Career / Career Progression

Why Cramming for an Exam Doesn’t Help Your Career

by Team Nuggets
Why Cramming for an Exam Doesn’t Help Your Career picture: A
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Published on November 25, 2019

It's down to the wire and your certification exam is looming. If you haven't been studying regularly, you'll probably end up cramming for your exam at the last minute. While last-minute studying may work for IT pros with plenty of hands-on experience, cramming rarely works for those newer to IT.

Each exam is a different animal and preparation time differs as well. A while back we pushed out an informal (but insightful) poll of test-takers. We found that it took between 4.5 to over 8 months for students to prepare for the Cisco ICND1 and ICND2 exams.

Cramming is not a super successful strategy. However, there's no doubt that studying even a little can boost exam performance. Here are a few tips to make your next study session run smoothly.

Why Cramming for an Exam Doesn't Help Your Career

Exams help you validate what you know. By cramming, that information doesn't get seated very well in your brain. Here are five reasons cramming isn't the best long-term strategy:

It's Science, Cramming Often Fails

According to research by the BBC, memory studies indicate that people preparing for an exam tend to rely on the familiarity of study items. This may work in the short-term, but familiarity is not a good predictor of whether we can truly recall learned items.

Familiarity and recall are not the same type of memory and are supported by different brain regions. Familiarity is subserved by sensory brain areas such as the visual cortex, while recall is dependent more on the hippocampus, the brain's memory center. So while your brain can easily recognize material learned during an hours-long study session, you may not be able to recall it after a few days.

Learning involves both recognition and recall and is a longer-term process that involves memory consolidation, which typically occurs during sleep.

Cramming Is a Bad Habit

You may have gotten used to pulling all-nighters in high school or college in last-minute attempts to study for exams. And you might have passed most of those exams (Could that B+ have been an A, though?).

However, you won't enjoy that kind of success when it comes to IT certification exams, especially expert-level ones like Microsoft MCSE or Cisco CCIE. IT cert exams are very technical and oftentimes complex. They may also include lab components that require hands-on experience and a deeper understanding of the material.

Suffice it to say, a last-minute cram session isn't going to save you on exam day. The best move is to prevent cramming from becoming a part of your study routine. Plan, schedule, and stick to a routine to avoid all-nighters. Studying consistently is the habit you need to create.

Cramming Is Not Effective

Studying the same content many times is the best way to guarantee that you are forming long-term memories of the material — the only way to ensure exam success.

The more ways learners can encode the information — for example, learning the same material in two different locations or explaining the same concept two different (but still correct) ways — will help boost retention. This all takes time, though, and can't be done in a single exam cram session.


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