A Week of Cramming for Exams

December 12, 2023


As UK undergraduate law students face the daunting task of preparing for their exams with only a week to spare, the practice of cramming becomes a critical reality. Cramming, the academic equivalent of a last-minute dash to the train station, is an all-too-familiar challenge for many UK undergraduate law students. Amidst the whirlwind of student life, where balancing lectures, moot court sessions, and the irresistible allure of student societies can make anyone lose track of time, cramming becomes the unintended yet often inevitable endgame. It's an intense study sprint where legal theories and case summaries are crammed into memory with the hope they stick at least until the end of the exam. The key is to not focus on just memorising legal principles and case law — it's about strategically navigating through a vast syllabus to extract the most pertinent information. In this article, we look at three cramming techniques particularly suitable for law students: the 80/20 RuleActive Recall, and the Pomodoro technique.

Cramming Strategies

80/20 Rule

For UK law students staring down the barrel of imminent exams with only a week to prepare, the 80/20 Rule can be as crucial as a trusty wig in a barrister's wardrobe. This rule, mirroring the Pareto Principle, is about mastering efficiency in the face of time scarcity. It posits that roughly 80% of your exam outcomes can hinge on a mere 20% of the syllabus. In other words, it's about finding those golden legal nuggets in terms of exam weightage. Imagine you're a detective in a legal drama, sifting through a mountain of evidence (your course material) to find the crucial leads (key topics). Your mission is to zero in on these high-yield areas — the legal principles, landmark cases, and key statutes that are the bread and butter of exam questions.

To employ this strategy, start by scrutinising past papers, lecture emphases, and any cues from tutors that hint at what's likely to be tested in the exam. To some extent, this exercise requires you to make an educated gamble, wagering your study time on topics with a track record of being exam favourites. Remember not to get lost in the labyrinth of less critical material — yes, ignore that fascinating but non-central 18th-century property law ruling for now.

As you buckle down for this final study sprint, remember it's not about covering every inch of legal terrain. It's about strategically navigating the landscape to maximise your chances of acing those exams, even if it feels like you're preparing for a courtroom showdown with only a week's notice.

Level Up the 80/20 rule

Here are some tips on ramping up the application of the 80/20 Rule, particularly in a situation of extreme pre-exam cramming:

  1. Ultra-Prioritisation: Sharpen your focus to the absolute essentials. Identify the top 10-15% of topics that are almost certain to appear on the exam based on past papers, syllabus emphasis, and lecturer hints. Pay special attention to recurring themes, question types, or case studies. Dedicate the majority of your time to these topics.
  2. Consult with Peers or Instructors: Speak with classmates who have taken the exam before or consult with instructors to get insights into what's most important.
  3. Focus on High-Value Sections: Certain areas carry more weight than others in subjects like law. For instance, focus on landmark cases, major legal principles, and areas your professors emphasised in lectures.
  4. Use Summary Materials: Utilise condensed study materials like revision guides, summaries, or outlines that distil the key points of each topic (have you heard of the Ginger Snail App?).
  5. Rapid Assessment and Adjustment: Continuously assess your understanding of these key areas and adjust your focus as needed. If you already understand specific topics, shift your focus to other areas.

Active Recall

For UK law students in the throes of exam preparation, Active Recall is the study equivalent of a well-prepared cross-examination. Instead of passively absorbing your notes like a courtroom spectator, this method involves actively engaging with the material as if you're the barrister grilling a witness. In this case, the witness is yourself. Imagine turning your study sessions into a self-quiz show, where you're both the quizmaster and the contestant, testing your knowledge of legal principles, cases, and statutes.

Transform your study material into a series of questions — flashcards are great for this purpose. Use them to challenge yourself to recall key legal points and cases. Each time you successfully recall a piece of information, it reinforces that knowledge, embedding it deeper in your memory. The flashcards you prepare may have questions on one side and answers on the back, covering everything from the nuances of contract law to the intricacies of tort law. Or it could entail bullet points covering the structure of how to answer essay questions. During the cramming phase, however, the content on your flashcards should be the bare minimum — the absolute essentials. For example, a flashcard for a case could have the case name on the front and have one line stating the ratio, five keywords describing the facts (just enough to trigger your memory), and the name of the court (e.g., House of Lords, or "HL").

