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Anyone who has been in any form of education will be able to tell you of at least one time they stayed up all night cramming for that one exam. For some people, it’s simply a method of making sure they have everything memorised before the big day, for some it’s a bi-product of exam anxiety and is a way of channelling the nervous energy, and for others it’s their go to method to get through their exams. But should you really be cramming before your exam?
What is Cramming?
Cramming is a method of trying to absorb large volumes of information in a short amount of time. It has become particularly popular in recent decades with the increase in exams and the memorisation required for them. It keeps the information surface level to the student and so tends to be used just before an exam.
While cramming in general has a pretty negative reputation amongst parents and academics there are some benefits to this form of study.
1. Quick Way to Review Material
Some cramming can be very beneficial if you are trying to have a quick review in the days leading up to or on the day of your exam. In fact, combined with other methods of studying it can be incredibly useful. Exams involve a lot of memorisation and you likely have more than one you are focussing on at a time. Skimming through the material to refresh your memory can be a handy way to make sure you feel confident before the exam and to make sure the information is at the top of your brain ready to grab.
2. Different Student Mind-sets
This is a big one that most people tend to forget when teaching about studying and learning. Students aren’t perfect robots, they don’t all have the same methods of learning and they will all have preferred methods to study. Part of this can come down to some students being more interested in learning compared to students just trying to pass in order to move on to the next level. But it can also be a factor based on the abilities and time available to the student. For some students, cramming is absolutely a viable option though most likely in combination with other studying methods. It’s important to teach as many forms of studying to your students as possible in order to encourage them to find what works for them.
While there are a few benefits to cramming, there are also some major downsides that you should not forget.
1. Poor Long-Term Retention
While cramming is a great way to review material and bring it to your surface level thoughts, it is terrible if you want to retain the information long-term. Most of us have that subject that we couldn’t tell you even the basics of weeks after an exam because we only crammed the information so it was surface level and so retained barely anything to do with it. It may work to quickly boost your GPA but it’s useless if you need to keep any of this information for future classes i.e. you can cram for that first Chemistry exam but if it’s in your timetable going forward and you wish to study it at college it’s pretty vital you retain the information you are learning.
2. Potential to Mix Up Material
If you have multiple exams in a few days or even on the same day you have the risk that you will bring information from one subject into another without realising. While this might be a boon in some cases, sadly for most of education this can lead to you losing marks with the exam board. In an ideal world, exams would be more spaced out to allow students better focus but we have to live with what we have for now. Looking at some flashcards before you enter the exam may help you keep the information to the surface, just be careful it’s the right information.
What You Should Do As A Student
Now we’ve gone over the basics it’s time to look at what you should do as a student, or potentially as a parent or teacher, when it comes to cramming and education. In the long term, it would be better to see a reform of education away from an exam mind-set and more towards student focussed learning. However, for now here are some things to consider when studying.
Spaced Out Learning
The more you review something the more you will retain. This seems like common sense but you’d be surprised how many people think this means reading the same thing over and over in a quick succession. This is essentially cramming and can lead to you actually begin to stop focussing on the information as you’ve just read it. However, if you spread that reviewing out over a period of time you’ll be shocked how quickly you start to recall the work. If you read something then do other things before returning the material is much less familiar and so you are more inclined to focus on that second read through.
Using Various Study Methods
Find out what methods of studying there are and try them out. Set up a study area or find an area that encourages you to focus, make sure you are comfortable. Perhaps have snacks and drinks on hand, we encourage water and a snack like nuts or trail mix, if you’re planning on a long study session. Then try out a method of studying and see if it’s useful to you. Mix up these methods and see if you can get the right combination for you. This is much easier if you are newer to studying but even at later stages this is beneficial to know.
Most useful is to make the best use of time and to take breaks. The human brain tends only to focus for 20-30 minutes before it begins to wander. Look at methods like the Pomodoro technique to split time up and ensure you take regular breaks. Consider the “equipment” you need to study and for the exam and where possible make use of what you have. If you want to make flashcards you don’t need to go out and buy the fancy flashcards at the store if you cannot afford them. If you have some spare paper you can cut this into flashcards for you to use, they may not be as nice to hold or flip through but they get the job done.
Making Use of Software
We all carry around phones and most of us in some format have access to a computer. As such, try and make use of software that is available to you in order to study and save the need to carry around bits of notes and flashcards that can easily become muddled and confused.
Make a group discord for studying with class mates in order to share notes where you can and discuss anything you may be struggling to fully grasp. See if your school has one as well that allows you to pose questions to your teacher. Look through your mobile store to see what applications they have available to download to help you study i.e. Cram My Brain. There are loads of apps for making flashcards, multiple choice tests, mind-maps and other ways to learn and study.
Make use of online libraries, see if your school has any subscriptions to services that you can use. Most will have specific educational licenses they can give to students in order to help them learn and study. This is handy should you need a better understanding of a certain topic.
Studying with friends can also be a great way to keep yourself motivated and help you retain the information. You can do so in person or digitally (see the previous section on making use of software). In these sessions, you can help each other with areas you might not all get and share the notes you have with each other. You can also test each other on some of the key concepts you are trying to learn for the exam. It provides a more social way of studying and is great for those worried about missing out on socialising while they are in study mode.
Overall, there are many ways for a student to study and cramming is definitely one that has some potential in the right situations. However, it’s important to really make sure that cramming is done in the right way early enough to be beneficial as well as not the only method you are using in order to get through exams. Find the right way to study for you, ask your teachers for more information if you aren’t sure what these are. Make use of any resources your school offers and consider looking into software for flashcards and multiple-choice tests on your phone. Try studying in a group and spacing apart your study sessions. Take regular breaks and make sure you are studying in a comfortable space. Most of all, know what works for you and what doesn’t.