We’ve all been up at night cramming for an exam. Either we’re desperately going
through textbooks and notes, looking for the most important topics or in front of a computer screen in the darkness finding tutorials online. The test is tomorrow morning, and you figure: “Great. I just binged on 7 energy drinks and I got 7 hours to study. There is no way I can fail this.”
While that logic may seem infallible, recent studies have found that students who regularly pulled all-nighters tended to have lower GPAs than those who didn’t. Of course, many people don’t understand why this is: “How can more hours of studying mean a lower average, you are insane Mr.Article-Writer.” This, of course is because many people don’t understand how the brain works and how it retains information.
Pulling all-night cram sessions generally does not work because our brains naturally put the information in short-term storage. Even if you were to inhale coffee powder all night long and study like your life depended on it, you may not even remember what you studied when it comes to sitting down and taking the exam.
Because you’re relying on your short term memory, learning something new takes time. Your brain stores information in 3 steps : encoding, storage, and retrieval. When processing the information, it is encoding what you learn, storing it for later retrieval, and erasing it if you never use it again. Experts say that sleep is a very important part of this process. While you’re dreaming, your brain is organizing or consolidating all this information. That’s right, your braining is storing the calculus you learned the day before into the “math folder”, and is deleting the name of that person you met but didn’t really care about.
Last-minute cram sessions also increases your test anxiety, lowers your immune system making you more likely to get sick and causes you to perform worse on the exam.
Even if your exam is in the afternoon, cramming in the morning is discouraged. It’s best tojust relax your brain during the hours before an examination. Let your mind access the information stored and use it right when you need it.
The solution to late night cramming sessions is laughably obvious; just study a few days before the test. “But”, you may say, “I work better under pressure!”. Good, you’ll have plenty of those situations when you’re a heart surgeon, but you’ll never get there without passing those exams.