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Does Cramming For Your Exams Actually Work?

By Chloe Lane

Updated March 23, 2021 Updated March 23, 2021

We’ve all done it: either completely forgotten that you have an exam or procrastinating so much that you find yourself in a massive rush to learn all the new information before your exam the next day. When this happens, cramming for exams often really does seem like the only logical step…

When I was at university, my housemate, Jess, always crammed for her exams. The day before her exam she used to revise all day, and then go to sleep at 7pm, just so that could get up at 2am on the day of the exam and revise until the very last minute. This made her exhausted, but Jess always did very well in exams. Was this down to her cramming technique? Could there be method in her madness?

Read on as we attempt to answer the age-old question asked by all students putting off revision – does cramming for exams ever actually work?!

Why it might work (as a very last resort)

Cramming just before an exam can (in theory) allow you to remember information in the short term and enable you to take in enough information for the exam.

However, this may will most likely mean that you’ll have no lasting connections to the knowledge, and you won’t develop any deep understanding of the information. You’ll also likely forget it the second you walk out of the exam.

Why it might not work…

There are many reasons not to cram last minute for an exam, which we’re sure you have no desire to hear, but here you go anyway…

Cramming is essentially trying to stuff a load of information into your short-term memory in time for an upcoming exam. This has been proven to increase stress levels, and can lead to panic and anxiety, making it a lot harder to take in information. If you’re feeling the stress, find out how not to cope with it here!

Cramming for exams also usually results in reduced sleep time. This is because students (like my friend Jess) either go to sleep or wake up in the early hours of the morning in order to maximize their last-minute revision time. This can often lead to poor academic performance, due to a decease in concentration.

It’s also a massive risk. If you feel stressed and for some reason can’t take in the information that day, you may not perform to the best of your ability in the exam.

But if you’re going to cram, do it right!

So, what should you do if you’ve left your revision until the very last minute?

If you’re going to cram for your exams, cram but cram effectively. Reading the textbook until you fall asleep at your desk from sheer exhaustion is probably not the best way to prepare for an exam.    

Make a list of what you have to learn before the exam. It’s important to be realistic about this – if you’ve left the revision until very last minute (e.g. the night before) it’s probably too late to learn absolutely all of the information. You’re best to prioritize and revise the most important topics properly, rather than trying to do too much and then getting yourself hyped up.

Reviewing past paper questions is probably the best thing you can do to learn information last minute. Speaking from personal experience, information I’ve learnt in past papers has always cropped up somewhere in my exams at uni, and it’s a great way to learn a lot in a short period of time. Your university will usually give you access to past papers (and sometimes answers) online, and they can be a great source of revision, as well as making you feel a lot calmer about the layout of the paper.

Get enough sleep! Lack of sleep can make you irritable, unable to concentrate and unable to make decisions. Not sleeping enough can also affect both your physical and mental health. If you’ve been revising all day and are absolutely exhausted anyway, staying up a few extra hours is not going to drastically improve your grade. Sleeping has been scientifically proven to improve your procedural memory (which helps with skills and procedures) and declarative memory (which helps recall facts).

Remember: you’ve got this. Good luck!

This article was originally published in January 2020 . It was last updated in March 2021

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Written by

As Content Editor for TopUniversities.com and TopMBA.com, Chloe creates and publishes a wide range of articles for universities and business schools across the world. Chloe has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Reading and grew up in Leicestershire, UK.