4 November 2013 08:46 AM

Cramming is a Lousy Way to Study

by rbavaria

What, are you nuts?  You have an exam tomorrow, and you’re just now getting around to studying?  Do you really think cramming the night before will help?  Think again, you poor fool.

Cramming is for short term memory not for learning.  It’s okay for errands to the grocery store (although a simple list could help), but it’s lousy for learning.  What you cram tonight will be gone by tomorrow night. 

Yes, there are plenty of websites that claim to teach you “how to cram for a test.”  (There are also plenty of websites that claim to know where Elvis is living incognito.)  Don’t pay any attention to them.  They’re baloney.

Instead, make a pact with yourself and a couple of study buddies who have each other’s backs.  Your study buddies should be classmates who have the same goals, who refuse to be distracted, who have an eye to the future, and who support and encourage each other.  Together, decide that you’re not going to make the same mistakes you made in the past.  (A friend of mine with a colorful way of putting things says, “Even a jackass doesn’t step in the same hole twice!”)  Then, don’t let anyone get you off track.

Instead of cramming, try these suggestions.  They’re common sense, and besides, you know they’re right.

  1. Go to class every day. Being in class is half the battle.  How can you learn if you’re not there to hear what your teacher has to say?  What your classmates have to say?  What the discussion is about?  What varying points of view exist?
  2. Pay attention.  If being in class is half the battle, paying attention is the other half.  Listen to what others are saying.  Engage your god-given brain.  Think.
  3. Take good notes.  No one can remember everything, so good note-taking is essential not only in class but in later life, too.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s pen-and-paper or electronic.  I tell my students to compare notes after class to make sure they haven’t missed anything.  (Really good teachers will guide you, too.  “This is important, so make sure you know this.”)
  4. Do the assignments.  Teachers give assignments and homework to ensure you’re getting practice on your skills, to reinforce what they just taught in class, or to prepare you for the next lesson.  Take them seriously.  Do the assignments.  On time.  Neatly.
  5. Participate.  When you’re participating in class, you’re learning actively.  Active is better than passive.  That’s why students who are engaged in class usually do better on tests.  Don’t bother yourself with what the losers think.
  6. Ask questions.  When you don’t understand something, when something confuses you, or when you need some clarification, ask about it.  Good teachers know they may not know the answer to everything, but they’ll get a good class discussion going and motivate you to find answers and share with the class tomorrow.  Everyone learns.
  7. Study together.  Make it routine to study regularly with your study buddies.  That way, exam time won’t seem overwhelming.  You’ve already been studying for a month!  Let others cram.
  8. Anticipate what will be on the test.  Being predictive is a great skill.  Remember what your teacher has stressed in class, what your textbook highlighted, what skills were featured in lectures, demonstrations, and group work.  These will be on the test.
  9. Read the test questions carefully.  I have a gazillion stories of students who carelessly read the questions and then, for instance, answered the odd numbered ones when they should have done the even ones.  Follow directions.
  10. Relax.  Easier said than done, I know, but it really is easier when you’ve seriously prepared and not foolishly crammed.


These suggestions work just as well for standardized tests, incidentally.  Like the PSAT, the SAT, or the ACT.   Face it, anyone with half a brain can tell who’s crammed for a test and who really knows the material.  Crammers aren’t fooling anyone.  Learning’s for winners.  Cramming’s for losers.  Always has been.  Always will be.

2 December 2008 09:29 AM

Exam Week Tips

by Dr. Rick

Can it really be that exam week is coming up so soon? You bet. Tempus fugit. (Have your student look up the meaning.) When should your student start studying? It’s easy and tempting to procrastinate. That’s why it’s important for your child to get in the habit of establishing good study habits and attitudes early. No time to lose. He needs to stay current with assignments, take good notes, and participate in class. If he needs help, get it early - don’t wait until exam week. If her study habits are strong – if they’ve become an important routine for her – she’ll have a strong chance of success. All nighters are a terrible way to study and they’re the worst way to learn!


Here are some tips for parents and teachers to help their students survive Exam Week:  


1.   Develop good study habits. Habits are hard to break, so establish healthy ones now. Get your work done early. Establish a study routine and stick to it. Turn off the TV. Sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you really can’t multitask.  

2.   Schedule some breaks. You can’t study all the time, so give yourself short breaks now and then. You’ve earned them. Call a friend, who’s also on a study break.  Eat a healthy snack. Exercise. Meditate.

3.   Have a study buddy. Studying with a friend is almost always a good idea, especially if he’s as motivated as you are. Set up study times well in advance of a test. Quiz each other. Help each other. Challenge each other. Celebrate your successes. Console one another when necessary.

4.   Be comfortable. Study in a comfortable place that’s organized with all of your equipment, supplies, and books. Turn off all distractions. I’ll say it again: you really can’t multitask.

