Have you completely forgotten the date of an important test at school / college, only being able to give that super quick review the day before? Or worse, have you procrastinated (deliberately and consciously) as much as possible until that moment comes, desperately looking at the content of the test with only a few hours left to do it? Believe me: you are not the only one. All of us (or almost all) have been through this at least once in their lives. In English, this act of leaving all the content to study at the last minute (absorbing as much information as possible) is known as “cramming”. But does it work?
I will tell you a secret … When I was at school, I left several times to study for some tests (mainly of subjects that I had ease) just the day before (the day before). And when the content was a little more difficult, I would wake up early on the day of the test to give that last overhaul – and I would do it on the bus on the way to school.
I was very tired but in the end I managed to get great grades. But was it just my luck or could it really be a good “tactic”? Or is it just complete madness?
Why can studying at the last minute work?
Reviewing subjects immediately before an exam can (in theory) allow you to remember information in the short term and memorize it for as long as necessary until the time of the test.
However, this probably means that you will not have long-term connections with the knowledge you have acquired and will not develop a deep understanding of the information. In other words, you will hardly learn for real, since you will most likely forget everything as soon as you deliver the test to the teacher.
In other words, this technique may work from a grade point of view but not from a learning point, so just do it as a last resort.
Why studying at the last minute might not work?
There are many reasons for not studying at the last minute for an exam. I know you don’t want to hear this but here are the main ones:
Reason 1: studying at the last minute is basically trying to shove a giant load of information into your memory in a very short time. This increases stress levels and can lead to an anxiety attack, even causing the opposite effect to what you intend. Which means that you can just lock up and forget everything when you take your test.
Reason 2: studying at the last minute usually results in reduced sleep time. If you do like me, for example, and wake up early on the day of the test to give that last revision, you may end up having a poor performance on the test due to a possible drop in concentration.
If you leave to study at the last minute anyway …
… At least try to do this in the most effective way possible. For example, reading a book until you fall asleep on your desk by exhaustion is probably not the best way to prepare. Instead, make a list of the most critical points you need to learn before the exam.
It is important to be realistic about this – if you leave it to study at the last minute (the night before, for example), you will hardly have time to absorb absolutely all the information. So it is better to prioritize and review the most important topics properly than to try to do everything and end up learning nothing.
A good tip is to review previous papers and exams, as well as summaries and worksheets. Speaking from personal experience, in my school / college days, the information I learned in classes and work done throughout the semester ended up falling in one way or another on the test, which helped me a lot in the end.
It is also important to get enough sleep. Lack of sleep can cause irritation, lack of concentration and inability to make decisions, not to mention, of course, your physical and mental health. That said, if you’ve spent the previous day of the exam reviewing yourself to exhaustion, staying awake a few extra hours won’t make much of a difference in your grade. On the contrary, as sleep can improve your long and short term memory.