Why Cramming Works

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It is almost final exam week, and everyone is trying to get ready. Although different students follow different methods of studying, according to the results of a study published on BBC, 99 percent of students admit to cramming at least once. The results indicate that even “good students” do cram sometimes. Just look up the word “cramming” on the internet, and you will realize how popular this method is among all students.

Is cramming a proper method for studying? The answer depends on what you expect from it. Cramming can be effective in some circumstances. When you have not had any chance to study during the semester, you only have a few hours to put all the information from the textbook into your brain. However, looking at the big picture, cramming has some seriously adverse effects.

When you put an enormous amount of information into your brain in a short period of time, your brain cannot save all of it. In fact, you only can maintain this information for a short time. After this period, your brain will lose the data, and it would be like you have never studied that material. Cramming prevents the information from moving to your long-term memory. So in any case, if you need to use this data again for future exams or jobs, you have no chance to retrieve it. But that’s not the entire story.

Different parts of the brain are responsible for processing different forms of memory. When you study for many consecutive hours, you look at your textbook pages over and over. In this case, you are using the sensory areas of your brain such as the visual cortex. As a result, you may recognize all materials because they are familiar to your visual memory. But it does not mean that you would be successful at recalling the information. The process of recalling the information happens somewhere else in your brain’s frontal and temporal lobes. That is why some students are so confident before the test but cannot remember any information as soon as they start it.

Procrastination is one of the reasons why some students cram. They are too busy with their other works, so they do not have enough chance to study during the semester. Therefore, cramming is the only method that can help them. But it’s not the entire story. Our educational system is also one of the main reasons why a lot of students use cramming as a method. Most teachers think of their students as ATMs. Just like a person would insert money into ATMs, teachers expect students to take in unrealistic amounts of information. When they give their students so much information without activating their metacognitive process and expect them to return it back, the students have to find a way to do what their teachers expect, which is why cramming happens.

Imagine that you have enrolled in four different courses for a semester, and for each of them, you need to study, memorize, and recall a 500-page textbook. Do you think there would be an alternative for cramming? As you see, we cannot blame students who cram.

Are there any alternative methods to cramming? Or is cramming still the best option for us to handle final exams? There might be some better resolutions, but we just have a few days left until final exams. Therefore, if you have not studied throughout the semester, it means at least for this semester you cannot use other methods, so let’s grab our cup of coffee and cram!