There comes a time when you may experience the anxiety-inducing situation of being short on time before an exam. As someone who has navigated the treacherous waters of studying when time is not on your side, I can assure you that it is possible to make the most out of every precious minute.

In this blog post, I will share my tried and tested techniques for studying effectively when you’re short on time. So grab your favorite caffeinated beverage, find a comfortable spot, and let’s dive in.

Study The Most Important Topics

When time is limited, spend a moment before you study to assess which topics are the most important for the upcoming exam. Rather than attempting to cover everything, focus on the foundational concepts and key theories that serve as the backbone of the subject matter. By concentrating on the most important topics, you’re more likely to allocate your time more efficiently; thus, preventing you from feeling rushed and stressed out. This step is crucial to maximizing your learning outcome.

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To figure out what’s most important for the upcoming exam, start by reviewing the course syllabus and study guides provided by your instructor. These documents often outline the main themes and learning objectives that the exam will cover. You can also review the content emphasized during lectures and class discussions, as instructors tend to highlight crucial material during these sessions. Additionally, textbooks and assigned readings can serve as valuable resources, with subheadings, chapter summaries, and key terms offering clues about the central themes.

By systematically analyzing these resources, you can pinpoint the foundational concepts and key topics that will form the core of your exam preparation.

Determine How You Learn Best

When you have time to study, you can always try new and different ways to learn. But when time is out of the picture, understanding how you learn best becomes even more critical to optimize your study approach.

Recognizing your preferred learning style allows you to tailor your study techniques accordingly and focus on the methods that are most effective for you. By acknowledging and capitalizing on your preferred learning style, you can make the most of your limited study time and achieve more efficient and effective learning outcomes.

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To determine your learning style, reflect on your preferences and tendencies during the learning process. Consider whether you grasp concepts more effectively through visual aids like diagrams and charts, or if you prefer auditory methods such as listening to lectures or discussing ideas with others. Hands-on learners might find practical applications and interactive experiences more beneficial. Observing which approach resonates most with you can provide insight into your dominant learning style.

Break Down Your Study Sessions

If you’re crunched for time, do your best not to cram.  Cramming is less effective because it leads to increased stress levels and short-term information storage that can give you a sense of false confidence.

The best thing to do is space out study sessions that are 30 minutes to an hour everyday to better optimize retention and comprehension. This technique, known as spaced repetition, capitalizes on the brain’s ability to retain information better when it is revisited at regular intervals.

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When time is limited, breaking down your study sessions into manageable chunks is a smart strategy. Adopt the Pomodoro Technique by setting a timer for 25-30 minutes of focused study, followed by a short 5-minute break. During these focused intervals, concentrate solely on a single topic or task. This approach prevents burnout and maintains your attention span. Prioritize the most critical concepts within your study material and allocate different intervals to tackle them.

By breaking down study sessions into shorter, focused bursts spread out over time, you allow your brain to process and reinforce the material during periods of rest and consolidation.

Summarize in Your Own Words

As Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.

Summarizing subjects in your own words when you have limited study time is a powerful technique for enhancing understanding and retention. When you take the time to rephrase complex concepts or ideas using your own language, you engage in a process of active learning.

This forces you to process the information deeply and truly comprehend it, rather than passively reading or memorizing the material. As a result, you build a more profound connection with the subject matter, making it easier to recall and apply the knowledge when needed.

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When you’re short on time, pick two or three concepts you find difficult and hone in on those by practicing this technique (also known as the Feynman Technique). Start by selecting a concept you want to learn, then explain it as if you were teaching it to a beginner. Break down the topic into basic components and use plain language to simplify its explanation. Identify any gaps in your understanding as you work through the explanation, and revisit the source material to fill those gaps. This technique not only enhances your grasp of the subject but also helps you internalize the material in a way that you can easily recall and explain when needed.

Do Not Multitask

It might be tempting to multitask to cover more ground when you’re limited on time, but it is essential to avoid this practice as it can severely hamper learning efficiency. According to the National Library of Medicine, students who multitask during studying leads to divided attention and reduces focus quality on the material at hand.

The brain is not designed to process multiple complex tasks simultaneously, and attempting to do so can result in reduced comprehension, memory retention, and overall learning outcomes. Instead of absorbing and understanding the information deeply, your brain ends up switching between tasks, inhibiting the encoding of knowledge into long-term memory.

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Dedicate your focus and attention to a single subject, which allows you to immerse yourself fully in the material, leading to better understanding and retention in a shorter amount of time. If focusing is hard, try using a timer for twenty minutes.

By eliminating distractions and committing to single-task studying, you create a conducive learning environment that promotes optimal learning and maximizes the use of limited study time.

Study Now, Before Time Runs Out

Now that you know how to turn the small amount of time you have into more meaningful study sessions, you’re ready to be on your way to feeling less stressed and more productive with each review.

As Deanna Troi once said, ‘This is no time to argue about time, we don’t have the time!’