It’s exam season at UF. Students are crowding the libraries and voraciously consuming books and study guides to prepare for the big day. Some of these students pull all-nighters to study, forgoing sleep and staying up all night to prepare. I’m here to tell you that not only are all-nighters a poor method of studying, but that there are much better options available.
First, you may be wondering why all-nighters are bad. After all, you can catch up on sleep later, and the time not sleeping gives you more time to study, right? But that’s not the case. First off, it’s not as simple as catching up on sleep. According to Scientific American, when you lose sleep, you accumulate sleep debt (the difference between how much sleep you should be getting and how much sleep you’re actually getting). The problem is that sleep debt can’t be eliminated by one long sleep session, such as sleeping the whole day after your exam. Rather, it needs to be paid off gradually, such as by sleeping an extra hour each night until you make up the difference.
Now, you may be thinking: “OK, I can sleep an hour more each night if it’ll help me do well on the physics exam.” However, research shows all-nighters don’t even help you do well academically. Sleep-deprived brains have a sharp decrease in performance, and without sleep, the facts and figures you study will only go into your short-term memory (which lasts a few hours at most), as opposed to the long-term memory needed to recall information during the exam. With a full night’s sleep, it may seem like you have less time for studying, but the studying you can do will be far more valuable. Your brain will be at its peak performance with a full night’s sleep, and sleeping after you study will make you more likely to remember the information when you wake up than if you just stayed up all night.
Now that we’ve seen how all-nighters are a bad way to study, what is the right way to study? Well, there are several techniques you can try. The first thing you can do is spread out your studying instead of cramming all in one night. While cramming may help you recognize the material, understanding it and being able to recall it on the test is not only a different matter, it’s not even in the same part of the brain. Instead, the important thing is to organize the information in your head, and to understand the meaning and significance of what you’re studying, a process that takes longer than a single night of studying.
Since organizing the information in your brain is a key part of studying, simply re-reading your notes often won’t cut it. Instead, get creative with how you look at the information. If you’re working with a subject that involves a lot of dates and linear events, use a timeline to organize it. If you’re working on comparisons and contrasts, use a Venn diagram. Even things like equations and formulas can be more concretely comprehended using real-world examples or some other visualization methods.
Studying isn’t easy; that’s something us college students are acutely aware of. Sometimes studying can feel overwhelming, and we can’t help but give in to the urge to engage in ineffective study habits like all-nighters and cramming. Instead of putting everything off until the last minute, planning is key. Not only should you plan to study early, but you should include creative methods to visualize information. Do that, and you’ll be on your way to great grades!
Jason Zappulla is a UF history senior.