The effects of long-term cramming
A lot has changed for students over the last three years. From online classes, where most struggled with mental health along with academics, to hybrid classes, where exam pressures mixed with anxiety over safety. Finally, we are said to have reached normalcy again. The difficult truth for many students is that normal doesn't look like it used to. Worst and most widespread of all, normal looks like cramming the morning before every exam and just hoping you'll pass.
"Cramming" refers to the habit of not studying until the very last moment, and then absorbing or memorising lots of new information within a very short time. If this sounds familiar, you're not alone – surveys show up to a quarter of people cram as their only study technique.
There are plenty of reasons why this is so common. Cramming can often be the only way a person knows how to study, not to mention the influence of procrastination, fear, and feeling overwhelmed with work. Moreover, cramming may feel justified, as it can be successful in the short-term to get high scores for individual exams.
Unfortunately, forcing yourself to study a month's work in a day and repeating the process until it becomes a habit you just can't shake, is bad for you.
Deadlines and exams are omnipresent in our future, and every time we put off work, they inch just a little closer to the present. Rather than managing stress by progressing slowly every day, habitual cramming forces all of that stress to accumulate until it reaches a breaking point.
For those who were more diligent students in the past, or simply got better grades, cramming can feel like rock-bottom. Being unable to fully understand any material studied or utilise one's time and potential as well as possible leads to a lack of faith and pride in one's own abilities.
In the long-term, research overwhelmingly shows that crammers retain much less information on what they study, and have lower average grades than their peers due to their fluctuating performance. Despite their increased stress, crammers are simply less prepared to do well.
What should we do to train ourselves to become better students from the ground up, then?
Firstly, as insignificant as it may sound, taking enough care of yourself is non-negotiable. Enough sleep every night, eating enough to have the energy to study, and trying to build up personal discipline every day. Promising not to skip that evening class or spend all night on the phone, and following through, little by little.
Secondly, trying out different study methods and seeing what works for you. Does active recall - testing yourself on a subject - and spaced repetition of practicing the same subject every few days work best for you? Or if time management is your issue, would you prefer to use the Pomodoro method to break your study sessions into more easy-to-handle parts?
Most importantly, it is necessary to remember we study for ourselves and our own futures. There is no one you can make prouder than yourself if you keep your promises to be better.
1. The Washington Post (November 30, 2020). Cramming may help for next-day exams. But for long-term memory, spacing out study is what works.
2. SAGE Journals (May 19, 2008) Exploring Cramming: Student Behaviors, Beliefs, and Learning Retention in the Principles of Marketing Course
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