7 Day Action Plan for Effective Last Minute Studying

Ever faced any of these scenarios before an exam?

Scenario A:
You're madly rushing around ABSOLUTELY HATING YOURSELF for leaving everything until the last moment and have no idea what to revise, still have tons of reading and note-making to do, and are just generally in panic land.

(Note: these words will be spewing out of all ends 'I will never, ever do this again.') 

Me and scenario A have met each other simply too many times in the past.

Scenario B:
You're actually sensible (I envy you) and have made all your notes. Now it's just a matter of revising all your material one last time before facing the exam hall.

Either way, you may be wondering how to deal with last minute revision in the last 7 days.

If you're looking for suggestions, here's a 7 day action plan full of specific, actionable ideas on how to maximise the little time you have left to get those A's. 

Actions to take if you've made all your notes and just need to revise them now:

Day 1 and 2 (highly recommended):

  • Look at the specification (a document talking about what topics might come up in the exam) and for each topic write down everything you remember, without looking at notes, onto a whiteboard/window (hopefully using whiteboard pens that come off easily, so that your parents don't kill you for destroying said windows)
  • Check your notes to see if you forgot anything

If you did forget something or got it wrong, you could re-write that forgotten piece of information along with a picture (as our minds remember visual stuff, ie. pictures, a lot more than words) onto a flashcard. The next day, review the flashcard and repeat this step until you remember everything from your notes.

Alternatively, you could try the Method of Loci memory technique to learn those forgotten facts, rather than using flashcards (out of the two, I definitely prefer this method).

Day 3 and 4 (highly recommended):

  • Write a response to a practise exam question under timed conditions.

If you're seriously pressed for time, just do this for a few topics (preferably ones that you struggle with the most) so that you have had at least some practise in exam technique.

  • Mark your answer and identify one way in which you can improve your next answer. Write that down on a sticky note to remind yourself - this is based on the 1% improvement strategy which I stole from James Clear (ehm, hey, thanks!) ;)

Day 5:

  • Teach a friend your most challenging topics at the library later today or on Skype. Teaching it will challenge you to clearly explain the material so that it's easy for your 'learner' to understand, which is a vital skill in the exam. 

As Einstein said: 'if you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough', and hey, who can argue with that guy?

Day 6:

  • Go over your old practise answers and decide a) one good thing you did and should repeat in the real exam, and b) 1 thing you didn't do very well and should improve before the real exam.

Day 7:

  • Read the 'examiners reports' (these are documents that exam boards create every year where the head examiner reviews the answers they received). When reading through them look out for details about what the best students did in the exam, and common mistakes they made that you can then avoid. Write the most important ideas down on a post-it note.

If you still need to make notes and revise the material:

Making A grade notes VERY quickly:

Days 1 - 3:

  • Pull up the course specification (the document that each exam board produces that says 'here's every possible thing we could test you on') and print it off.

  • Go through the list of topics on the specification and tick what you've done, but underline what you still need to learn. Concentrate your efforts first on topics that make you go ' what on earth is this?!?', rather than easy ones.

  • See how marks are awarded in the exam by looking at past papers and mark schemes, so that you can tailor your notes to fulfill all the requirements for top marks. 

Using the mark schemes, list all the qualities that make an A grade answer so that you know what to include in yours.

  • Write a model answer for each topic. I would break this stage down into the following steps for an essay:

- Choose a topic that you need to make notes on.
- Look at past papers to see how the questions are styled. What pattern do they follow? Eg. I know that for my Psychology exam the questions are always phrased in a similar way to this: 'discuss the biological explanation of ----'.
- Create a question about the chosen topic that mirrors how Q's are phrased in the exam.
- Use a structure like P-E-E-L (make a Point-provide Evidence-Explain it-Link it back to the Q) as the skeleton of your essay.
- Now flesh out that skeleton with information. Speed read those textbooks and websites to gather it!
- Use mark schemes and the grading criteria provided by the exam board to self-mark the essay and see how you can improve it.

Day 2-10 (highly recommended):

5. Rinse and repeat for every topic you haven't covered

Revising all the material in record speed:

Scroll up for tips on revision. 

Seeing as you're in a serious rush though, I'd recommend doing days 1 to 4 only.

Some bonus tips on becoming a successful last minute studier:

Rule #1: Study all day

If you've only got a few days left then I recommend giving up a serious amount of 'TV & socialising' time in order to study. 

Just make sure you're taking breaks regularly! It'll keep you refreshed. Which brings me nicely onto my next point...

Rule #2: Work in small chunks of 25 minutes

This is called the 'pomodoro technique', where you work for 25 minutes and then stop for a 5 minute break and do something completely different (make a coffee? try running whilst keeping a book on your head?). Then get back to your desk and work on something different and repeat.

Eg. If you have History and Physics exams coming up, in your first 25 minute session do History revision, then take a break, followed by a session on Physics. Then keep switching.

This is a brilliant way to keep your mind refreshed by working on different topics and keeping yourself engaged, rather than staring at the same Physics problem for hours and hours and getting bored.

From experience, I've noticed that I've been able to study for longer by taking regular breaks, as I don't tire and get bored as quickly.

Even Ali, the guy who got 23 A's at A-level, used this technique to study tons of subjects in 1 year.

