Is cramming the best way to learn?
In The Human Mind, Professor Thomas H. Mentos explains that what we learn and store is quickly forgotten and that at the end of thirty days a little more than 20 percent of the information is retained. This illustrates why cramming for tests may yield short-term success, but isn't the best way to gain long-term knowledge.
Why does cramming seem to work?
Cramming is mainly useful in memorization exams in which you are offering memorized data. Some people have success with cramming before a memorization test because of the way that memory works. Cramming stores the information in short-term memory where it is readily accessible in the short-term. However, cramming doesn't create lasting connections to the material. You may remember the subject for a few days, but time erodes the connections until they disappear completely. Studying regularly builds neural connections and reinforces those connections through repetition.
What is the best way to prepare for a test?
Provided you are looking for more than a passing grade on a single test, the best way to prepare for testing is regular homework and practice tests. Create fifty or so test problems from the course material and practice answering those problems in a fixed period of time. Some students study best with others. Some students prepare best on their own.
What else can I do before tests to ensure better grades?
There are three small things that can be huge on test day.
- Be well rested. Here is where cramming will get you in trouble. If you stay up all night studying, you'll probably be at less than 100% and have difficulty concentrating.
- Remember that our brains run on glucose and if your blood sugar is low, your brain doesn't function well. Have something to eat before you take a test.
- Relax. It's only a test. If you get too wound up you'll have a harder time recalling the information necessary to answer exam questions. Avoid studying just before a test because what you might gain in last minute reinforcement, you'll lose in your mental state before the real action begins.