Studying Last Minute

education exams long term retrieval mastery May 21, 2021
Studying Last Minute Photo


We’ve all done it, forgotten that we have a test coming up and ended up studying last minute. Worse yet is exam time, when even if you have had the dates on your calendar for months, there just doesn’t seem to be a way to cram all the information necessary into your brain. Does studying last minute work? Can cramming for exams improve your grade? 

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Does Studying Last Minute Work

Let’s take a look at the first question. Does studying last minute work? What do you mean by work? If you mean can studying last minute help you remember some details or material short term, the answer is yes. However, there is a big difference between short term memory and long term mastery. I have students that regularly reschedule their tutoring sessions so that we meet the day before the test. Many of them get good test grades. So what’s the catch? These same students get their exam review and find that they don’t remember the vast majority of the material. That last minute review gave them a short term result but what we discussed is a fuzzy memory and they can no longer recall the material. Now they are looking at cramming a whole semester’s worth of facts into their brain in a short period of time. Worse yet, they may be facing this same scenario in multiple classes. In this case, studying last minute is like trying to build a sandcastle one grain of sand at a time while the tide is coming in. It is an impossible task. 


Can Cramming for Exams Improve Your Grade? 

Let’s take a look at the second question. Can cramming for exams improve your grade? By its very nature, cramming for a test or exam causes anxiety. In case you aren’t familiar with the term, “cramming for exams” means studying last minute. You are on a SHORT deadline. Often this means you will stay up later or get up earlier to maximize the time you have. The result can be a lower grade due to anxiety or lack of sleep. Some people thrive on the adrenaline, but the result is not sustainable long term. Especially at exam time when students have tests every day for three or four days, the lack of sleep and deadline driven anxiety can lower grades.  For most people, occasionally studying last minute can get them out of a time crunch, but as a regular practice, it is not productive long term. If you need a visual, think about the word cramming. What does that bring to mind? For me it means trying to quickly stuff too many items, without any organization or plan, into a container that is too small. When put that way, it doesn’t seem like a good solution does it? 


Is Studying Last Minute Ever A Good Idea? 

Is studying last minute ever a good idea? Yes, reviewing specific facts and details in the 24 hours before a test can be beneficial. Think of it like adding the sea shells to that sand castle we were trying to build. Even if you have been reviewing regularly and the concepts to be tested are in your long term memory, studying last minute by going over details and reviewing the main concepts will help make the material easier to recall. Try reviewing by answering questions or explaining a key fact. For example if you are studying the Civil War, make as many connections as you can to Abraham Lincoln. If you are reviewing math, do problems that you found challenging on your homework or quizzes. Don’t look at the solutions, actually DO them. 

How to Schedule Your Study Time

Studying last minute can be a short term benefit but as a total study plan, it is not an effective means of learning the material. For tips on how to schedule your study time to avoid studying last minute, watch for my next blog post on planning the school year. 

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