Rule #3: Feel GREAT about leaving things 'till the last minute (don't worry - I'll explain):

Don't become negative and beat yourself up (metaphorically, people) for leaving things until the last minute - it's a dangerous path to take. Instead, feel GREAT about studying last minute.


Negative thinking is disastrous for performance as it leads to the cycle of 'I'm doomed and will never get good grades now, so why bother, I know I'm going to fail so I'm not going to do anything' - and that's it. 

You'e given up, which is the guarenteed way to fail. 

Stay positive by focusing on the good aspects of studying late (as Bill Gates explains below) so that you stay motivated and keep working, rather than wasting time being angry at yourself. 

The worlds most pioneering and successful man on how to prepare for exams - very interesting

To summarise, turn your anxiety into a performance enhancer. 

Research shows that at optimum levels of anxiety our performance is actually at its greatest. 

And here enters my favourite chart from Psychology class: the yerkes dodson law (how fun and important sounding is that to say?). 

The researchers found that at the medium level of arousal (no - not in that way) - ie. we're anxious, stressed and feeling the pressure, but not so much that we stick our heads in the sand or throw ourselves off a cliff - then our performance and motivation is at it's highest.

So keep going and stay positive, no matter how much you have to do and what the odds look like. Remember that you can still get those A's, and that studying last minute will only benefit your time management and emergency tackling skills (thanks Bill!) 

Now I'd love to hear what you think in the comments below:

  • What tips do you recommend for last minute studying?
  • How do you normally study the week before an exam?

Liked this Post? Get Similar In-Depth Guides on How to Become a Super Achiever at School & in Life, Every Friday

A big thanks to:

Sarah, who the first image is courtesy of, and WikiOfScience for the graph. 

James Clear, who the 1% improvement strategy is from.

Joshua Foer and his TED speech on memory improvement which sparked my interest in this area of research.


  1. I always follow the same process:
    1. First, I read the whole unit.
    2. Then I do a diagram for each topic in the unit, and I study it.
    3. Once I'm able to repeat out loud all the diagrams, I do another diagram that englobes the whole unit. This helps me to connect all the ideas in my head and have things clear. When the unit is easy (or when I lack of time) I omit this step.
    4. Finally, I write down a list with the key words of the unit (normally one word per topic). This way I can revise a lot of units in a few minutes! I memorize this words by heart since they are the spine that connect all the ideas. In the exam, I think of the key words and expand every topic from there.

    1. Hey Julia,

      I've never thought of doing step 4 before - very interesting. I'll have to give that a try :)

  2. Love this post! I'll definitely use some of these tips in the future.

    1. That's great to hear Harriet! Let me know how you get on with them :)

  3. Sanam,
    Did you know that you have a non-traditional student (adult and parent) attending college in the US who loves your blog and learns a ton from you? I wanted you to know how much I enjoy your blog. I gather study tips and put them on Pinterest, and I include many of your study strategies. Please know that you're helping this single mom make a new life for her family.

    1. Sandy,

      Thank you so much for this lovely comment!

      It's great to hear that you're finding the posts useful & thank you for sharing on Pinterest :D

      What are you studying?

      I hope your studies are going well!

  4. I would likd to know more about the P.E.E.L method.Otherwise this is a great post.Thanks!

    1. make a Point-provide Evidence-Explain it-Link it back to the Q

  5. Hi Sanam,

    I like the tips given for this 7 Day Action Plan but there is one slight problem and something else to consider. I always have a whole bunch of assignments, readings, lab reports and quizzes due on the same week as my midterm week. I'm never free where I can just focus on studying.

    Do you have any tips to manage that? I always try to finish all the assignments and everything else, so I can focus on studying. However, sometimes I feel like that's not enough time to study. Do you have any suggestions?

    Thanks! :)

    1. Hey Jennifer,

      Off the top of my head, I'd suggest 2 options:

      1 - prioritise what's most important and spend most/all of your time on that. If it was me and I had an exam coming up very soon, I would cut all my other obligations to focus on that 1 thing, even if that meant not doing homework on time.

      2 - if you want to try and get all of your tasks done, allocate more of your day to studying.

      I know it's easier said than done and effective time management is pretty complex, so I'll definitely be doing some more research into this area and will 'report back' on the blog with some posts about what I've found soon. So hopefully those posts will be of use to you :)

  6. Hi sanam,

    Can you tell me how to take use of pastpapers...i mean how to study using the marking scheme...

    1. Hey Ayesha,

      For essay based exams the mark schemes will have a set of criteria that says 'so if this is present in an essay it's an A grade etc'. So it would be useful to learn off by heart exactly what things you'll need to include in your own essays. Reading the examiners reports will also help you do this.

      Is that what you were after? Or something more specific? :)

  7. My boyfriend usually say to me "Pay somebody for it and and don't worry about it" ;) I disagree with him, totally. This is your future and your education - work, work, work! Your advice really would help in emergency situations. From my own experience - 5-10 minutes walks on a fresh air help me to make a break while intensive study process.

  8. I love this post and guess what I passed my exam like a pro after reading this and following exactly what u have said especially the part you highlighted that we've gotta stay positive. I think most of us do evrything u've stated on your blog I mean the studying methods and we do that one thing wrong that's being negative and kabbooomm everything is gone.. Thank you again.. Loving your blog.. Lotsa love form Sailicii - law degree ;)

  9. Great work mate! I forwarded this amazing article to my cousin and she said it really helped her stay focus and prepare for her exams. :)


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