Cramming is usually a mistake but considering we’re all (most of us) are human, it’s going to happen. 

Ah.. the oft asked and seldom avoided cramming questions.

Writing a blog about how to study inevitably leads to students asking about how to cram for a test.

The truth is, most students attempts at cramming for a test are downright crazy.

The traditional approach to cramming is more of a masochistic ritual than a productive study strategy.

Cramming isn’t the best way to approach studying but there is a right way to cram for a test and there is a wrong way.

Before getting into the details, I think it’s worth exploring the most important aspect of cramming.

If you run into the need to cram then you’ve already sacrificed points on your final score.

The human brain isn’t a computer that can store and access information instantaneously. Cramming is one of the least effective ways that you can study information. Cramming is sacrificing a ton of potential knowledge and points.

Before you cram, consider just accepting a low score on the test. When you cram, you give your test score a boost. If you’re like most students, you won’t score an absolutely miserable score. It will just be a little bit of an unpleasant grade. A little unpleasantness won’t motivate you to study properly for your next test.

It will just encourage you to procrastinate until you’re required to cram again. Cramming is an inefficient and painful experience. Bombing a test once or twice might just motivate you to actually study properly.

Of course, if you still wish to cram for that test… there are some factors that you need to pay attention to.

Prioritize Information

When you’re cramming for a test, your goal shouldn’t be to learn all of the information on the test.

There is usually way too much information to get any understanding of it all in a single night. It’s much better to focus on only the essential bits of information.

If your teacher gave you any handouts about the test, this is the time to look at it closely.

If the teacher gives you any hints of the most important aspects on that test then make those your areas of focus.

If you have any reason to doubt something is on the test then you should consider not studying it at all.

It will bite you but your goal is to learn the essential information well (not all the information poorly.)

Instead of focusing on learning more and more, look for any excuse to eliminate information from your study session. This process can take a while and feel unproductive but it can end up paying off big when it finally comes to test time.

The traditional cram with massive amounts of information leads to test takers feeling like every answer is on the tip of their tongue (but they just can’t find it.) This elimination strategy makes sure you know which information you know better (and you know which information you’re not getting.)

This leads to a much more predictable score. If you prioritized right, that score will be a high one.

Dirty Tricks To Cram For A Test

Cramming looks kind of like this in your brain. It can be productive when you can ignore the mess. 

When it comes to cramming, you should be looking to use every stupid memory trick that you know. I call them “dirty tricks” because they don’t help you get a deeper understanding of the knowledge.

They’re just helpful at remembering the information.

This is particularly helpful for test taking but not as helpful for overall learning. While, in the typical study routine, you should only use them occasionally, in a cram session, you should use them as often as possible.

In particular, focus on using mnemonics to remember anything you could reasonably fit into something memorable.

Some other memory methods you might want to consider are the loci method, singing information to a tune, and silly imagery.

Ultimately, if a memory strategy is quick and effective for you then use it. To learn more about memory strategies check out 6 Memory Strategies You Need In Your Study Toolbox.

These kinds of tricks for studying work in the short term but not as good in the long term.

Keep in mind that you’re not learning the information deeply. You’re just using a trick to remember them for the test.

If you’re actually interested in a deep understanding you’ll need to invest more time (maybe after the test when you have that time.)

Take Breaks

Studies have repeatedly shown the weaknesses in the human brain’s ability to study.

After an hour of studying, the efficiency of studying has dropped dramatically.

While early in a study session, you learn a ton of information, the longer that study session gets the lower that rate of learning becomes.

A short break can cause that rate of learning increase again.

In general, try not to cram for a test more than 25 minutes at a time.

After 25 minutes of studying take, at minimum, a 15 minute break.

This is a balance between peak efficiency and lots of study time. Those breaks increase your study efficiency to the point that it makes up for the lost time studying.

The breaks are just as important as the studying.

Get To Bed

No… do not pull an all-nighter.

When you stay up all night (or even extremely late) to study, you’re running into a list of potential problems.

The lack of sleep can cause you to not remember the information you’re learning, it can cause you to feel exhausted and useless during the test, it can increase your stress levels for the test, it can interrupt your long term sleep patterns to hurt later school assignments.

In short, it sucks.

Even if staying up all night increased your score by 5 or 10% (which is unlikely,) it wouldn’t be worth the other risks.

Your test score would become volatile because extreme tiredness could even cause you to crash and miss the test completely. Sure, it’s unlikely but it only has to happen once to destroy your final grade.

(It’s a lesson you’ll learn after that one mistake.)

Low Stress

Cramming needs to be treated very carefully.

Most people that suck at tests, suck at tests because they stress out over them.

The better you are at relaxing during a test,  the better you’re going to take the test. Cram sessions are just wild messes of stress.

The average cramming student stares at their textbook for hours drinking caffeine and quizzing themselves painfully.

Occasionally, they get distracted by painful thoughts about how stupid they are for waiting until the last minute. Maybe they worry that they’ll fail. All of these are a recipe for study disaster.

You might as well not be cramming for a test when you’re studying like this for long periods of time. It helps so little that it’s hardly worth doing.

You need to keep your cram session low stress.

If you find yourself stressing over the cram then take a break and find a way to relax.

A little stress isn’t horrible but if your stress is taking over then you might as well not be studying.

The stress you build during the cram for a test will likely transfer into the actual test, that’s  going to kill any productive studying you got done. Being stressed during a test can cause serious problems with memory.

