Why cramming shouldn’t be your go-to study plan
Everyone has had those long studying nights accompanied by caffeine and anxiety. With tomorrow’s big test looming, many wonder why they have, yet again, decided to cram last minute instead of spacing out study sessions. However, since this method of test prep has worked in the past, many individuals can only trust that it will once again work its magic.
But, contrary to popular belief, cramming isn’t as beneficial as some may think it is. For one, it brings on a false sense of security. After staring at pages of notes, it is common for someone to feel familiar with the material, therefore thinking that they truly know the content. However, as stated by BBC, “being able to recognise something isn’t the same as being able to recall it.”
The human process of recognizing and recalling information is completed by different sections of the brain, and so even if someone feels like they can recognize the material after reading about it, it does not actually mean that they can recall and utilize it during the test. This is why one might not remember an answer or the solution to a problem they remember studying the night before.
Furthermore, cramming is usually traded with sleep, and so even if someone studied for eight hours the night before (or morning of), they feel extremely exhausted the next day. “An adequate amount of sleep is also critical for academic success. These results are consistent with emerging research suggesting that sleep deprivation impedes learning,” UCLA Professor of Psychiatry Andrew J. Fuligni said in an interview with UCLA Newsroom.
According to Q Practice, a website dedicated to studying tips, periods of sleep deprivation can also lead to a weakened immune system. Thus, instead of preparing themselves for long term success, one could actually be setting up themselves up for a bad grade due to sickness.
Therefore, instead of cramming for tests, better studying habits should be formed. According to Youth Central, here are the top seven studying tips for students:
- Picking a time when you study the best and the place where you feel motivated and confident to study in.
- Studying every day helps relieve the burden to study more the night(s) before the test since the material is staying fresh in your mind.
- Planning out studying sessions will lead to greater efficiency and completeness in reviewing the necessary material.
- Understanding what type of learner you are (i.e. auditory, visual, kinesthetic, etc) will help you develop the most effective studying practices.
- Creating your own quizzes for yourself will make sure that you truly understand and can apply the material.
- Taking breaks during study sessions will refresh your brain and reinvigorate your motivation to study!
- Asking for help will help clear up questions faster and easier!
The dangers of overstudying
The stress of grades, test scores, and college applications is at the forefront of nearly every high school student’s mind, and it is ingrained in us that the best way to combat the stress is to study. However, as mental health is gaining more awareness among high school students, the question of whether there is a limit to the benefits of studying is raised.
Under pressure to succeed in school and maintain a high grade point average, many students turn to excessive studying in an attempt to achieve academic success. However, a study conducted by the American Journal of Epidemiology revealed that overworking may result in decreased brain function and worsened performance on tests, often due to fatigue and stress-related health issues.
When applied to the average high school student, this means that unnecessary time spent on school work can lessen the benefits of studying, and instead it can become counter-productive. AP European History teacher Mr. Baron sees the effects of improper studying in his own class. “There are a group of students who really make themselves crazy and stressed out by studying too much, and like I said, they have probably overdone it. Finding a balance in studying and doing other things is really quite important,” Baron said.
The stress associated with unreasonable amounts of studying has effects other than just harming academic performance. A study from New York University explored the coping mechanisms that high school students use in response to school-related stress. It revealed a common reliance on drugs and alcohol as a measure to suppress anxiety surrounding academia and the mental health issues prevalent among high school students.
To combat ineffective studying, theories discussing practical techniques for studying are prevalent among students, teachers, and health professionals. Mr. Baron believes the lack of skill regarding studying stems from students never being “taught how to study at any point in their school career,” and as a result “they just stumble upon ways to study.”
Founder and CEO of Psych Central, an online mental health information center, John M. Grohol, Psy.D. contends that methods of studying that focus on maintaining the proper attitude while using recall to remember concepts is beneficial. Rather than adhering to basic studying processes (i.e., reading through notes and textbooks), using interactive tactics, such as practice tests or games, will produce better test results because more parts of the brain are involved in the process of memorization.
It is clear that there is a delicate balance to studying, and Mr. Baron concludes that “coming to school sleep deprived or stressed out isn’t really going to do anything for your learning or for performing well on a test either.”