Level Up Active Recall

To intensify the use of Active Recall for extreme pre-exam cramming, you can adopt several advanced techniques and strategies:

  1. Frequent Self-Testing: Increase the frequency of self-testing. Use flashcards, practice questions, or oral quizzes to continuously challenge your recall. The more frequently you test yourself, the better your retention and understanding of the material will be.
  2. Create Comprehensive Question Banks: Compile a comprehensive list of potential questions from all your study materials. Include different types of questions: short answer, multiple choice, and essay questions that require deeper understanding and application of concepts.
  3. Teach the Material: Try to explain the material to someone else (or even to an imaginary audience) as succinctly as possible. Teaching forces you to recall and articulate the information clearly, enhancing your understanding and memory.
  4. Mix and Match Topics: Mix different topics or subjects instead of sticking to one topic per study session. This technique, known as interleaving, can improve your ability to differentiate between concepts and apply them correctly under pressure.
  5. Use Past Exams: Practice with past exam papers under timed conditions. This not only helps with active recall but also gets you accustomed to the format and time constraints of the actual exam.
  6. Incorporate Spaced Repetition: Even in a short time frame, try to review material at increasing intervals. This can be done by revisiting topics or questions you struggled with more frequently.
  7. Use Mnemonics for Complex Information: For particularly complex or detailed information, create mnemonic devices to aid recall. This can be especially useful for remembering lists, steps, or components.
  8. Regular but Shorter Reviews: Instead of long, drawn-out study sessions, opt for shorter, more frequent review sessions focusing on active recall.

The Pomodoro Technique

For UK law students, employing the Pomodoro Technique can be likened to preparing a traditional British tea with a scholarly twist. Just as teatime involves brewing the tea for a few minutes, followed by a brief interlude to enjoy the drink, the Pomodoro Technique involves breaking your study time into concentrated 25-minute intervals (akin to steeping your brain in legal knowledge), followed by a short 5-minute break to refresh and rejuvenate (much like sipping your tea).

Here's how it works: Set a timer for 25 minutes and dive into your study material. This uninterrupted session is your time to immerse yourself fully in the subject matter, free from distractions. Think of it as a sprint where your sole focus is to cover as much ground as possible in your legal materials (due to the time constraints, you'd want to refer to your lecture notes and supplement them with guidebooks — oh! And have you heard of the Ginger Snail App?

Once the timer rings, indicating the end of your 25-minute study session, take a well-deserved 5-minute break. This is your moment to step away from the books. Just as a tea break provides a moment of relaxation, use this time to stretch and enjoy a snack. It's a brief respite from the rigours of legal study, allowing your brain to assimilate the information and prepare for the next round.

After completing four 25-minute sessions, reward yourself with a longer break, around 15-20 minutes. This longer break is crucial for maintaining stamina and preventing burnout. This method is particularly effective for law students grappling with dense material and need to maintain high levels of concentration. The frequent breaks help keep the mind fresh and alert, and the structured nature of the technique ensures that you're regularly recharging your mental batteries.

Level Up your Pomodoro Technique

To enhance the Pomodoro Technique for extreme pre-exam cramming, one can make several adjustments to optimise study efficiency and focus:

  1. Shorten the Breaks: While the standard Pomodoro Technique suggests a 5-minute break after each 25-minute study session, you might consider shortening these breaks to 3 minutes in a high-intensity cramming situation. This can help maintain a higher level of immersion in your study material while still providing a necessary mental reset.
  2. Increase the Duration of Study Sessions: If you're getting into a good study flow at the 25-minute mark, consider extending the study sessions to 30 or 35 minutes. However, be cautious not to overextend them, as the effectiveness of the Pomodoro Technique lies in its balance of focused study and rest.
  3. Use Breaks Strategically: Utilise your breaks for activities that genuinely rejuvenate your brain. This could be a quick physical activity like stretching or jumping jacks, which can help increase blood flow and energise you. You should not be thinking about your study materials during this break. However, avoid activities that might lead to distraction or prolong the break.
  4. Customise the Number of Sessions: Depending on your stamina and the amount of material you need to cover, you might choose to increase or decrease the number of Pomodoro sessions in a day. Just remember to take longer breaks after every four sessions to prevent burnout.
  5. Focused Review Sessions: During your Pomodoro intervals, focus on active recall and testing yourself rather than just passive reading. This may include summarising content (or further summarising your notes), practising past exam questions or quizzing yourself with flashcards.
  6. Minimise Distractions: Ensure your study environment is as distraction-free as possible. Turn off notifications on your phone and computer and inform others that you need uninterrupted time.
  7. Use Technology Wisely: Many apps and online timers are specifically designed for the Pomodoro Technique (check out Pomofocus — we are not affiliated; the author uses this App daily). These can help keep you on track with your timing and breaks.
  8. Reflect and Adjust: At the end of each day, reflect on what worked well and what didn't. If certain subjects or types of study material are more demanding, adjust your Pomodoro sessions accordingly.

