Don’t Cram, Use a Five-Day Study Plan!
The simple keys to a five-day study plan:
- Figure out what you need to know in (“prepare”).
- Make sure you know it (“review”).
- Start in advance & switch things up.
1. Preparing study material for an exam is an active process. This is where you identify, organize, and consolidate your material. You want to end up with a study guide, flash cards, quizlets, concept maps, practice test questions that you made up, etc. (Don’t just passively re-write your notes or re-read a chapter–instead make something new.) Staring this five days before your exam helps solidify the material, plus it gives you time to identify what you still don’t understand so you can get your questions answered.
2. Reviewing the material you prepared should also be active-this is where you figure out how much you actually know and what you still need to work on. Try “blank page testing,” quizzing yourself or a friend, and/or taking practice exams.
Some Examples of Preparation and Review Strategies
(This is where you identify, organize, and consolidate material.)
(This is where you self-test and evaluate your learning.)
3. Switch up preparation and review
People learn faster and perform better if they work in brief blocks of time spread out over longer periods of time, rather than in a few lengthy “cram” sessions. For example:
- You will perform better on an exam if you spend one hour studying each day for 20 days than if you spend 10 hours studying each day for two days before the test.
- It is easier to learn to shoot a 3-pointer better if you practice a little bit each day for a month rather than have one marathon session in an afternoon.
- You will learn the tuba best if you practice a little each day (though your roommate may disagree about anything regarding you learning the tuba–fair enough).
Put that principle to work by mixing up preparation and review. Don’t do all of your preparation, then stop that and do all of your review. Mix them up to learn best! (Use this principle to your advantage when you need to prepare for multiple exams/projects simultaneously–it can be a great silver lining in those stressful times to know that going back and forth to work on multiple subjects helps you learn each one better.)
How to Make a Five-Day Study Plan
- Break the material on the exam into chunks or groups of material. (By chapter? Topic? Lecture? You decide what makes sense depending on your class.) For the example below, we will use 4 chunks or groups of material (A, B, C, and D). For example, Chunk A might be chapters 1-2, Chunk B is chapter 3, Chunk C is chapters 4-5, and Chunk D is chapter 6.
- Plan to spend about 2 hours studying on each of the five days.
- Work with the material in 2 ways: preparation and review.
- Decide what preparation and review strategies will work best for you, and include those on your five-day study plan chart. Click here for a downloadable word document of a Five-Day Study Plan.
Sample Five-Day Study Plan Chart
Click here for a downloadable word document of A Five-Day Study Plan.
|Day 1||Day 2||Day 3||Day 4||Day 5|
|Prepare Chunk A: 2hrs||Prepare Chunk B: 2 hrs;
Review Chunk A: 30 min
|Prepare Chunk C: 1.5 hrs;
Review Chunk B: 30 min;
Review Chunk A: 15 min
|Prepare Chunk D: 1 hr;
Review Chunk C: 30 min;
Review Chunk B: 15 min;
Review Chunk A: 15 min
| Review Chunk D: 25 min;
Review Chunk C: 15 min;
Review Chunk B: 10 min;
Review Chunk A: 10 min
Self-test on A, B, C, D: 1 hr
You will have to get creative with your plan for those times when you have two or three prelims or other big assignments in the same week.
During the five days you are studying for your exam be kind to your future self and don’t neglect your other courses!
Would you like to learn more?
- Memory: Why cramming for tests often fails
- Why Cramming Doesn’t Work
- Back to School: Cramming Doesn’t Work in the Long Term
- The Importance of Having a Study Plan
- 5 Reasons Personalized Study Plans are Effective
Up Next: What do you do with practice exams?