Friday, April 22, 2005

Planning for Spring/Summer Session

Spring and summer courses work well for some students and not for others. For some the concentration and intensity of six months of coursework jammed into fewer than three months keeps them on track and focused. For others, far too much information and processing required in a short period of time is simply overwhelming. There is also a myth out there that spring courses, because of their short time period, cover less material than the same course taught during the full term. This is not necessarily the case. Students are often expected to read and learn as much in six to twelve weeks as they would in the longer twelve to twenty-four week courses. Procrastination that can be dealt with when assignments are spread out over longer time periods can be disastrous when compacted into a shorter time period.

Planning you schedule

  • Know yourself and how well you function under pressure. If pressure is counter-productive for you, then it is a good idea to consider taking a course that goes for twelve rather than six weeks.
  • Be wary of unrealistic expectations. It is not necessarily do-able to work fulltime and take two to three spring or summer courses. It all looks possible at the beginning of the spring term and much less so when work demands conflict with school demands. This is particularly hard when the turn around time is so short.
Managing your time
  • Start your assignments immediately. This is our advice under any circumstances, but it is particularly important to do this for shorter courses. In most cases you will need to use every week available. A paper assigned at the beginning of class will often be due only two or three weeks later!
  • Do your work everyday. Do not save up assignments, readings, and reviews for the weekend or you will fall behind.
  • Divide your assignments into smaller tasks. That way you can keep working, feel like you are making progress, and avoid that feeling of being overwhelmed by too much work in too little time.
  • Watch for burnout. You have already completed a full year. Burnout happens when you work constantly without a break. Symptoms of burnout are “fatigue, boredom, and stress.” It’s a good idea to schedule time off from school at some time during the year. Doing different things is also good for your brain and your long term success. The fresher we are in the fall term, the better chance we have of doing well.
  • Remember it’s summer and do activities to capitalize on that. You can bike to school, take regular walks around campus (there are some lovely river walks and Kings Park is only 20 minutes away), participate in outdoor sports, study outside, and get to know classmates.

Two useful sites with information on procrastination and time management

Sunday, April 17, 2005

More final exam tips

Although we encourage all students to set up a schedule that allows for regular review, we realize that students will fall behind. Unfortunately you can’t make up for lost time, but you can make the most of what’s left. Here are some tips to help you along the way.

  • Prioritize in terms of the grade you want/need in each course, the worth of each exam, and your level of understanding in each course.
  • Stay positive, think positive, talk positive.
  • Make a plan and manage your time.
  • Follow the plan.
  • Study and rehearse ACTIVELY!
    • Practice output, old exams and test yourself
    • Don’t cover too many topics in one day. Instead, review and practice output.
    • Don’t passively read over notes; ask yourself questions and answer them out loud and in your own words.

In the end, you may want to remember the sinking feeling in your gut next term and make some changes to your study habits. The LAC is open all year for students to prepare for next term’s demands.


Friday, April 08, 2005

Spinning your wheels

I was reading an article “The Considerable Satisfaction of 2 Pages a Day” in The Chronicle of Higher Education* (April 8th edition) in which the author, Jay Parini (2005), wrote that he got far more done working in little bits in between other responsibilities (like teaching and marking) than he did when he sat down with large amounts of time available. In fact, he was afraid that if he took time off from teaching, marking, and sitting on committees that he wouldn’t get nearly as much done as he did now with all those responsibilities.

The same thing can be said for doing your academic work. The structure of everyday demands (and I include exercise, friends and family here), like Parini (2005) pointed out, is a good thing when it is combined with doing little bits at a time mixed with a sense of forward motion. A paper, or a comprehensive exam, or in Parini’s case, a novel or an article, is pretty overwhelming when you look at the whole picture, but not so bad when you look at it as Parini does, as “two pages a day.” You might not get the whole paper written, or all the chapters read, but at least you’ve done some of it.

When I teach the time management workshop, I talk about the dangers of “spinning your wheels,” those nasty moments when you are so overwhelmed by all the work and by endless big projects that you stop working altogether and get deeper and deeper into the mud (so to speak). Anyone who has been stuck in the mud knows that spinning your wheels is the worst thing you can do. Gentle movements forward and backward (and maybe some pushing to go along with that) are what will move you forward. To make this forward movement possible, do anything: review your notes, read a chapter section, reorganize computer files, check your citations, write an outline, read an article, format your paper and do it. You’ll be amazed at how soon you will be out of the mud and on your way.

So, take advantage of your 20 minute chunks; break your big jobs into smaller jobs; and allow yourself to work in smaller bits rather than insisting on the big chunks of studying that most students think is required. Just make sure that you are moving forward at a reasonable pace.

New Handouts on our web page

Terms Used in Essay Exams and Levels of Thinking (pdf, html)
SQ3R Reading Strategy (pdf, html)
Text Marking and Highlighting (pdf, html)
Study Notecards (pdf, html)
General Note-taking Tips (pdf, html)
The Cornell Note-taking System (pdf, html)

* The Chronicle is aimed primarily at faculty and is password protected but is interesting to general readers nonetheless and available through Bison. Just go to Bison, type in The Chronicle of Higher Education (a list of books and journals will appear, Chronicle is #5). When you click on that link a web page will appear that will provide a password.