A Civic Project story
By Justin Gerwick
INDIANA – A month before Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s spring-semester exams were scheduled to start on May 6, student David J. Higgins knew what he would be doing on May 5, the eve of finals. It was something he rarely had done all semester:
Higgins, a senior in geography and regional planning, said he has prepared for tests and research projects the same way for as long as he can remember.
“I usually cram on purpose,” Higgins said in an April 3 email interview. “I feel that I retain the information better if I’m studying the whole night before.”
The verb “to cram” is defined as “to study for an examination by memorizing facts at the last minute.” And Higgins has a lot of company at IUP when it comes to cramming.
From April 16 to April 23, IUP students were polled about their study habits, using the Qualtrics survey tool available to campus users. Questionnaires were sent to 1,500 randomly selected IUP undergraduates.
Among respondents, 99 percent said they crammed for tests or assignments. More than one in four said they crammed for every test and assignment. Nearly half – 48 percent – said they planned to cram for their spring-semester finals, like Higgins.
HIGGINS cited several reasons for cramming. But one reason is cited often among survey respondents: They have no time.
“While in school, you have to juggle going to numerous classes, going to work at a job and completing multiple assignments,” said Higgins.
Higgins said he works up to 30 hours a week at IUP’s Institute for Mine Mapping, Archival Procedures, and Safety. He enrolled for 15 credits in spring. And he has a grade-point average of 3.1 on a four-point scale, he said.
But performance can suffer, researchers say. Overstretched students who cram often trade sleep for study. And that’s a bad bargain.
In a 2012 study conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles, researchers asked 535 high-school students to record in a journal how many hours they slept each night, how many hours they spent studying each night, and how well they performed on tests and school work. Researchers concluded that academic performance suffered when students shortchanged sleep to cram for tests and assignments.
The findings “should make not only high school students but also college students re-think about the common practice of cramming for exams at the expense of sleep,” said Dr. Phyllis Zee, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Bust the myth that sleep is dispensable.”
Researcher Cari Gillen-O’Neel, co-author of the 2013 article “To Study or to Sleep? The Academic Costs of Extra Studying at the Expense of Sleep,” said, “Results suggest that regardless of how much a student generally studies each day, if that student sacrifices sleep time to study more than usual, he or she will have more trouble understanding material taught in class and be more likely to struggle on an assignment or test the following day.”
In the IUP Qualtrics survey, half of respondents said they pulled all-nighters to prep for tests or assignments. Seventy percent said they consumed caffeine. And 12 percent said they consumed prescription drugs like Adderall while cramming. (See sidebar below for survey results.)
Nationwide, researchers estimate, 30 percent of college students across the country use stimulants as “study drugs.”
AMONG anonymous comments from Qualtrics survey respondents was this observation from an IUP undergraduate:
“I think cramming is simply a sign of laziness. It is not performing the task whether it be studying or doing a project to the best of your ability. This reflects poorly on the individual and one day will affect them in the job field.”
But Higgins said he will continue to cram.
“Many times I find myself cramming for class assignments because I have multiple things that are due for multiple classes all around the same time,” he said. “I don’t have any allotted time in any of my classes to actually complete assignments that are due.”
Justin Gerwick, a senior dual major in English and journalism at IUP, is from Indiana, Pa.
Sidebar: Prescription for procrastinators
“I usually end up cramming because of procrastination.”
So wrote one anonymous IUP undergraduate who responded to an April 16-23 Qualtrics survey of student study habits.
If they can move themselves to action, procrastinators can find help at the IUP Developmental Studies Department. Its mission, according to its website, is “to help undergraduate students prepare, succeed, and excel in their college curriculum.”
Among its offerings during the spring 2014 semester was an 11-event College Success Workshops series, including a 50-minute class on April 8 titled “Stop Procrastinating; Stay Motivated.” Other April workshops included “Improving Your Memory,” “Finishing Strong: End-of-Term Tips,” and “Get Ready for Final Exams!”
Toward the end of the semester, student attendance at the workshop series increased, Maya S. Cryor, an undergraduate communications media major who served as peer leader of the workshop series, said in a May 29 email interview.
How many attended?
“Five people,” Cryor wrote.
Sidebar: Qualtrics survey response stats
On April 16, a 12-question survey about cramming was emailed to a 1,500-student sample of undergraduates enrolled at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The survey closed on April 24. The questionnaire was distributed using Qualtrics, a software program administered by the IUP Applied Research Lab.
Respondents totaled 105 — a response rate of 7 percent. Not all respondents answered all 12 questions. Responses varied between 98 and 105. The margin of error was 1.3 percentage points.
Response data include the following:
Males: 20 percent
Females: 79 percent
Other: 1 percent
Year of college:
Freshmen: 24 percent
Sophomores: 30 percent
Juniors: 22 percent
Seniors: 24 percent
- Have you ever crammed for a test or an assignment before?
Yes: 99 %
No: 1 %
- How often do you cram?
For all tests: 26 %
For some tests or assignments: 54 %
Only for large tests or assignments: 8 %
Rarely, if ever: 10 %
Never: 2 %
- Have you ever pulled an all-nighter to cram for a test or assignment?
Yes: 50 %
No: 50 %
- What aids do you use to assist in studying? Choose all that apply.
Nicotine: 10 %
Caffeine: 70 %
Music: 59 %
Prescription Drugs: 12 %
Non-prescription drugs: 5 %
Other: 9 9 %
None: 14 %
- Have you ever used a prescription drug such as Adderall while cramming for a test?
Yes: 17 %
No: 83 %
- What have been your average letter grades on tests and projects after cramming?
