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How to cram an hour before an exam or test

by Mark Miller December 28, 2016

How to cram an hour before an exam or test

A student preparing for exams. (Wikimedia Commons/ Gnarlycraig photo)

Preparing for exams and tests in high school and college may be essential to getting an A, entering the university of your dreams or making the grade to go on for a master’s degree. Assuming you’ve studied the subject or subjects thoroughly, what should you do just one before an exam?

If it’s a big mid-term or final, an Advanced Placement or a Graduate Record Exam or other graduate school test, most people have to study the subjects thoroughly during the semester or school year or years. Attempting to learn all the material one hour before the very end is not a good strategy for a final exam or for a placement test.

Assuming you’ve done the necessary studying to score or place well, several websites have tips on what to do the morning of or right before a test.


It seems one of the most important things is getting a good amount of sleep. Exam-taking expert and author Ted Dorsey told TeenVogue that getting eight hours of sleep the night before an exam is ideal. Some people may be tempted to study into the wee hours the night before an exam, but he says test-takers need proper sleep so they have the necessary focus and energy during the exam itself.

SAT tutor and exam expert Brian Witte, who holds a Ph.D., wrote an article for Time magazine in 2015 that listed sleep as the first step in preparing for an exam. He wrote that missing sleep the night before an exam and being exhausted can interfere greatly with remembering material you need to know to score well on a test. He wrote:

AP tests are designed to assess knowledge and skills that you accumulate over months of study, so frantically reviewing your notes the week before the exam will not help you. You can study an hour or so a day to keep yourself focused and on-topic, but avoid working late into the evening.

Preparing for exams

Another site, Picmonic, includes test-taking advice and other learning tools for students in many fields. The site says the United States Medical Licensing Examination 1 may be the most important exam in a medical education. Picmonic, too, lists sleep a top priority in being prepared.

But the site says it’s necessary to get seven hours of sleep each night for a week right up until test day to get the circadian rhythms in sync. Being sleep-deprived before the nights leading up to an exam and then sleeping seven hours the night before can leave a person exhausted.

Picmonic says if the test is at 7 a.m. but you usually get up at 10 a.m., set the alarm for 6 a.m. every day of the week before the exam so your body gets used to the new sleep schedule.

Caffeine before an exam

Picmonic also says it’s a mistake to ingest big doses of caffeine the morning of the exam. Similarly, some students think they should avoid caffeine altogether. The site advises test-takers to do their usual caffeine routine. The Picmonic article states:

And whatever you do, don’t increase your intake on the day of. You shouldn’t be making any drastic changes to your diet before the exam.

Another caffeine tip: avoid it after 4pm so that it doesn’t interfere with your sleep regimen.

Viter Energy Mints blog featured an entire article about how to handle caffeine before a test, saying if you can find the optimal amount of caffeine for your own metabolism, the stimulating chemical can enhance memory. And the amount the study recommends is about half as much as the 400 mg of caffeine per day that healthy adults are advised to limit themselves to.

Excess caffeine can make people feel lightheaded, give them anxiety attacks and headaches and make them feel tremulous. You don’t want to feel those sensations during a test. They can interfere with a student’s performance.

No cramming

A blog at the State University of New York advises against cramming a lot of memorization into short periods of time. Students memories’ retain new material learned over a longer period than they do by cramming.

The blog posting also advises getting a proper diet of what it calls superfoods and antioxidants, including high-fiber, high-carbohydrate foods that digest more slowly days before the exam. The blog says to avoid a diet solely consisting of meat, cheese, eggs and cream.

When you study, your brain consumes glucose, so  take a five-minute break every hour to let your body produce more fuel for your studying. Eating a healthy snack is very beneficial and can make a significant difference (almonds, fruit, and yogurt are good choices).

Don’t skip breakfast

The site How To Learn has an article about foods to eat before an exam. It says don’t skip breakfast even if you usually do. It says breakfast is extremelyimportant so the brain gets the energy it needs to function at its best.

The site says to eat brain-powering foods, including nuts, eggs, yogurts, fruits and whole-grain cereals. If the test is in the afternoon, eat vegetables.

Do exercise

The site Sugarscape has an article about what to do just before an exam. It includes a lot of good advice, including an admonition not to cram but rather to exercise just before a test. The article states:

Forget last minute cramming and comparing notes with your pals and opt to spend 15 minutes before you go into your exam taking a walk. Not only will it help you relax, but it’s also been proved that exercise boosts your brain power and can help performance when you head inside to sit your exam.

Mark Miller
Mark Miller

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