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.


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