5.   Eliminate stress. Okay, easier said than done, but not impossible. Here’s my favorite suggestion: stay away from negative people, complainers, procrastinators, and any others who don’t have your best interests at heart. You know who they are. Surround yourself with positive, upbeat, confident people.  Stress and confidence are equally contagious. Which do you want to catch?

6.   Be strong. You’ll have plenty of people (they’re not friends) who’ll want to distract you from studying. If you have a strong group of study buddies, you’ll be more likely to say “no” to the distracters.

7.   Talk to yourself. Yes, that’s right. Do “positive self-talk.” Have a conversation with yourself to remind yourself of all the work you’ve done, the good grades you’ve earned in this class, the goals you’re taking seriously, and the interest you’ve developed in this subject. “I’m doing my best. I’ve done well on earlier quizzes and tests. I’ve stayed current with assignments. There’s no reason I should not do well on this exam.” Believe in yourself, and watch your confidence rise.

8.   Don’t be discouraged. So, what happens if you still don’t make your goals? If you’ve really done your best (only you know that), then you may need to get some extra help. Consider a tutor, some extra time with a teacher, or someone who’s a star in this subject. Most of all, though, put it all in perspective. Doing poorly on a test does not make you a failure, just a proud member of the rest of the human race. Everyone’s been there! As the old song says, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.



Opinion | Tests

9 October 2008 09:15 AM

Test Tips for Students continued...

by Dr. Rick

Today, I'll pick up where I left off Tuesday...


During the test


  1. Read the directions. I know, you’ve heard this a zillion times, but you’d be amazed at how many students don’t do this or do it half-heartedly and end up on completely the wrong track. Don’t squander all that hard work you did preparing for the test only to blow it by writing about the wrong topic.
  2. Do the easy parts first. Get as many surefire points as possible while you can.  Then, go on to the more difficult questions.
  3. Review your answers. Budget your time to give yourself a few minutes to go over your answers and make sure you’ve done your best. Change any incorrect answers, but be careful not to second-guess yourself.
  4. Proofread your essays. Check your spelling, grammar, usage, and punctuation.  OMG, no text-messaging shorthand allowed. LOL.

After the test 


  1. Debrief. Review your study and test prep strategies. What worked? What didn’t? 
  2. Make necessary improvements. Be honest with yourself. Did you give yourself enough time? Get help when you needed it? Make up missed class work? Ask questions in class when you needed to? Don’t be shy. Teachers can’t read your mind. Really.

Test-taking will never be as much fun as hanging out with friends or indulging your favorite pastimes, but it doesn’t have to be torture, either. Remember, you’re in control of your mind and what you use it for. Don’t let a little test convince you otherwise!


For the first part of my test tips post, click here.



7 October 2008 10:48 AM

Test Tips for Students

by Dr. Rick

Students spend an awful lot of time today taking tests. Most are teacher-made, but there are plenty of standardized tests, too, some of which even determine whether a student moves on to the next grade, graduates, or gets into the college of his choice. It’s easy to become anxious about these tests, but it’s just as easy to eliminate much of the anxiety if you take a few simple steps.

Before the test

  1. Don’t wait until the last minute to prepare. This is by far the most important behavior that affects your test-taking, the one over which you have the most control.  It never ceases to amaze me how many students ignore it anyway. Cramming doesn’t work. Never has. Never will. 
  2. Keep up with your studies. This goes hand-in-hand with the first tip. Go to class, take good notes, ask questions when you need something clarified, participate, and do the assignments. Have a “study buddy” you can study with, who can help you when you need help (and whom you can help, too). The two of you will help keep each other on track.
  3. If you’re falling behind, get help right away. The longer you wait, the more behind you’re going to fall. If your study buddy can’t help, ask your teacher for some extra time, get a tutor, see if an honor society member can help. Just get the help you need.
  4. Review your test results from the past. Forewarned is forearmed. How did you do on other tests from this teacher? What kinds of tests does she give? How does she grade? If it’s a standardized test you’re preparing for, become familiar with its format so you’ll know what to expect. Take a test-prep course if you have time and you think it’ll help.
  5. Study with others. Studying can be difficult enough, so if you’re able to study with friends and classmates who are equally motivated you’ll be doing yourself and the others a favor. Keep each other on schedule, stay with it. Quiz each other, share your knowledge, be a team. You’ll all win. Afterwards, congratulate each other and celebrate.
  6. If possible, know what to expect. The best teachers know that tests are not supposed to trick you but to see what you’ve learned. They’ll let you know ahead of time what kind of test they’re going to be giving. Essay? Multiple choice? True or false? Oral? Hybrid? Prepare accordingly. It can’t hurt to request a class preparation period, where students and teacher prepare together.
  7. Parents, relax. When you’re anxious, your child will pick up on that anxiety.  That’s the last thing he needs. Motivation is good. Anxiety isn’t.

Later this week, I’ll cover test tips to remember during and after the test…



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