College can be a chaotic time. Whether it’s socializing, lazing around, or engaging in extra-curricular, there’s always something students would rather be doing than studying for exams.

As a result, many put off their exam prep until the very last moment. That is if they study at all because many students will show up to a test and just try to wing it.

You get some hallmates together, order some pizza, down a couple of Adderalls and pull an all-nighter in front of your textbooks. Then the morning comes, and you head off to class. But is this model of exam preparation workable?

Short-Term Gains


The short answer is that for some subjects, it is possible to prepare all in one night. Suppose the issue involves automatic memorization like introductory Biology. In that case, you can fill your brain with the proper names and functions of whatever unit is being tested that day, and you’ll remember them. But only for that day.

The knowledge certainly won’t stick beyond that semester. Even within the semester, you will probably have a final exam covering the same material and have to learn it all over again, which is a waste of time.

It is similar to writing an essay. You focus really hard on research, make an outline, and write the paper. But in a week, you realize you have no idea what you wrote about. For cases like this, it’s much easier to get help from in the first place. This way, you won’t have to struggle and get more done.

Sleep Schedule


Many people don’t even acknowledge the downstream effects of trying to prepare for an exam all in one night. If you get zero hours of sleep and then take your test, you will likely be a zombie-like being for the rest of the day. You might miss something from another lecture or trip on a footstep, or forget about an appointment you had scheduled. Or, you might sleep through classes the next day.

Luckily, there are a plethora of apps that can help you monitor this situation. It doesn’t matter how busy or distracted you are – an asleep tracker will log your data dutifully. These devices give you information about when you went to sleep, when you woke up, how long you were in the deep sleep phase, and much more depending on the particular tracker you choose.

You can take a look at your sleep schedule a week after your exam and ask yourself: “Did my all-nighter before that exam ruin my sleep pattern?”. If the answer is yes, maybe one-night preparation is not the best idea for you.

Rapid Learning


On the other hand, there are some real benefits and applications of cramming all your exam prep into one night. If you do it enough, you will develop strategies and identify pitfalls. Flashcards worked, silent reading didn’t work, group testing worked, etc.

In the real world, you might be presented with similar situations and have to deal with them. Imagine, for instance, if you worked at a financial consulting firm. As a move to gain an edge over your competitors, the higher-ups have instituted an entirely new operating system. Due to the nature of financial markets, there’s no time to waste fiddling around and to learn the system through natural trial and error; you have to absorb everything there is to know about it immediately. If you don’t, you’re out of a job.

Many similar examples exist. Being able to consume a massive amount of information in a short amount of time is a valuable skill in today’s job market.

Stress Pile-Up


Even if you manage to prepare for your exam and get the grade you were hoping for, this pattern of studying is known to cause stress.

You’re stressed out for the week or more leading up to your exam because you know you haven’t prepared yet. The knowledge that you still have something to do lingers in your head, whether it’s a conscious thought or not. The closer it gets to exam day without studying, the more stressed and dire the situation becomes.

Then, you pull an all-nighter, and everything’s back to normal. But you don’t need to go through this cycle! Just study for your test ahead of time, maybe check back every once in a while to refresh your knowledge of the material and rest well before your test to enjoy yourself!

Staying Fresh


One final consideration about cramming is that when you do, you go into the test with all the terms and concepts fresh. This could put you on even better footing than someone who studied traditionally, spaced out in shorter segments over multiple days.

You will be focused on the test, seeing a question, and reacting like a cheetah to answer it quickly and accurately, giving you extra time to work on the hard stuff. This is provided that you’re able to show up to the test in something that resembles a functional state. If you’re a zombie, you won’t be able to react faster than a normal studier. So keep that in mind as well.


So, can you prepare for your test in just one night? Yes, you can. Should you? Well, that’s a more complicated question. It’s probably a good idea to listen to students who’ve gone to the same university or college or school as you – what do they recommend?

You will probably hear them tell you stories of triumph and failure of decisions they made at the time regarding studying that turned out later to be foolish. Don’t ignore them just because they’re older than you and perhaps part of an earlier generation. After all, the human experience is universal. So, weigh all your options and try to make smart short-term and long-term choices.