Academic journal article College Student Journal

The Relationship of Academic Cramming to Flow Experience

Academic journal article College Student Journal

The Relationship of Academic Cramming to Flow Experience

Article excerpt

Research has neglected to examine the experiential aspects of academic cramming. In the present study, we assessed the relationship between cramming and Csikszentrnihalyi's (1990, 1997) flow state. We expected that experiencing such a state would be more likely for students who typically cram than for non-crammers. One hundred sixty-one undergraduates participated in the study. Following a simulation of a cramming session, they completed a measure of flow experienced during the task. Results indicated that students who normally cram performed better on the test and reported higher flow scores than the non-crammers. Implications for research on flow and study habits are presented.


Many educators probably have a negative view of the efficacy and wisdom of academic procrastination and cramming. At the same time, it is safe to say that many college students have either a need or preference for academic procrastination and cramming. For example, surveys of procrastination and cramming show that most students do both at least on occasion (e.g., Ferrari, Johnson, & McCown, 1995; Hill, Hill, Chabot, & Barrall, 1978; Solomon & Rothblum, 1984; Vacha & McBride, 1993). Some researchers claim that academic procrastination and cramming are part of an adaptive study and performance strategy (e.g., Crewe, 1969; W. Sommer, 1990), whereas others argue that academic crammers suffer from a lack of both motivation and self-regulation (Tuckman, 1991, 1998). As R. Sommer (1968) put it, cramming is "a technique as widely condemned by educators as it is widely used by students" (p. 104).

There remains considerable debate about the relative costs and benefits of both academic procrastination and cramming. The intent of our study was to examine their experiential aspects, something that has been neglected by researchers. In particular, we proposed that a major positive effect of cramming is that students may feel something akin to the "flow state" discussed by Csikszentmihalyi (1990, 1997).

Procrastination and cramming

Lay (1986) defined procrastination as "the tendency to postpone that which is necessary to reach some goal" (p. 475). Most research has focused on academic procrastination (such as the delays in completing writing assignments, staying caught up on reading assignments, and preparing for exams) and neurotic indecision (i.e., postponement of major life decisions or other forms of self-defeating behaviors) (see Milgram, Sroloff, & Rosenbaum, 1988). However, procrastination also applies to a wide variety of everyday goal-directed behaviors, including paying bills, doing the dishes, and making dental appointments (Lay, 1986, 1992; Milgram et al., 1988).

One of the major results of procrastinating in the academic realm is the need for cramming. R. Sommer (1968) defined cramming as "a heavy burst of studying immediately before an exam which followed a long period of neglect and reliance on memorization rather than understanding" (p. 105). As Vacha and McBride (1993) noted, Sommer's definition contains two dimensions -- the heavy bursting (what we shall call "cramming") and the neglect or procrastination.

In his classic research on cramming, R. Sommer (1968) argued that there are many reasons for cramming, including such factors as the difficulty or interestingness of a course and the type of exams given. In a series of studies, Sommer found that almost all students (even successful ones) reported at least some cramming for exams, that most students reported cramming more in college than in high school, and that most students did not begin serious study for final exams until the week before finals began. On the negative side, students who crammed for finals reported increased disruptions in their normal eating and sleeping routines and increased stress and other physical symptoms (e.g., nervousness, headaches, eyestrain). Among the positives reported by student crammers were increased concentration on the materials and better memory for them. …

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