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5 common mistakes to avoid the night before an exam

5 common mistakes to avoid the night before an exam

4 min read
  • Study skills & exam prep

The night before an exam can be a nerve-wracking experience for students. If they feel unprepared, they might be tempted to stay up all night and cram some last-minute revision. However, this common mistake can result in them not focusing and performing their best when it comes to the exam. Therefore, students should take this time to get into the right mindset for the exam.

But this is not the only mistake we often see students make the night before an exam – let’s take a look at the top 5 mistakes to avoid…


5 common mistakes to avoid the night before an exam

1. Skipping dinner

When preparing for a big exam, students might be tempted to skip dinner – they may not feel hungry because of nerves, or want to go straight to bed as early as possible. However, missing out on meals can lower their blood sugar, resulting in them feeling tired or sluggish.

Therefore, encourage your students to have a balanced meal that includes a good mix of carbs, protein and fats the night before the big day. This will help keep their energy levels up, as well as improve their concentration and memory levels.

It is also important for students to avoid having a late dinner. In a study, researchers found that food intake during the nocturnal period was correlated with negative effects on the participants’ sleep quality. As having a good night’s sleep is so essential, students should avoid having a late dinner or a late-night snack the night before an exam.

2. Having too much caffeine

Closer to the exam period, students might stock up on tea, coffee, or energy drinks. However, these drinks are high in caffeine, which will increase their alertness levels. It can therefore also interfere with their sleep at night, causing them to have lower quality and quantity of sleep.

Therefore, encourage your students to avoid having caffeine too late in the day and evening. See this blog for more common sleeping mistakes students should avoid.

3. Re-reading over their notes

Re-reading notes is a common study technique. Research shows that 84% of students re-read their notes when revising and 55% claim that it is their number one strategy.

However, despite its popularity, re-reading is a very ineffective learning strategy. In one study, students were given a piece of text they had to learn. To do this, they either used free recall or simply re-read the piece of text. They were then quizzed on the information 5 minutes, 2 days and 1 week later. Constantly throughout these testing periods, those who took the free recall test recalled significantly more information than those who re-read the passage. 

Therefore, encourage your students to not re-read their notes. Instead, it could be helpful for them to use elaborative interrogation techniques. This includes them asking themselves “why is this true?” or “why might this be the case?”, which helps them think more deeply about the material. It also allows them to make connections with previously-learnt information.

Boost your students’ study skills and give them the best chance at academic success, with an evidence-informed workshop.

4. Cramming last-minute studying

Cramming the night before an exam is one of the biggest mistakes a student could make. In this study, 160 students were asked about their studying behaviours. They found that cramming was associated with a lower GPA score. This was also found in another study, where students who spaced out their learning achieved on average 74% on their final test, compared to those who crammed and got a 49% average.

One reason why cramming doesn’t work is that it doesn’t allow time for information to be cemented into students’ long-term memory. Studying last minute can also cause students to feel stressed. Although a little stress can be good, too much can be detrimental to their academic performance. Therefore, encourage your students to avoid cramming the night before for them to be relaxed and in the right mindset during their exams. 

5. Staying up late revising

Staying up late to revise is also a very common mistake made by students the night before their exams. One reason for this is that students falsely believe that staying up studying is more beneficial than getting a few hours of extra sleep. However, sleep has so many benefits including:

In fact, a study found that students who prioritise getting 8 hours of sleep every night during the exam period outperform those who get that last bit of studying in late at night.

Therefore, students should aim to prioritise their sleep the night before an exam. This will not only affect how much information they remember, but how they feel and cope with the exam the next day. 

Final thoughts

The night before an exam should be spent getting in the right mindset. However, students often fall into these common mistakes: not having dinner, drinking too much caffeine, re-reading over their notes, cramming and not getting enough sleep. All these mistakes can result in them not performing their best the next day. 

Therefore, encourage your students to avoid these mistakes. It will help give them the best chance of getting into the right headspace for the exam and being well prepared.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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