Exam Advice: Why Cramming Won’t Help You
Now that exam season has started to roll around, you can see students fretfully camped out in the library trying to learn a semester’s worth of material. While they’re skimming pages and frantically trying to learn calculus equations, know that they may be hurting themselves more than helping.
It all comes down to the science of stress. Read on to learn more about stress and studying.
How Stress Can Hurt Your Chances of Success
It is estimated that between 20 and 50% of students suffer from anxiety before a test. A study from the University of California at Irvine found that this anxiety, even though it lasts only a few hours, can harm your ability to remember information and process new material. Acute stress causes the brain to release the neurotransmitter CRH, which interacts negatively with the brain’s ability to form new memories, which makes it more difficult to remember new material, which makes studying less-effective.
When you cram, you try to force your overworked brain to remember new material right before the exam. Not only will you be less likely to remember everything because you’re under stress, but you will be cutting into your sleep cycle. If you stay up all night before the exam, you’ll be tired and less able to perform at your best. In fact, students who stay awake the night before an exam actually have lower GPAs than students who get enough sleep.
What Can You Do Instead
Instead of trying to learn a whole semester’s worth of material the night before an exam, try to study 30-40 minutes per day for the week before the test. Not only will you be breaking an enormous task into smaller, more manageable pieces, but you will also be taking steps to ensure that you remember the material longer, even after the test. Since the class is something important (one would hope), you’ll want to be able to make sure that you remember everything later in order to get the most out of your education.
Additionally, you can try exercising right before a study session. Physical activity helps get your brain warmed up and better able to focus. It can also be a good way to relieve pre-exam stress.
Once you finish a study session, make sure to go to bed at a reasonable hour. While you sleep, the brain will continue to process the new information and store it as memory.
Finally, don’t forget to eat a healthy breakfast on the morning of the exam. This will help you power through and complete the test to the best of your ability.