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Playing Your ‘A’ Game: How to CRAM your Way to Academic Success
Professional athletes recognize the importance of being at their best. They realize that their individual performance has a direct impact on their team and organization. If they are at their finest or playing their ‘A’ Game, competitors and observers will notice. It is at these times that they seem unstoppable. Besides athletics, this peak-performing zone can too be experienced in other areas of life; in business, in relationships, in leadership, and especially in the field of academics.
All student leaders desire to be at the top; however, their work habits and level of discipline do not always support their scholastic desires. What is it that causes one student to perform poorly, and another to play his or her ‘A’ Game all year long? Today It is my goal to show you how “CRAMMING” can lead you to play your ‘A’ Game.
Now you are probably asking yourself, “Wow, can I really cram my way to a 4.0?” “I thought cramming was unhealthy, and unsuccessful?” Each of your thoughts is valid, however, I want to bring more value to your life as a student and leader, by propelling you to a higher level of thinking.
Before we investigate this aspect of cramming, we know that students all across America get far too little sleep. Classes, social activities, leadership roles, and part-time or sometimes full-time jobs get more attention than that of sleep. As the end of the semester or exams approach, sleep deprivation becomes more apparent. This now places students in a “Do or Die situation. Failing the exams could mean more years in college, or even flunking out – thus the need for cramming.
There are a few good reasons to cram for exams. The first one is that it doesn’t work, and the second reason is that it doesn’t work at the last minute. However, if cramming is used at the proper time it can bring forth great results. Let me clarify this with an example from my college life.
As a Chemistry major at Norfolk State University, during my freshman year, I made some immature academic decisions. I was a P.P. – a Professional Procrastinator. I would wait to the last minute to do everything! I waited to the last minute to study notes, prepare for tests, and work on homework and reports. I procrastinated so much that I would go to the cafeteria for dinner right before closing. This last minute lifestyle forced me to have many “cram sessions” and to pull “all-nighters”.
As a new college student on an academic scholarship I realized in order to maintain my scholarship and graduate with honors my (poor) study habits and (lack) of time management was going to have to change. This became further apparent when I would take my class exams with headaches and aching body pains. During most tests I felt sluggish and crappy. I even felt as if I had a serious hangover, and I actually did – a hangover from the previous night of cramming, drinking bottles of root beer, eating candy bars and greasy pizza all for the sake of trying to stay awake to focus..
Studies and reports have shown that “cramming” or “last-minute cramming” (as I have termed) will cause the below to take place. If you are a consistent crammer, you can testify to the following effects.
o Your anxiety level will go up tremendously
o You will lose sleep and eat poorly because of this
o You will get sick more easily because of this
o You will miss the exam because of this
o You will take the more difficult essay make-up exam because of this
o You will fail the exam
o Seriously, at a minimum you will do worse on the exam than you would have otherwise. Guaranteed.
Last minute cramming does not work because of a few biological reasons. When cramming occurs, information is stored in the short-term memory side of the brain. This is where everyday information that is not really worth remembering is stored. In order to learn we have to transfer information into the long-term memory side of the brain. Here information can be retrieved far easier and over a longer period of time. Let’s further examine the difference between short term and long term memory.
All information is processed in the brain and stored in short term memory. The problem is that this information sort of overloads the brain and is not kept for very long. Can you remember what you had for breakfast two days ago, or the outfit you wore this past weekend? What about the price of your lunch on Monday? No. So what makes you think you will remember some theory from class, which you never heard of before? Yes you may remember it for a about a day or two, but since it’s not necessary to remember it all, the brain will dump it after a short period of time.
Long term memory is the type of memory used when we want to store information in a more permanent way. This is either done by making information especially memorable or by consistent daily repetition. Have you ever tried to remember the lyrics to your favorite song? How many times did you listen to that song or read the lyrics before you finally remembered it? The same should be true for your class work. Once something is transferred from short term to long term memory we say it has been learned (or at least remembered).
This is why last minute cramming is not beneficial for students. Last minute cramming fails because you are relying on short term memory. But what would happen if you crammed every single day, or simply put large amounts of information in to your memory consistently and purposely. Cramming in itself is not wrong; it’s just pointless, if not done properly.
C.R.A.M. as I have termed it can be translated into a simple four word phrase – Consistent Reiteration for Advantageous Memorization. It is imperative that you study your class work (C.R.A.M) every single day, even if it is for a few minutes. College is your current occupation and career, so see school as your 9 to 5 job, and C.R.A.M. When its time to study, work just as if it were your job. make sure you check in at a certain time and check out at a certain time. If your mid-term or semester exam is two weeks away, you should have had daily C.R.A.M. sessions throughout the semester so the information would have already been transferred.
My main purpose for addressing this issue of cramming is to impress upon you to develop daily disciplines for academic success. The thing you give your attention to the most, will be the thing that controls your mindset and memory bank.
You have what it takes to play Your “A” Game every school term. Just don’t wait until the last minute to cram, but C.R.A.M. intensely every single day with a planned regimen. Many students fail because they fail to plan. To better your grades, you must have a detailed plan of attack and mastery over your daily schedule. To avoid last minute cramming and to play your “A” Game in school, here are 12 practical things you must do when creating your daily schedule for school.
1. Schedule personal quiet time and motivational time. Use this time to encourage your self and develop a mental image of your day.
2. Allocate the times you must be in class.
3. Define the time periods in which you will study.
4. Plan for breakfast and lunch, but don’t eat for longer than 30 minutes; use the other designated half hour to prepare for your next class.
5. Set time aside for part time jobs, extracurricular activities, and other necessary events.
6. Carry a detailed appointment book or organizer, so you will always know what needs to be completed for the day and for a specified hour.
7. Communicate your study times to friends and family so that they are aware of your schedule and won’t interfere.
8. Go to your study periods as if they are an important appointment.
9. Designate a specific location outside your room to study each subject. Study location can differ based on mood, surrounding, and time of day.
10. Establish your play time. Don’t be a workaholic.
11. Study for a designated class at a designated hour, even if you don’t have a test or homework assignment. Place this daily into your schedule
12. Don’t allow planned activities to overlap; schedule activities on purpose and then do them on purpose. When it’s time to work, work. When it’s time to study, study; and when it’s time to have fun, have fun!
In closing, I want you to remember this. Only one game in life counts, and that’s your ‘A’ Game. So play it everyday!
Kantis A. Simmons © 2006
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