Opinion Blog

Ask a Psychologist

Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. To submit questions, use this form or #helpstudentsthrive. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

How to Persuade Students to Stop Cramming for Tests—and What to Do Instead

By Robert A. Bjork — March 16, 2022 2 min read
How do I persuade students to stop cramming for tests?
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

This is the third in a four-part series on learning. You can read the first one on the need to embrace desirable difficulties here and the second one on a better way to practice here.

How do I persuade students to stop cramming for tests?

Try explaining to them the science that shows cramming is followed by rapid forgetting. Here’s something I wrote recently about the topic for Character Lab as a Tip of the Week:

When I was a student, I often spent the entire day before a test studying—sometimes even staying up all night.

Cramming is a time-honored tradition among students—one that is certainly better than not studying at all. But if you’ll need to remember the material later, maybe in a subsequent course, then cramming is a very bad idea. Why? Because cramming is followed by rapid forgetting.

What does lead to long-term learning? Spacing out study sessions over time.

Research shows that delaying when you restudy material results in better learning than does restudying the material right away. In other words, if you took the three hours you spent cramming the Thursday night before a Friday test and, instead, studied an hour each on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, you would remember the material much better in the future—say, when it’s time to prepare for a final exam.

Similarly, spacing also helps when it comes to what you study. In one experiment, researchers had students learn several algebraic concepts, such as graphing equations and finding the radius of a circle. Some of them did practice problems one concept at a time—for example, working on graphing five equations in a block before moving on to another type of problem. Another group practiced with a mixture of problem types, never doing the same kind twice in a row. On a test several weeks later, the students who practiced with a mix of problems performed better than those who practiced in blocks.

Just as in cramming, the fluency that comes from doing the same problems in a row gives the false sense of knowing the material well. Having more time in between provides a truer test of what one really knows. In a very real sense, forgetting (and then relearning) is the friend, not the enemy, of learning.

Don’t let young people believe the myth that cramming for tests is efficient.

Do encourage students to space out their study sessions. And suggest they practice mixing things up, say, by studying for a history quiz for half an hour, doing math homework, and then returning to history. Switching topics might mean forgetting some of the material at that moment, but it will be far more effective in the long run.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Profession Webinar
How Does Educator Well-Being Impact Social-Emotional Awareness in Schools?
Explore how adult well-being is key to promoting healthy social-emotional behaviors for students. Get strategies to reduce teacher stress.
Content provided by International Baccalaureate
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure Webinar
A New Era In Connected Learning: Security, Accessibility and Affordability for a Future-Ready Classroom
Learn about Windows 11 SE and Surface Laptop SE. Enable students to unlock learning and develop new skills.
Content provided by Microsoft Surface
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum Making Technology Work Better in Schools
Join experts for a look at the steps schools are taking (or should take) to improve the use of technology in schools.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Teachers Struggled to Stem 'Learning Loss' During Pandemic, GAO Finds
A report documents teachers' concerns about students losing academic ground during the COVID-19 pandemic.
1 min read
Computer laptop on wooden desk with wireless and application programming and social media icons. Internet networking and wireless technology
Getty
Teaching How U.S. Teachers Are Helping Ukrainian Students 'Half a World Apart'
Teachers at a U.S.-based virtual school share what it's like to teach students in a war-torn country.
4 min read
People look at a crater created by a Russian rocket attack in a school yard in Dobropillya, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, April 28, 2022.
People look at a crater created by a Russian rocket attack in a school yard in Dobropillya, in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, in April.
Evgeniy Maloletka/AP
Teaching Opinion Boost the Power of the Teaching Team by Enlisting Other School Staff
Show respect to classified staff members. Asking them to mentor students goes a long way toward that.
12 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Teaching Teachers Share Affirmations That Work. And Some That Don't
For Teacher Appreciation Week, we asked teachers for feedback on the kinds of affirmations that keep them going.
Marina Whiteleather
2 min read
A hand about to write on a blank page in a notebook. Post it notes all around with affirmations and positive messages on them.
Natalya Sambulova/iStock/Getty Images Plus