First of all, like most things there is not a one size fits all answer. Therefore, my general answer is that while I don’t recommend cramming given good planning and ample time to prepare, if you or your child have waited until the last minute or have just become aware of the importance of an exam such as the SAT or ACT, then by all means CRAM!
Cramming may only enrich your brain but not your scores…..
I have been thinking about this issue with the next SAT administration coming up this Saturday and the next ACT administration arriving in a little under 3 weeks. I have received several requests for SAT tutoring and ACT tutoring for both of these exams in the last couple of days. My modus operandi for the last eighteen years of professional test prep tutoring is to discourage a student from waiting more than three weeks before an exam to prepare. However, I take students who need to cram with the disclaimer that there last minute efforts may only enrich their brains but not their scores.
Factors to consider if cramming is a viable option for you given that you cannot take back time…
- You have 1-2 weeks prior to the exam in which are relatively free
- You have the ability to make studying and tutoring your full-time or part-time job
- You form a strategy in miniature to take practice sections and then thoroughly review the concepts, knowledge and skills you need to do the sections better and then do more practice sections
- You are committed to being totally in the zone of preparing and are willing to give up your normal extra-curricular activities
- You have good test preparation books, test-preparation tutor, teacher, relative or peer who can clarify why you got things wrong and right and help you work through problems efficiently and accurately
A couple of years ago I decided to take the LSAT four weeks before the exam. However, I was working crazy hours until about twenty days before the exam. So, I decided to start studying three weeks before the exam. Having such a short window to prepare for an exam made me anxious, as I had not gotten myself into such a predicament since high school.
Making cramming productive…
To make my cramming productive, I framed my days such that I pretended each morning was its own day and each evening was its own day. I studied three hours each morning and each evening. If I had been given six weeks, I would have only studied three hours a day. By doing this, I basically sped up my process of learning but I reduced my anxiety by knowing that I would be covering all the material I needed to cover. Yes, it is not easy studying six hours a day in a productive manner. Conversely, once you get in the mindset of really making an exam your project and the place where you bring all your awareness and attention to, the results can be striking. I have seen this with my students and myself.