Featured: Top of Home Page

Zen and the Art of Cramming

"Cramming for Finals" by ©CF Benson found on Flickr

You will highlight and underline, memorize and prioritize. And you will not blink.

For much of the planet, at least for those of us plugged into the academic calendar, the flowering of spring heralds another grim reality -- final exam time. This harsh and brutal season of accountability stands in stark contrast to the returning sunshine and blooming flora. Such is academia's extremely annual, extremely cruel joke. When it's finally nice enough to go outside, you're obliged to stay in -- buried in books, syllabi and despair.

I've been out of the student loop for a while, very deliberately, but am sensitive to final exam time by virtue of living in a college town. Speaking with the undergrads, I note their sunken eyes, their defeated postures, and the telltale signs of espresso and amphetamine abuse. It's tragic, really -- but a rite of spring like any other, I suppose.

A lot of people don't know this, but cramming is a time-honored and revered academic tradition, tracing all the way back to ancient Greece. Aristotle is said to have stayed up for three straight years while preparing his thesis on Poetics, and students at the Lyceum are generally credited with inventing the first form of Adderall.

While not generally the most effective way of assimilating information, cramming is a good short-term solution for an upcoming test. The idea is to jam your frontal lobes with as much relevant information as humanly possible, then vomit it back up within a day or so. Those of you who have been down this road know what I'm talking about. The amount of raw data you can functionally retain for 24 hours is amazing.

There are a number of ways to optimize your cramming performance, chemical and otherwise. As a rule, you should begin the process by defining your parameters. Is it healthy, or even possible, to attempt four months of cumulative reading in an evening? Am I willing to sacrifice pride for time by studying until five minutes before class and showing up in my robe with a cup of coffee? Am I prepared to risk permanent cognitive damage by revving my brain up to fifth gear for 14 hours straight? The answer to all these questions is yes.

Next you'll need your supplies. Find out exactly which books you need to read, sequence them properly, and go straight to Wikipedia to read the respective amateur summaries. Purchase a set of multicolor highlighters, and set them aside for use throughout the night. Remember -- the more acrid the ink fumes, the better they will keep you awake when you snort them.

Perhaps the most important element of a good cramming session is maintaining proper chemical parity. Caffeine will be your best friend for the next several hours, but you must respect her power. Don't peak too early -- a good rule of thumb is to consume one cup of coffee every time you turn a page.

All right, then. Time to settle in. Remove from your room all possible distractions -- records, books, plants, roommates, furniture, home-brewing equipment and carpeting. By painting warrior-like patterns on your face with the highlighters and chanting everything you read out loud, you will achieve a Zen-like state of consciousness.

For the next several hours you will descend into a world of near omniscience, absorbing all information you come across. You will be able to photographically recall pie charts pixel by pixel. You will memorize entire chapters verbatim and calculate pi to 100 digits. You will highlight and underline, memorize and prioritize. And you will not blink.

Like an Apache from a sweat lodge, you will emerge hours later into the bright sun for your 9AM class. Then, in a mighty display of intellectual prowess, you will fill in little circles with a No. 2 pencil.

The down side, of course, is that within about an hour and a half you will have forgotten everything you learned. Oh, sure, bits and pieces will remain. Things like the atomic weight of tungsten and Maasai puberty rites will continue to kick around in your cerebellum for years, in that weird mental place where we store old PIN codes and '80s pop song lyrics. But for the most part, you will have no serviceable recall.

Not that it matters. A passing grade is a passing grade, thank the gods. You've lived to see another day. Now breathe deep, rejoice and go get drunk. You done good, kid.

Music
Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Music

Coronavirus Tunes: A Brief Playlist for Our Times of Self-Isolation

As coronavirus spreads throughout the world and many of us hunker down with online media, we offer eight songs that share our feeling of seclusion.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Music

PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists

If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by the quality readership of PopMatters.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Books
Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Books

The American Robot: A Cultural History [By the Book]

In The American Robot, Dustin A. Abnet explores how robots have not only conceptually connected but literally embodied some of the most critical questions in modern culture, as seen in this excerpt from chapter 5 "Building the Slaves of Tomorrow", courtesy of University of Chicago Press.

Dustin A. Abnet
Film
Film

The Road to Murder in Love and War: Three Films from Claude Chabrol

The character's in Claude Chabrol's The Third Lover, Line of Demarcation, and The Champagne Murders are obsessively doubled and mirrored, reflecting and refracting their hunger for sex, love, money, and power.

Film

'Memento' Is the Movie of the Attention Economy

We are afraid of time, and so like Leonard in Memento, we kill it, compulsively and indiscriminately.

Film

What Lurks Beneath: 'Jaws' and Political Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

Boris Johnson admires the Mayor in Spielberg's Jaws. Remember him? He was the guy who wouldn't close the beaches -- and sacrifice that revenue source -- during a public crisis.

Film

'The Serpent's Egg' Marks One of Ingmar Bergman's Strangest Efforts

The Serpent's Egg bares many of the Bergman's trademark features – the suffocating auras of despair and an underdog's sense of triumph over tragedy – but falls short of a more intelligent rendering of human drama.

Recent
Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Music

Lilly Hiatt - "Some Kind of Drug" (Singles Going Steady)

Lilly Hiatt sings about a different kind of love on "Some Kind of Drug". Hers is for a city and the impact gentrification has had its soul.

Music

There's Never Enough Time for Folk Music's James Elkington

The sometimes Wilco and Richard Thompson sideman, in-demand producer, and songwriter, James Elkington, muses on why it's taking longer than he expects to achieve more in a week than most of us get done in a lifetime.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Music

Weeks Island's 'Droste' Is a New High Water Mark in Ambient Steel (EP stream) (premiere)

Lost Bayou Ramblers' Jonny Campos turns up as Weeks Island with Brian Eno/Cluster-inspired music straight from the bayou. Hear Droste in full ahead of its release on Friday.

Music

Ireland's Junk Drawer Share New Krautrock Meets Post-Punk Song, "Temporary Day" (premiere)

Junk Drawer's "Temporary Day" is a simple yet compelling video for a gripping song that shows why the band have earned such acclaim in their native Ireland.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Music

Miranda Lambert - "Bluebird" (Singles Going Steady)

Miranda Lambert sings her blues the way an artist paints with them on her latest single, "Bluebird".

Music

'Stone Crush' Proves (Again) That Memphis Is Ground Zero for Soul and R&B

Stone Crush shines a light on the forgotten -- or never known -- artists that passed through the doors of Memphis' most storied studios in an attempt at just one fleeting moment of fame.

Music

Circles Around the Sun Shoot for the Stars on New Album

Jamrockers Circles Around the Sun's self-titled third album finds the band transcending darkness after losing their founder in 2019 to chart a groovy new course.

Music

Jazz's Kandace Springs Pays Tribute to 'The Women Who Raised Me'

Singer and pianist Kandace Springs tackles a dozen songs associated with her jazz vocal heroes, and the combination of simplicity and sincerity is winning.

Music

Coronavirus Tunes: A Brief Playlist for Our Times of Self-Isolation

As coronavirus spreads throughout the world and many of us hunker down with online media, we offer eight songs that share our feeling of seclusion.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.