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Study Tips

How to revise effectively in just one day

So you've left all your exam revision to the last minute? Don't worry – it's a scenario that can creep up on the best of us, and we're here to help!

student with laptop, exam paper and alarm clock

Credit: Photo Veterok, Roman Samborskyi, Julia Zavalishina – Shutterstock

Whether it's down to extreme procrastination, a killer timetable or genuinely unforeseen circumstances, you probably want to learn how to revise effectively and quickly because you've realised your exam is tomorrow and you're completely unprepared.

While we wouldn't condone leaving all your revision until the final day, we're here to reassure you that all is not lost! It's possible to revise for an exam in a day.

This plan partly relies on the strength of your lecture notes and attendance throughout the course. Not confident in your work so far? For future reference, here's how to take better lecture notes.

18 last-minute exam revision tips

These are our top tips for studying the day before an exam:

  1. Wake up early

    red alarm clock

    Credit: samritk – Shutterstock

    When you've only got one day to deal with the job in hand, you need to make the most of it.

    You don't want to get up at stupid-o-clock and burn out too early. But, you should set yourself an alarm for a sensible time and aim to start work at around 9am.

    After all, you can nap all you want after the exam!

  2. Choose the right place to work

    As much as we wish it weren't true, you really won't get much done from your bed. We'd love to say otherwise, but it's just a fact.

    You'll be a lot more productive in an environment that you associate with working. So, set yourself up at your desk or haul yourself down to the library.

  3. Go to the library prepared

    Think of every possibility. You might have only used those erasable highlighters once, but if you leave them, you'll probably need them.

    When the going gets tough later on, you don't want to be wasting time searching for books or notes, or giving yourself an excuse to stop working because you don't have everything you need.

    For more tips, check out our easy steps to becoming more organised.

  4. Create a plan before you start

    Planning out your revision will make such a difference. You may only have one day, but you'll get much more done if you break it up and work out exactly what you need to know. This approach will be much more effective than just cramming in any old info.

    Spend half an hour working out what topics you need to cover and allotting chunks of time for each bit. It might seem like a waste of valuable revision time, but trust us – it'll save you much more time in the long run.

    And have a read of our guide to writing an essay in a day. It will show just how easy it is to break down a massive task into something far more achievable.

  5. Refrain from panicking

    surprised cat

    Credit: dat' - Flickr

    When doing last-minute revision, try not to panic.

    You still have plenty of time to digest information and come out of the other side smiling, and a positive can-do attitude will go a long way!

    And don't worry if you're feeling the pressure – it's perfectly natural. Remember it's possible to beat the exam stress with these great tips.

  6. Use lecture slides and past papers

    Lecture slides and past papers are both great ways to work out what's likely to come up in the exam, so make use of them.

    Once you've worked out what's probably going to come up, head to the textbooks to jot down key notes on each area. Look out for chapter summaries and key information boxes for a more succinct read.

    You can also use past papers to test your knowledge. You don't necessarily need to answer them all in full, but you can write quick plans of how you'd approach them.

  7. Study without technology and social media

    As tough as it may seem, opting for a day without your phone, laptop or tablet will help you to study for your exam.

    Writing things down (as opposed to typing) can help you focus and process the info.

    And if you need lecture notes, print them off. This will also keep you away from the procrastination devil that is social media.

    Don't think you can manage it? The Hold app rewards you with things like free coffee, popcorn and loads more just for avoiding your phone!

  8. Re-read your lecture notes and highlight

    This is where your hard work earlier in the year will hopefully pay off. You can now consolidate whatever was on your lecture slides or in the textbooks.

    As an added bonus, cues you've jotted down in lectures should hopefully trigger more info from the depths of your brain.

    You don't have a huge amount of time on your hands (after all, this is a guide on how to revise quickly). So if something isn't jogging your memory, it may be worth coming back to it if you have spare time later on.

  9. Condense your notes

    person highlighting notes

    Credit: ABO PHOTOGRAPHY - Shutterstock

    Streamline each topic down to one page of notes using your lecture slides, previous notes and textbooks.

    How you revise depends on your degree. But for essay-based subjects, learn the key concepts, examples and evaluations, along with at least one conflicting argument.

    Don't waste time copying out paragraphs – this is laborious, time-consuming and totally unnecessary. Simply reading through some selective notes should trigger your memory when you read through them on the morning of your exam.

  10. Eat healthy brain food

    As tempting as it might be to stock up on Red Bull and Haribo, this is never a good idea.

