As college students around the world prepare for the end of another semester, the fear of final exams and the anxiety that accompanies the preparation for exams is apparent among college campuses everywhere. With finals quickly approaching, students often feel overwhelmed with their studies, and last minute, late night study sessions, referred to as “cramming” become the norm. Although many feel as if cramming works for them and is an effective study method, the chances of a student absorbing everything he or she needs to know in a few hours is highly unlikely.
According to the Arizona Daily Wildcat, studies have shown that all-night study sessions can possibly have a negative effect on grades. During a Harvard study, a control group slept regularly for four days while the variable group was sleep deprived during the first night. On an image recognition exam, the sleep deprived group did not perform as well because sleep deprivation has a negative impact on the cortex, which is the part of the brain that stores information.
“Whether someone is a ‘short sleeper’ or a ‘long sleeper,’ the key factor is how much sleep is missed, not how much is obtained,” said Dr. Colin Bamford, Director of the neurophysiology and sleep lab at the University of Arizona. “More than an hour off a person’s normal sleep schedule may begin to affect memory retention.”
Although students are aware of the fact that last minute studying can do more harm than good, generations upon generations continue to practice this habit. In most cases, cramming does still produce decent, if not good grades for many students because they are used to it, so they see no need to change their techniques. However, students who cram and do not get enough sleep will not be operating at their full potential come exam day. Their late night studying and sleep deprivation may have led them to pass the exam or to receive a decent score, but there is always the chance that they might have done much better on the exam had they utilized more efficient study tactics.
To help those who are avid, habitual crammers, there are some methods that can improve the effectiveness of last minute studying. Cramming is never going to go away in the world of college academics, so if students are going to do it, they might as well do it right. One should always eat some food for energy before studying, but excess sugar should be avoided because it makes a person hyper, making it more difficult to focus and study.
Also, a common misconception is that caffeine helps keep people focused and awake. However, caffeine does not have the ability to help maintain focus and attention, nor does it improve memory.
Cramming can also become a situation of mind over matter. Those who study late at night have to be able to resist the temptation of falling asleep. Without getting too comfortable, finding a well-lit area with no distractions around, makes studying easier. Students also have to remember the importance of remaining calm. It is much easier to study and absorb material when you are relaxed and not panicking and stressed out.
Another mistake that students often make when studying last minute is to not focus on the right subject areas. Because time is limited, highlight the key points of the chapter or section that will be covered on the exam. Learn the key formulas or concepts that will be a major part of the test, and do not attempt to re- teach yourself everything in one night.
A good shortcut to re- learning information in a short amount of time is to read the chapter summaries of a textbook. They often contain the most important components of a chapter in a condensed format.
Repetition is also a key aspect of last minute studying. Write down the most important formulas or concepts on a separate sheet of paper and memorize them.
Cramming does not come highly recommended by anyone, especially instructors, but it is the best alternative to going into an exam never once looking at any of the material, and Dr. Bamford does make one recommendation to students: if you know the material and have regularly studied in the days or weeks leading up to the exam, cramming the night before the test will not make much of a difference in the grade.
On the other hand, if the student has no familiarity with the material on the exam, Bamford says that “it is still better to go into a test sleep- deprived rather than not knowing any of the information [on the exam].”