Thinking About Cramming for a Test? You Might Want to Read This

cramming for a test

We’ve all felt that familiar time crunch when you have a big test coming up. But does cramming for a test the night before actually work? Read on as tutor Danh L. explains why you might want to plan ahead next time…


I expect my students to do about 30-60 minutes of homework DAILY. That’s 3.5 to 7 hours of work a week. From my exchanges with other tutors, even ones charging up to $500/hour, this estimate is around what they expect, too. But what should you do if you miss a day?

If a day is missed, realize that then you need to make up those 30-60 minutes throughout the rest of the days, increasing the amount of time spent each day. It really adds up if you miss three or more days.

The worst thing you can do is end up cramming for a test or doing all your homework in one or two days. Here’s why:

Your quality will probably be very low…

…since you’re trying to rush and get through all the problems instead of paying attention to quality. Cramming 3.5 to 7 hours of quality work over one or two days doesn’t happen. Even if you try to slow down to focus on quality, you’ll quickly realize that it’s taking a long time to do the problems and you’ll end up rushing again. Quantity of work does not matter. Doing more of bad-quality work won’t improve your scores. It’s the amount of focused, attentive, quality work that determines your success. More of this results in higher scores.

You will get burned out from studying…

…and therefore end up dreading and hating any future time spent on preparing for this test by yourself or in session with your tutor. Negative stress and ill will interferes with your actual learning, putting you in a “fight or flight” response where you can’t think. This is a cycle that can really be damaging.

For real-world examples of the dread associated with “cramming,” consider people who go from zero exercise to super intense exercise. They go so hard during their first session that they become immensely sore, associate the gym with pain and discomfort, and dread any future training. This also happens with people who try to “cram” diet. They go from eating salty, fatty, flavorful foods to eating bland, raw, or steamed foods. Then they quit because they associate eating healthy with blandness, and they dread their future meals.

So what should you do instead? Now that you are aware of the psychology around cramming for a test, you might try harder to work on your daily habits.

Here are two easy and helpful tips:

  1. Just do something everyday – no matter how small. Ten minutes too long? Fine, try five. If that’s still too much, just study one new word or review one old problem you missed last week. It all adds up. Stop and celebrate your success. (Seriously, it sounds corny but celebrating via a pump fist or quick little dance will actually produce some feel-good hormones that will propel you to continue.)
  2. Measure your studying. After each of your study sessions (no matter how short it is at the beginning), take a calendar or make up a simple one on a piece of paper, and for that day write down how much you studied for in the box. It doesn’t have to be exact. Hang the paper on your wall in front of your desk or the refrigerator, and repeat. The godfather of modern management, Peter Drucker, once said, “What gets measured gets managed.” The act of studying becomes like a game, where you want to see this number climb higher and higher, and you want to see how many days in a row you can go with studying. Again, it weirdly pumps in some endorphins – feel-good hormones – as you try to achieve this short-term goal, one that should lead to actual improvement in your score.

So think of the mnemonic QRAM.
If you cram,
Quality will go down
Repercussions of burnout and feelings of disdain for the study subject will follow

To fix it,
A little bit at a time – the smaller you start the easier it’ll be to build up
Measure your results and progress

Remember: Quality over quantity is key. If you feel overwhelmed at the quantity of homework being assigned, just stop and take a deep breath. Don’t worry about finishing, and resume when you’re not super stressed out. Whomever you’re doing this homework for will surely appreciate that you didn’t want to sacrifice the quality of your work just to complete it.

danh2Danh L. offers SAT and ACT tutoring in Rochester, NY and online. Although he understands these tests don’t determine intelligence and future success, he wants to make more parents aware of how important they are for getting into college and for obtaining thousands in scholarship. Learn more about Danh here!



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Photo by Steven S.

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1 reply
  1. Elliot Stephens
    Elliot Stephens says:

    I find it does depend on the student whether the student can or cannot handle cramming if it is a smart study strategy study or not.


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