A guest post by Chineme Iloh
When it comes to the beginning of a new academic year, every student makes the one promise to themselves: study regularly and stay organized.
However, the procrastination soon starts to kick in and a lot of us are left with a lot to do leading up the exam date.
You start worrying about all the dates, places, and key terms you have to memorize within such a short amount of time, and before you know it, you’re staying up late on the night before the exam… cramming.
It’s no secret that last-minute cramming isn’t the best strategy when preparing for exams. It’s been tried and tested countless times, yet it doesn’t really work.
If you want to ditch your late-night cramming routine, keep reading for ten easy and effective ways to do so!
What is Cramming in Studying
By dictionary definition, to cram is to fill something by force, with more than it can easily hold. This is exactly what students do as well – studying hastily to force bits of information into your brain, without understanding it, before an exam.
You have probably figured out how ineffective cramming is just by the sound of it.
Yet we’ve all done it. The tempting feeling to put off all that studying until the last-minute is surprisingly relatable.
Why do Students Cram for Exam?
As mentioned before, it’s hard to fight the urge to leave all the work until the last-minute. However, while many of us are well aware that cramming is fairly ineffective for studying for exams, we still do it, and here’s why:
Cramming is a short-term, easy-fix solution to memorizing information for exams. It seems to be a much easier option to study all at once, and at last-minute too, than to study every single day.
In addition, we have busy lives. Extracurricular activities and commitments can take up a lot more time than we intended, and therefore, there’s not a lot of time left for studying for those exams.
Is Cramming Good or Bad?
There are a few reasons why cramming just does not work.
- Cramming can cause an increase in unnecessary stress on yourself – the overwhelming feeling of trying to memorize everything in a short space of time can leave you tired, irritated, and very frustrated.
- Also, many students find themselves staying up late at night, urgently cramming for their exams. This causes sleeplessness and exhaustion – a bad combination during exam season, especially when it’s pretty vital to stay on top of your A-game the whole way through
- Closely related to this, cramming is literally the act of remembering – when cramming, instead of learning and understanding the material, you remember it.
- When it comes to last-minute revision, you are not giving your brain enough time to understand and connect the information together, and instead, you’re just focusing on memorizing all the content.
- It may seem like the easiest solution in the short-term, but after the exam, you’ll be left with a bunch of useless facts and equations that you don’t even understand.
- Lastly, and probably the most important reason why cramming doesn’t work, is to do with the spacing effect.
Studies have shown that cramming is ineffective because if you were to study for 10 hours all at once, for example, you’ll retain the information for a much shorter amount of time than if you were to study for 1 hour each day, for 10 days.
When cramming, you’re probably going to forget the information as soon as you leave that exam hall, and learning any new information will become more difficult over time.
However, studying at regular intervals over a long period of time will help you retain the information for a long time, while simultaneously giving you enough time to actually understand the content, in time for the exam and after you leave the exam hall.
How to Avoid Cramming for your Next Exam
Fortunately, there are a few easy, yet effective, strategies that you can implement into your study techniques that will help you avoid the lousy last-minute cramming routine and improve the way you study.
Increase your motivation to study.
One of the main reasons students cram before exams is due to the lack of motivation to study beforehand. Finding ways to increase your motivation to study will help you get it done more often, and consequently, avoid last-minute cramming.
You can motivate yourself to study in a number of ways. One way is to set yourself goals. Establishing clear, structured goals as to what you’re aiming to achieve in the exam may be the pushing point for you to study.
This is because you’ll desire to achieve those goals and you’ll strive towards them. Not only will you be more motivated to study for that exam, but you’ll also be in the right mindset to study.
Studying is sometimes useless if you approach is negatively, but being in a more positive, motivated mentality will help you take the time to understand and retain the content you’re reviewing.
Alternatively, sometimes it’s the subject itself that’s putting you off studying it. If you’re finding it hard to motivate yourself to study, find something fascinating about the subject – if you find an interest in it, you’ll look forward to every time you pick up your textbook.
Start revising early.
Another common cause for last-minute cramming is the lack of time before the exams. When other commitments and activities eat up the majority of our time, we aren’t left with a lot of time left for studying.
A solution to this is to start revising early. As soon as possible.
The earlier you start revising, the more you’ll be able to cover before the exam.
Revising over a long period of time enhances your memory of the information too – you’re more likely to remember all the information for a lot longer than if you were to cram it all in at once, as mentioned before with the spacing effect.
“The secret to getting ahead is getting started.”
If you start revising for your exam early, you’ll be thanking yourself in the long run – you’d be giving yourself enough time to cover everything in time for the exam, which is super ideal.
Procrastination is probably the ultimate cause of last-minute cramming. While many students tell themselves, “I’m going to study for this exam as soon as possible”, getting started is probably the hardest part.
Avoid putting off studying until the last-minute by stopping frequent procrastination. When studying, remove any distractions, such as your phone, TV, etc. and set up a suitable environment to get you in the right mindset for studying.
You can also motivate yourself to study with the incentive of a reward at the end of the day, such as a nice, warm bubble bath, or a late evening with your favourite snacks and Netflix. Anything to encourage yourself to get the revision done.
You’ll find that once you actually get started, the rest is much easier!
Revise a bit each day.
