10 Ways to Cram Successfully
Sound familiar?–It’s Sunday night. You’ve had a long, fun weekend of…things. Then, oh no! You’ve got a test tomorrow morning. It’s the end of the world, and you should just give up, bribe your professor, and then maybe flee the country, right?
Nope. With these 10 tools, you might just be able to rock that test tomorrow.
A disclaimer: Studying only the night before a test really isn’t a very good idea. These tips are meant to help you at the last minute, not to give you a reason to not study beforehand.
1. Go Somewhere else
Studying in your dorm, apartment, or whatever you have can be incredibly distracting. Grab the bare minimum (books, iPod, notebooks, computer only if you need it) and head somewhere else. It doesn’t need to be a library, necessarily- I’ve found coffee shops and bookstores to both be awesome places to work. Either way, make sure you find somewhere where you can really set up shop, and not have to move for a while.
I know, everyone talks about how bad caffeine and sugar are for you, and it’s true. But let’s face it: your bodily cleansing, for this one evening, needs to take a backseat. Do whatever you need to do to stay alert and awake; nodding off while reading isn’t very helpful. Even just eating something while you study can be really helpful, as are coffee, soda, and the like. Make sure you keep plenty around, though, to stave off the crash.
3. Use the 50/10 rule
This is one of my favorite methods of studying, because it keeps me incredibly focused. Work- hard- for 50 minutes. No breaks, no distractions. Anytime you get distracted and stop working, the 50 minutes starts over. Once you hit 50, take a 10 minute break. Check your email, go to the bathroom, walk aimlessly around- whatever. Then, it’s back to work. Training yourself this way forces you to study hard 80% of the time, instead of half-studying all the time- it’s much more effective.
Though this tip doesn’t work for everyone, it certainly has for me. The way I study, for the most part, is to rewrite my notes into smaller pieces. Eliminate the filler, and whittle down your notes from every class or reading into a specific portion- a page, or 1/2 a page. This forces you to figure out what’s really important, and not waste your time reading through page after page of notes. Plus, you’ll be amazed at how much you learn simply by writing.
5. Study with a friend
Odds are, you’re not the only one who put off studying until the last minute. Find someone else to panic with, and you’ll be rewarded in two ways: you’ll realize how much you already know by asking and answering questions, and you’ll figure out what you need to study. Quiz each other, ask questions about what you don’t understand, and figure out together what you need to be thinking about. Two (or twelve) brains are always better than one, and studying is no exception.
6. Figure out the Big Points
Given that you’re studying the night before the test, odds are you’re not going to remember every minute detail of the material you’ve learned. That’s okay. Instead, spend your time focusing on major concepts, the 5-10 things you’ve talked about the most and need to know the most about for the test. You’ll learn more about the connections between topics, as well as be able to answer more questions intelligently. More often, at least in classes I take, the concepts prove more important than the tiny details, but it’s easy to get bogged down in remembering every piece of material. Focus on the big stuff first, and move on only if there’s time. Night-before cramming requires playing the odds, and your best bet is on the big stuff.
Try remembering these ten numbers: 9-1-4-6-5-7-3-2-4-1. Not so easy? Now try remembering this phone number: 914-657-3241. Much easier, right? That’s a process known as chunking, which can help you retain information at a much higher rate. To study with this method, follow a simple process: Come up with important terms you need to know for the test, and define them. Come up with a few major concepts from the course material, and explain them each in a paragraph. Then, on a notecard or piece of paper, group your terms into the concepts. Practice going over a concept, and remembering the relevant terms and definitions. Learning the individual parts as they relate to a larger whole makes remembering and applying them much easier. About.com has a great article about chunking here.
8. Study out of Order
Most people study by reading their notes over and over again. This, believe it or not, really isn’t a helpful way of studying. Your brain doesn’t work in perfect order all the time, and neither should you. Instead, read your notes through consecutively only once. Then, randomly go back and read days’ notes, in no order whatsoever. This helps your brain remember the information on its own, instead of simply as a part in a series. If chronology is relevant, i.e. in a history class, be careful to note chronology, but still change your orders.
9. Study Out Loud
Read your notes out loud. Whisper, yell, sing, rap, whatever- say your notes out loud. I can’t overstate how much easier it is to remember something you say, hear and read than something you simply read. By speaking out loud, you give your brain three stimuli to remember the material instead of just one. Your retention skyrockets as you talk, because you’re forced to concentrate on the material. Don’t study in your head- study aloud!
This is literally the single most important thing you can do the night before a test. Studies have shown that you both remember incredibly more after 6 hours of sleep, and you perform terribly in pressurized situations without much sleep. This is a difficult thing to do, because, as I mentioned above, your instincts and caffeine will tell you to stay awake. Any sleep at all you can get is a crucial part of succeeding on a test, and the more the better. Balance caffeine with getting to bed at some point, and once you get in bed, forget about the test. Think actively about something peaceful, so nothing else enters your mind, and you’ll nod right off.
