You have an exam in a week. Add a job, time to spend with actual friends and not just books, 15 credits worth of classes and (of course) Netflix, and now you have to cram.Due to busy schedules or feeling pressure to receive a good grade instead of a good understanding of a subject, many students resort to the method of cramming for exams. As a result, students simply gain a short-term recognition of the information but are incapable of actually recalling or understanding the information in the long-term.

Frank Gulbrandsen, a professor in the education department at UMD, maintains that many students have numerous obligations and interests besides the subject they should be investing their time in. Because of this, studying and learning shifts from becoming something students want to do to something they have to do.

“Students will take on the mindset of ‘there’s a test coming up, so I need to know it for the 50 minutes I take the test,’” Gulbrandsen said. “In this process, students are motivated by what should be the secondary reinforcer — the grade — instead of the primary reinforcer: knowledge.” By cramming several chapters of notes into four hours of studying, students often assume they have learned the information because it’s fresh in their mind. However, after a week or two, they will notice they have forgotten.

According to UMD Psychology Professor Aydin Durgonoglu, the term “massed practice” refers to when students attempt to cover large amounts of material in short amounts of time, leading to extensive but superficial connections that make it easy to confuse concepts and details. To freshman Jake Billings, this method of studying takes root in the fact that people don’t want to invest their time and effort into doing the hard work of reading and completing practice problems in order to understand.

“Cramming is a waste,” Billings said. “If people want to use the information in the future and retain it, they cannot cram.”

Gulbrandsen emphasizes that daily studying is required for students who wish to build an understanding of a particular topic. Much like a marathoner logging hours of training over an extensive period of time, students need to develop everyday habits that allow them to struggle with, understand and reflect on what they are learning.

“If a student is interested in what they are studying, then they’re studying all along and they are thinking about the subject and talking to people about it,” Gulbrandsen said. “A student might pass an objective test, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they know it.” If a student is taking a class simply because they need the credits, they may choose to just get through it with a passing grade and not be worried about being able to apply the information in the future. How students study for exams boils down to their decision on doing quality work versus being good enough, according to Gulbrandsen.


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