24 hours before the exam

June 2022

Mark Foley outlines how you can best spend the final 24 hours before an exam.

You’ve been studying for weeks. You have a solid grasp of the material. Perhaps you wouldn’t mind having a few more weeks to prepare, but you’re down to the final 24 hours. This article explores how to spend those final hours preparing for an exam.

1: Plan the final 24 hours

Timetable how you’re going to use the time.

Consider dividing your revision time into six sections. Aim to complete four revision sessions during the day, one in the evening, and one on the morning of the exam (assuming your exam is in the afternoon).

Be sure to include time for breaks between sessions, and plan for a solid eight hours of sleep.

2: Build up your short-term memory

Ideally, over the past 10-12 weeks, you have been learning the exam material and moving that information into long-term memory. The final 24 hours are useful for building short-term recall.
Avoid spending too much time trying to understand new concepts during the final 24 hours.

Instead, use active learning techniques to create short-term memories: Create mind maps: include plenty of colour and visuals for improved recall.

Underline keywords and phrases from study materials: select words that will trigger the entire sentence or idea in your memory.

Repeat answers out loud as this will also test your understanding.

Create and study flashcards from practise questions, which can give you a head start for the actual exam.

Form mnemonic devices for quick memory recall.

Write out headlines and practise elaboration, meaning expanding on that topic with key details.
For Objective Tests, aim to cover a range of topics in ratio to the syllabus. For example, if you know 40% of the exam questions are going to come from valuation, spend 40% of your time studying valuation material.

For Case Study exams, try to memorise key pre-seen details to minimise the amount of time spent re-reading those materials during the exam. You can also practise rehearsing answers for a range of likely exam questions.

If you have time for revision on the morning of the exam, focus on reviewing things like formulas and mnemonic phrases that you can easily hold in your short-term memory.

3: Take regular exercise breaks

On the day before the exam, build in short breaks between revision sessions. Breaks allow your brain to absorb the material and can prevent burnout.

Consider doing light exercise during breaks to reduce stress and improve brain function. If you’re a runner, go for a run, but don’t overdo it. Stick to a type of exercise that you enjoy, whether that’s cycling, walking or yoga.

4: Have a good night’s sleep

A good night’s sleep is like pressing the save button on a document. It helps consolidate information and readies your brain for the following day.

After your final revision session on the evening before your exam, do something mindless to power down your brain. For some people that could be reading a book.

For others, it could be watching a calming television programme.

As you prepare for sleep, remove your mobile phone and other screens from your bedroom. If your brain continues to linger over exam questions as you lie in bed, try listening to meditative music or reading something relatively dry!

Aim for eight hours of rest the night before.

5: Make smart diet choices

The things you put in both your brain and your stomach can impact how you feel during an exam.

On the day before, avoid afternoon stimulants if you know it will affect your sleep.

Eat a healthy, filling, and digestible supper the night before. Avoid alcohol, but drink plenty of water during the 24 hours leading up to the exam.

In the morning, feel free to drink coffee or tea for an energy boost. Have a filling and easily digestible breakfast so you won’t get hungry during the exam.

6: Allow ample time in the morning to prepare for the exam.

If you’re taking the exam remotely, leave some time in the morning to prepare your space and complete the mandatory check-in process. You will need your mobile phone and ID. Review what to do before and during an online exam.

For in-person exams, have a plan and backup plan for getting to the test centre. For example, in case your vehicle isn’t working, plan a route using public transit.

For more tips on how to make the most of your remaining time, check out this webcast held in partnership with Kaplan, Exam Countdown: The Final 24 Hours.

• Mark Foley, Director of Relationship Programmes – Management Accounting at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, representing AICPA & CIMA

This abridged article is taken from the webcast ‘Exam Countdown: The Final 24 Hours’, delivered in conjunction with Stuart PedleySmith, Head of Learning at Kaplan Financial.