The Crammer vs The Planner
As exam season looms, tension brews not only for students but also for parents and teachers. Even though students are not alone in this journey, as their loved ones and educators also want them to succeed, each tends to encourage specific revision methods. Some prefer the spaced-out approach, either with or without support (The Planner), while others, take the short-term approach (The Crammer). Here’s an insight into two of the most-used revision techniques and the benefits and negatives of each.
Revising is overwhelming, meaning lots of students find themselves lost and clueless about where to start. With formulas and quotes to memorise, technical words to remember, as well as applying the correct theory, the whole experience can be quite daunting and stressful.
Whenever we are faced with a stressful situation, our body enters into a flight or fight mode. Procrastination, in a way, is a flight mode response, where students put off studying either due to low motivation or to ‘run away’ from the stress. However, they can only last so long until they realise they have to start facing the battle ahead. This is when the cramming revision technique comes into play. Often students have limited time until their exams begin and will have to try and revise as much as possible in a short space.
The high-pressure during fight mode increases the body's ability to concentrate and the brain to perform. It’s forced to repeat information until it’s registered and retained. For this reason, it is possible for a student to perform well using this method, especially the ones who respond under high pressure. However, even though students may have been successful getting their desired results, the information is often only retained for short period of time as the brain thinks it has no use for it anymore.
Numerous publications have warned against cramming. It can be seen to encourage procrastination and irresponsibility, not to mention have a negative impact on health causing lack of sleep, fatigue and high anxiety levels.
Spaced learning is a technique where students plan and organise their studies over a spaced amount of time in a manageable structure. Receiving proper support from families and teachers is crucial when using this revision technique. Even though some students have enough self-motivation to take on the task themselves, others may need extra support through the help of private tutors or extra revision sessions at home or school. This additional support can guide them through the subject but also help them organise the information into manageable chunks to learn over a long period of time.
Experts consider this ‘planned’ revision technique to be the only way to succeed in learning in general. Scheduling and study breaks result in far better success in long-term retention of information. Rest is a crucial part of the process as it helps with the absorption of knowledge and skills.
Wray Herbert of APS (Association for Psychological Science) wrote:
'When the students took breaks ranging from five minutes to two weeks, those who had taken a one-day break performed best when they were tested ten days later. But if they were tested six months later (the laboratory equivalent of long-term learning), the optimal break time was a full month. In other words, “massing” all the study on a single topic together diminishes learning. It’s better to leave it alone for a while and then return to it, and indeed the longer you want new learning to endure, the longer the optimal break between study sessions.'
Some students see planning as something tedious, time-consuming and boring. This is why they revert to ‘the cramming’ technique. No matter how invaluable they think it is, some find it difficult to motivate themselves months before their exams.
Overall, both methods can deliver favourable results. However, the shorter amount of time allotted to revision means the shorter the memory is retained. Spaced learning can seem time-consuming but is less stressful and highly effective in knowledge retention.