5 Things You Shouldn’t Do When Cramming for Finals

We all know the lesson of time management when it comes to schoolwork, but when you’re juggling extracurriculars, jobs and a social life, it’s hard to study extensively early on. When it comes down to it, cramming is usually your best option. Cramming is a way of life, and while many may frown upon it, sometimes it’s what it takes to get the material in your head and ready for the test.

However, even with cramming, there’s a smart way and a less-than-smart way of going about it. If you’re a dedicated procrastinator or on a tight schedule this semester and you see cramming in your horrifically-near finals week, here are six ways not to cram for finals.

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1. Studying TOO last minute

It doesn’t matter how easy a final exam might be, studying until the very, very last minute usually doesn’t end well. For one thing, a whole day isn’t often guaranteed to you. If you have to miss other classes, skip meals and spend the majority of your day glued to your material, you could burn out.

Studying the night before rids you of a good night’s sleep, which can make you do worse on your exam. Some people take it as far as studying the day of the test, which not only shortens your study time but can really stress and psych you out to a point where you could do worse on the exam due to anxiety.

Try to grant yourself a longer cram session so you can get in every piece of info that could be on the exam. Of course, sometimes you really don’t have a choice and have to study for an exam the night before. But, if you can help it, try your best to extend the cram session longer than just one day (or a few hours before you’re sitting in the exam room).

2. Psyching and stressing yourself out

Again, the shorter your study time, the more anxious you’ll get about how you’ll do. We’re so busy stressing about our other commitments and finals add to that stress ten-fold. As you realize you’ll have to cram (especially if it’s last-minute), your stress levels may actually hinder your cramming. You could end up studying less proficiently since you’re busy worrying about how you’ll do.

No matter how you study – whether it’s weeks in advance or a few days before to cram – you need to think positively about the outcome. Believe that at the end of your cram session, you will do well on the exam.

3. Underestimating your exam material

For classes that are especially difficult for you, cramming a few days before the exam may not be enough. When you study for your exam, try to organize it so that you can cover every content area as much as possible. It’s better to have multiple sessions where you study a section rigorously, as if you’re about to have an exam on it right after you’re done studying. If there’s a whole chapter that stumps you, cram for it earlier on so that you have a handle on that material. Kelisha Caldwell, a junior at the University of Central Florida, always cram reviews her material early on. 

"If I was cramming, I would skim everything as soon as possible, then go back and reread anything that I noticed was confusing," Kelisha says. 

That way, when you’re doing your final cram session, it’s for you to review the material, not actually learn it. Don’t assume that your exam will be easy, either. We all know the tragedy of cramming and then realizing whatever you studied wasn’t even on the test. Unfortunately, with cumulative exams, there’s no way to know exactly what will be on the test. Cram seriously and thoughtfully, as if every exam you take will test you rigorously; it’s better to overestimate than underestimate.

4. Having poor time management

Cramming “in advance” may seem counterintuitive, but it’s necessary for harder class material. It’s important to know when you need to start getting into high-gear, so schedule your studying in advance. That way, when you have to cram, you already have a plan in mind. It’s like first-class procrastination!

Myra Jalil, a junior at the University of Florida, maintains a calendar to keep her cram habits in check. “I write out all the dates in my calendar in advance after looking at the syllabus at the beginning of the semester. That way, I’ll know when an exam is coming, and I can gauge how much cramming I actually need to get done,” Myra said.

5. Keeping your distractions around

Cramming will only be ten times harder if you get easily distracted. If you choose to cram, that means focusing completely on the material to get it all in at one time. So, don’t fall prey to distractions that could ruin your much-needed focus. If you can, leave your phone on silent and away from view so no pesky social media notifications invite you to browse instead of study. Keep the TV off, or if you need some noise, put on something you aren’t interested in so you won’t get distracted.

If non-lyrical music helps you focus, put that on to keep your attention on studying and de-stress your mind. If you can’t get rid of all your distractions, then plan for them. If you know you’d need four hours to fully study for the exam, try to give yourself five-and-a-half hours to account for when you get distracted. We’re human; it happens. But don’t fall down a hole of distractions and throw off your cram session. Either get them out of the way or plan for them.

Studying for finals can be stressful, but when you have to cram, you have to know what you’re doing. Steer clear of these mistakes when you study and good luck with finals week!