What is cramming?
It is that intense, overloading of last-minute revision to try and take excessive amounts of information within a short time – usually the day prior to an exam or assessment. While it seems like the obvious thing to do when you’ve got exam the next day – it’s just not worth it.
Who are the cramming culprits?
Cramming will typically be done by students over the last few days (and even hours) leading up to an exam. Even those of us with the best time management skills would admit that it is inevitable at times, and we’ve all done it to some degree.
What do the experts say?
Universities and bodies of learning have also recognised its prevalence, with some even producing approved guides for students who wish to maximise their last minute study time. Despite this, cramming has generally been perceived as a negative technique for studying.
Research first carried out by Hermann Ebbinghaus described a process known as the spacing effect. This shows that we are more likely to remember information long term which is presented over spaced intervals, compared to trying to take it in repeatedly over a short space of time.
Applying the spacing effect to revision is as simple as preparing for each exam or test well in advance, with a dedicated, well spaced out structure.
However, this won’t be much consolation for students who, for whatever reason, have neglected this practice and are now stressing with the realisation that their exam is approaching fast.
So if you must cram, there is a right and wrong way to go about it.
1. Don’t skip sleep
Research carried out by the University of California showed that if you sacrifice sleep the night before an exam, you are more likely to struggle the following day.
2. Make a plan of everything you intend to study, prioritise it and be realistic
Setting unachievable goals will just heighten your stress levels. With limited time left, it probably won’t be possible to cover everything in your syllabus. Identify the most important and repeated themes and focus on these.
3. Study in chunks of time
Even in the last few days and hours before an exam, don’t try to cram in information hour after hour. Plan the remaining time that you have, and study with short bursts followed by a break to refresh yourself.
4. Use memorisation strategies
Write (and rewrite) down the key themes you have learned on flash cards. This can help you memorise the most important information in a short space of time and start to tie in where concepts overlap and themes are interconnected.
5. Same day preparation
Review your flash cards one more time and talk through the key concepts again with some friends. This will help ensure the information is as fresh as possible. On the day of the test eat a good meal, be well hydrated and try to remain calm. Breathing techniques can help sooth the nerves immediately before the exam and focus the mind on the task ahead.
Overall, cramming is not recommended as a revision strategy on its own, it is best suited to a more structured study plan as a means for focusing the brain on the key information that will be tested in the exam.
However, if you have to cram for whatever reason, employ these tips to put yourself in the best possible best place to achieve a good result.