Do you have an exam coming up? Waste no more time, start preparing right now.

There’s an old but true saying that those who do not prepare for success are preparing for failure. Passing your exams with high marks is not a particularly difficult task. The successful student plans his/her exam long before the actual due date.

In this post, we will briefly discuss how to prepare for an exam in a rational and efficient manner. To do this, we first need to know where you stand in terms of the exam date. The best way to handle an upcoming exam differs depending on how much time you have to study.

For this reason, I have therefore divided the issue into 3 separate scenarios:

A – You have 2 months or more to prepare
B – You have 1 month or less to prepare
C – You have 2 weeks or less to prepare

A – You have 2 months or more to prepare

This is the optimal situation. You start preparing the moment you know the exam has been announced. Don’t be fooled with the fact that you have a lot of time left before the actual writing of the test.

This will make you procrastinate and fool yourself that you are going to study tomorrow when in fact you are only postponing the inevitable.

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  1. The first day: Strategy!

    Spend the first day formulating your strategy. Make sure you are aware of all of the required reading for the course. Skim through the entire textbook and try to produce a reading schedule and a preliminary deadline for when you need to be finished with the reading of the book. The deadline is important, make sure you keep it!

    An example of preliminary planning is shown below. In this example, only the first few days are show, hopefully it’s enough to get the picture.

    DayWhat To DoHow Much
    1PrepareCreate a schedule and decide on a deadline.
    2Textbook "Name"5 pages + 2 practice problems
    3Textbook "Name"5 pages + 2 practice problems
    4Textbook "Name"5 pages + 3 practice problems
    5Textbook "Name"5 pages + 1 practice problem + 1 handout
    6Review Review all of the pages you've read this week.
    7Textbook "Name"10 pages + 2 practice problems
  2. The rest of the days: Implementation!

    In the case above, the required textbook had 208 pages + a few handouts and practice problems. With an average of 5 pages per day + day at the end of the week reserved for repetition only, one will conclude the entire book in about one and a half month. This leaves you about 2 weeks to review everything.

    Remember to specify a deadline for when all of the reading needs to have been completed. Make sure this deadline is – if possible – at least 1 week before the exam date. This way, you’ll have time to revise what you’ve learned. This is how knowledge sticks. It is through the medium of repetition in which information becomes knowledge and knowledge becomes wisdom.

  3. Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
    – T.S. Eliot

    You can’t know what you haven’t internalized and in order to internalize something you need to repeat it; out loud, on paper, with your classmate and so forth. The more you discuss the topic you’re studying, the easier it becomes to remember it. The same reason people remember things they’ve read or watch, i.e. they speak about these things often.


B – You have 1 month or less to prepare

If you have about 1 month to prepare you can still produce great results, depending on how much you know about the topic, the difficulty of the exam etc. The modus operandi is not much different from the case above. What you need to do is simply create a schedule where you would need to work twice as much on a daily basis to finish all of your reading + eventual practice problems/old exams before the exam date.

If you have less than 1 month to prepare, it is still possible to get good results but you have to start studying immediately!

C – You have 2 weeks or less to prepare

So it happened. You are in the tight situation of having only 2 weeks to prepare for an exam. If this was intended by your professor it might not be a big of deal since the scope of the exam will not be as big as if you had had 2 months or more to prepare. However, if the course was indeed intended to go on for 2 months or more and you have only started studying right now, you are in some deep trouble! Don’t worry though; it is still possible to produce decent results even though you have such limited time. It’s time to go into emergency mode.


Emergency mode means that you will have to put anything that is not as important as passing this exam to the side! That means that you will most likely have to forget about meetings friends, going out for shopping, leisure activities, sport and so forth. For the next few days, you will need to eat, sweat and breath the topic that you are studying.

As before, begin the first day by planning. This time however, we are planning to cover the most important parts first, knowing well enough that we might have to skip some parts. It’s survival mode and in survival mode you think about the essentials first and foremost.
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  1. Triage!

    Triage is what they in the medical community call the priority system that is used in emergency situations in ER rooms in hospitals and similar places (such as during rescue operations, disasters such as floods etc). The people who are in the direst need of medical service are those who get served first so for example the person who was in a severe car accident gets to be treated before someone who had a minor wrist injury. This is how you need to treat your exam.

  2. Important vs Less important

    You need to know the following:
    – What are the most important chapters?
    – Which parts are less important (keeping in mind that less important does not mean unimportant)?
    – Which types of problems are in the most likelihood going to be included?

  3. Study, Study!

    Start studying, cover all the essential parts first and make sure you have mastered them. Once you have learned these, you are ready to move on to the more advanced examples/chapters. Don’t waste any time what so ever doing anything that is deemed less important than your studies. Until the exam date, you must be focused on passing that exam.

[/list] That is all for this post. If you are interested in learning more about how to study and how to best prepare for exams, you should check out the Study Guide Pro.