Does last-minute revision work?

Posted by:
March 15, 2022
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You’ve only got a week, a few days, or hours left before your exam (if that’s the case, don’t waste your precious time and skip further down this article to find a few tips for last-minute revision). 

We’ve all been there — distractions, conflicting study priorities, personal and family life, not to mention the toll that the pandemic takes on motivation, sometimes get in the way of our study plans. And suddenly we’re left wondering whether cramming will pay off and get us a decent mark.

Let us tell you straight away — research found time and time again that studying last-minute isn’t ideal for your academic results. So next time you have the chance to, make a realistic study and revision plan that you know you’ll be able to stick to. For now, let’s see where last-minute work can help you and how to make the best of it.

Is last-minute revision helpful?

Yes and no. If you have a choice then try to avoid cramming as much as possible. But if that’s not an option, you’ll be glad to hear that last-minute work has its upsides. And of course, last-minute study is better than no study.

Here is why last-minute, panicked revisions won’t help in the long run according to research:

  • Knowing that you have only hours left until your GCSEs, A-Levels, or uni exams will put you under great stress. Anxiety and fear of failure are proven to make your memory and other study-related cognitive functions underperform — you’ll learn less and slower than usual.
  • Cramming often comes with lack of sleep. Pulling an all-nighter or setting the alarm at 3 am on exam day to go through your notes will work against you during the exam. You want to show up fresh and rested to allow your brain to work its magic.
  • Last-minute study also doesn’t stick for long — the notions you’ll learn will not sink into your long-term memory. This means that even though you may do well in the exam, you may have to go back and study again if you want to retrieve those notions in the future.

However, cramming has its benefits. Let’s see a few below:

  • This really depends on the individual but some people do exceptionally well under pressure. If you’re one of these lucky students, having a short amount of time will help you find the motivation you need to ace your revision.
  • Long-term memorisation is what you’d normally be after, but it’s also harder to ensure. During a last-minute revision, you can quickly learn a lot of concepts by heart (even though they don’t all make sense to you at this point) knowing that you’ll only need them for a few hours. As explained though, you’ll have to go back to them later after the exam if you want to progress in your learning journey.
  • Being under pressure and not being able to rely on solid knowledge of the whole syllabus may stimulate your creativity — you may be surprised by what you can do when you have to think on your feet.

How to revise for exams quickly and successfully

Of course, it’s called revision for a reason. You’ve already done the hard part studying all year, you don’t want to spend more time than necessary on revision.

Below are a few quick revision tips to make sure that you optimise your efforts. Remember that starting early, when possible, is a great way to ensure success:

  • Know your exam material. Both your syllabus and teacher can help you prioritise the topics to focus on so that you can avoid wasting time.
  • Make a plan. A well-thought, realistic revision plan tailored around your goals and personal schedule is basically a recipe for success when it comes to exams (from AQA to Oxbridge.)
  • No time to waste? Then avoid distractions. Turn off your devices and make sure you have everything you need (books, notes, snacks, etc.) with you to minimise interruptions.
  • Practise on past exam papers. You’ve done most of the studying already, now it’s time to practise — you can ask your teacher for past and mock exams or find some online.
  • Ask for help. If study groups work for you, then find (or create) one for the subjects you’re interested in. Ask a friend to help revise, or get in touch with a specialised tutor to make the best out of revision time.

Best last-minute revision techniques

Some of the above revision tips are also good for crammers: plan and prioritise, avoid distractions, and make sure you’ve got everything you need. Here are a few more ways to optimise your last-minute revision time:

  • Take breaks. Whether you use the Pomodoro technique or listen to clues from your body and mind, make sure you don’t exhaust yourself.
  • Focus on your weak areas. You already know you won’t be able to cover everything.
  • Use different methods. From flashcards for vocab revision to podcasts and memory rhymes under the shower, get creative to stimulate your memory.
  • Talk to others (and yourself!) Practise your answers and spoken language skills — repeating out loud will help your memory and confidence.
  • Trust your summaries and yourself. You don’t have to revise full notes, rely on your past knowledge.
  • Stay positive: again, you’ve worked hard throughout the year and you can count on yourself. You’ve got this!


Is it possible to study last minute?

Well technically, of course, it’s possible. And we’ve all had to do it sometime. But it’s not ideal for your nerves, long-term knowledge acquisition, or for your exam results. If you can, give yourself enough time to prepare and avoid cramming.

How can I revise fast?

Here are some tips to revise fast: make sure you take breaks and sleep well at night, have everything you need in the room or place of study, avoid technology and distractions, stimulate your memory with different revision techniques, practise your answers and essays, and ask a friend or tutor for help.