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Exams tend to be one of those things that creep up on you. When you look in your calendar, it always seems like you have ages to prepare, right up to the point where the exam is suddenly only two days away. This is doubly true if you’re working a full-time job and have to juggle additional obligations.
To avoid a situation where you’re extremely unprepared, we’ve put together this guide on how to best prepare for exams when you already have a busy schedule.
Work Smart, Not Hard
Time is a precious resource. If yours is already limited, you definitely don’t want to waste any more of it on studying that doesn’t work. To find a system that does, you first need to determine which style of learning best suits you. Mind you, there are competing theories on how to best distinguish between learning styles but the bottom line is the same: figure out what works for you and adapt your exam prep accordingly.
If you memorize facts easily, make flashcards with short but important info on them. If you remember things better by listening to them, find a podcast or an audiobook that covers the topics you need to learn. If you learn by teaching, enlist a friend (even an imaginary one will do) to listen to you explain what you’ve just studied.
Start Early, Stick to a Schedule
When you know that you don’t have that much free time, the obvious solution is to start your prepping earlier. In addition to lessening stress, leaving space between your study sessions helps you retain information better. If you already know you’ll have a problem with finding a suitable window of time for revision, change your approach. Take out your schedule or calendar app that contains all the appointments you simply cannot miss and add study time there. Treat it like any other obligation you need to fulfill. You don’t even need find that much time at once. The important part here is to treat your studying as seriously as you would your job by making a schedule that works for you and sticking to it.
Make Maximum Use of Time
Even if you can’t afford to take 30 minutes in the morning or evening to focus on your test prep, there are often small windows of time during your day that you could use for revision. For example, you can make use of all the tactics we mentioned under the first tip. During your morning commute, listen to an audiobook (or simply a recording of you going over your notes). Keep a few flashcards in your pocket which you can peek at while waiting for your afternoon coffee or in the elevator. Use your lunch break to explain the newest aspect of what you’ve learned to your coworker (you might want to offer to buy their lunch in exchange for them paying attention).
While the tiny moments you steal every now and again might not prove to be the most effective way of remembering your topics, the act of re-focusing your brain to think about what you’re supposed to be studying does wonders. It’s also a good idea to keep a tiny notebook with you to jot down anything you think you should go over when you have more time.
Take Care of Yourself
When time is scarce, taking care of yourself can easily take a back seat. But it shouldn’t be the case. Especially, when prepping for an exam. Research supports the thought that regular exercise can help you focus and retain information better. If 10 minutes of running a day can help you save 40 minutes of learning time by improving your cognitive abilities, the ROI is well worth it. So, don’t hang those running shoes up just yet!
Another way you can help yourself do better quality prepping is minding what you eat. This is another aspect that is often overlooked during a busy period. While having a burger or grabbing a cookie can seem like a great way to save time on food prep, you’ll end up paying for those decisions with decreased brain function. Instead, try fish, avocados, nuts, or other “brain food” to really give yourself the upper hand.
So, there you have it. If you’re already struggling with a full schedule, start your prepping early and stick to a fixed schedule. Treat your revision as another job that you must fulfill. Instead of spending countless hours on mindless reading of notes, use a method that works with your learning style, while making maximum use of the small windows of time you have throughout the day. And, whatever you do, don’t forget to take a minute for yourself, either.