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Does Cramming for Tests Actually Work?


School girl (14-15) looking at stacks of books in library

Good study habits are an important skill for every student.

However, when test time rolls around, so too does the habit of ‘cramming’. Whether it’s a busy schedule or procrastination, cramming is the last-minute studier’s go-to study method.

Does cramming for exams work?

The answer: No. In fact, this studying technique does more harm than good to a student’s education.

Many students dislike coming home to do homework. The idea of focusing an entire night (or longer) preparing for a test can be unappealing. Add this to students’ busy social schedules, countless distractions, and lack of organizational skills, and you have the perfect recipe for a ‘crammer’.

What is cramming?

Cramming usually happens when students put off studying until the last possible second. Students spend hours memorizing as much of the material as possible in a short period of time, like the night before the test. They may stay up all night, convinced that they’re working hard. This type of studying may become routine, or become the only way that a student knows how to study.

Does Cramming Work?

Cramming is one of the least effective ways to learn a subject. Research has found that many students cannot recall much information after a cram session. They have trained their mind to recite the material without developing a deeper understanding. This undermines the learning process. The student has wasted a learning opportunity by simply temporarily memorizing everything for a good grade.

Why Cramming Isn’t Effective

A big reason why cramming doesn’t work is that it dramatically increases a student’s stress levels. This stress has a negative effect on their ability to concentrate, making preparing for a test even more difficult.

Cramming also leads to students trading in sleep for more study time. Lack of sleep is a big factor in poor academic performance.

Cramming for tests is a short-term solution. The information students spend the night cramming is stored in the short-term memory where it is accessible in the short-term (like for a test the next day). However, it doesn’t create lasting neural connections to the material, or develop deep comprehension. Students might get a good grade on the test, but that knowledge will be forgotten quickly – usually as soon as the following days.

How To Study Without Cramming

What study techniques can students use to avoid cramming? A technique known as “spaced learning” is much more effective for short-term recall and long-term retention.

Spaced learning is when students review the material over a long period of time. This gives their minds time to form connections between the ideas and concepts. This knowledge can be built upon and easily recalled later.

Aside from reviewing material earlier and more often, there are a few other ways students can learn to study without cramming.

Avoid cramming and study more effectively by:

  1. Reading the material slowly
  2. It’s useless to read as fast as possible just to hear the words echo in your head. Students should read slowly and deliberately and ask themselves if the material is truly being understood.

  3. Taking good notes
  4. Students should try writing out notes on the subject as if they were teaching it to someone else. This will help make sure they’re comprehending the material.

  5. Getting a good night’s sleep
  6. Students need more sleep, not less, so that their mind is healthy, focused, and sharp. Eight hours of sleep each night will help make sure students are well-rested and ready to learn.

  7. Staying organized
  8. Organizational skills are extremely important for effective learning. Getting a handle on them now can help students in a number of ways. They should know when tests are, what they’ll be covering, and plan around other assignments they also need to work on in the days leading up to the test.

  9. Studying in shorter sessions

Review material in short sessions lasting 20 to 30 minutes. This will help improve concentration and recall of the material. Focus on one topic or section at a time over the course of days leading up to a test.

Cramming Doesn’t Cut It

Cramming may seem like an effective way for students to prepare for a test, but it only leads to more stress and disappointing performance. To get the most out of studying, the solution is constant, repeated exposure to the material, and a well-rested and healthy mind.






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