With midterms quickly approaching, it can seem like there is no option other than cramming all the information from the last semester into your head. Balancing school, family, work, sports, and friends can be very challenging. Stress is high, which means less sleep for students to make time for studying. Though it may seem like the only possible way to review all that information and remember it, there are much more effective ways to study than cramming, which has actually been proven as detrimental to your physical and mental health.
Studies show that sleep is key to academic success. Sacrificing sleep to cram for a test is very counterproductive. No matter how long you study, if you’re cutting into your sleep time, you are more likely to have academic problems the following day.
Students learn best when they create and maintain a study schedule. However, the constant demands placed on high school students may make this difficult. They often face nights where they must spend long hours studying or completing homework.
In ninth grade, the average student sleeps 7.6 hours per night, 7.3 hours in tenth grade, 7.0 hours in eleventh grade, and 6.9 hours in twelfth grade.
But even as the amount of sleep that students get decreases, the number of hours of sleep that healthy teens need (eight to 10 hours) stays the same.
As a result cramming into the night is ineffective because, the less you sleep at night, the more you will forget the morning after. Students who get more sleep recall studied information much quicker and easier than students who sleep less.
The lack of sleep mixed with stress can also weaken your immune system, and no one wants to take a test with a cold, or miss it all together because you’re stuck at home sick.
Students who don’t sleep in order to cram often develop unhealthy eating habits, leading to the lack of energy required to function effectively, particularly when trying to remember information.
Cramming may seem easier, as it doesn’t require a set time or a plan to study. You’d only need to study once before the test instead of multiple times in the weeks before the test, allowing you more time for other activities. However, this easy path has consequences. The extremely close deadline leads to an increase in stress, which decreases concentration.
Cramming is a bad technique because you soon forget much of the information that you studied. When you cram, you only remember 20 percent of the information. This is because it stores the information in your short-term memory, not long-term. Though you may feel like you’re processing everything, your brain thinks that it’s not important. Materials and concepts that you may need later, like in future units, classes, or even careers, disappears.
It also creates a habit of procrastination and forgetfulness. Once you starting cramming, it’s difficult to study any other way. Try to get out of this habit as soon as possible.
Studies show that you have the best chance of remembering what you learned when you study within 24 hours of learning the materials. This is why it’s so important to not wait until the last minute to study.
The brain tricks you into thinking that you’ve learned the material because everything seems familiar. However, this does not mean that you’ll be able to recall the information when it’s time to take the test.
Recognizing material isn’t the same as remembering it! Remembering requires revisiting the material over and over again until it is understood. You need time to process the information. Obviously, cramming is not the best way to achieve this.
Here’s what you should be doing instead.
First, you should always pick the right study environment. Make sure to study in a place where you won’t be distracted. Try to go somewhere with the right noise level. If you like silence, go to a library, or if you like a little background noise, try a cafe. Research shows that studying in a place where you can see nature will help you focus better. Simply moving to another room or going outside to study can increase your concentration.
A great way to “get in the zone” is to exercise first. Immediately after you exercise, oxygen and nutrients are still pumping to your brain. This can make you more alert and open to learning information.
If music helps you focus, listen to a playlist while you study. This should also help you avoid the temptation of using your phone for something else or browsing on another device. Studies show that listening to classical music can actually help your brain concentrate and make more connections. Listening to music can also improve your mood, which is very beneficial when studying.
Eating snacks while you study keeps your energy level high and keeps you from getting tired. Nuts, like almonds, cashews, and walnuts, fruits, such as bananas and apples, and granola bars give you energy and improve your cognitive function.
If caffeine helps you study, have a cup of coffee or tea with you. Try to avoid energy drinks, as you will have trouble falling asleep later. Always have a bottle of water with you to keep you hydrated.
Remember to always take breaks when you’re studying. Taking a little break every half hour to an hour helps you distress and absorb the information. It will also make your mind feel ready for more studying. Moving around makes your body more alert, and getting fresh air can make you feel focused and refreshed.
Stress prevents you from learning and disrupts the process of storing memories, so try to relax when you study.
Try rewriting your notes in a way that helps you understand them better. One of the most effective ways to study is to rewrite the information in the way that makes the most sense to you.
Reading and rereading the materials can make you think you know the information better than you actually do, because it is all right in front of you. It is better to close your book every so often and recite everything that you can remember up until that point.
This will help you remember the information that you do know, and help you recognize what you need to study more.
Most students study better with hard print rather than on an electronic device. Students often need more repetition when reading on a computer than when they read printed material.
Don’t multi-task. When you try to do other things
while studying, you’re only extending your study time without being wholly productive. Overall, multitasking turns studying into a big waste of time.
Make a study plan. By making an organized schedule, giving yourself a certain amount of time to study certain subjects, you are giving yourself a direction without further planning. This will reduce anxiety about not having time to study something else. It will also prevent you from staying up too late if you plan wisely.
It’s best to study information in small sections of 20 minutes or less. This allows you to process the materials more efficiently.
Cramming is both bad for your health and a bad way to study. Be smart about your exams and study right.