Last Second Studying

If you’re feeling stressed out then skip this step and focus on relaxing before the test. This will just risk increasing your stress levels.

Right before you take the test, (within 15 minutes of the class) take out your study material and go over the material one last time.

The human brain has a surprisingly powerful short term memory. It’s not perfect but by running over the information quickly before the test you’ll be much more likely to remember the information when you need it during the test.

Do not increase the last second studying beyond 15 minutes before the class.

In fact, consider cutting it down to 5 or 10 minutes. The sooner you take the test after reading the information, the better you’re going to be able to utilize your short term memory.

To Cram Or Not To Cram

You don’t need insane study strategies to get good grades. Sometimes the simple strategies work better. 

Regularly deciding to cram for a test is a necessary evil for some students.

While I recommend avoiding the cram whenever possible, I certainly can’t claim to have been above it at times in my past.

I’ve also learned ways to study in less than 15 minutes a night that provide results dramatically better than any cram I’ve ever participated in.

Cramming is okay for a last minute emergency but never let the cram become your only study tool.

The cram is not the most efficient way to learn. In fact, it’s one of the least efficient.

You could expect to learn the same information you learn in a cram in half the time using a smarter study method. Every cram you participate in is just another massive waste of your time (it’s also usually pretty stressful.)

If you can help it, don’t cram. If you can’t help it then learn how to cram for a test right.

Image Sources: Flickr, Sterling Coffey, Craig Sunter

How To Cram For A Test

Accelerated Learning Secrets First Written About In Shakespeare’s Times Reemerging And Being Conclusively Proven In Today’s Academic Journals

Professors Karpicke of Purdue University and Roediger, III of Washington University published an incredible paper that is making waves in the top rungs of Academia.

Colleges have taken pride in their ability to train the next generation of students for decades now. By subjecting their students to intimidating reading, long and immense lectures, and rigorous and unforgiving testing, they claim to have properly trained their graduates.

But modern research methods are calling those very claims into question.

You see… what these professors have discovered (and more are joining them every day) is shaking the very foundations of academia – all of the endless hours of studying, reading books, taking notes, and listening to endless lectures… doesn’t really teach students all that much – not even preparing them for the very tests they’re using.

The exact things that colleges and many professors have been encouraging are hindering students’ abilities to learn by occupying their time with ineffective methodologies.

Effective learning isn’t rocket science either….

“Francis Bacon wrote about these effective study strategies in the 1500’s – and the research is proving that we should have been listening to the preachers of this all along,” says Aaron Richardson, founder of Smart Student Secrets, a decade old, religiously followed, website dedicated to reintroducing these strategies to modern students.

“The reality is, the average university spends 4 years lecturing a student on what they could master in 6 months or less – if they used effective strategies.”

Confronting Mr. Richardson, I grilled him on the academic defenses of our country’s historic and prestigious Universities.

R: Doesn’t the work separate the wheat from the chaff? Give them work and those that best do it are better BECAUSE they worked harder to do it. The hard work itself is the target.

A: Assuming the wheat is the people that mindlessly follow directions and don’t have better things to do with their time… sure. But I’m advocating for the creative thinkers that are willing to challenge the status quo. They’re the wheat I’m giving my tools to.

R: But colleges say your strategies help you score higher on tests but not “understand” the material in a deeper way. Any response?

A: First thing, in academia, you’re judged on your ability to pass tests and answer questions – they have no other way. By their own standards, their strategies are worse.

Second, mull on any idea for a few years longer and you’ll have a deeper understanding of it. That’s the easy part. You do it every time you take a shower. The hard part is learning enough of the component parts to be able to mull it over. The sooner you do that, the sooner you can understand it deeper.

And one more thing…

I don’t really care if they criticize because the data speaks for itself. I advocate for the data their own studies are proving. They may be able to hide the truth for a while but it’s getting out and the longer they hold out, the worse it’s going to look for them – not me.

R: Mr. Richardson you have recently published a guide outlining his effective strategies in detail. It’s called, “How To Study Happier,” and has a 4 star review from students and some reviews making some pretty impressive claims. Right?

A: I’ve dedicated my life to helping students that are like the kid I used to be. And I guarantee that my book can help you get better grades – and if you’re not 100% satisfied with the changes then I’ll refund it completely. Show me one college that will do that for you!

R: So… Mr. Richardson, I’ve heard you’ve been taking some heat from academia over your claims.

A: For legal reasons, I have to keep my mouth shut on this one. All I can say is that I can’t guarantee my content will stay available much longer. Get it now or prices will be higher for legal reasons (if I can even keep the book available.)

Now is the time to click on the link I’ll add below, fill in the boxes, and get your copy today if you’re interested.

Get your copy of How To Study Happier


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15 thoughts on “How To Cram For A Test

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  • December 2, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    Taking breaks whilst cramming is definitely the best tip there is. Along with, not pulling an all-nighter. I have been so guilty for this in the past and it is not worth it. You will wear yourself out and it always seems to make me prone to illness soon after. Nothing can be worth that, right?

  • August 3, 2015 at 4:40 pm

    It will never happen again… well… until next time there is a big test.

  • August 3, 2015 at 10:43 am

    Dirty tricks are all I used to get through a few of my classes. Heck… I don’t think it’s even fair to call them dirty tricks. I consider them actual studying. Most of the other so called “studying” is just people pretending to be productive.


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