You’ve probably noticed how often I’ve reiterated this point so far. Studying a bit each day is a proven, effective way to revise for an exam, and it’s the best way to go if you want to ditch your last-minute cramming strategies. Here’s why:
Studying your revision materials each day ensures it stays fresh in your head for a long period of time.
This can be for a couple of hours each day. It may seem inadequate at first, but it all sums up quickly and will help you out a ton before the exam date.
You could also review your notes on what you learnt in your class or lecture that day. This can literally be for 10-15 minutes each day.
A quick review session each day can go a long way, as it ensures you never forget the content.
If you review one chapter a day, for example, you’ll have the entire syllabus covered in a couple of weeks, which is very ideal.
If you’re finding it hard to fit in these revision sessions, establish a mini schedule so you never forget. For example, you could review your class notes every evening.
Also, daily recaps are useful for studying because you’re more likely to remember the information after repetitive revision each day, rather than leaving it all until the last-minute.
Plan around your exam day.
Believe it or not, lack of organisation and planning can easily leave students in the vulnerable position of last-minute cramming. Without a set plan in place, it’s hard to know what to study and when.
Invest in a planner of some sort, such as a diary planner, wall planner, calendar, etc., write in the day of your exam, and any other events leading up to that point.
Then take a look at other events in your life, and plan around them. Reserve certain days to be dedicated to studying in advance, so you’ll know when you’re available and how much content you’ll be able to cover in time.
Schedule your study time.
Closely related to the last point it to schedule your study time. Following a schedule with a timetable or a calendar is a great way for you to plan exactly what you need to study and when you’re going to do it.
I highly recommend you stick to a schedule because it allows you to efficiently plan around your study time, and leave what’s left for other activities.
Setting a structure in place is also a great way for you to develop your self-management and time-management skills, helping you get organised, stay productive and avoid last-minute cramming.
Distribute your study time into chunks.
So, you’ve motivated yourself to study and you’ve beat the obstacle of procrastination. That’s great! Now that you’ve moved on to actually studying for that exam, you’ve got to make the most of it, and study smart too, or the time spent is wasted.
While frequent studying each day before the exam is very beneficial, spending your time wisely is an important skill to develop.
“Study smarter, not harder. Don’t be busy, be productive.”
One way to study efficiently is to work in evenly-spaced chunks, as large or as small as you can stay focused for, with breaks in between.
It’s been researched and proven that frequent studying with healthy intervals in between in effective for retaining the information for a long period of time. This is way, you can avoid the unhealthy habit of last-minute cramming.
However, make sure your intervals aren’t too small or too large – you need to give yourself enough time to study, but you also need to make sure you’re motivated to keep going.
Use active recall revision methods.
As mentioned before, studying smart is an important factor in avoiding last-minute cramming.
A good way to get the most out of the time you spend studying is to use a good variety of active recall methods to revise.
This includes flashcards, practise questions, past papers, quizzes, and more – these are all effective techniques that can boost your revision methods and ensure you’re fully prepared for the exam
In addition, it’s a good habit to make summary notes at the end of each module as you go along in the year, so at the end of the semester, you have a collection of your condensed notes, ready to revise from for the exams.
Avoid using bad study methods.
While there are a ton of great study methods to use, as mentioned above, there are also bad ones that you should avoid, along with the practice of last-minute cramming.
One ineffective study method is simply reading the textbook. This is not studying and here’s why:
Reading is probably THE MOST passive way of learning out there. Active learning methods, as mentioned before, are the best ways to study effectively in preparation for exams – reading and re-reading your textbook just doesn’t provide this.
This is because simply reading from the textbook doesn’t engage your brain, and you’ll therefore find it hard to absorb and retain any information you just read.
Simply writing everything from your textbook onto your notebook is also quite ineffective for similar reasons.
You want to make sure that all the time you spend studying is spent wisely, and here are a few ways you can do that:
Make effective class notes throughout the year, with all the important information that you may need when reviewing them in preparation for your exam.
Also try to colour-code your notes – for example, green highlighting for dates, pink highlighting for key terms, and so on. This is an effective practise that will significantly speed up your revision process when you want to quickly review a specific part of the topic.
Save the night before the exam for final review.
Lastly, make sure to save the night before the exam for a small, review session, rather than a six-hour, intense cram session.
This is a good practise as you can fit in a quick refresher of some weak areas that may be covered in the exam, without stressing yourself too much
In addition, this is especially important as it ensures you’re well-rested and in the right mindset before the exam, which is crucial if you want to perform to the best of your ability.
Ditch Your Last-Minute Cramming
You see? There are a ton of great study techniques out there that can help you get all your revision done for your exam in the most effective way possible, without the lousy routine of last-minute cramming.
It’s important to remember that all of these strategies are intertwined, so it’d be a good idea to practise all of them together in order to achieve the best results.
You can employ these effective study strategies if you’re looking for ways to beat late-night cramming, and you’ll soon realise that it’s actually possible to pass that exam stress-free!
Oh, hey! I’m Chineme from chinemeiloh.com, and I’m the blogger behind this post! I’m currently a student in the UK, and I’m studying (and enjoying) the IB course. I’m all about offering motivation, encouragement, and enjoyment to students across the world, so you can find me over at my blog and studygram, offering all sorts of study tips and advice!
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