How I Cram for Those Mid Term Exams

by Ron Haynes

OK, sometimes you’ve gotten distracted, or maybe you’ve had a personal problem. At any rate, you’ve fallen far behind in preparing for an exam, or a presentation, or a meeting of some sort. What now?

The first rule is don’t panic. Panic won’t get you anywhere and is even more distracting when you’re trying to absorb as much information as possible in as short a time as possible. Here are a few steps I’ve used to cram for exams when I didn’t follow my own system for studying.

The second rule is to know what material will be covered in the exam. I always tried to find out what type of test I was taking (multiple choice, short answer, essay, true/false) so I could prepare for that specific type of test. Multiple choice tests require a knowledge of facts whereas essay tests require writing skills. Short answer tests require facts but you have to have a little more understanding of the subject matter so that the wording makes sense. More on this later. I tried to gather as much information as possible from my professors. Was the exam going to cover only the information covered in class? Would there be questions based on the lab work? Would the questions test my analytical skills or just my knowledge of facts? Would the exam questions come from old tests?

When I was gathering this information, I always tried to ask in a non-confrontational way. If the professor or a teaching assistant asked why I was inquiring about these items, I would respond that I was trying to make sure I used my study time effectively. I never had a problem as long as I was respectful.

If you can get copies of old tests from friends or from the library, use these to your advantage. Many times, professors will reuse old tests and will only change the questions slightly.

Third, I assembled everything I would need to study. Notes (either my own or copied), textbooks, workbooks, old tests, calculators, pens, paper, index cards, plenty of coffee, water, a couple of snacks, and even a voice recorder was on my short list of things I might need. Get everything together first so that you don’t have to interrupt your study session to look for a better pen.

Now I was ready.

I found that I could study best in a library as long as I was on a quiet floor, away from things that interested me, and no where near where the sorority girls and fraternity boys were “studying.”

To make full use of class notes (either mine or some I copied), I visually scanned them to get key information, then re-wrote these facts in my own words. Re-writing will helped me memorize important points. I always looked for highlighted or underlined information since this was usually important.

To make full use of my textbooks, I looked for words in bold. These are important and I wrote them down along with their definitions. I tried to answer the end of chapter questions from the textbook. Sometimes professors will use the questions from the back of the book to create their exam. This happened to me in several classes, even in graduate school! I always read my chapter introductions and conclusions since these usually contained the information from the chapter in a very condensed form.

To make full use of my student workbook, I worked the practice questions first. Many times professors will pull their exam questions from a workbook under the assumption that only the best students will study these and those students will get a break as a result. Life isn’t fair but if you know what to study, you can tilt things in your favor. ;)

To make full use of old tests, I always made sure to change a few of the question inputs to see what answer I would get. A professor may not create entirely new questions, but they regularly use slightly altered old questions. Don’t get tricked! True/false questions might have had the work “not” inserted somewhere in the new question.

To use memorization try these tips:

  • Repeat the information over and over. Make the words fit a song you like, or create a poem. Repeat the information aloud until you can repeat it ten minutes later.
  • Re-write information that is important. Re-write it at least 5 times.
  • Use acronyms to help you. SCUBA stands for self contained underwater breathing apparatus. LASER stands for light amplification be the simulated emission of radiation. What acronym can you make for the information you need to recall later?

Here’s how I prepared for different types of exams.

Multiple Choice
Details, details, details. Multiple choice tests almost always focus on details. I used the memorization techniques above to learn vocabulary words and their definitions. Multiple choice tests have a tendency to structure questions around vocabulary words and many times, multiple choice tests will involve questions about processes. Learn all you can about groupings and similarities in the information. Learn how to eliminate. Sometimes you have to pick the “best” choice and it isn’t easy. If you can eliminate two choices, you have a much better shot at getting the right answer.

What always worked best for me was to memorize a few important points for every bit of subject matter. I would emphasize the basics and then use my ability to elaborate to competently answer the entire question.

Short Answer
These fill in the blank tests require details, much like the multiple choice tests. I learned to read through the entire exam and found that many times, the answer to one question early in the test was inadvertently answered in a later question. Read the whole thing first!

I always asked my professor one thing: “If any single little part of the question is false, is the entire question false?” Professors may not like getting backed into a corner like this, but it helps you to know what the boundaries are.

It’s best to NOT get backed into a corner like this. Having to cram for an exam should be a rare occasion. I would recommend that anyone learn how to study so that exam time is relatively stress free.

[tags]cram, exam, test, college, professor, essay, multiple choice[/tags]

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 1001 articles on The Wisdom Journal.

The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.

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I’d add that if it’s a maths exam, then practice problems, and if there are any significant proofs that you don’t understand, write them out in as few lines as possible and then memorise them word for word.


Great point, I should have added that.
Practice, practice, practice.
Oddly enough, math exams are sometimes the easiest to cram for!

Frugal Dad

I’ve used acronyms and other memorization techniques for years in school and at my job. When I was young, my mom used to make up silly sentences to help me remember long lists, etc. (substituting the first letter of the list item with a word that made a sentence). I used to make fun of her for it, but I always remembered the list at test time!


@Frugal Dad:
If you think about it, some of the easiest things we ever memorized were rhymes and jingles.
A before E except after C
In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue
When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking


There are many learning methods I’ve found useful for situations like these. My two favorites are acrostics and association. They’ve helped me considerably in times of need. I recently wrote a post about learning tactics, which you could see for further ideas. If I seem too spammy, I’d understand if you deleted the link. Anyway, nice post on a useful topic.
7 Ways to Learn Things You Don’t Really Want to Learn


Yes acrostics and associations are very powerfeul memorization methods.
I checked out your list at your blog and it is a good one. Thanks for stopping by! :D

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