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  • Khushboo Pareek

Exam stress: Cramming is inefficient, but it can be improved, researches show

Students across the world often face the challenge of memorising long-forgotten or poorly learned information. While cramming may seem necessary to pass, it's inefficient.

So, is there a better way to remembers reams and reams of facts? There may be, if a research is to be believed.

Research on how memory works over time shows we forget new information quickly at first, with forgetting slowing over time. Compressed study schedules result in significant forgetting.

But there is a method, known as the "spacing effect," which enhances retention of skills and knowledge. It involves leaving a gap between study sessions, even seconds or longer, that allows improvement in memory retention.

In classrooms, spacing practice involves reviewing material the next day rather than revisiting immediately. Psychologists recommend restudying when material is almost forgotten.

Cramming doesn't facilitate long-term learning or application to new situations. While effective for short-term exam performance, it often results in forgetting. However, integrating the spacing effect can enhance cramming efficiency.

Spacing out practice over weeks is more effective for learning. If you have ample time before an exam, revise topics multiple times rather than cramming. Instead of studying a topic for two hours at once, break it into shorter sessions spread over time. Even with less time, incorporate small breaks between practice sessions.

For instance, review key topics in the morning and evening before the exam. Active retrieval of information, such as through practice tests, enhances learning, it has been shown. After revising a topic, take a break, and then test yourself without referring to your materials.

Another method is the "brain dump." After studying and resting, jot down all you recall about the topic without referring to your notes.

To prevent last-minute cramming, teaching methods might need adjustment.

Teachers are often overwhelmed but can integrate the spacing effect without major changes. It could be as simple as adjusting the timing of existing practices.

Research indicates that the most effective approach is to start with practice testing during the initial class, followed by at least three additional practice sessions spaced out over time. This can easily fit into the typical school year schedule.

For instance, after the first class, students can practice through a homework assignment a few days later, followed by a test or mock exam after a longer interval.

The exam revision period provides a third opportunity for consolidation. By incorporating self-testing and spaced practice into education, students experience less stress and avoid ineffective cramming.

Image Source: Unsplash



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