The Worst Way to Study 

Cynthia Wang, Staff Writer

Blinding light from a desk lamp contrasting with the dark night seeping in through the windows. Papers and pens sprawled across your workspace while time ticks closer to tomorrow. Sound familiar? Whether it be because we have too much work on our plates or are simply procrastinating, cramming has become a way of life for most students. However cramming is not effective enough to make up for the horribly stressful night before the test. 

Many students cram for a lot of their tests, but why exactly does this happen? Senior Charlotte Dennie says, “I usually cram because I have more immediate assignments and other things I would rather do,” in turn leaving very little time to study, which seems to be a common answer among students. With tests to study for, other homework to do, clubs to attend, and hobbies to enjoy, cramming is becoming a necessity for most of the student population. Junior Alex Hsu believes that “cramming has become so widespread because there’s a lot of pressure to take harder classes.” With the seemingly ever growing “need” to get into top colleges, peer pressure forces students to take harder classes, leading to a larger workload, and without the help of inventions like clones or time manipulating devices, cramming seems to be the only option. 

Since cramming became such a universally used studying technique, one would think that it would be on par with other methods, but students have stated that they perform significantly worse when cramming, sometimes even by five or ten points. Along with that, though it might seem that the content is hammered in your brain during the test, freshman Arya Joshi states that, “it’s only helpful during the test, not long term,” which seems to be the general consensus. Studies have also confirmed that cramming is not a good studying technique and that spacing out learning is more effective than cramming 90% of the time. One study, published in 2009 in “Applied Cognitive Psychology,” showed that the spacing effect works on a smaller time scale as well. College students were asked to study a stack of 20 digital vocabulary flashcards. The students all studied each word four times with half of the students studying the words in one big stack while the other half studied with smaller stacks of five cards each, effectively spacing out the time between seeing individual words. On a test the next day, the students in the big stack group remembered significantly more of the words than the students in the “four small stacks” group, 49% as compared with 36%. Many students have also reported that cramming has backfired on them before. Whether it is because that one topic you thought you had down suddenly seems a lot harder than you remember or simply just blanking out midway through your geography quiz, we are only human and memorizing all that information less than 24 hours before an exam is no easy task. 

Though cramming is definitely necessary in a lot of cases, there must be another reason why several students around the globe cram. One might argue that it is easier or less stressful than studying in advance every day, but that does not seem to be the case. Sophomore Elijah Miller explains that “it’s a lot less stressful until you actually have to cram.” Everyone knows the stress and anxiety felt while cramming all too well. In a study surveying students aged 15-16 conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 55% of students reported that they feel very anxious about school testing even when well prepared. Furthermore, anxiety is very prevalent at around 35% of students surveyed. With all the stress that comes with cramming, to most students, it is not even easier than regular study. Joshi says, “Teachers do not give enough time to review in class so there is no easy way or time to ask questions.” Others have also reported that with cramming, there is little time to review more challenging sections and no time to prioritize their studying. With less effectiveness and more stress than regular studying, it is a wonder that cramming has gained as much popularity as it has. 

Cramming is not a great study habit. In fact, Miller states, “I do not consider it a studying technique at all.” But how can one combat the seemingly mandatory procedure that is cramming? Hsu recommends creating a study group with friends and getting a good night’s rest before the exam while Dennie suggests creating a study schedule and plan. Although spaced practice can feel difficult, spacing out study sessions or focusing on a topic for a short period on different days has been shown to improve retention and recall much more than cramming. So yes, cramming is an inevitable part of most students’ lives, but think twice before the next time you decide to hold off on studying.