Should You Cram for the PHR/SPHR Exam?

By Sandra M. Reed

Some popular theorists say that cramming for your exam or putting off studying until the last moment — the week or the night before the test — is useless. Short-term memory gains are often at the expense of lost information elsewhere, which is especially true if your late-night studying breaches your normal sleep patterns, because a well-rested exam taker is more successful than one who just pulled an all-nighter.

Although a panicky study session the night before isn’t the best way to spend your evening hours, a well-planned, systematic review of difficult-to-understand concepts may be just the sedate activity that is a natural extension of your regular study patterns.

To do so, keep notes during your weekly study sessions of topics that you’ve struggled with or that you need to understand more clearly. Then during the week before your exam, engage in one or more of these activities:

  • Watch videos. Most of your studying has probably been of the reading sort, fighting your way through the language of academia and a hodgepodge of MBA terms like paradigms and deltas. In the week before your exam, engage in watching videos produced by credible experts, such as authors or professional associations regarding the muddier concepts. You can find many of these types of videos on free websites such as YouTube. You can locate others via news outlets such as CNBC and Bloomberg Business Week online. Consider subscribing to these sources so that you’re notified whenever a new video is posted.

  • Stick to your review schedule. Accelerating the amount of time you spend reviewing is fine; however, be aware of your limits. The week before the exam isn’t the time to learn new concepts. Focus then on reviewing the familiar or go deeper in the more difficult.

  • Write exam questions or create a presentation. Doing so is harder than you think. The best way to learn something is to teach it, so writing exam questions or preparing a PowerPoint presentation as though you’re getting ready to train on a difficult topic forces you to look at the material in an objective way. Strip the concept down to its core, seeking out information to teach rather than to learn. Doing so gives you greater control and less fear over the concept that has eluded retention in your information-overloaded mind.

You alone need to decide if a modified cramming schedule works for you. Abandoning all preparation activity the night before may be unrealistic for some individuals, yet quite a relief for others. Don’t judge yourself after you have made a decision either way; just trust your instincts and do what feels right for you.