Essay Preparation: Cramming vs. Planning

It will come as no surprise that preparing for coursework assignments months in advance usually correlates to better results. After all, allowing yourself lots of time to research, compile resources, plan and write your essay certainly provides a larger degree of security; you can be confident you have the best critical resources (having been one of the first to raid the shelves of your topic’s area of the library) and have given yourself time to properly synthesise them so that, come the holidays, you can sit back and relax in the knowledge that you’ve given yourself the best chance to succeed in writing a thorough, well thought through essay.

You slave away over it for a few more weeks, dragging out the re-reading, planning and writing process to allow ideas to properly develop into noteworthy streams of scholarly prose and arrive back on campus at the beginning of deadline week confident in your preparation and ultimately resulting in a well-deserved mark. But let’s face it, we all have that one friend who doesn’t need first pickings of books to do well, or more than two weeks for that matter.

So is there any correlation between spending a month or longer on an assignment and achieving good marks? I asked a few fellow English students about their preparation habits to try to find out, and got very mixed results.

First, I asked English second year student Becky about the length of time she devotes to compiling her coursework every term: “I used to spend minimum time preparing (usually as late as 1-2 weeks before) mostly because I lacked motivation to spend weeks on an essay, and was generally confident in my ability to achieve highly considering I was getting high 2:1s with little preparation. I thought I didn’t need the prep.”

This is a similar story to Ginny’s, who told me that although she regrets leaving coursework to 2-3 weeks before the deadline because of the pressure it puts her under, she still also achieves the same high grades as her peers: “I do it every time and regret it every time. It doesn’t mean I do horribly, I just know if I spent more time on it I would do better. I just lack motivation leading up to the deadline and tend to put other commitments first.”

“It seems that the correlation between the achievement of a 2:1 or above is variable, with a number of individuals demonstrating that it is possible to do well with little preparation time”

This all seems to suggest there is little correlation between good results and lengthy preparation. However, second year student George’s viewpoint seems to reflect a link between extended preparation and slightly more consistent, high results. George claims that spending a month or longer on her essays has resulted in results that have been far more coherent and outstanding than previous essays she spent less time on: “I now usually spend at least a month on an essay. The extra time has so many benefits, for instance with the extra time allowing you to collect your thoughts and plan a coherent, unique argument.” For many, this method has resulted in the achievement of marks notably higher than previously, showing this to correlate with the achievement of high marks (i.e. a 2:1 or above) as well as the unlocking of those higher grade boundaries which spill over from the high 60s into the sacred territory of the sought-after first.

Becky has also changed her attitude recently and claims that this has indeed impacted on her marks positively, stating: “I now work on essays a month or so before because one time I got a low grade on an essay and knew it was because I didn’t prepare properly. I’m aiming for a first and have realised I can’t achieve that unless I put maximum work in.” This additionally links to another English student, Anna’s opinion that without her lengthy preparation process she enforced on herself last term, she couldn’t have reached the first boundary: “The additional time allowed me to think and rethink my argument as well as question my selected sources further. This unlocked different personal perspectives relating to my essay topic, which I think gave my assignment added depth and complexity. I probably wouldn’t have been able to do that if I’d given myself less time.”

Therefore, it seems that the correlation between the achievement of a 2:1 or above is variable, with a number of individuals demonstrating that it is possible to do well with little preparation time, whilst others have shown that, whilst this method works for some, allowing yourself more time proves more likely to end in truly exceptional results.

Jill Forsdick

Featured image: Jinx! via Flickr

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