It’s official: napping is better than cramming

By Anna Dutton

Recent studies have shown that napping before an exam may be just as effective as cramming or regular revising. The studies were carried out in the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore and results showed that napping was just as beneficial, if not more so, than cramming.

The most common way people revise is by going over what they have already learnt because the repetition enables the brain to retain information. As James Cousins notes from the Duke-NUS Medical School ‘with any memory, the more you recall it, the stronger the memory trace.’

However, it has also been shown that sleeping can be just as important for learning information. By having a good night’s sleep, the information learnt that day is consolidated and therefore remembered. Consequently, having a refreshing night’s sleep before an exam is always recommended.

An associate of Cousins, Michael Chee and other colleagues of the medical school carried out a study to determine whether it was better to nap or cram before an exam. The study involved a mock-student experience where 72 ‘students’ sat through 12 presentations about the varying species of crabs and ants. The participants then had to learn all the information they had been taught, for example the animals’ diets and habitats.

They did this for 80 minutes and then the students were given an hour to either watch a film, study, or take a nap. After the hour elapsed, there was another 80 minutes of learning, followed by a test comprising of 360 questions about the ants or crabs. The results of this showed that those who had napped had the best score. The participants were then called back a week later for another study and the results still favoured the students that had napped.

The results from a further test another week later also favoured the nappers with Cousins suggesting ‘…cramming information might be good in the short term, but in the long run, the benefits might not be great.’ The differing scores between the nappers and the crammers did not conclude as statistically significant so more tests are being carried out to determine whether napping is better than cramming, or equally as good.

The reasons for these results are still unknown: some evidence suggests that memories are imprinted better during a short sleep; but the likely cause is that a short nap leaves the individual feeling refreshed resulting in their brain being better-equipped to learn. Gareth Gaskell from the University of York would support this, noting that a nap ‘is making them (the students) more alert.’ These findings are by no means conclusive however so further research is being carried out to better understand the value of pre-exam napping.

In summary, napping before an exam does seem an appealing form of ‘revision,’ however, because the evidence is not conclusive, a combination of revision methods is still recommended and likely to have the greatest impact upon an individual’s information retention skills.

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