A: 39 %
B-C: 60 %
D-F: 1 %
- How well (in terms of letter grades) do you think you would perform if you were to use normal studying habits –using small amounts of time each day to work on tasks at hand well before they are due?
A: 78 %
B-C: 20 %
D-F: 2 %
- Do you plan on cramming for the upcoming final exams?
Yes: 48 %
No: 37 %
Don’t know: 15 %
Sidebar: Qualtrics survey comments
Following is a sample of comments written in response to an open-ended question at the conclusion of an April 16-24 Qualtrics survey of IUP students about their study habits. The question:
“List any reasons or justifications you have for why you choose to cram or not to cram?”
- ‘Not enough time’
“Too much work and not enough time to not cram.”
“If I cram it would be because I have a lot of assignments all at once.”
“There are many demands on a college student’s time, including work-study jobs, extracurricular involvement, and personal and family obligations. In some instances, creating an effective study schedule with definite blocks for each assignment or project section may be difficult or impossible with these time constraints. For example, I did my dishes and got my laundry out of the dryer at around 2 AM this morning. Why? Because that’s what fits into my schedule at this point.”
“I usually end up cramming because of procrastination, not choice. However I do consciously decide not to study if the opportunity to do something more entertaining comes up.”
“I cram either because I simply forget to study before the test or because it’s just not a priority until the night before.”
- ‘Works for me’
“it works for me.”
“I rarely study at all, so any studying i do would be qualified as ‘cramming’ and i still get a 3.25+ gpa.”
“I don’t have time to space out my testing and cramming seems to work really well for me considering I get A’s on everything.”
“Cramming has always worked for me, ever since I can remember. We are kind of taught to do so, to memorize everything and pour it out on to the tests we get. Cramming just helps me remember better. My short term memory is usually better than my long term memory. Also, I am lazy and procrastination should be a job title of mine.”
“Cramming, more specifically procrastinating, has been a huge problem that I’ve struggled with and continue to struggle with on a day to day basis. I even catch myself procrastinating to return e-mails. In fact, I’m procrastinating on some work right now by taking this survey, but I digress. I’ve battled procrastination for the majority of my life, and while I usually get ”good grades” and results from cramming for tests and assignments (I will be graduating with a 3.76 GPA), I know that I could get consistently better grades and learn more from my studies if I were to stick to a predetermined study routine that precedes due dates by a week or two…. If you have any questions the best time to call is usually in the late afternoon, around 4pm.”
- Fresh recall
“I remember more if I cram really close to the test time.”
“When I cram the day before an exam I will have the information in my mind still, and I will often remember it as well. When I study for multiple days in short amounts I will forget the material I studied first. I have always crammed.”
I always feel like I have to cram right before so everything is fresh in my mind and I don’t forget anything.”
“Cramming ensures the information is fresh…in most cases.”
- ‘Doesn’t work for me’
“I dont cram as much because I end up doing poorly.”
“It just doesn’t work for me. Of course I make it work if I forgot about the exam by studying in sessions with breaks in between. But I know I will need at least one or two days to absorb new information. If I cram, I will stress out more about the test and perform worse.”
“Because I think cramming is simply a sign of laziness. It is not performing the task whether it be studying or doing a project to the best of your ability. This reflects poorly on the individual and one day will affect them in the job field.”
“I don’t usually cram for tests and assignments because I think that being in college you have a great amount of free time to get all of your assignments and studying done with plenty of time to have a social life if you plan out your time and manage it well.”
Sidebar: The Qualtrics survey questionnaire
Following is the text of an 12-question April 16-24 survey on the practice of cramming for exams and tests among IUP undergraduate students:
Justin Gerwick, a journalism and English student at IUP, is investigating the practice of cramming among college students. Cramming is a practice where students will do all or most of their preparation for an exam or an assignment in a short amount of time—often close in time to when the test or exam is administered.
This investigation is for a reporting project for the News Reporting class taught by IUP journalism professor David Loomis, Ph.D. [ firstname.lastname@example.org ] This anonymous survey is being conducted for the project. Aggregated response data may be published in the award-winning online newspaper The HawkEye, published by Dr. Loomis in the IUP Journalism Department. Your name or identity will not be revealed. However, if you would be willing to be interviewed about this issue by the reporter, Justin Gerwick, please provide your name and email address in response to the last question of this 10-question survey.
What is your gender?
What year of college are you in?
Have you ever crammed for a test or an assignment?
How often do you cram?
For all tests or assignments
For some tests or assignments
Only for big tests or assignments, such as midterm and final exams
Rarely, if ever
Have you ever pulled an all-nighter for a test or an assignment?
What aids do you use to assist in your studying? (choose all that apply)
Have you ever used a prescription drug such as Adderall while cramming for a test?
What have been your average letter grades on tests and projects after cramming?
Tests and projects
How well (in terms of letter grades do you think you would perform if you were to use normal studying habits?—i.e. Using small amounts of time each day to work on tasks at hand well before they are due.
Do you plan on studying for the upcoming final exams?
List any reasons or justifications you have for why you choose to cram or not to cram? (these responses may be used within the article itself)
You can also leave contact information in this space (email and/or phone number) if you wish to provide contact information in order to provide more information for the investigation.
Sidebar: For more info/To get involved
For more information about and assistance with study habits at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, contact the following:
Melvin A. Jenkins, Ph.D.
Department of Developmental Studies
Pratt Hall, Room 202/203 201 Pratt Drive
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, Pa. 15705
Web: http://www.iup.edu/devstudies /
Maya S. Cryor
College Success Workshop Series
Department of Developmental Studies
Pratt Hall, Room 202/203 201 Pratt Drive
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, Pa. 15705