Effectiveness of cramming

Sommer (1968) ‘‘cramming is a technique as widely condemned by educators as it is widely used by students’’.

It’s the night before your economics final and you are counting the hours of study before your exam. While trying to work out the best way to attack your textbook, you think to yourself how did I get here?

Cramming is a natural thing that happens to all of us at some point. We have all experienced it and it can result due to one of the following:

  • Procrastination
  • Over-committed schedule
  • Low motivation to study on a regular basis
  • Underachievement

So what are the benefits of cramming for my economics final the night before? Some might argue that cramming is like a good gym work out for the brain, where it helps to improve your concentration, improve your short term memory and it could help improve your ability to absorb information and thinking speed. It can force you to create out of the box study methods which results from panicking and stress.

Cramming can also give you a much needed life skill that we can all use in the work place. It teaches you how to manage stress and how to work under pressure. So when it comes to tight deadlines in the workplace you know how to manage the little time you have been given effectively.

Doesn’t sound too bad right? But what are the negatives? The main negative is that you have to decide between sleep and study, try to find the balance between the two. You could spend all night going through those 800 pages in your economics textbook, then when it’s time for your exam, you are so exhausted that you cannot recall a single fact, fall asleep on your exam paper and end up doing as badly as if you had not crammed at all. According to research conducted by Professor Andrew J. Fuligni from UCLA he proved just this. If you would like to read more about his study please follow the below link:


Lack of sleep could also result in reading fatigue, cause confusion of facts and the inability to connect new facts to ones that you may have learned previously. Making you miss those important critical connections.

You may have the your economics textbook memorised cover to cover and this could be enough to get you through your exam. The question you have to ask is do you have any physical understanding of the material? I find that if I understand something I am more likely to recall it when I need it.

This follows onto short term memory vs. long term memory. Most of the facts learned during your study session would be stored as short term memory and it would not be converted to long term memory. This means that once you have walked out of your economics final you would not be able to recall anything a month later or even a few days later.

Lastly the main negative from cramming is stress stress stress! You are now in a blind panic trying to get your head around studying all those 800 pages for your economics final. Even the few hours that you put aside for sleep will be filled with anxiety resulting in a bad night’s sleep, bringing in that important note about tiredness and lack of sleep.

In conclusion, cramming may be enough to get you through your economics final but it would make little sense to cram for every exam in your course. It may even be enough to get you through your diploma or degree but when you walk away what have you actually learnt?

Written by Justine van Gysen