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Thursday, March 27, 2014

10 Minute Test Prep - An Alternative To Cramming

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To properly prepare for a test, you need to invest a lot of time and energy. There is no way that you can expect your best possible grade without investing at least a few hours into studying. That being said, many students make the mistake of trying to pack those hours of studying into a single cram session.

Cram sessions don't work. The brain isn't designed to lock pages and pages of information in place in a single sitting. Sure, you'll get some of the information but you could have invested half of the time to get the same amount of information if you spread it over a week. The worst part is, most students already know how horrible cram sessions are.

Even if we accept that cram sessions could help you memorize a little more information, at the end of a cram session (especially an all-nighter) no one is mentally prepared to take a test. Sleep deprivation steals all the extra points they got from learning all night. If students already understand this, why do they still do it?

Why People Cram?

Students know it doesn't work well but by the night before the test, what choice does anyone have. A week before the test it's easy to procrastinate. The night before the test it becomes impossible. So, in the last second people feel the need to “make up for” the studying that they didn't do. That's just not possible though. You can't make up for a weeks worth of studying in one night even if you have the study time. You also need the processing time.

People know that it doesn't work but still feel the need to try and assert some control. It's kind of like an experiment scientists regularly do on animals. The scientists would give the animals a button and randomly dispense food to them. When the animals get hungry they'd press the button hoping for food despite the button not having any connection to the food. The animals feel the need to do something (even if they can't prove it works.)

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Studying in one cram session is not effective. It's just a way people alleviate their guilt for not studying in the first place. After they get their poor grade back they can say, “Well, I tried my hardest.” Cram sessions are not really intended to help them learn. They're just there to convince themselves they're not completely lazy.

Truthfully, it's better not to cram. You'll do worse on the test. You'll hate yourself for it but you're significantly more likely to learn your lesson and do better next time. The few points extra on your single test score means nothing compared to the points you could be sacrificing by not learning your lesson.

But I Only Have One Night?!?

Okay, so what do you do when you only have one night left to prepare for a test and you didn't do anything to prepare for it? The average student would dig up the textbooks, get a pack of Redbulls, and start studying until their eyes bled. Do not fall into that trap. In fact, if you haven't taken the time to study at all so far then now is not the time to start.

When you pick up the textbooks, it's going to be difficult for you to put them down. There is no way you can significantly improve your grade at this point through bulk studying. You're going to need to work smart instead of hard.

When you're already late starting, the only thing you should do the night before the test is figure out what you should have studied. Look at any material your teacher gave you on the test and find the absolutely essential information that you should have learned. DO NOT TRY AND LEARN IT YET. Once you start trying to remember it you will stress and kill any chance of a good grade.

Your goal is to prepare for one final study session. It's not to actually study yet. You want to find the most important subject that you need to remember. Use everything that you know about the teacher to try and figure out the most valuable information you can learn. If the teacher typically offers more points for certain kinds of questions (essays, tricks, etc.) then take note of that.

There is nothing more that you can do that will help your grade significantly the night before the test. Just try to learn your lesson and sleep well.

10 Minute Test Prep

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The 10 minute test prep strategy is surprisingly powerful but should be used with caution. If you haven't read the rest of this article then do not expect great things from it. This is a last minute strategy. It will not provide you with a great grade. It will usually only provide a score as good as cramming.

Your final (and only) study session needs to take place 10 minutes before class time sitting at your desk. Human memory is good at memorizing things for the long term but it requires consistency to last. Memory is also good at memorizing things for the short term. While most test prep focuses on using long term memory (it's the safest way to go,) this strategy focuses on using short term memory.

10 minutes before the class you need to go over all of the information you know you will need for the test. If you prepared the night before then this should be easy. Focus on memorizing all of the essential information. To make this work, you can't be talking to your friends or daydreaming. You need to have all of your energy invested in learning the information on the page.

Do not start studying too early. Studying too early is just as risky as studying too late. If you start studying too early it becomes easy to lose a lot of information you're trying to remember. It's better to focus hard on the important information and not even try the rest due to time constraints.

When the test lands on your desk forget about the traditional test taking strategies. Go through the test a question at a time looking for the information you just learned to be useful. Answer anything that you just learned first. This information will be gone a half an hour later. Answer it while it's still fresh in your mind. Then go back and finish the rest of the test.

This will not provide you with the best grade you could get but it will put you just about where you would have been with an all-night cram session. The difference is you'll save a whole lot of time and you'll have a significantly larger chance of learning your lesson.

10 Minute A Night Test Prep?

While the 10 minutes single session may be a great alternative to the classic cram session, the most effective strategy is studying over a longer period for short 10 minute sessions. Studying doesn't have to be a long and painful process. In fact, it can be enjoyable once you start looking at it right. Most of the things that make learning enjoyable aren't taught in the classroom. If you want to learn a little about the best study strategies then be sure to check out my article on it. It can change the way you look at studying forever.

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