Have you ever stayed up the night before an exam re-reading notes and PowerPoint slides over and over again?
Have you calculated exactly how many points you need to get on that quiz or test to get a certain grade and then studied just enough to make sure you earn that grade?
Have you ever walked out of an exam and completely forgot everything you studied and learned the minute you left?
If so, you have probably engaged in a type of studying known as cramming. Cramming is very common among students across many programs- but does it work and is it worth it?
Well, yes and no. The reason for this ambiguous answer is because it depends on what your goal for studying is. In the short term, cramming can work and it may help you pass a test you have the next day.
A leading book on studying and learning called Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning explains the following:
“Cramming for exams is a form of massed practice. It feels like a productive strategy, and it may get you through the next day’s midterm, but most of the midterm will be long forgotten by the time you sit down for the final.” (3)
However, in the long term, cramming is not the best strategy if you want to remember the information you learned in the future. To achieve this goal, Make it Stick recommends to space out your studying instead.
“The simple act of spacing out studying and practicing in installments and allowing time to elapse between make both the learning and memory stronger, in effect building habit strength. How big of an interval? The simple answer: enough so that practice doesn’t become a mindless repetition. At a minimum, enough time so that a little forgetting sets in. A little forgetting between practice sessions can be a good thing, if it leads to more effort in practice, but you do not want so much forgetting that retrieval essential involves relearning the material. The time periods between sessions of practice let memories consolidate.” (3)
Dr. Allen Balay, an experienced Vet Tech educator echoes this information in his advice to Vet Tech students. In a previous VetTechPrep article called, “Study Tips” he advises, “Spread out the studying and DON'T CRAM. Material covered in frequent, short sessions will remain in long-term memory better than material covered in cram sessions.” (1)
Only you know the value of the material you are studying and only you can decide if it worth it to you to cram or space out your studying. My advice would be to try to remember that the material you’re learning in your veterinary technician program will be useful to you for the rest of your career and will ultimately be applied to help your patients.
Instead of cramming which often involves a lot of repeated review and re-reading, try forms of retrieval practice instead such as flashcards and self-quizzing. Retrieval practice does require more time and effort but it is also a more powerful learning strategy overall. Make it Stick explains the following:
“Effortful retrieval makes for stronger learning and retention. When the mind has to work, learning sticks better. The greater the effort to retrieve learning, provided that you succeed, the more that learning is strengthened by retrieval.” (3)
I hope this advice and some of the following additional study strategies our guide, “How to Tackle Studying in the New Year” will be helpful to you in your studies- best of luck!
Balay, Allen. VetTechPrep Study tips.
Barnette, Cathy. Content Offer, “How to tackle studying in the New Year.”
Brown, Peter C., Henry L. Roediger III and Mark A. McDaniel. Make it Stick: the Science of Successful Learning. Cambridge, Massachusetts. London, England.The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 2014.
Flavia Vaduva is a general practice Veterinarian and a blogger for VetTechPrep. She has a passion for veterinary medicine, education and business management. She really enjoys interacting with veterinary students and veterinary professionals. She spends her free time riding horses and traveling to explore new places!