Posted by: Alexandre Borovik | September 7, 2010

Forget What You Know About Good Cramming Habits

A paper in NYT, Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits, by B. Carey, describes recent research that claims to offer new and paradoxical insights in the learning process. In my opinion, there is nothing new — or paradoxical — in these findings. What makes me worried is that in at least one cited piece of research the investigators cannot see the difference between learning mathematics and cramming. Perhaps the article should be called Forget What You Know About Good Cramming Habits.

[With thanks to muriel.]



  1. Yes nothing new nor paradoxical, but two large factors at play.

    1. The “productivity” view of education as a series of ratio of things to learn to things written down on an exam paper a certain day.

    2. The continuous drive of reporters (and alas scientists) to replace one soundbyte or slogan by another. This leads to sloppy reporting and sloppy interpretation in most parts of these articles, including forging specific and contrived “names” for “effects” that are quite general and have been described countless times.

    One example is the problem of varying learning environments (quiet/crowded, personal/public, sitting/lying/standing, after meal or before, after physical exercise or before or during, etc.)

    In the same report there is a part about learning, forgetting and relearning better, testing, etc. instead of cramming only for one monosubject exam for longer recall (a remark you can find in the litterature since at least the 17th century).

    If you cross the two, it would suggest that different stages of study (such as initiation, basic skill building, fact memorizing, testing, problem solving, expert knowledge acquisition, etc.) have not the same requirements, time spans, and contexts.

    What a surprise ! You cannot use the same method for everything ! What a terrible disappointment if it was known generally that you have to be stimulated in several different ways and at different times to progress intellectually ! What a paradigm shift !

    It does not take one hundred cognitive scientists to guess that certain activities or stages are best done with tutoring human presence, others alone, others in a variety of contexts, others against an hostile background, others as prelude to treats, others at home, others often, others all your life, others once and for all, etc.

    But it seems it does, in fact, take more than that amount of “investigators”. And thrice that amount of journalists.

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