Cramming vs. Understanding: What’s the Difference?

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Are you a student thinking of which is better between cramming and understanding? The argument for which is better between the two can sometimes be confusing. Before deciding which of the strategies would be best for you, it’s essential to understand their definitions, as well as their advantages and disadvantages. While cramming involves memorizing concepts quickly and hastily, understanding involves taking your time to unravel the text’s contextual meaning. Each of them would work for different purposes, and you’ll need to understand their intent to be able to apply them effectively. Read on to find out everything you’ll need to know about each strategy and which is better between them.

What is Cramming?What is Cramming?

Otherwise known as swotting or mugging, cramming is the practice of putting in intensive work to absorb large volumes of information within a short period. Students typically adopt this practice during preparations for an upcoming test or examination, especially when it’s just a short moment to the exam. While cramming, students usually prioritize obtaining shallow recall suited to a superficial exam protocol over internalizing the structure of the subject matter in its entirety.

Most educators discourage cramming because hurriedly covering materials often lead to lower retention in the long-run. While memorizing may seem right for urgently preparing for a test, it leaves students prone to forgetting what they’ve read in the long-run when they’ll probably need to apply it. Despite discouraging cramming, educators still continually use superficial examination protocols. Perhaps students use these protocols because of the ease and speed of setting such questions and the grading ease it comes with. Cramming also means that students focus more on studies and less on unnecessary habits and actions. Despite the seeming disadvantages of cramming, it also has its advantages, and students must learn how to balance things to enjoy any advantage.

What is Understanding?

What is Understanding?

Put simply, to understand something means to have a clear knowledge of a particular situation or topic. It is a state of logically grasping or perceiving a specific concept that’s heard, read, or spoken without any confusion. Educators define understanding as a psychological process related to a physical or abstract object, such as a person, situation, or topic, whereby a person can put it into perspective or use concepts to deal with the object adequately. Understanding typically implies abilities and dispositions towards an object of knowledge.

In the educational setting, understanding is often related to learning new concepts. It is also associated with learning about theories related to each concept. Students need to understand what they learn from a young age. Beyond getting them ready for tests, understanding helps to ensure that a child had a strong learning foundation to see them throughout their education.

What are the Pros and Cons of Cramming Before a Test?

What are the Pros and Cons of Cramming Before a Test?

Cramming before a test is usually classified as an awful thing to do. But that’s not true. While cramming may have its downsides, it is not entirely a bad thing. Cramming is a study technique that most students are familiar with. Despite the amount of negativity that parents and teachers cloud it with, it still proves to have beneficial outcomes to students in many instances. Here, let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of cramming as a study technique.


  • The brain remembers the information overnight: You probably didn’t know that your brain continues to work even when you fall asleep. This indicates that your brain stays awake trying to crack unanswered questions, understand details of happenings, and remember facts, even when you are sleeping. Of course, the brain starts these activities from the last information it processed before you fell asleep. Most students only result in cramming on the night before their exams. The ploy here is for your brain to have sufficient time to process the information you’ve crammed before you wake up on the exam day.
  • Facilitates concentration: One of the essential benefits of cramming is its ability to improve concentration. Irrespective of your intelligence level, certain materials will be difficult to read and understand. Cramming and last-minute study sessions may be the answer when you face such challenges. Most times, these challenges tend to result from distractions. Channeling your energy to cramming can block out every distraction while helping you concentrate fully on the material.
    Additionally, there are times when procrastination will box you into a position where cramming is required. Being able to cram at that moment will shift your mind into a results-oriented study mode. Also, the self-discipline of time that comes with cramming helps to push some students to maximize their time usage skills and achieve better than they probably would have done if they had more time.
  • Quick results: Cramming is one of the most beneficial techniques to adopt when looking for quick academic results. Since it’s a quick way to review materials and re-familiarize yourself with concepts, you’ll discover that it puts you at an advantage to get better grades. Of course, better grades in the next test is essential to any student, although getting better grades quickly will not take you to the length you would reach if you develop solid study habits.


  • Poor timing will make you feel stressed and overwhelmed: While cramming can be an excellent technique for last-minute studies, the process is still overwhelming for most students. There’s always the feeling of unreadiness from studying once, just before the exams. Many students report that this kind of study stressed them out, making it difficult to sleep at night. Even when you sleep, you’ll wake up feeling stressed from the work overload on your brain the previous night.
  • You won’t get a full night: We all know the importance of getting a full sleep just before a major test. Besides giving your brain enough time to process information, adequate sleep revitalizes you and gets you ready to face the day’s challenge. What’s more, staying awake to cram at night will make you exhausted and miserable in the exam hall. There’s also the struggle to keep your eyes open and your brain composed to answer all necessary questions. This situation births careless mistakes, which would not have happened if you had enough rest.
  • Lack of retention: However you choose to look at it, retention is an important skill for any student. You’ll need certain Knowledge beyond an exam period. Since cramming is only suitable for momentarily memorizing concepts, the knowledge gained will only be useful in the short-run. If you are learning concepts that you intend to apply beyond your rest, then cramming is a bad idea since it doesn’t offer long-term knowledge.

