If it is the day before the final you have one huge advantage: sleep.
Going over stuff right before you go to sleep, boosts your memorization powers like whoa. I’m a very last-minute kind of person, so here is my personal recipe for last-minute cramming:
1) Get the big picture
I know the devil’s in the details, but you should have a vague idea of what’s actually going on. Skim over ALL the materials. Not only will it give you a sense of urgency, it will also give you the certainty that you have technically seen everything you need to see. Now you only need to understand it.
2) Zoom in on the black holes
Memorizing is nice, but it usually won’t work if you don’t understand what you’re trying to memorize. Now it’s time to go for the details. Fill the gaping holes in your structure of understanding. Why did the king decide to go war in that year? Why is the mass not involved in this formula? Why did the experiment go like that? Use all the resources you can find and don’t forget that the Internet is your friend. Google it, YouTube it, put your question on a forum, really illuminate those dark corners in your brain.
3) Treat yourself like an idiot
Once you have a rudimentary understanding of where this fact stands in the big picture, what it is composed of and why it came to be, you only need to engrave it in your mind. Take a blank piece of paper and start to formulate questions to which your facts are the answers. Then walk away for a few minutes, let your mind go black. Now go back. Start answering those questions in random order. Mix hard and easy questions. Go crazy. Talk out loud while you write down the right answers with proper explanations. Lead yourself through the process. Do everything you can to make this particular fact stand out against the others: doodle your explanation, use a jingle, make it rhyhme, give real-word examples of theories, make up stories and structures, anything that is so you that you will remember it no matter what. The important thing is that you assign every little fact its rightful place in your mind. It has to make sense to you.
Example: I watched loads of anime, so when I had to remember that in some languages (e.g. Japanese) a syllable always has to end in a vowel sound, I only remembered one word:
(If it’s vocabulary, use the words in model sentences and then write a text using the words in a different context. Again: talk to yourself (or someone else). This is the most effective way to retain information.)
You don’t know what you think you know
If you still have enough time, explain the parts of the material that you know to yourself and you will most likely find new (albeit smaller) gaps for which you can repeat 3).
5) Boil it down
Now comes the important part: you’ve gone from big picture to small details to questioning on a base level. Now you need to strip it down to the nitty-gritty. Get one seperate piece of paper and write down the most important key words
or steps of a formula in a format you feel comfortable with: this can be a
2.1. structure, a mind map, words splatterd randomly on the paper, whatever works for you.
6) Go to bed
Get yourself ready to go to sleep. Clear your mind, do not think of the material for 15 minutes or so. Now slip under your blanket and go over your memory sheet from 5). Let the connections flow freely at this point, remember how you derived this theory or how that structure came to be, recall your doodles and stories and jingles, enjoy how things make so much more sense than before. Now go over your Q&A-Sheets again to solidify your thoughts from before. Take approx 10 minutes for this, so that it can really sink in. Look up, close your eyes, take one last look at your memory sheet, turn off the light and let sleep and your brain do the rest.
For me, it also helps to scan everything again the next morning, just to be on the safe side.
Good luck with your finals and sleep well!