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Bigger Pictures: Cramming Confession

Files crammed together

“Cramming is not a practice.  It’s an exercise in panic.”

     ~  Debra Gwartney

I hate to speak ill of a practice exercise with such a long and noble history, but a blogger’s got to do what a blogger’s got to do, even if the aforementioned blogger, when reflecting upon his own undergraduate practice experience re: cramming, now stands before you as nothing more (or less) than a big old hypocrite.

So let’s get that bit of academic confession out of the way, shall we?

Long ago, in a galaxy far away (a few decades, about 13 miles to the north) yours truly found himself in the kind of introductory Psych course that (so help me) could bore the paint right off the walls. Our prof was an amiable old guy who, for some inexplicable reason, genuinely liked us.  Who knows why?  We were far too many, and most were aggressively disinterested in a course that simply filled a requirement.  He seemed about as happy with the department’s mandatory attendance policy as we were, and he made it quite clear to anyone who cared to listen that he would much rather not take roll and just talk about interesting Psych stuff with the few people who were actually interested enough to show up and talk about the interesting Psych stuff.

The course materials, in those Dark Days before PowerPoint, consisted of an overpriced edition of a textbook (required) and a separate study guide (recommended).  Let me say for the record that I misread the syllabus and bought the study guide by accident.

It turned out the prof took his exam questions verbatim from the study guide.  He changed the order of the A, B, C, D answers, as well as the order of the questions, but that was it.  People still failed the course.  Seriously.  Even after I shared what was going on.

My strategy for this course was to get up early the day of the exam, figure out the study guide answers, cram my short term memory, take the test in the afternoon, and then promptly forget the morning’s work about 12 minutes after handing in the exam.

Anyway, I aced the exams, aced the course, and got over any lingering guilt rather quickly.  Happy ending, right?


The next semester I tried the same thing with Chemistry:  got up early, cracked open the study guide – and promptly realized I made a HUGE miscalculation.  I couldn’t get through all the material, let alone know it.  My grade proved that.  (Total transparency:  that grade was a 23).  The Chem cram approach died instantaneously.

Anyway, did I learn anything?  Certainly not about Chemistry, even though I passed the course, in large part because I could drop that 23.  And anything I eventually learned about Psychology came from courses I took later.  But I can pass on this observation:

Cramming only works until it doesn’t work anymore.

Staff Writer: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Specialist

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