Peak Exam Cramming Techniques

 Combining the 80/20 Rule, Active Recall, and the Pomodoro Technique can create a powerful and efficient exam-cramming strategy. Here's how you can integrate these three methods for an effective last-minute study push:

  1. Apply the 80/20 Rule for Topic Selection: Start by identifying the 20% of the material most likely to yield 80% of your exam content. Analyse past papers, the syllabus, and lecture highlights to pinpoint these key areas. Focus your efforts primarily on these high-yield topics.
  2. Set Up a Pomodoro Schedule: Break down your study time into Pomodoro intervals (25 minutes of focused study followed by a 5-minute break). This technique helps maintain concentration and prevents burnout. Plan your entire study day in Pomodoro blocks, allocating specific blocks to each high-yield topic identified through the 80/20 Rule.
  3. Implement Active Recall During Each Pomodoro Session: Use Active Recall techniques within each 25-minute study block. This could involve quizzing yourself with practising, practising past exam questions, or teaching the material to an imaginary audience. The goal is to actively engage with the material, strengthening your memory and understanding.
  4. Review and Adjust: After every set of four Pomodoro sessions (about two hours), take a longer break (15-20 minutes). Use this time to assess your understanding and recall of the topics you've just studied. If you're confident in certain areas, adjust your schedule to focus on topics needing further review.
  5. Consolidate Learning at the End of the Day: After your study day, spend a brief session reviewing all the high-yield topics you covered. This helps reinforce what you learned and identify areas needing more attention in the following study session.
  6. Maintain Physical and Mental Health: Remember to stay hydrated, eat nutritious meals, and get adequate sleep. These are crucial for maintaining cognitive function, especially during intense study periods.

By combining these three strategies, you can maximise your study efficiency, ensure focus on the most essential material, and improve retention and recall, all of which are critical for successful exam cramming.

Additional Notes on Study Techniques


Law students can use mnemonics to memorise complex legal principles and case names. Mnemonics are memory aids that transform hard-to-remember details into something simpler and more meaningful. For instance, students might use acronyms to remember the key elements of a legal test or the essential components of a law theory. Creating a catchy phrase or a sequence of initial letters from the points you need to remember can be particularly effective. For example:

  1. HIRAC for the approach to answering problem questions: Heading (title or subject of the legal issue being discussed), Issue (clear statement of the legal issue or issues), Rule (Identification and explanation of the legal rules and principles that are relevant to the issue), Application (apply the identified legal rules to the facts), Conclusion (concise summary of the findings based on the application of the law to the facts).
  2. "COAL" for Contract Essentials: Consideration, Offer, Acceptance, Legality – the four key elements of a valid contract.
  3. "NEW TORT" for Elements of Negligence: Negligence, Existence of a duty, Wrongful act, Tortfeasor (person committing the tort), Owed a duty of care, Reasonable foreseeability, and Transgression (violation).
  4. " RISDJU " for Judicial Review (Public Law): Jurisdiction, Unbiased tribunal, Right to be heard, Impartial judgment, Standing, Decision based on law.
  5. "CAPE TOWN" for Criminal Law Principles: Criminal Act, Presumed innocent, evidence must prove guilt, Trial must be fair, Obey the law, Witnesses must be honest, No double jeopardy.
  6. "RAP" for Rule Against Perpetuities: Rule Against Perpetuities.
  7. "L. EASE" for Property Law Elements: Lease term, Exclusive possession, Agreement, Specified rent, Estate in land.


This technique involves breaking down large amounts of information into smaller, more manageable 'chunks'. In the context of law studies, this could mean dividing a long case judgment or a comprehensive legal theory into sections or chapters and tackling each one individually. Students can gradually build a complete understanding of the material by studying and mastering one chunk at a time. For example, when studying a lengthy judgment, a student might focus first on the facts, then the legal arguments presented, followed by the judgment and its rationale. 

Here are some examples of how the chunking technique can be applied in the context of law studies:

Breaking Down a Legal Case

  • Facts: Start by understanding the factual background of the case. Who are the parties involved? What events led to the legal dispute?
  • Issues: Next, identify the legal issues or questions that the case addresses.
  • Arguments: Then, focus on the arguments presented by each side, noting their legal reasoning and supporting evidence.
  • Judgment: Review the court's decision, including the rationale behind it.
  • Legal Principles: Finally, extract the legal principles or precedents established by the case.

