How to Cram Successfully Through QCEBy Jake Silove in QCE
7th of August 2019
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So, it’s reached that time of the year where you’ve realised that it’s a lost cause. You’ve left study too late, you can’t possibly learn everything, and you really only have one option left.
Cram all the content into your brain and try to dump it onto a page the next morning.
Cram everything you were supposed to be learning for the past six months into a few hours of study, and hope, pray, that you get questions in the test that you can actually answer.
Even the absolute top students cram for exams. I’ve had to cram countless times, both in High School and at University. Cramming doesn’t necessarily mean you haven’t studied at all in the weeks/days preceding a test; it just means that you still have a lot of content to memorise, it’s the night before, and you haven’t done it yet.
Now let me be perfectly clear: I do not think cramming is a good idea. Obviously, you should have studied before the night before. But, you’re not reading this article for a lecture, so I’m not going to reprimand you except to say that maybe you shouldn’t do this again?
Here are my tips for the best way to cram. It can be a really effective study tool, and honestly there is no reason NOT to utilise these tips the night before an exam.
What you will need:
- A set of notes, preferably ones that follow the dot points of the syllabus. Ideally, these should be your own notes, but if you haven’t made any check out some of the notes on ATAR Notes here.
- Lined paper
- Easy to write with, colourful pens
The key to a good cram regime is having something fairly concise to study from, in order to produce something EVEN MORE concise to aid in your final hours.
This means having a set of notes, following the dot points, which you can read from. For subjects where classical ‘notes’ are more difficult (Eg. Maths), replace the notes with worked questions and answers that (hopefully) you have from your teachers, or work you’ve done in class.
In the next section, we will see what we need the papers and pens for (although I’m pretty sure it’s obvious). However, you need to come up with a colour system. Are you going to write in Red for super important things that you’ve never heard of? Are you going to use a different colour for each topic? Are you going to put dates in Orange, statistics in Blue and quotes in Green? Come up with a plan, and stick with it. Be smart, and allocate your colours to what your subject requires.
Finally, you are going to need a quiet space. You don’t want your parents coming in and out making sure you’re okay, you don’t want your sibling bothering you about their homework. You need some space to concentrate, and maybe a coffee. Try not to listen to music, if you normally do this to study. If you find yourself falling asleep, though, pump out “Not Giving In” (Rudimental).
The paper is in front of you. You’ve got a beast system for using colours when you write out your super succinct notes. All of your pens are those fancy ballpoint ones, and you’ve got a decent set of notes in front of you. A hush falls over the crowd, and the cram session begins.
I recommend just reading through the notes on each dotpoint and writing out only information that is absolutely crucial. I’m talking about stats, facts, and things you’ve never even heard of. Stick to your colouring system. Use subheadings. These notes need to be absolutely beautiful.
Don’t put down information that you could, conceivably, make up in the exam. Things like advantages/disadvantages, things you’re fairly confident with but not 100% on; just leave them out. When you cram, you’re trying to get as much of a wide range of material into your head as physically possible. You don’t need everything to be super detailed, and you definitely shouldn’t be writing out sentences. Headings, and dot points, that’s it. If you can summarise the ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL information in a dot point into one sentence, do it. And do it with colour.
Here’s a bit of a pro tip: swear at yourself. When I write my cram notes, I will literally right things like “Not that you’re ever going to [email protected]&%ing going to remember this, but Einstein’s paper came out in 1905”. I swear at the curriculum, at myself, at the content. For me, for some reason, it genuinely helps: It may not for you, but this is just something I like to do!
Writing out the notes is the best way to remember things. When cramming, some students tend to just read over past notes. THIS IS NOT VERY HELPFUL! Writing the notes, identifying your weak points, using colours and other memorisation techniques is the best way to improve your mark in the upcoming assessment.
A lot of the time, you will only write out these notes and leave it at that. You won’t have time to go over them, or anything else like that. However, if you’ve done it within a sufficiently small time frame, you may be able to do some further work.
Now that you have your summarised notes cheat sheet, throw away everything else. You haven’t memorised everything on it, obviously, and nor will you, but there’s no point extending yourself beyond that set of notes. So, with that in mind, let’s go about utilising the set of notes as efficiently as possible.
Read through it a few times, explaining concepts out loud. Whilst you SHOULD have very, very succinct dot points, often in unintelligible sentences, you should explain the concept in full out loud to PROVE that you know what’s going on. You could talk for a few minutes about each dot point, and then move onto the next.
If you find a bit that could be more succinct, make it more succinct. However, since you want the whole thing to be utterly beautiful, you’re going to need to rewrite the entire page. That’s totally fine, because it means you’re more likely to remember the content. Don’t just thoughtlessly spurt out the words: think about what you’re writing, and swear at yourself a little bit more for fun.
Perhaps, you want to look at some typical past questions and apply your sheet to them. I think that this is a good approach, although if it’s the night before I doubt you’ve gotten up to this stage. Don’t necessary write out answers; explain them, out loud, using your notes. If you want to add or subtract things from your set of notes, that’s totally fine. Just keep them beautiful!
This set of notes will honestly be so useful in the coming months. Whilst you only prepared them in a few hours, I promise that keeping them, making them perfect, and using them well will make a big difference in how much knowledge you retain.
To cram is to do a magic trick: Making content appear in your brain, as if out of nowhere. And, every magic act needs a prestige. A moment that completely defies expectations, something that sets you apart from everyone else.
This is going to shock you, perhaps even horrify you. The secret itself is totally unimpressive: the way you use it is everything.
You are going to go to sleep.
The night before an exam you haven’t studied for, at all, and you have a ridiculous amount of content to memorise that, frankly, you just haven’t yet. Despite everything you could be doing.
Go to sleep.
There is no way to get all the content. Feeling well rested, or at least not like a zombie, is the best thing you could do for yourself. Let yourself sleep on all the knowledge you’ve just gained, and then keep looking over your notes the next morning. What you aren’t going to do, however, is stay up all night cramming and rock up to school with 20 minutes of rest.
It might seem hard, with all thoughts of class rushing through your head. But sleep is an essential part of doing well, and you want to do well.
So, sleep. It might not feel good, or right, but you need to do it anyway. Sleep, and then smash the assessment the next day.
I hope that this article helped you! Next time you have an exam, instead of leaving everything to the last minute, why don’t you check out our free QCE resources so that you’re well prepared? Might save you some stress, right?