Many high school and college students cram for tests because they don't budget their time, lack discipline or procrastinate until there's no other choice. Even though it doesn't hurt to review material the night before a big test, cramming a whole bunch of information in the final hours isn't usually the best strategy for acing a test. Studying each day is a better way to recall information you've memorized and maximize your score.
No Long-Term Retention
Cramming for a test only has short-term benefits because the long-term retention rate is low. Test-takers are guaranteed to forget the information within a day or two after cramming for a test, according to Muskingum College's learning strategies webpage. When you cram information into your brain, it never enters long-term memory, so you won't be able to remember or recall the information in the not-so-distant future. When you cram for a test, you rent information rather than own it for long periods of time, according to Houghton College Center for Academic Success and Advising. Cramming might help you get by on a single test, but it won't help you gain knowledge you'll need for future advanced coursework or for your career.
Cramming for a test just hours before you have to take it can lead to anxiety and fear. It results in high stress levels before, during and after a test. You might feel physically sick, have trouble eating, feel jittery or forget small details, such as where you left your car keys, calculator or pencils. During the test, you might second-guess your answers or blank out because you weren't sufficiently prepared. After the test, you'll likely worry that you didn't score well and will feel anxious until you get the test results.
Cramming involves reviewing large amounts of material hours before a test, but a test-taker's attention span and concentration level drops off drastically after 20 to 30 minutes of studying, according to Muskingum College. As a result, you won't be able to remember a majority of the information you studied. You likely won't be able to recall complex equations, theorems, difficult vocabulary words, historical dates or significant details. Cramming wastes time, so you'd be better off studying a little and getting a good night's sleep so you can at least think clearly during the test.
Lower Test Scores
Ultimately, cramming leads to lower test scores, according to Muskingum College. Since you only have the ability to temporarily recall the information you studied, you might run across problems or questions that seem completely unfamiliar to you. It might take you longer to try to work through complex problems if you can't remember important steps or equations that are necessary to the solution. Test-crammers often run out of time and are unable to get to all of the questions, resulting in lower scores.
As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.