I Cram Because I Have To!

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

Who is more responsible? Students, teachers, or the education system?

It is almost final exam week, and everyone is trying to get ready. Although different students follow different methods of studying, according to the results of a study published on BBC, 99 percent of students admit to cramming at least once. The results indicate that even “good students” do cram sometimes. Just look up the word “cramming” on the internet, and you will realize how popular this method is among all students.

Is cramming a proper method for studying? The answer depends on what you expect from it. Jose Perez, a student at Santa Monica College, says, “I’m here to collect the credits I need to transfer to the University. Who cares if I remember this information or not? I take 12 units each semester and only study the nights before the exams. So far, so good!” To be honest, Perez is not completely wrong. In fact, cramming can be effective in some circumstances. When you have not had any chance to study during the semester, you only have a few hours to put all the information from the textbook into your brain. Of course, it sometimes works, as Perez claims. However, looking at the big picture, cramming has some seriously adverse effects.

When you put an enormous amount of information into your brain in a short period of time, your brain cannot save all of it. In fact, you only can maintain this information for a short time. After this period, your brain will lose the data, and it would be like you have never studied that material. Cramming prevents the information from moving to your long-term memory. So in any case, if you need to use this data again for future exams or jobs, you have no chance to retrieve it. But that’s not the entire story.

Different parts of the brain are responsible for processing different forms of memory. When you study for many consecutive hours, you look at your textbook pages over and over. In this case, you are using the sensory areas of your brain such as the visual cortex. As a result, you may recognize all materials because they are familiar to your visual memory. But it does not mean that you would be successful at recalling the information. The process of recalling the information happens somewhere else in your brain’s frontal and temporal lobes. That is why some students are so confident before the test but cannot remember any information as soon as they start it.

Procrastination is one of the reasons why some students cram. They are too busy with their other works, so they do not have enough chance to study during the semester. Therefore, cramming is the only method that can help them. But it’s not the entire story. Our educational system is also one of the main reasons why a lot of students use cramming as a method. Most teachers think of their students as ATMs. Just like a person would insert money into ATMs, teachers expect students to take in unrealistic amounts of information. When they give their students so much information without activating their metacognitive process and expect them to return it back, the students have to find a way to do what their teachers expect, which is why cramming happens.

More than five decades ago, Paulo Freire, the eminent Brazilian educator, addressed this issue. In his book, Pedagogy of Oppressed, Freire criticized an education system in which the teachers focus on depositing information on their students’ minds. Freire claims that this system of banking education was based on a paternalistic approach to education -- the teacher is the one who speaks, and the students should only obey the teacher. He or she is the person who leads the class, makes the rules and regulations, speaks, and decides on every aspect of the class. The banking concept believes that students are the listening objects of the class and should play their role as “good listeners” and try to be “great containers” for what their teachers are supposed to deposit on their minds. Such a system is an obstacle for students’creativity and critical thinking, and that is why this method has been used by oppressors for a long time.

Unfortunately, we are still struggling with this banking concept of education. Imagine that you have enrolled in four different courses for a semester, and for each of them, you need to study, memorize, and recall a 500-page textbook. Do you think there would be an alternative for cramming? As you see, we cannot blame students who cram.

As yet, educators and thinkers have proposed different alternatives for the banking system. However, among all these proposals, the problem-posing system is the one that can be an appropriate replacement for the banking system and is able to resolve most of its issues. According to this method, when we overcome the teacher-student contradiction, we will solve the problems caused by banking education. In fact, we need the position of teacher and students to be interchangeable, that is, at the same time, a teacher should be a student, and each student should be a teacher. It only happens through dialogue. In such a system, the teacher never gives you a final exam. He or she evaluates you throughout the semester and according to how you think about the concepts, not how you memorize the de nitions. Sounds good, doesn't it?

Should we change the education system? Are there any alternative methods to cramming? Or is cramming still the best option for us to handle final exams? There might be some better resolutions, but we just have a few days left until final exams. Therefore, if you have not studied throughout the semester, it means at least for this semester you cannot use other methods, so let’s grab our cup of coffee and cram!