These aren’t always the optimal methods to study. They’re 0nly a way to help you out if you’re in total panic mode over a test you’re not ready for, and don’t have time to study for properly. Ideally, you should be studying all along, eating well, exercising constantly, and getting lots of sleep. But that’s not realistic, at least not for me. So, if you’re in crisis mode, take a deep breath, and good luck!
How do you study before a test? Let us know in the comments.
- 3 Effective Methods to Study for Exams
- Study Smarter This Year by Discovering your Learning Style
- How to Take Killer Notes and Cut your Study Time by 50%
- 4 tips for reading better and retaining more
- Why you Should Wake up Early and 5 Tips to do so
7 Responses to “10 Ways to Cram Successfully”
I agree that sleep is the most important thing before the test. The head should be clear and fresh. Before the test, I drink fresh juice and do breathing exercises.
Thanks for this article! It was really helpful. They way I also remember things is using the technique, imagery. It may not work for everyone, but it certainly works for me. What I do for example if I had to remember the reasons for why australia was involved in the Vietnam war:
1. Fear of communism
2. Alliance commitments
3. Forward defence
4.Concerns in Indonesia
What I did was imagine a picture of Australia with a scared face to represent fear of communism, and a red chain linking Australia to another country to represent alliance commitments, and so on.
It doesn’t matter if the image doesn’t make sense to anyone but yourself. For example, I imagined for Forward Defence as a dotted circle around Australia for ‘Defence’, even though Forward Defence doesn’t mean that. But the main point is that it helps me remember that point.
I hope this helps
Personally, creating a personal or customize acronyms helps me to remember things that I mustn’t forget.
I like the 50/10 rule BTW. Although I didn’t know the existence of such rule before, I actually practiced that a lot. My brain tends to get tired easily and I’m just fooling myself if I will keep on studying because nothing is actually absorbed. So I spend few minutes going outside, getting some fresh oxygen and look at the stars. Afterwards, back to business.
incredibly incredibly helpful. Awesome advice. I’d definitely try every bit. thanks:)
It will probably not shock any instructor to learn that students cram for exams. What may be a bit surprising is the percentage of students who do: somewhere between 25 percent and 50 percent, depending on the study. In the research reported in the article referenced below, approximately 45 percent of students admitted to cramming.
However, there is one unexpected and unfortunate surprise: cramming as a study strategy is effective, at least by some criteria. This article’s review of the literature section lists five different studies conducted between 1968 and 2001—all of which found that cramming did not affect course grades negatively. This study did find more mixed results. If students agreed that they used cramming “for most of my courses,” those students tended to have lower GPAs, with the converse also being true. However, this study looked at a particular course, Principles of Marketing, and for that course “the course grade is not significantly related to the degree of cramming reportedly used in the course.” (p. 233)
The problem with cramming has to do with retention and it is here that previous research, including this study, offers conclusive results. When students cram, the information is stored in short-term memory and information stored there doesn’t stay there long. The results reported in this study illustrate this finding in a very graphic way. A student in the high-cramming category with a course grade of 85 would, at 150 weeks after the course (based on predictions derived from repeated test scores), be retaining only 27 percent of what he or she learned in the course.
Despite the fact that many currently used assessment strategies promote cramming and the short-term memory acquisition of content, it is not a case of one testing format promoting cramming more than another. Researchers worried that maybe multiple-choice testing methods actually encouraged cramming. That hypothesis was not confirmed by their results. Students crammed just as often for essay exams as they did for multiple-choice exams.
There is a bit of cause for optimism, though. Students in this study “resoundingly agree” that cramming is not a strategy that enhances long-term learning and retention. They know it’s not the way to really learn the material. But because so many of their peers study this way, because college students tend to procrastinate, and because they now lead busy, busy lives, cramming is an appealing alternative.
This is another one of those articles packed full of good information on an important topic. It includes the 49-question instrument developed to determine if students crammed and if they thought the approach was effective. Mean responses for individual items are also included. Administering an instrument like this to students can be as revealing to them as to the instructor.
Finally, the authors take teachers to task for their teaching methods. “The all-to-common use of PowerPoint slide lectures, even with in-class handouts of the slides, does not engage students to take notes in their own language and handwriting, which shunts the processing of the material, leaving all effective learning to the cramming period at the end of the term.” (p. 237) In other words, it’s not just test formats that assess deep learning that forestalls cramming; how material is presented in class can also make a difference.
Reference: McIntyre, S.H. and Munson, J.M. (2008). Exploring cramming: Student behaviors, beliefs, and learning retention in the Principles of Marketing course. Journal of Marketing, 30 (3), 226-243.
Excerpted from Cramming for Exams, January 2009, The Teaching Professor.
Tagged with assessment, retention, study skills, teaching methods