Cramming Your Way To Top Performance In College

A few weeks ago I was asked how to study large amounts of material in short periods of time. Here’s my answer on peaking productivity, retention, and time optimization.

Let’s assume, for simplicity’s sake, you have 3 majors and 2 minors. 3/5 = 60%

2/5 = 40%

Now, if we spent 20% of our time studying each subject, then there would be no importance of prioritization. Cut 20% from your minor courses that you can cram for the night before and slap ‘em on those majors. Spend 80% of your time on Rocket Science / Quantum Physics / Relative Probability, and 20% of your time onBasket-weaving in Southern France / Psychology of Canines. Maybe even 85-15 dependant on the intensity. Whichever your situation, define this first.

Now, let’s define what these percentages of your time actually represent. You may have a fortnight, but the truth is you have less than that. From now until then you are going to need to eat, sleep, and succumb to your social media addictions. Look at your calendar (I suggest iCal or Google Calendar — they clearly divide each day into hour blocks). Where is your defined studying time? Will you study only in the mornings when your focus is clear and productivity is high? Will you study in the evenings when you get home from work? Block off the time for each subject. Do not simply write “STUDY!” on your to-do list and then get home and sigh at a pile of textbooks.

Fun fact: Last year when I was given a hard deadline to complete an intimidatingly large database, the Fishbone Diagram took me from bawling my eyes out; back to a productive flow:

What this explains is that each problem (in this case, gaining sufficient understanding and recall of everything you’ve been exposed to over the past semester in matter of days) can be broken down into approachable components that you can define. Where will you study? What will you use? What will you not use? How will you test your progress? Do you study best alone or with a group?

Defining this will allow you to achieve a sense of flow in concentration. You will be comfortable and confident that your progress is significant.

Now, once you have these hours blocked off, you can divide them into individual chapters or practice sessions. Do not study chapters in ascending or descending order. Tackle your biggest gaps in comprehension first, because it’s better to get stuck early and in between the hours of 09:00 and 17:00. Trust me on this one.

The last day before an exam should be spent reviewing and recalling. You should be finished all problem-solving, figure-out-ing, and re-learning. The last 24 hours are for refreshing the mind, and getting adequate rest. Do NOT pull an all-nighter, and do NOT put any reliance on energy drinks or drugs. If you drink coffee daily, don’t change your routine. Get a good night’s sleep and try to consume a dose of “healthy fats” the night prior (omega-3’s, mono-unsaturated — almonds, olive oil).

Instead of spending the last 10 minutes before walking into an exam trying to read your notes as quickly as possible (all those highlighted lines can be overwhelming), increase your confidence. Wish your friends luck, do a quick yoga power-pose (at your discretion), and arrange for celebratory beers at the neighbourhood watering hole.

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Mighty busybody with a passion for startups, tech & unconventional education. @leahhuyghe