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Understanding?

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Understanding?

Although many children can read, the acts of reading and understanding are two different things. This is why you’ll sometimes find yourself reading for hours without grasping the whole idea of the passage. Understanding involves giving deep thoughts to the obvious and hidden meaning of what you are reading. There are several reasons why educators and parents often encourage understanding over cramming. The benefits of understanding cannot be overemphasized. However, despite the overwhelming advantages, there are also a few disadvantages, and students need to understand and leverage the advantages to get the best out of their studies.

Here, let’s review some of the most obvious advantages and disadvantages.


  • It expands the mind: For starters, reading to understand can expand the mind and give students more ideas. Effective reading typically involves understanding, which has been proven to keep the mind young, sharp, and healthy. People who read to understand are typically less prone to memory decline compared to people who cram. As explained earlier, understanding involves unraveling the contextual mean of concepts and learning how to apply them. Students often confess that understanding helps to develop imagination, allowing them to dream and think in ways that they’ll not have done ordinarily.
  • Understanding improves creative thinking: When people read, they don’t just do so to pass examinations. Remember that the long-term reason for reading is to graduate and flourish in a chosen career. Almost every job requires creative thinking at different levels. While cramming would help you pass tests and examinations, it doesn’t exactly endow you with the creativity to function in a given career. Even in school settings, reading to understand helps to spark up your imagination so that you can tackle applied questions. Most times, we don’t know the context of questions that teachers will ask. But with the right level of creativity, you’ll be able to handle questions, irrespective of context.
  • For better perspective: It is essential to pay attention to understanding because it allows for a better perspective on different concepts. Reading to understand can take you outside our closed-off bubble, allowing you to see different views of a concept. Proper understanding gives us the chance to live through the lives of others without necessarily stepping out of our comfort zone. It provides us with the opportunity to see and live another life without leaving our homes.


  • It consumes time: Reading to understand typically consumes time. As a student, you’ll need to cover materials on several subjects before graduation. Reading through several bulky materials can be pretty difficult, especially when you have limited time to cover all materials.
  • Can be confusing sometimes due to contradictory opinions: Reading to understand mostly means trying to see meaning through lines. Sometimes, two books can have different opinions, which can mess with your mind considering that you are already an over-thinker. While crammers would read and memorize to pass tests, effective readers would want to understand everything, leaving them prone to confusion when they come across contradictory opinions.

Cramming vs. Understanding: Which is Better?

Cramming vs. Understanding: Which is Better?

In the end, the question always boils down to which is better between cramming and understanding. Despite the seeming benefits of cramming, parents and teachers often advise that students read to understand, rather than cram. Of course, reading to understand helps you pick up the contextual meaning of concepts, making you better in the long run.

The best answer to this question is both. Whether as a student or as a professional studying to pass a test, you’ll need to both cram and read to understand. There is no best one between the two because they need each other to be very effective. Understanding can indeed be used on its own, but so is cramming. However, being able to do both can put you at an advantage to pass any test. If you read both the advantages and disadvantages of both concepts explained above, you’ll see that understanding can achieve what cramming cannot understand and vice versa.

For example, cramming a formula might not be as effective as understanding it. Even if you cram a formula, you may not be able to apply it, making it useless in this case. The same happens with understanding. There are some things you may not be able to understand, making cramming the best solution for such situations. So basically, you need to balance reading to understand with cramming to be more efficient in your study.

While trying to balance out your reading strategy, you must be careful not to do too much cramming. As stated earlier, cramming puts too much stress on your brain by pushing it to go extra in memorizing the particular stuff. Stretching the brain beyond it’s limit causes anxiety and fatigue.

The best way to approach reading is to begin your study earlier so that you can have enough time to alternate between the two.

Wrapping Things Up: Cramming vs. Understanding: What’s the Difference?

There you have it, a detailed look into the difference between cramming and understanding. Learning about the pros and cons of both can help you know which to apply in different cases. The overall answer to the argument is that you’ll need both to succeed in any capacity. Despite the adverse effects of cramming, it still has its advantages and can, in fact, be the best strategy for people that have a short time to prepare for a test.

Therefore, if you are already good at reading to understand, you can try learning to cram so that both can complement themselves. Practicing either strategy won’t hurt after all. Don’t be discouraged if you are not good at any of them. With constant practice, you’ll soon find that it’s easy to incorporate both into your study schedule.

Picture of Professor Conquer
Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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