Dissecting a Legal Theory or Principle

  • Definition: Begin by defining the theory or principle in simple terms.
  • Key Components: Break down the theory into its key components or elements.
  • Case Law Examples: Study relevant case law that applies or interprets the theory.
  • Criticisms and Counterarguments: Examine any criticisms or counterarguments to understand different perspectives.
  • Application: Look at how the theory is applied in practice, possibly through hypothetical scenarios.

Preparing for a Contract Law Exam

  • Formation of Contracts: Chunk this into offer, acceptance, consideration, and intention to create legal relations.
  • Types of Contracts: Study different types of contracts (e.g., sale of goods, services) separately.
  • Breach and Remedies: Focus on what constitutes a breach and the available remedies.
  • Case Studies: Use case studies to apply your understanding in practical scenarios.

Preparing for a Contract Law Exam

  • Categories of Torts: Break down torts into categories like negligence, intentional torts, and strict liability.
  • Key Cases: Focus on key cases within each category to understand how principles are applied.
  • Defences: Study common defences in tort law, such as consent or self-defence.

Preparing for a Contract Law Exam

  • Specific Offences: Study specific offences (e.g., theft, assault) individually.
  • Legal Defences: Break down legal defences into separate study sessions.
  • Procedure: Focus on criminal procedure as a separate chunk, including arrest, trial, and sentencing.


Visualisation is using mental imagery to help remember facts. Law students can create vivid mental pictures of the scenarios or principles they are studying. This could involve imagining a courtroom setting and picturing how a particular legal principle applies in practice. For memorising case law, students might visualise the key facts of the case or associate them with unique or humorous images. For example, to remember a landmark case, a student might visualise the main parties as characters in a well-known story or movie, linking the plot to the relevant legal principles.

 Visualisation techniques can be particularly effective for law students in memorising and understanding complex legal principles and cases. Here are some examples of how visualisation can be used:

  1. Creating a Mental "Mind Palace": This involves creating a mental space, such as a building or a street, where each room or location is associated with a different aspect of law. As you 'walk' through this space in your mind, you can visualise different legal principles or case details in each area.
  2. Associating Legal Concepts with Symbols or Objects: Create mental images symbolising complex legal concepts. For example, you could visualise the concept of 'negligence' as a broken safety barrier, symbolising the breach of a duty of care.
  3. Using Colour Coding and Imagery for Statutes: Visualise different statutes with specific colours or symbols. For example, imagine the Human Rights Act as being surrounded by a golden halo, symbolising its importance in protecting individual rights.
  4. Storyboarding a Case Timeline: Create a mental storyboard for a case, where each frame represents a different key event or decision. This can help in understanding the progression and the cause-and-effect within the case.
  5. Animating Legal Debates: Imagine a legal debate as a tennis match, where arguments from one side and the other are visualised as a tennis ball being hit back and forth. This can help in understanding the dynamics of legal argumentation.
  6. Visualising Contract Clauses as Building Blocks: Imagine each clause of a contract as a building block in a structure, where removing one block (or clause) could affect the stability of the whole structure, symbolising the importance of each clause in the overall agreement.
  7. Associating Famous Cases with Landmarks: Link famous cases to well-known landmarks. For example, visualise the landmark case of 'Brown v. Board of Education' at a renowned educational institution, symbolising its impact on educational equality.

Conclusion: A Last Resort

For UK undergraduate law students, it's vital to distinguish between cramming and long-term learning methods for academic success and a flourishing legal career. Cramming might be necessary for eleventh-hour exam preparation, but it's a short-term fix that often results in a superficial grasp and retention of information. On the other hand, long-term learning approaches involve:

  • More in-depth engagement with the material.
  • Employing strategies such as spaced repetition.
  • Active recall over extended durations.
  • Practical application through activities like moot courts or work placements.

These approaches help maintain knowledge for longer periods and cultivate a more sophisticated understanding of legal principles.

Remember, while intense, the final week before exams is also a moment to reaffirm your dedication to your goals. Whether your journey leads to a career in law or a different field, the effort you invest in now can unlock myriad opportunities in the future. Stay driven and focused, not only on the impending exams but also on the broader possibilities that your diligent work will yield. As the renowned American industrialist Henry Ford once stated, "The harder you work, the luckier you get." This is particularly pertinent in law studies, where perseverance and commitment can pave the way to a fulfilling and influential career.

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