Let’s face it. If you’re in school, you’re going to cram.
Well, maybe not, but probably. In any case, you definitely know what cramming it is and you definitely have seen it in action.
We all know that cramming is not the best way to study, but we don’t really often understand why. I’m going to cover why cramming isn’t a great idea.
But then, because this is the real world here, I’m going to show you how to cram to make it as efficient as possible for those times when you do have to do it.
Don’t do it!
The main thing about cramming is that you don’t want to do it. If you are in any normal school system, you will have enough advance notice that you never have to cram.
If you know you have a test in four days then make yourself a schedule of what you need to study when in order to know it all by test time, and stick to that schedule! You never need to cram, and you never really want to, unless there is no other resort.
Cramming is bad for you.
I know you hear it all the time, but that’s because it’s true.
Cramming isn’t just bad for your academics, it’s bad for your body. All that last-minute stress and frazzle really wears on you, not to mention the three energy drinks you downed just to stay awake late last night.
Oh and the coffee you had this morning to make sure you didn’t die on the way to class.
Oh and the other bit of caffeine or sugar you had to stay awake during class.
Oh and the… see the idea? Cramming is really tough on your body.
You won’t remember
The processes your brain goes through when you cram are such that whatever goes in is not likely to stay for long. You’ll remember it the next day (hopefully) but two days later it’s almost all gone.
If you jam a bunch of stuff in your head all at once, it’s going to run out as soon as you stop jamming. But if you study gradually, spacing things out, then stuff will sort of trickle down to the innermost depths of your long-term memory and you’ll remember them much better.
You won’t do as well
Let’s face it. You will never do as well cramming as you would if you studied properly and gave the subject the attention that it deserves. You might do okay on the test (meaning not fail the test), but you won’t understand the information very well. If it comes up on another test you might just be sunk.
But if you must cram…
Sometimes it happens. Trust me, I know. You might forget about a test. It might come up suddenly. You might have been unable to study for one reason or another.
Sometimes you just have to cram.
In that case, don’t just rush headlong into memorizing chapter one. One of my professors told me once that his favorite type of person to work with was a smart, lazy person. They know all the study tips and like to figure out all the shortcuts.
And that’s what you came here for anyway, right? You want to know how to cram.
Fortunately, it’s not that difficult at all to figure out.
Cram smart, not hard
First, check out some of the other study tip posts on this site for advice on this area. You need to figure out what is likely to be on the test and concentrate on that. Make a practice test, take it and focus on your weaknesses. Look over study guides and tables of contents. Pretend you were making the test and study what you would put on it. There are all sorts of things you can do to try and optimize your studying. Try whatever works for you!
Watch your time
It’s really easy to get distracted when you’re cramming. Actually, it’s really easy to get distracted when you’re studying period. Keep a close eye on your time and make sure you don’t waste any of it.
Efficiency and concentration matter all the time, but when you have a few short hours until the test, you can’t afford to lose any time.
Check out the post on How to Focus and learn how to use the Pomodoro Technique.
Teach someone else
One great way to help cement stuff into your head is to teach it to someone else. There are all sorts of ways you can do this. You can literally have a friend there and teach it to them. Or you can explain it to your parents (great idea, right? “Hey I’m cramming for a test – mind if I teach you something?”).
Another idea is to go onto an answer site like Yahoo! Answers and find questions related to the subject you’re getting tested on. (DO NOT put up your test or ask specific questions from it! That’s called cheating!) When you find a related question, try to answer it. If you can’t, then you know that’s something that you need to study.
Make sure you still get sleep. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that an all-nighter is better than catching a few hours’ sleep. You should never ever ever go less than three hours. Even three hours is unhealthy. Aim for six at the bare minimum. Don’t use caffeine to wake up, either. Thirty jumping jacks and an apple are much better, and much healthier.
Basically, cramming is always a bad idea. But if you absolutely have to, make sure you do it smart and spare your body from as much punishment as you can. Remember, you have to take care of your body – your brain lives in that thing, after all!
What do you think?
Do you have any cramming stories? What are some study tips and tactics you used? Tell your tale in the comments below!