24 October 2012

Cramming in College; Who Hasn't?

Last Sunday, after playing football I was enjoying a post-luncheon discussion with a group of my former players. One was a med school student who – he himself said – is using the semestral break to catch up on some much-needed sleep.

“Is it not strange,” I asked him, “that medical research has proven that sleep regenerates the brain so that it can function better; yet university curricula continue to be so burdensome that many students inevitably feel that they have to go sleepless in order to study?”

Everyone agreed that it was. Since all of the guys I was with were either in college or fresh out of it, the discussion inevitably swung in the direction of the other reason why students go sleepless in college – cramming!


There was one semester when I did no less than four term papers overnight – and felt like the walking dead when I went to school to submit these the following morning. I enjoyed an advantage, of course, in that writing has always come naturally to me.
Truth be told, many young people who go into university have this mistaken notion that the professor will be the fulcrum of learning in the same way that the high school teacher is. Corollary to this notion is the expectation that the professor will be skilled in the art of teaching and that examinations will be based solely on what is taken up inside the classroom.

Wrong on both counts!

In university, learning becomes almost a completely student-centred affair; and the professor is merely the catalyst who points out the direction in which learning goes and assists the student in synthesizing the endless information available to him.

That is why there is that often ignored, lost or discarded piece of paper that is issued at the start of the semester – the syllabus. With this document, the professor outlines the scope and goals of the course; the requirements to pass; and the prescribed and required reading materials.

Now, have we not all at one time or the other accused a professor of not having taken up a topic inside the classroom that somehow popped up in the final exam? The truth is, the professor does not have to. Whatever he fails to take up inside the classroom is still part of the scope of the course as described in the syllabus.

Which everyone ignores. Even I did, when I was in college.

I think the basic problem is that many professors – at least from my own experience – do not even bother to explain what the syllabus is and its significance to the course. That is why the syllabus often becomes just another of the countless documents folded by a college student, inserted into a notebook and probably later forgotten.

It has to be pointed out that university professors are not formally trained teachers like those in basic education. To be fair, there are many who are gifted and take to the classroom like fish to water; but there are just as many who are not.

That is why often, where the professor wishes to take his students and where they are actually going can sometimes not be one and the same thing.

To get back to the matter of cramming, sometimes it can be down to the simple matter of the student failing to understand – because nobody explained things to him – that the shorter time spent inside the classroom compared to high school is actually supposed to be devoted to independent study of all those topics and reading materials listed on the syllabus.

The free time outside the classroom, in other words, is not meant to be really free.

Of course, college being what it is – and it does come only once in a lifetime – there are myriad reasons to procrastinate – parties, sports, sex, alcohol, fraternities or what-have-you. While the syllabus, it has to be said, remains folded somewhere.

Then again, nothing can quite make the juices flow as liberally as an exam or a deadline the next day. Thing are never quite the same when the exam or date of submission is still a long way off.

In college, I was reasonably diligent and studied even just a bit every day rather than cram the night before the final. What I never could get around to doing was to actually start working on a term paper early.

There was one semester when I did no less than four term papers overnight – and felt like the walking dead when I went to school to submit these the following morning. I enjoyed an advantage, of course, in that writing has always come naturally to me.

Still, after every sleepless night doing term papers, I would make a solemn vow to start early the next term – and yet end up cramming all over again. I guess I just eventually came to the realisation that cramming was just the best – nay, the ONLY way to do certain things in college.

Now make sure you do not go around quoting me...











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