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To cram, or not to cram? That is the question for most university students heading into final exams.

Studying throughout the semester is the best course of action for learning, but students often find themselves between a rock and a hard place come exam time. Cramming has become a common and sometimes celebrated form of studying. One survey of college students found that 99 percent of the participants admitted to cramming. But when looking at the science, it appears to be a rather poor method of learning. Here are all the reasons why you shouldn’t cram for exams, and how you should study instead.

Sleep Is Essential

Beyond the false belief that cramming works, the major problem with cramming is lack of sleep. In a study by UCLA researchers, they found that sacrificing sleep to cram for exam is actually counterproductive. In fact, they found that no matter how much a student studies a day, if they sacrifice sleep in order to do so they are likely to have more academic problems the following day. No matter the participant, the researchers from UCLA found that longer study hours were associated with academic problems, because they usually meant less sleep for the student. The bottom line is pulling all-nighters may seem like a badge of honor, but they do nothing to improve learning or test scores the following day.

According to the research, your entire academic performance that week could be compromised. A sleep expert, Dan Taylor, also says that studying your hardest concepts right before you fall asleep encourages better recall the next day.

Space It Out, Don’t Cram It In

Another study by researchers at UCLA found that spacing out studying was more effective than cramming for 90 percent of the participants, yet 72 percent thought that cramming had been more beneficial to their academic performance.

Other research has shown that taking breaks for longer periods between study sessions gives students better recall than cramming. When you are able to review material more than once you are able to comprehend and recall more of it. To be more specific, psychologists have found the best time between two study periods is 10 percent of the time between the final exam and the second study session. The idea is not to wait too close to the exam, but not so far that you won’t remember what you’ve studied.

If you’re left with no other option before a test, do your best to study as well as you can without sacrificing sleep. From previous research a lack of sleep is what dooms exam performance, not how much you study. And when the next study period starts, remember that regular periods of studying will save you all the stress and sleepless nights cramming, and will actually give you a better performance come test day. And even more important – it will lay the foundation for actually remembering what you have learned when you need it in your jobs after graduation.

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