How to Pass an Exam if You Forgot to Study the Night Before

Congratulations! What you did last night was so monumental that you forgot about today’s exam. The good news is that you still have a chance to not only pass that test, but also get close to the grade you were hoping for. Take a deep breath, and read on for your last minute game plan.

If you haven’t eaten breakfast, do so right now. Drink some water, grab some coffee (long-term use boosts memory), and chomp on some energy-inducing complex carbs like a banana, an egg sandwich, or some whole-wheat toast.

Think about where you want to study. Do you want to be in a cafeteria so you can freely sip your coffee? Be my guest. Do you want to be in a library that’s quiet? Go for it. But know the caveats of your studying location. Maybe the cafeteria isn’t a good spot because it gets noisy during lunchtime. Maybe the library is too cold and dark that you’ll want to take a nap. Find a location that will help you be your sharpest self.

In 15 minutes…

Put together all the terms, definitions, notes, and concepts you know will pop up frequently in the exam. Plug it all in a concept map, branching diagrams, and/or an outline to organize a visual aid to help you understand the overarching themes you need to know. But how do you do that in 15 minutes? Utah State University has a great PDF that spells all of this out for you.

textbooks in library

Three hours and 45 minutes left...

Download study-helping apps to make the material stick. Cram cards will allow you to create flashcards with the questions on one side and the answers on the other to help you memorize the material. StudyBlue has tools and flashcards to help you remember concepts, dates, and important terms. Read and familiarize yourself with all of the important terms laid out in your master study plan.

Write questions you think will be on the test and answer them with the layout you created. Then provide answers to those questions using your study guide. Once you feel (somewhat) confident, test yourself.

Fifteen to 30 minutes left…

Grab your things, go to the restroom if you have to, drink some water, and go forth feeling confident in what you know. After the exam, check out the resources on the bottom of this article to help you sharpen your memory.

College is a growing experience. Examine your habits and set reasonable goals for yourself to improve, but more importantly, be willing to forgive yourself whenever you fall short of your expectations. Use those failures as learning experiences and evaluate: Why do I wait so long to study? It might be that you don’t like the subject matter or don’t find the class to be important. Whether it has to do with time management or an outside obstacle like your social or family life, take some time to figure out how to make studying easier on yourself, and think through why this test was so stressful.

(Check out Prep Your Dorm Room For Ideal Studying for some dorm room studying tips!)


Resources to help you improve your memory:

  • Klosowski, T. (2013, July 23). Why your memory sucks (and what you can do about it). Retrieved from
  • Smith, M.A., M., & Robinson, L. (2014, February). How to improve your memory. Retrieved from
  • Tufnell, N. (2014, January 13). Study: coffee enhances long-term memory retention. Retrieved from Wired UK Magazine
  • Edmonds, M. (n.d.). Top 10 ways to improve your memory. Retrieved from
  • Benjamin, K. (2013, August 12). 11 simple ways to improve your memory. Retrieved from

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