It's finals week. Go ahead, groan. Finals are the pits.

I just finished helping a friend of mine study for a test. Well, seven tests actually.

And it wasn't really "studying," as much as "cramming." There is a difference in studying for a test and cramming for an exam. One's a long-term skill - studying - while the other is a short-term skill - cramming.

Cramming is what you do when you have 8 hours of online lectures, 300 pages of reading material, and 48 hours until the exam when everything is due. Yes, that's the voice of experience. And I will happily say that I passed.

The only thing that took a hit was my social life.

This article is about helping you take a smaller hit to your social life and still pass the test. For years I've helped people with study skills. I've tutored them. I've walked them through difficult sections or concepts in difficult classes. The reality for most people, however, is that many just don't know how to study a lot of material quickly. How do you cram and keep your social life? 

The easiest way (and it's not even close for second place) to instantly improve your cram session is by making a study guide.

The key word in this is make. It doesn't matter if your buddy with the highest GPA the school has ever seen is in the class and gives you his study guide. It's no good. Make your own. Even if the professor himself gives you the study guide, make your own. And I'm not suggesting here a "split up the questions" and make the study guide kind of approach. Make your own.

I can hear it now - "Man, you're crazy. What if the prof. already gives me a study guide?"    

Make your own.  

Why is this seemingly simple idea so important? I'll give you 2 big reasons, and you can help other readers out by offering others:

1. Making your own study guide requires active engagement.

This is the main problem with using other people's study guides: you aren't studying. Making your own guide ensures that you are actually studying, not just moving your eyes over a page.

Many students spend hours going over material, reading through notes, and quizzing themselves, only to find that most of that info never made it into their heads. Instead of reading someone's writing, try writing it out yourself. You may find that 80% or more of your cram session is finished after this small act of writing out the study guide.

2. Making your own study guide engages multiple senses.

Truly effective students are not into busy work. They don't like reading textbooks for pleasure. They are trying to learn the material so they can get going with their other life events, things they like a lot more than reading about seahorse dietary habits or Thomas Jefferson's favorite color.

That's why, as much as possible, they make study guides while engaging multiple senses. Sure, taste will rarely be implemented in this process. Smell also gets left out of most subjects.

But seeing, hearing, and touching the material helps successful students be drawn in to the material and draw the material into themselves. They connect as many sensations, memories, images, and sounds together during the process of making their study guides.

If you think about, aren't your most vivid memories usually around some sensory input? Can you still remember what it felt like when you first tasted BBQ? Do you remember your Grandmother's perfume? Or what the sand between your toes feels like at the beach?

Save time and perform better by using these memory-making machines to your advantage. 

If you only have time to do one thing as you cram for your exams in the last 48 hours, make a study guide. Do it the right way - be active and connect your senses - and you'll be surprisingly productive from such a simple task.

How about you - do you have any other helpful suggestions for making a study guide?