Retaining info in College

Repetition may be the most effective mechanism to increase the capacity of the student memory. (File Photo/The Daily Campus)

Currently the semester is finally picking up and professors are trying to cram as much material as possible during a single lecture in order to cover all the material for the first batch of midterm exams or avoid falling behind schedule due to a looming snow day.  Us students must ask ourselves and our professors if cramming all this information in such a short time frame yields the best academic results.

Personally, I’ve always been extremely unsuccessful on exams that I have had to pull all nighters for. In fact, the only two times in college when I thought it was necessary to pull off an allnighter I either failed or came close to failing my exam the next day.  However, research suggests that my lack of success when cramming a copious amount of information in such a short time frame is normal because it is only assigned to my working memory.

Working memory is synonymous with short term memory.  Short term memory is so inefficient that it only properly stores information in our brains for about 20-30 seconds! In order to overcome this short capacity and to be able to retain information efficiently, it is best to figure out a mechanism to store the material in our long term memory.  This is best done by repetition.

Scientifically, this means transporting information from the prefrontal lobe to the hippocampus region of the brain ( the storage place for long term memories.) The prefrontal lobe is the region of the brain where working memories are stored.  It is very active, which results in some memories accidently becoming manipulated and frayed, which is why cramming lots of information in a short period of time is inefficient.  Contrarily, the hippocampus is evolutionarily a very old region of our brain.  It is also where our long term memory is stored. When we remember new facts by repeating them we are actually passing them through the hippocampus multiple times. As a result, the hippocampus keeps strengthening the associations among these new elements until it becomes naturally effortless and a memory is created.

During my tenure at the University of Connecticut, most of my professors have sped through lectures without rewinding back to previous content unless the class was designated to review for an exam, which is too late and considered cramming in most cases.  I understand that it is the responsibility of students to review their notes on their own time outside of class to move information into our long term memory.  However, I truly admire professors who take  a short time in the beginning of class to review the previous classes lecture, thereby forcing repetition of information among their students.

My Managerial Accounting teacher, for example, always spends the first five to ten minutes of each class asking students questions on the last classes lecture.  As a result, this has saved me time outside of class and I don’t feel encouraged to cram for the upcoming midterm the night before since a lot of the information is already stored in my long term memory as part of the curriculum.  

Perhaps teachers feel constrained due to time constraints with some classes.  If this is the case then the University should make an effort to offer more 75 minute classes opposed to the 50 minute classes.

For the upcoming midterm weeks ahead just remember that there is a physiological reason that supports spaced out repetition opposed to cramming for an exam the night before and you’ll do great!   


Zachary Metviner is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at zachary.Metviner@uconn.edu.