As college students, our number one priority is our academic life. Often times this academic life can be extremely overwhelming. It seems that every week is a cacophony of emails, meetings, essays and readings. You hardly finish one assignment before the next is nearly due. And when you try to have a good time and go out, you end up stressed about the work you could be doing. What gives? How can a college student make academic life more bearable?
Here are a few simple tips that can make your work ethic more efficient, thereby freeing up more time to enjoy the things you really want to do.
Set aside time to study and play.
Part of the reason students often get overwhelmed in college is because they do not know how they should divide their time. Making a schedule and keeping track of due dates and meeting times is crucial to ensuring that you know exactly what you should be doing and at what time.
When making a schedule, you don’t have to delineate in excruciating detail every second of your day. Instead set aside blocks of time for a particular academically-related or fun-related period. For example, you can set aside three hours in the afternoon specifically for studying and completing homework. This ensures that your schedule is flexible enough to accommodate for new assignments, which you should prioritize depending on due date, difficulty, and amount of writing or reading required. Give yourself plenty of time to think about the ideas that you are learning, and then write.
You want to make sure that you are scheduling this studying block when you are most alert in the day. If you are a morning person, do not make your studying hour at 9 p.m. Schedule your fun-related period after your alertness has decreased in the day. It is worth mentioning that your schedule will require tweaking, it is not set in stone. Do not force yourself to be productive in your unproductive hours.
Another important part of your schedule is ensuring that you go to bed and wake up at consistent times. Make sure that your schedule takes into account that you are, in fact, a human being, and you have to eat, sleep and shower. The aforementioned study tips will help you to avoid that terrible guilt you feel when you know that you should be studying but instead you are watching Netflix. You will introduce greater structure into your day and habituate into that structure. You must keep at your schedule for it to stick, which leads us to my next tip.
Maintain the integrity of your schedule.
Study time is for studying. It is not to check your phone every five seconds. When it is time for you to study, put the phone far, far away and on silent. Otherwise you will not be able to concentrate and all your effort will be for naught. If your homework is online and you find yourself constantly opening tabs to look at Reddit, consider installing an application which restricts your access to other apps/tabs for a certain period of time.
If you need to listen to music while you study, try not to listen to music that has song lyrics in it. You will find yourself singing and not doing the reading. A good alternative would be video game music, which is designed to immerse you into a particular scenario and not break your concentration, classical music or the famous “lo-fi hip hop beats.”
You want to make sure that you take care of all your needs before you sit down and study. That means that you should have water already if you need it, or tea, or coffee, so that you are not constantly getting up and getting distracted. Have a snack beforehand if you need to, and chew gum if it helps you concentrate better. Make sure that all your pens have ink in them and that you are not out of say, loose leaf paper. Furthermore, make sure that you have all the materials you need to study – your notes and the reading, for example.
Wearing comfortable clothes and being in a quiet environment will help you relax enough to devote your attention to studying. I recommend not studying in a group unless you are actually all studying quietly together or engaged in a group discussion of some material. Otherwise you will find yourself very distracted. Try to keep your study area the same, and separate it from the area you eat, sleep or play in. In this way, your brain will start to associate this area with study time, and you will find it easier to get started on your work.
I imagine that the next tip will be rather controversial, but if you somehow manage to finish all your immediate homework before your study-time period is up, do not switch immediately to lounging about, unless you are quite exhausted or starving or the like. I would recommend using the additional time to get ahead on your classes, particularly readings. In this way, you are less likely to be stressed out if the workload suddenly increases or if you catch the flu.
Recognize that you cannot complete complicated assignments in one day.
Part of why having a schedule is so important is that it lets you allot time throughout the week to work on multiple assignments and prioritize which ones to work on at what time. I am of the opinion that doing the readings and writing an essay on the same day is a terrible idea. The quality of your work really suffers when you do this. Your brain needs time to digest and critically reflect on ideas before it can come up with a good way to articulate them. Furthermore, your first articulation of an idea is usually not the best one. You need time to re-write and re-think. Sometimes, re-thinking involves stepping away entirely from your work.
The importance of stepping back from your work can really be seen with the fictional story of how the mathematician Archimedes discovered the solution to a difficult assignment from the king at the time. Archimedes had stepped away from his work and was sitting in his tub when the solution suddenly hit him and he yelled “Eureka!” Even when we think we are not contemplating what we have learned, we are actually subconsciously processing everything that has happened throughout the day. Therefore, it is important to give yourself time to process different assignments. I like to carry a notebook with me to jot down my “eureka” moments so that I don’t forget them.
Use the resources available to you to further make your studying more efficient.
The number one piece of advice any college first-year can get is to go to class. Missing class can become a habit faster than you can say “here!” When you miss class, you miss out on important discussions and lectures that would help to speed up your studying. Besides, you’re paying for college, so not going to class means you’re throwing away your money.
If you don’t understand something, remember that your professor has office hours and an email account. You should always strive to maintain open communication between yourself and the professor. They’re there to teach you, and they will not be mad that you are confused. You can also ask for tutoring from the Academic Achievement Center. Tutoring schedules and requests can be accessed on the Academic Achievement Center’s Moodle Page.
Finally, decide whether or not note-taking in class is useful to you, and if so, what kind of note-taking is useful. I find that if I’m in a discussion-heavy course where I’ve already turned in materials necessary for the discussion, I don’t need to take notes. Rather, I learn better when I engage with the conversation. In lectures, however, taking notes is imperative for me. Some people do not have to take notes, and that is perfectly fine.
For those of us that do benefit from notes, I would suggest that the best way to take notes is by hand. Studies show that this helps you retain information much better. I also like to rewrite my notes after class to make sure I can fill in confusing details and re-organize them into a coherent structure, as opposed to mere chicken-scratch. Experiment with different note-taking methods like Cornell notes and mind-mapping.