When should you start studying before the exams?

Why it can be wise to start studying late

by Tim Reichel

You look nervously at the clock. Two days, 13 hours and 47 minutes until the exam. Far too little time, but you have no choice: you have to learn. Otherwise you won't take the exam and screw up the semester; maybe even all of your studies.

A few months earlier you had promised improvement and had big plans. But you did it again. You started learning too late again - and now you are in the middle of a far too short exam preparation and see unhappiness coming your way.

Many students systematically start studying too late. And that every semester anew. This approach causes enormous stress and often prevents a lasting internalization of the examination material, but the astonishing thing is: A large part of these on-the-last-minute students are successful with it. They pass their exams with remarkable regularity and a few even with good grades.

I will show you why this is so in this article.


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7 reasons why you should start studying late

If you start learning late, you do not necessarily harm yourself. There are some advantages of delaying the start of exam preparation. And these advantages can mean that it can even be wise NOT to study right from the start of the semester.

These seven reasons can justify this strategy:


1. You have more information

If you start repeating the examination material later in the semester, you will know more about the upcoming exam than at the beginning of the lecture. This may be because you already know more about the most important topics, have gained a solid overview, or your lecturer has given clear advice.

This connection is logical in itself, but it is underestimated by many examinees. But the fact is: Once you have gathered more information about the upcoming exam situation, you can prepare yourself more easily and effectively. You can better assess what your examiner attaches importance to and rule out unimportant content more easily.


2. You can draw on unlimited resources

Most students who start studying from the first week of lectures have a serious problem: They only have a fraction of the relevant learning material available. Lecture slides, exercises or seminar documents are often provided by the lecturers piece by piece; At least they hand out all documents at once at the beginning of the semester.

This means: If you start studying from week 1, you are bound to the rhythm in which your lecturers announce new information. And this frequency does not have to correspond to your learning habits and can therefore slow you down. Conversely, this also means: If you wait to learn and start late, you can draw on the full potential and fall back on a wide range of learning materials. This availability promotes the productivity of your learning sessions and prevents the aforementioned "idle time".


3. You concentrate on the essential content

If you assume that you can learn, understand and apply ALL content for at least one of your subjects, I will have to disappoint you. You will never be able to fit every detail of a module into your learning plan - there is simply too much material and little time for that. You will always be forced to prioritize and focus on learning the most important content.

Many of your fellow students will not succeed in doing just that. Not because they are naive or untalented, but because they get bogged down. You spend too long with small things and do not focus your exam preparation on the most important parts of the material. However, if you start learning late, you will automatically be forced to study the essential content. You simply don't have time for trivialities. The shortage of your preparation phase inevitably has a positive effect on the degree of your prioritization. Of course, you can still concentrate on the wrong topics, but at least you evaluate your collection of material and set priorities - that is not a matter of course.


4. You work in a focused manner

On the home stretch for the exam, many students develop tunnel vision. You learn in a highly concentrated manner, ignore any kind of distraction and steer resolutely towards your goal: passing the exam. During this time, you work more focused than anywhere else. And do you know why? Because they have no other choice.

If you start studying just before your exam, you need to put this task at the center of your attention - otherwise you will fail. You have no choice but to neglect other obligations, to-dos and areas of life in order to get the most out of your exam success in a short time. A short exam preparation is not always successful, but it is efficient. Because you have to focus.


5. You don't waste time

Scrolled through a website here, read an article there, checked Facebook and WhatsApp in between: Most of the learning sessions during the semester are not particularly productive. And there is a simple reason for this: there is still too much time before the exam. This invites you to waste your time on distractions, unimportant tasks, and nonsense.

As soon as a resource becomes available in abundance, we humans tend to use up that resource in an inflationary manner. We consume thoughtlessly - until it is too late, there is a critical level of scarcity and we are forced to act. This applies to the areas of health, climate, money - and time. So if you do not study large parts of the semester (and have wasted your time with it from this perspective), you will be forced to forego wasting time shortly before your exam. On the other hand, if you continue to waste your time, you will not achieve your goal - and you do not want to.


6. You can take care of other projects beforehand

The students who take care of their exam preparation during the first few weeks and months of the semester have less free time to tackle interesting projects alongside their studies. These can be lucrative part-time jobs, interesting additional courses or voluntary activities. Political engagements, extensive travel or the deepening of a hobby are also part of it.

If you concentrate your exam preparation on a specific, short period of the semester, you will give yourself the freedom to fully enjoy your student life. How you shape this time is up to you and is individually different. Only one thing is important: You will very likely never again have the opportunity in your life (before retirement) to use so much time for your personal development.


7. You are leaving your comfort zone

Back to the beginning of the article: Remember how you felt the last time you started studying too late? I guess you hated yourself. You felt pressured. Overwhelmed. Not up to the situation. And then somehow you did it. You weren't 100 percent satisfied with the result; but you were satisfied with what you made of the situation.

Even if you might not have had an impression: You grew in this situation. You pushed yourself to step outside your comfort zone and outgrow yourself. You have achieved something that you previously did not trust yourself to such a degree. And that's only because you started your task too late and brought yourself to the brink of personal defeat.


The better alternative

This article is not a call to you to put your feet up and sleep through your exam preparation right now. I don't want to encourage you to start studying late, because with all the advantages of starting late, the disadvantages still outweigh the disadvantages. You put yourself under unnecessary pressure and massively increase the likelihood of failing the exam. If you start learning too late, you prevent your best performance and negligently accept poor grades, a longer period of study and mental stress illnesses.

Even if things go well one, two or ten times, the next time you can fall on your face with this strategy and risk all of your academic success. Do you want it?

Well, then I have an alternative suggestion for you: You don't have to study from the first day of the semester, but you have to plan your studies from the first day of the semester and keep an eye on your learning progress. With a clever plan and an up-to-date overview, you can avoid nasty surprises and stay goal-oriented (even without regular learning units).

If you plan your semester with foresight, structure your work and deal with the material every now and then before your actual exam preparation, you will be able to be disproportionately more successful without a lot of additional effort. If you also work with your own binding deadlines, you can still use the advantages from above - but without being exposed to the same pressure and stress.

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It can be wise to start studying late. At first glance, exam preparation that is too short only has disadvantages - but in addition to the clearly negative aspects, there are many advantages that cannot be seen at first glance. I have shown you the seven most important reasons in this article.

But with all the positive side effects, there is one thing you must not forget: If you start studying too late, you will make your life difficult for yourself. You bring your student life on the wrong track without compulsion and take an avoidable risk. That is not particularly clever - but neither is it the end of the world.

There will always be situations in your studies in which you run out of time through no fault of your own. In these phases, the approaches from above should build you up and give you new courage. Even if you only have a few days to study, you always have the chance to turn things around and set the course for success. All it takes is the right strategy and a large dose of determination.


Image: © Quinten de Graaf / unsplash.com