as time permits to cram those facts in your head!

The Fundamental Building Blocks of Effective Study

Now, let us establish that merely reading over information is—by far—a disappointingly inefficient learning strategy. After reading a 400-page textbook in one day, are you going to be able to memorise every little fact in it?

Evidently not, because learning is undeniably a more sophisticated process than that. Otherwise, everybody would be a professional learner!

So, what is the most efficient way to cram facts into your skull?

Last-minute exam revision involves cramming knowledge into your brain like it's a computer

Active recall and spatial repetition.

Saving you time whilst forcing your brain to learn, these two principles allow you to use your time optimally.

Do the unthinkable: Is It Possible for You to Be Productive All the Time? (Hint: Yes!)

Active Recall

Firstly, active recall is a technique that truly engages your mind in the subject at hand. Moreover, it opposes the passive method of learning (mindlessly reading over notes).

Whereas reading doesn’t require much mental effort, recalling knowledge does.

Above all, learning is a deliberate process; you must have the desire to learn, in other words.

Active recall can be applied basically anywhere when you are forced to retrieve a piece of knowledge from the back of your mind. Therefore, flashcards, answering questions, and teaching a topic to someone else can go a long way.

Spatial Repetition

Secondly, spatial repetition helps you determine when to actively recall a particular piece of information.

Not only does this technique save your time, but it makes your memories of facts all the clearer!

So, here’s the cheese: spatial repetition involves returning to a topic or fact at increasingly larger intervals as it sticks in your head more.

You might check up on something—at first—a day later, then several days later, then a month later. And so on.

Furthermore, this is an especially convenient principle to apply to flashcards.

To demonstrate, each deck would correspond to the frequency at which you go through them. Accordingly, you would move cards between the decks depending on your ease of recalling them.

Since your brain best remembers what it thinks is most important and useful, you must emphasise the necessity of certain information. This can be done most easily with active recall paired with spatial repetition.

Last minute exam revision tip: Spatial repetition can be used with flashcards to enhance your memory
Review the card just when you’re about to forget it.

How to Prioritise Your Time for Studying

Unfortunately, you only have so much time left before your exams kick into full force. How could you possibly learn everything?

You can’t.

To truly manage time wisely, you’ve got to be careful how you invest your finite time. Likewise, you must only employ the highest leverage last-minute exam revision strategies;

Now is not the time to learn everything.

Why? Because everything is not weighted equally, based on the nature of your exam as well as your confidence across different areas.

Consequently, the best technique is to learn the topics that are both your weakest and the most useful. Start there—only afterwards can you begin to branch out.

To clarify, the key bits of information are the ones most likely to have the biggest effect on your exam score; they have the highest mark-density, so the most marks per minute spent studying.

These may be facts that crop up all throughout the exam paper. On the other hand, it may be a concept that is guaranteed to manifest in some form on the paper.

Learn more: How Should You Prioritise Your Work as a Student?

Focus on What You Can’t Make Up

In addition to that, try to identify and learn the parts you can’t survive an exam paper without.

In many cases, you can use your general understanding of a subject to “make stuff up” as you go along in the hope of scraping up some credit. As a result, the need to memorise exact facts is diminished.

This particularly applies to less factual subjects such as English literature and language courses.

Although, this strategy does not work invariably for these subjects. Take English literature, for instance: you can’t make up the text in question!

So, perhaps you should memorise quotations, which act as a catalyst for a string of inferences. They will all contribute to your grade.

Similarly, memorise contextual information, which is usually very specific, hence cannot simply be made up.

If you couldn't guess something in an exam, study it with priority.

To illustrate another example, mathematical and physics equations are perfect examples of facts to remember: they are like keys that unlock not one mark, but potentially many more!

With this in mind, I present a little rule of thumb: if you couldn’t even guess it, prioritise it.

How Effective Time Management Can Influence Your Grade

If you don’t know how to manage your time effectively, you’re not going to study efficiently; don’t be tempted to over-study this close to the exams, as counter-intuitive as that seems at first.

So, get a recommended duration of sleep, which is crucial for optimal attention levels in the day. Additionally, sufficient sleep helps consolidate facts in your memory, making it beneficial to sacrifice study time.

Likewise, take short, regular breaks through a method such as my preferred one—the Pomodoro Technique. If you don’t do this, your mental performance will progressively decline hence reducing the efficiency of your studying.

Don’t stop learning! My Top 10 Ways to Prevent Burnout That Will Make You Remarkable

Creating Last-Minute Resources Can Drain Your Time

Furthermore, when you’re doing last-minute exam revision, there’s little time to make revision resources. This is certainly true if the process of making a resource isn’t an act of learning in itself.

However, activities such as making flashcards can predictably take much longer when you’re simultaneously focused on learning; in other words, recalling the answers straight onto the flashcard rather than mindlessly copying them.

What do you do?

I propose you create revision resources sparingly, depending on how soon your exam is. For example, create a few flashcards for the utmost-priority facts.

Not only are mind maps ineffective, but they are a complete waste of your time.

That is true most of the time. In addition to flashcards, you could allocate time to reading a page of a textbook, and doing the following:

  • Write down key prompts as you read, such as subheadings—not the answers!
  • Solely by actively recalling, expand on and explain those prompts—get down everything you can onto paper. Assuming that it helps, this is where mind map form would be acceptable; mind maps are for recalling, not reading—so, they are a one-time use.
  • Check the answers and subsequently consider repeating.

As a final note, if you can access potentially suboptimal resources that have already been created, this can save huge volumes of your time! For instance, questions in a study guide or the tools mentioned below work well as a last-minute exam revision aid.


In summary, here are my X last-minute exam revision tips:

  1. Actively recall the information
  2. Use spatial repetition
  3. Prioritise the high-leverage facts and topics

And, most of all, remember to develop an obsession to learn. This is because learning is an active process that requires your full engagement.

Also, here are a few useful tools to help you study efficiently with active recall and spatial repetition:

  • Anki flashcard application
  • Quizlet: offers many community-made courses with a “learn mode”
  • Seneca Learning with pre-made content for GCSE and A-Level courses

My Book Recommendation for the Week

Develop a burning desire to study, thus destroying the competition, with the help of this phenomenal book:

Be Obsessed or Be Average by Grant Cardone may give you the desire to learn.
What a beautiful man.

Be Obsessed Or Be Average by Grant Cardone

Once Grant has inspired you to do great things, answer this question in the comments below:

Are you guilty of doing last-minute exam cramming?

* * *

Questions? Thoughts? Suggestions? Please leave your ideas in the comments below!

Thank you for learning at Cryptic Butter!

Are You Ill-Prepared for Exams? Read This Quickly
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Are You Ill-Prepared for Exams? Read This Quickly
The clock is ticking, and your exams are getting ever closer. How should you spend your time most effectively to secure good grades? Learn these last-minute exam revision tips before it’s too late!
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Cryptic Butter
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Posted by Luis Thiam-Nye

If you want to learn how to use technology to increase your productivity, you should visit Cryptic Butter! I also have a GitHub project.

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