    Sugar and caffeine will give you a short-term energy boost. But after a few hours (if not sooner) you'll crash in a big way – despite still having a load more revision to do.

    Instead, opt for some healthy, energy-boosting snacks like bananas or porridge. Our guide to the best brain fuel foods has all your best options, including (dark) chocolate.

  11. Use memory tricks

    Sometimes, sitting down and reading the lecture slides just isn't enough. Instead, you might need to turn to some more... unusual ways of making things stick.

    We're not suggesting that you turn your notes into a full-blown musical to help you revise. However, rhymes, funny anecdotes and mnemonics (e.g. 'Never Eat Shredded Wheat' for reciting the clockwise order of North, East, South and West) will help you to remember key facts and phrases.

    It might feel a little bit like primary school, but if it helps you remember, who cares? Don't work hard, work smart (... ok, work hard too).

  12. Memorise some important names and dates

    A lot of university subjects will require you to know some key authors or critics and what their key arguments were. On top of that, you may even be asked to include some top quotes and the years they were uttered.

    Truth be told, you can usually be a few years off with the year (or employ some clever terms like "Smith commented in the early 19th century" rather than using an exact year), but you will need to get their names correct.

    Pick a few quotes for each topic and write them down on another single page of notes so you can keep going over them.

    Go for a mix of well-known and more obscure quotes. Using a quote that your lecturer won't see in other exam answers makes it seem like you've done in-depth research.

  13. Take breaks between each topic

    man reading in library

    Credit: wavebreakmedia – Shutterstock

    As weird as it sounds, learning how to revise quickly actually involves learning to take a break.

    You need to rest your eyes and your brain, as not only will this help you process what you've just read, but it'll also give you a moment to recharge and avoid burning out.

    When taking a break, it's a good opportunity to grab a quick bite to eat (try one of these study snacks). And, if you're experiencing withdrawal symptoms, quickly take a look at Twitter. And we mean quickly.

    Post a mandatory "I hate revision can't wait until it's all over" tweet, laugh at some student memes and then return to your work.

    And it's worth setting a timer to let you know when to get back to work.

  14. Review each topic

    When you return from each break, review the topic you've just learned to ensure you understand everything.

    If there's something important that you can't get your head around, try using a different source to study it. Sometimes our brains process things better when explained from a different angle.

    When you're satisfied that you understand the main points and aren't just kidding yourself, go on to your next topic.

  15. Revise the next topic

    Apply the previous steps to every topic until you have everything covered. Learning to revise quickly is really just a simple process of writing, condensing, taking a break, reviewing and then moving on to the next topic. Easy peasy.

    Aim to have all your material covered by 10pm at the very latest – you need to sleep! You can then spend a few hours absorbing the information from your simple one-page flashcards.

  16. Prepare yourself for the exam

    Get ready and prepare your bag for the exam the night before – calculator, spare pens, student card, whatever else you need. Even set out what you're going to wear the next day so you're 100% ready.

    This is really important as it can save you a lot of stress on the morning of the exam. And, of course, it'll also give you an extra 10 minutes in bed in the morning. This is especially useful given that tip 18 involves an early start...

  17. Sleep well

    woman sleeping in eye mask

    Credit: Diego Cervo – Shutterstock

    No matter how stressed you feel, make sure to get some good quality shut-eye for at least six hours (ideally eight or more, though).

    If you're having trouble sleeping, remind yourself that, at this point, sleep is more important than endlessly cramming. Exhaustion won't help you perform and your brain needs time to process all the things you've been revising the day before.

  18. Wake up earlier than usual

    Make sure you get up a little earlier than you need to so you can go over your notes.

    And before you enter the exam room, avoid talking to other people about what you've studied. It could undo all of the work you've done to manage your exam stress as you might feel you've done less than everyone else, or missed out some topics.

    Ultimately, there's nothing more you can do at this point. It's better to go in full of confidence and do your best.

    It's also worth reading the whole paper before answering any questions. That way, your brain has time to subconsciously work on the next answers.

And that's it, you're done. Once again, we really should stress that you shouldn't use this method as your first choice. Emergency back-up only!

We've got loads of tried and tested revision hacks in episode three of our podcast. If you're struggling to cram before an exam, you're certainly not alone...

Laura Brown

WRITTEN BY Laura Brown

Laura Brown, Head of Editorial at Save the Student, is an award-winning writer with expertise in student money. She project manages influential national student surveys and has presented findings to MPs in Westminster. As an expert on student issues, Laura has been quoted by the BBC, the Guardian, Metro and more.
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