Tips for Students: How to Study with 5, 3, or 1 Day Until the Exam

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Student Success
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While creating a solid study plan that spans over several days is considered the best practice for exams, sometimes life happens, and students need to fit a week’s worth of studying into a few days, or even just one night. With that in mind, here are three study plans students can use no matter how much (or little) time they have.

Steps for Every Study Plan

In her text Essential Study Skills, 8th ed, author Linda Wong outlines the process for creating a study plan that all students can benefit from as they approach finals week.

Step 1:  Identify specific topics and make a list of all topics and materials that need to be reviewed before the upcoming test.

Step 2: Schedule specific days and times to review the materials and topics.

Step 3: Create a plan of action for each review session. To avoid wasting review time, create a pattern or plan for reviewing each time you sit down. Throughout this review process, plan to make summary notes for the information you feel you need to review further.

“The 5-Day Plan”

Ideally, studying should start at least five days in advance of the exam to allow students an ample amount of time to go over course concepts and materials, and reach out to their instructor or peers if they find they have any questions. Linda Wong outlines the 5-day study plan in her text and suggests how students could organize their study sessions:

Organize specific blocks of time on days 1, 2, 3, and 4 for review sessions. On day 5, dedicate all of your study time to reviewing your summary notes. Mark the study/ review days and times on your calendar or your weekly schedule. Coordinate these times with other students if you are going to review with a study partner or study group.

“The 3-Day Plan”

Like the 5-day plan, the 3-Day plan has the benefit of giving the student time to fully go over course materials and lecture notes, and also gives them just enough time to reach out to their instructor or peers with questions.

Students should still create a schedule like the one for the 5-day plan, but rather than try to block out longer periods of time for studying and set themselves up for information overload, students should block out multiple shorter blocks of time and take regular short breaks to help maintain focus.

“The 1-Day Plan”

Sometimes life happens, and even though they meant to start studying days in advance, many students find themselves in the quandary of having to cram for an exam during finals week. Unfortunately, studying for hours-long sessions or pulling an all-nighter usually isn’t an effective strategy for memory retention, but there are four steps students can take to improve their odds:

Step 1: Follow steps like you would for a 5-day plan, by organizing materials, identifying topics, and creating a schedule—taking care to include time to breaks.

Step 2: Study—review materials, create summary notes for difficult concepts and take regular breaks. If students have other classes or activities, saving summary or lecture notes to their smartphone or using apps like MindTap are great strategies for studying on the go.

Step 3: Get some sleep! Many students think pulling an all-nighter will help them perform better, but a lack of sleep impedes working memory function and attentiveness—which won’t help at all on exam day.

Reference: Wong, Linda. 2015. Essential Study Skills, 8th ed.  Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.