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Study Early, Study Often - Avoid Cramming

We’ve all been there before – there’s  a mid-term or final exam tomorrow at 10 a.m. and we start studying the night before at 9 p.m. We thought we had plenty of time. “This class is easy,” we said to ourselves. “If there’s a curve, I probably only need a 68 to get a B+,” we convinced ourselves. “I’ve been to (almost) every class, so I know this stuff,” we assured ourselves. And then we open up our textbook, possibly for the first time in several weeks, and then we realize just how unprepared we are for that test that starts in 13 hours. Then a flurry of panic sets in, we spend the rest of the night cramming, and coffee becomes our best friend, along with possible prayers to a higher deity that will listen.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Look, we’re in college for a reason. We all want to learn, broaden our knowledge, and get the skills and degree needed to succeed after graduate. Tests, exams, quizzes, and other graded projects are some of those “necessary evils” that exist in order to show if we’re really learning the material.  That doesn’t change the fact that procrastination is easy and studying and doing the work can be hard. But  by following a few simple guidelines, it can be better. It can be easier. And you don’t have to default to the last-minute panicked state of cramming to pass.

Start Studying for a Test on Day 1

I know. I know. Who is really going to do that? But it’s true. If you take things in smaller chunks as they come its way easier to accomplish large projects without feeling like it all needs to get done the night before.

Before class:

  • Make sure you’ve read any assigned chapters or other materials.

During class:

  • Take notes related to the key concepts covered in the material.
  • Pay attention to what’s going on in class –  ask questions and clarify anything that seems confusing or difficult to grasp.

After class:

  • After each lecture or classroom discussion, look over your notes while the subject matter is fresh in your mind.
  • Make sure you understand the principles, concepts, and theories you discussed during class. Talk with your professor after class or go to their office hours if you’re not understanding any of the material.

We all have the tendency to set the last class aside as soon as we walk out of the room; instead, take 15 minutes to review and highlight your notes while they’re still relevant. Doing these small activities at the moment you’re in class or learning will help you better remember the material and make the final review before a quiz or test much easier.

Ask for Help

You probably have friends in your class, right? If not, you’ve probably met a few new people just by sitting near them in class. They took notes too. Ask them what something means if there’s a concept or formula you don’t understand and let them help you understand it better. Work through problems and challenges together. Taking an online course? See if there’s an opportunity for you to share notes virtually or use a virtual chat to discuss questions with your classmates.

And don’t be afraid to seek help from your professor or teaching assistant. That’s why they have office hours. Professors really want you to succeed and it’s literally their job to help you understand the material. You just have to give a little effort (and plan ahead) to get that extra help if you need it. They’ll appreciate your desire to learn and master the subject material they’re teaching.

Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute

Your last-minute panic attack does not constitute an emergency in the eyes of your professor. The absolute worst thing you can do is wait until the day before something is due to ask for help. It shows that you either didn’t care or didn’t plan ahead. The best time to get information clarified is right after class or during office hours that afternoon. Clear things up while the lecture material is still relatively fresh. Even if you have questions you bring up a few days or weeks later, that ask for help before a big project, test, or exam will at least show you are committed to learning, and professors like that. They’ll be much more likely to help if you don’t suddenly appear in their email inbox at 2 a.m. looking for answers the class discussed a few weeks ago.

Remember, learning and studying is something that happens over the entire course of a semester. You’re not going to be able to (re)learn everything perfectly in a single night. Take a few moments now to organize your schedule, set up a system so you’re taking notes and studying during class, and prioritize questions you want to discuss with your professor or fellow students. Doing these small things ahead of time will help you walk into the exam alert, focused, and confident.

About the Author

Ric Sweeney is an Associate Professor in the Marketing Department at the University of Cincinnati's Carl H. Lindner College of Business, specializing in Principles of Marketing, Advertising, Services Marketing, Branding, and Promotions. A passionate educator, Ric serves as faculty advisor for the UC AMA, CATALYST Marketing, and Project Heal, and is a faculty fellow for the Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity. He has also been a recipient of numerous awards for inspiring the next generation of great marketers, including the Cohen Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Barbour Award for Faculty/Student Relations, two of the University’s top awards for excellence. Ric has been a devoted volunteer for the American Marketing Association since 1996, serving locally as a Cincinnati Chapter Board Member and President. From there, he took his AMA volunteering to the national organization. Ric elevated his volunteering for the AMA to its highest level, serving as a Member of the Board of Directors and as the Chairman of the Board. Ric's impact on marketing, just within his AMA volunteering alone, is reflected in the fact that the AMA's annual national Volunteer of the Year award has his name attached to the honor. In 2018, Ric was named a “Cincinnati Marketing Legend” by the Cincinnati Chapter of the American Marketing Association.

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