Cramming 101

There’s always that one subject that you couldn’t care less about until it’s a week before the exam and suddenly you do very much care. Sometimes there are multiple subjects that you’ve neglected all semester while you’ve been hunting down all the free booze and pizza on campus, but that’s okay. That pizza was delicious and you felt great afterwards and you saw a dog on your way there, and you’re going to be fine in the exam anyway. But how will I be fine when this whole situation screams Not Fine?, you may ask. I’m going to tell you how. I have compiled a collection of tips that I, a seasoned crammer, have obtained over the years that actually work, and will prevent you from spending your summer holidays lying in a pool of sweaty regret.

If you’ve taken notes…

Good for you, pal! Maybe you haven’t properly studied yet but going to lectures/tutorials and actually taking notes sort of counts! If you’ve typed them you probably did that without paying much attention to what you were typing and consequently don’t remember them but don’t stress, we’ll work that one out later.

Your notes are going to help you figure out what exactly it is you need to study, and for how long. What you need to do is go through your notes and figure out what your main topics are, and then figure out which sub-topics stem from those main topics. Then, you’re going to go through your notes again and sort the sub-topics into four categories:

  1. Things you know and don’t need to study because you are an UNSTOPPABLE GENIUS
  2. Things you kind of vaguely know but need to revisit
  3. Things you don’t know but could probably learn pretty easily
  4. Things that are making you wonder why you took this subject because they are stupid and make no sense and you hate them

You’re going to want to allocate most of your time to 4) and 3), slot 2) in at intervals between studying the tricky stuff and only study 1) if you end up with a lot of bonus surprise study time.


If you haven’t taken notes…

The main thing you want to do if you don’t have any notes is revisit your lecture slides and take notes/draw diagrams/compile palm cards. If you’re in a rush you’re not going to want to be watching every single lecture, unless you’ve somehow found time to leave your den of angst and despair and go out into the outside world and can listen to one on public transport or something. The only time I watch lectures when I’m short for time is if the lecture is on something that fits into the aforementioned 4) category, and even then I’d recommend watching it on 1.5x speed because lecturers enjoy talking slowly and making people suffer.

Also if you have a textbook check out the chapter summaries! They’re usually pretty thorough and sometimes you can figure out what’s going on from the summary alone.

Cool memory tricks that will help you a lot! 

Your brain organises the things you learn through creating mental maps that relate the information to other pieces of information, so model mnemonics such as diagrams and mind maps are really great and way better than writing out dot points. I like to make one big mind map for each main unit with sub-topics branching off the main point, and then make smaller baby mind maps for each sub topic with relevant information. Stick them up in places you spend a lot of time in, like the roof above your bed or the toilet. Sometimes I put them in plastic pockets and stick them up in the shower! You can study anywhere if you get a bit creative.


My other favourite mnemonic is making up a memorable phrase in order to remember a set of information. For example, if you want to remember the order of animal classification, you might do this thing:

Dumb Kids Playing Cards on Freeway Get Smashed = Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species

I fully encourage you to make your phrases as filthy as possible. The more NSFW they are, the more likely you’ll be to remember them and have a little giggle in your exam that will make other people wonder what your deal is.

Connection mnemonics are also A+ and involve (you guessed it) connecting information to stuff you already know, so you might remember that latitude runs horizontally because it sounds like flat and flat things are horizontal.

If you have people nearby who you can annoy…

It is a really great idea to make flashcards and get someone else to test you. Flashcards help a lot because if you shuffle them up they force you to memorise information in a random order which means you’ll encode it much more effectively. Making flashcards can take a while so I would recommend buying pre-cut cards and only handwriting them if you have 3-5 days till the exam, or you can check out StudyBlue – they sometimes have flashcard sets for specific Melbourne Uni subjects!

Teaching someone else will also help you remember information because it means you’re actively engaging with the content, especially if the person you’re teaching is asking you questions along the way.


Test yourself! 

Often lecturers will take questions from textbooks or use questions they’ve already uploaded onto LMS in the exam because they can’t be bothered writing up new ones, so if you do a lot of practice questions chances are you’ll see something similar/identical on the actual exam.

Something that has worked really well for me in the past is to study the content from category 4) first, followed by 3) and then 2), and slowly build up practice questions after I finish studying each unit. This means that after I study the first thing, let’s say Attention, I’ll just do practice questions for Attention, but when I finish studying Recognition, I’ll do practice questions for Attention and Recognition, and so on. This way you’ll be doing more work for the things you need to be spending more time on, and not wasting time on things you already know pretty well.


Other handy tips

  • Take breaks! The 50/10 rule usually works pretty well for me and means that I don’t burn out and can go get a snack and rest my brain for a bit.
  • Fruit is better than caffeine and will make your brain happy and alert without messing with your system.
  • Make sure you’re getting enough sleep (no all-nighters!), especially the night before an exam, and set your alarm for 2+ hours before the exam starts. Your brain takes a little while to completely wake up and start functioning properly.
  • If you’re struggling to understand something in the way that your lecturer has explained it, search it on YouTube! There are videos explaining everything and they are usually super helpful and interesting.
  • Handwriting your notes will incorporate more sensory modalities than typing them, which will come in handy when you’re trying to retrieve that information. If you have enough time, write out stuff from category 4) multiple times.

At the end of the day, all you can do is try your best and think of all the other people who don’t know all of these tips and are consequently going into the exam completely unprepared. You might not get a H1, but you can still do pretty well if you study smart and know how to prioritise your time!

– Aisling

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