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Study Skills

How to help kids stop cramming and learn good study habits



Cramming — the speedy memorization of material for an upcoming test or quiz — is a chosen study technique for many middle and high school students at some point during the school year. The method — typically accompanied by the panicked consumption of caffeinated soda and a lack of sleep — may garner a passing grade here or there, but tutors insist that cramming isn’t beneficial for long-lasting comprehension.

“It doesn’t work for long-term memory,” says Yolanda Coleman, founder and president at the Pennsylvania-based Team Tutor. “So if students are cramming
material that they’ll need to use later on, they won’t hold onto it.”

According to a University of California-San Diego report on study aids, kids who space out their study sessions over an extended period of time perform better when tested than those who wait and cram at the last minute.

“Sometimes students will get an A on a test they’ve crammed for but have no idea what they learned,” says Kathie D’Orazio, co-director at Mathnasium in Sewell, NJ. This can make it difficult for teachers to spot if a student is struggling with a subject.

Cramming for tests causes extra stress

The procrastination that leads to cramming adds an extra layer of stress that’s detrimental to student success. “Kids who cram become so worried about having a short amount of time to learn so much, and that makes it harder for them to remember information,” says Coleman.

Such tension extends from the moment they finally crack the textbook open all the way through test time, which is why the practice often backfires, warns Rashmi Mundalmani, director at Kumon Math and Reading Center of Wilmington-Limestone in Wilmington, DE: “Cramming leaves a lot of pressure and anxiety, which can make students forget the material once they’ve taken the test.”

Cramming correction — good study skills

Tutors advise parents to stay on top of their child’s homework and study habits. Common issues behind the tendency to cram, says Coleman, include poor time management skills and the impulse to focus only on the next individual test or quiz, not on the big-picture learning of a class. If you notice that cramming is becoming an issue, employ the following tactics to retrain kids who rely on last-minute learning.

Organization. To keep on track, Coleman recommends helping your child map out upcoming exam dates and designated hours for studying. “I’m a big proponent of making a timeline,” she says. “So if a test is in a week, students can plan times to study throughout that time frame,” taking advantage of daily bursts of productivity to study a little each day that week.

Note-taking. Good note-taking goes a long way to helping kids kick the cramming habit. If kids take thorough notes during class, they tend to understand the information better from the get-go, comprehension that’s bolstered by a regular review of those notes. Because integrating the senses into studying can boost memorization, Coleman encourages students to rewrite their notes as well as record themselves reading those notes aloud, then listening back to absorb the information aurally.

Environment. Maintaining an environment conducive to learning is crucial to good study habits. So when your child sits down to do homework, make sure to minimize distractions. Turn the TV off and confiscate his cellphone until the study session’s over.

Repetition. For subjects that emphasize problem-solving, such as math or science, repeated practice is the best bet for mastering material quickly. “The student should select problems out of the textbook that show the steps it takes to solve them, then write the steps on note cards,” D’Orazio advises. “After that, practice as many problems as possible, even if they’re ones the student has tackled before.”

Short time-frame strategies. Sometimes, teachers don’t give much lead time before a test or quiz. If your child still needs to retain information the afternoon
before an exam, Coleman recommends turning the material into a game or incorporating it mnemonically into a favorite tune.

Ideally, says D’Orazio, the best way for students to avoid cramming is to pick up good study habits early. “Stop them from cramming when they’re young,” she concludes. “Then they learn better ways to study as work gets harder later on.”

Cheyenne Shaffer is a freelance writer and recent journalism graduate from Temple University.

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