From CAT: Better than cramming 

This message to all faculty, deans, directors, and department heads has been approved by Dr. Sally McRorie, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs.  

Do your students seem to wait until the last minute to prepare for exams? Do they use ineffective study strategies like rereading, highlighting, or cramming? With two weeks left in Summer A and C, we can give our students a head start, and even help them develop more effective study strategies, by encouraging them to prepare for their final exams now. 

In online courses, where students often need to take greater responsibility for their learning process, self-regulation becomes even more important for their success. They need to be able to manage their time, assess what they do and do not know, and make effective plans to accomplish their goals, but most don’t arrive at the university with these skills already fully developed. They need our guidance in order to grow as learners. 

Saundra McGuire points out that when college students have not yet developed effective metacognitive strategies, they can be poor judges of their own learning. They may be misled by fluency illusions, and they confuse learning with memorizing. She explains, “even if they are able to rally and work harder, doing more of what they already know how to do is not likely to help. They need to learn a different way. When students learn about metacognition and implement metacognitive strategies, their performance turns around.” 

Here are a few things we can do to help our students help themselves: 

Show them that they are preparing for the final exam (or project) all semester.

Throughout the term, we can make transparent what we expect students to know and know how to do by the end of the course, so they have a sense of what success will look like and involve. We can also make explicit how the assignments they do along the way help them develop knowledge and skills over time, through practice and feedback. Some colleagues prompt students to build a study guide or write their own quiz questions or practice problems at regular points throughout the semester, so students don’t have to ask what will be on the exam at the end. 

Teach students about effective (and ineffective) study strategies.

This doesn’t have to take up much class time. You can share a quick web resource, like “Studying 101: Study Smarter, Not Harder” from UNC Chapel Hill, or you can share excerpts from the books Make it Stick by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel or Teach Yourself How to Learn by McGuire. Both titles are available as free ebooks through FSU’s libraries. Stephen Chew’s five-part video series, How to Study Long and Hard and Still Fail, or…How to Get the Most Out of Studying, is also entertaining and valuable, and you can link to the videos from Canvas. If you want to make sure your students make use of the resources you’re sharing, you can create a small assignment in which they must review them, compare the new strategies to ones they’ve used in the past, and make a plan to use effective ones to prepare for the final exam. 

Promote interactive studying.

Interacting with professors and peers is an important part of learning. Especially when working remotely, students appreciate having opportunities to connect. We can invite them to work with us and with each other to prepare for their final exams. Many faculty like to hold review sessions for students in their classroom or office, but we can also hold these sessions online through Zoom. If you find that students shy away from attending, you can mix things up by making these into competitions or games (e.g., Jeopardy, Kahoot, etc.), or even host (or ask a TA or LA to host) casual study “hangouts,” where some students might choose to try solving problems while others might choose to watch, listen, or ask questions. Students could even attend such sessions while having coffee, lunch, or an evening snack. 

If you’d like support developing strategies for your own courses, please email us at We look forward to working with you!