Last-minute cramming? Here’s how to do it well!

By September 28, 2016Study

All students have one problem in common: they never have enough study time. Learn how to use the time you do have more efficiently.

In an ideal world you would have months to prepare for your big exam. Of course, in that same world you would be President and have just won the lotto… ah, we can dream, can’t we? Here in the real world, life happens and studying is often left until the very last minute. But don’t panic! Even though cramming is not the best way to prepare, a bit of planning and a few changes should get you through these exams.

Your 5 step cramming plan

Step 1: Write things down

Put down your iPad and step away from your laptop. Rather, pick up the good old pen and paper. Writing notes is a much more effective way of learning for two reasons:

  1. Reframing things in your own words helps you process (and understand) the actual content of what you’re learning
  2. As you write and move your hands to form and connect letters, you actively engaging your brain in the process. In other words, you’re waking up your brain and making it work!

Step 2: Use interval training

It’s tempting to sit for a few hours straight, but studying for long stretches of time is less effective than short, varied sessions. After 60 minutes, your productivity levels start to plummet, not to mention your motivation! Aim for a 20-50 minute studying session, followed by a 5-10 minute break.

Step 3: Get out of your room

Spending all night staring at your wall can be draining (and boring). Studies show that just by moving to another room, your brain will remember better. Why? Because your brain makes links between what it is studying and the background sensations it has at the time. A change in background “reboots” your brain’s learning centres and keeps them more active.

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Step 4: Minimise distractions

Do you enjoy studying while listening to music or watching TV? Spoiler alert! By doing this, you are less likely to remember what you’re studying. Your brain has to work so hard to filter out the background noise, it has less energy to absorb your study notes. If you do need something in the background, choose the sounds of Mother Nature, or white noise soundtracks. It not only calms you down, but will also boost your productivity and memory.

Step 5: Sleep! Avoid the call of the all-nighter

When you still have half a text book to get through, staying up all night might seem like the only option. Here’s some good news: it isn’t! Pulling an all-nighter can affect your memory for as long as 4 days! That’s because when you sleep, your brain absorbs new information and sends it to your long term memory bank. When you don’t your brain loses grip on those important notes. What’s the point of getting through the whole text book, if you’re going to go blank when you pick up that test-paper? If you’re all out of options, review the hardest material right before going to bed the night before your exam. This makes it easier to remember later.

This is your brain on cramming

Although cramming can be a “quick fix”, try not to make it a habit. The memories your brain creates when you cram, are only temporary, since all of this information is stored in your short-term memory. While it may help you rock your exam tomorrow morning, it will be long forgotten by the time you really need it: when you actually have that job-interview you’ve been studying for!