Crammers guide to survival
First we should say: do NOT cram if you have a choice. We do not recommend cramming as a sole solution to the HSC, as cramming definitely underperforms consistent study in the long run. However in life, unforeseen events happen and you may find yourself in a situation where you have only a few days, or even just 1 day, before a major exam.
Often if something happens and it is of no fault of your own, the school may be lenient and make arrangements to be fairer to you (e.g. they may arrange for you to sit a supplementary exam at a later date). However sometimes it is plainly our fault for being unprepared. For example, sometimes through pure negligence, a student can find out about a major exam only a few days before it is to be done. In these situations, school administration is less sympathetic and you are unlikely to receive any special treatment. Therefore we have put together this short guide to help you if you are ever in this situation.
First step: get an overview Spend your first hour or so getting an overview of the entire content section you need to study for. For example, if you have an upcoming exam dealing with the entire Acidic Environment module for HSC Chemistry, spend your initial hour reading through all your notes (from tutoring, school, your own notes etc) briefly and summarily, to get a big picture of what are the main assessable parts.
Once you have a general idea of the content they can ask you about in the exam, you’ll have a good idea of what is important and deserves more attention. It is important to not skip this step, as it will save you valuable time. If you skip this step and jump right into studying from the very beginning of your content, you risk spending too much time on the sections near the beginning, which may not carry the bulk of the marks in the exam.
The main assessable parts In school exams, usually the exam covers only one or two particular topics (called topic exams) or only a portion of the course (for example, the half yearlies and trials). Hopefully you won’t need to cram for something as major as the trials.
These exams usually award the bulk of the marks to one or two central topics or sections, which you will need to identify in your overview before you start studying. If you are pressed for time, you should aim to study only the main parts in good detail so that you’ll at least get a reasonable mark. Cramming is the skill of first identifying what the major parts of the exam will be (this can come down to your skill in prediction) and preparing for these major parts in sufficient detail such that your mark will at least be moderately pleasing.
The other parts which do not form part of the main section of the exam should be reviewed at a lower priority. The reason is because if you are cramming, this means you don’t have enough time to study the entire content properly. Therefore while you may not be able to score full marks, you can prioritise the major points and study them in greater detail than the side-points.
All nighters All-nighters are not recommended because you will be extremely sleepy the day after. During the day after, while you might not feel too drowsy, your memory retention and recall will be terrible. You might not be able to remember most of the things you studied, even if it was the night before, because sleep allows your brain to organise its thoughts in a coherent way. If you don’t get enough sleep, your mind is in a chaotic and unorganised state and you won’t be able to recall information effectively and reliably.
Notwithstanding the effect on memory recall, pulling all-nighterscombined with high caffeine dosage is extremely unhealthy to your body. While energy drinks like V, Red Bull etc market themselves as energy drinks which keep you awake, doing exams heavily under the influence of caffeine is actually adverse to memory recall and concentration. If you find you have absolutely no time to study the content and you only have 1 night left before the exam, it is better to either:
• Study till around 1-2am, then sleep as many hours as you can and wake up at your usual time
• Sleep at your usual time, set an alarm at 5am and study for a few hours before school
Both options work, because some sleep is significantly better than no sleep.
You will be more awake, aware and be able to concentrate much better as a result of having some sleep
After the exam After the exam, you should still find time to review the content that you needed to cram. This content will become assumed knowledge for subsequent exams, as well as the final external HSC exams. Therefore you should not leave the content behind, because from your cramming, you may have missed many subtle points or some fundamental principles. It is a good idea to review the entire section you crammed, as if you’ve never seen it before, to ensure you have no gaps in your knowledge for future exams. If you have the time to do this, then it is highly recommended.