I am one of those people that can find absolutely anything to distract myself from doing revision for exams or starting to plan an essay, I go shopping, look for new music, or watch that film that has been sat on the shelf for months. If it distracts me, I will do it. I can only count a few times where I have actually started an essay or revision any earlier that was needed. However, it seems I am not alone, Sommer (1968) ‘‘cramming is a technique as widely condemned by educators as it is widely used by students’’.
Procrastination, is defined by Lay (1986) as ‘‘the tendency to postpone what is necessary to reach a goal’’. An example would be postponing revision before an exam.
Cramming, is defined by Sommer (1968) as ‘‘a heavy burst of studying immediately before an exam which followed a long period of neglect and reliance on memorization rather than understanding’’.
Negatives of procrastinating and cramming
• Solomon and Rothblum (1984) found a significant correlation between procrastination and depression and other mental health problems. Although it is worth noting correlation does not mean causation.
• Lay et al (1989) found during exam period that procrastinators have very high stress levels.
• Flett, Blankstein and Martin (1995) found that scores on a procrastination scale are positively correlated with other measures such as stress.
• Tice and Baumeister (1997) found that procrastinators get lower scores on written papers and exams compared to those that do not procrastinate.
Positives of procrastinating and cramming
• Tice and Baumeister (1997) found procrastinators have short term benefits of less stress and less illness at the beginning of the semester.
• Cramming experience is helpful if a problem occurs and the student is unable to study as they had planned to (Vacha and McBride, 1993).
• Cramming frees up other time for extracurricular activities to relieve the boredom of studying (Vacha and McBride, 1993).
An alternative technique to cramming, that can has shown to be more effective than cramming is a spacing technique, this is when the information is studied multiple times but with large time gaps in between.
Kornell (2009) conducted research using flash cards to see if spacing or cramming were a better technique for optimising learning. To research this, the researcher used flashcards; either a full pack for the spacing technique, or four small packs for the massing (cramming) technique. This research found that spacing was the more effective technique for 90% of participants; however, 72% of the participants believed that massing (cramming) had been more effective. The research also found that spacing was more effective than cramming on the last day of studying.