“Cramming doesn’t work. If you try to cram for this exam you will fail”, said at least half of my professors. For those of you who don’t know what cramming is, it is literally cramming a bunch of information into your brain the day or night before your upcoming exam rather than taking time to actually study the material in the weeks leading up to it. Cramming is a way of life for procrastinating college students—which most of us have been at least once in our college careers. It looks something like this:
But the question is, does cramming actually work?
The short answer is yes. Cramming does work, depending on your objective. If your goal is to merely pass your exam (or even ace it in some cases), then cramming is the way to go. But if you want to actually retain any of the information you have been learning in your classes, you should probably avoid it.
Here’s my experience. I am more than guilty of cramming. The night before an exam I would spend a few hours reviewing material and memorizing like crazy. In most cases I would walk out of the exam with an A, but then found myself forgetting the very material I had just crammed into my head only a few hours later. I discovered quickly which classes I should and should not cram for, though of course professors will hate that I say cramming is even remotely acceptable.
I crammed for my GE classes, the foundation courses that everybody has to take no matter what their majors are. That meant my science classes, history classes, and all the other classes that were not particularly relevant or interesting to me or my major. Cramming got me my As, though I did not retain much of the material for those classes.
The classes I chose NOT to cram for? My business and finance classes, and any other classes that I wanted to actually absorb knowledge from. I enjoyed those specific classes and someday wanted to use the knowledge I gained for my career. If I crammed for them, it would leave my brain just as quickly as it came in—and I would have graduated without knowing a single thing about my field of study. What a waste of time and money. So I chose to take my core classes more seriously, avoiding cramming and actually studying the material throughout the semester so that I could retain more. Of course I would still have my study session right before an exam, but that wasn’t the only studying I was doing.
I have seen people cram throughout their entire college career. The end result? A graduate with a 4.0 who remembered next to nothing about the last four years of their education.
Now, there are some classes you probably just couldn’t cram for even if you wanted to. One of the big ones is math classes. You can memorize the formulas as much as you like, but if you only have an hour or two of experience applying those formulas… well, good luck in that exam. I worked as a math tutor and supervisor for two years. There was always that one student who, bless their heart, came in just three hours before their exam saying they have missed the last two weeks of class and need to ace their exam. Sorry honey, but I can only help you so much.
So long story short, cramming can be effective. It’ll get you the grade, but you’ll rarely retain. If you want to actually make the best of your education then avoid it. Take time each week to review what you have been learning in your classes, and then in addition to that have a nice study session right before your exam. Happy studying!