As we dive into the first semester of the school year we begin to face challenges. For many of us the material seems insurmountable….maybe we perceive it as such, or maybe teachers realize they are falling short and rush to get all the information in before the semester ends.
Either way, students feel stressed, overwhelmed and many times unable to catch up. So what do you do when you find the material to be TMTH (too much to handle)?
You don’t have to learn EVERYTHING
Firstly, realize that you don’t have to learn everything. Remember, the professor can’t test on EVERYTHING. So don’t go at a packet, slide deck or book with the attitude that you have to know everything. Find the Titles, the main point in the paragraph that follows, and any supporting info that seems to buttress the main point. Careful with your use of highlighting if you’re tired and burning out because you’ll start to highlight everything. Which brings us to….
Have a study buddy
Two heads are better than one. Sometimes three…but more than that may be distracting. What you thought was important in class or on a sheet of information can be confirmed or denied by another student. Moreover everyone has strengths and weaknesses so find one who can complement you and help you discern what’s important to know.
Be direct…ask the teacher
Rather than guessing, take 15 minutes to meet with the teacher to get an idea of what they find imperative to learn/know for the test. But don’t go into their office asking “will this be on the test?” I would be direct, honest, but humble by asking:
- “All the information you gave us is very important. What do you suggest we concentrate on?”
- “I find myself wanting to memorize all the information you gave us due to its importance, but is there a better strategy?”
- “I want to do well on the exam and not over-concentrate on the part of the material that will not be tested as it could take time away from my learning the other material that you want us to know.”
- “I would really appreciate any advice you can give on how to approach the material being tested. I enjoy your class and want to accurately demonstrate the effort I’m putting in to succeed in your course.”
Now many times the professor will oblige. But if not, you need to indirectly determine what he/she is going to test. This brings us to…..
Watch for the “Brush Over”
How was the material given?
If your professor brushed over it quickly in class, it could mean they don’t find it crucial enough to test or ….they don’t completely understand the material themselves. Most likely this will not be tested. However, if he/she brushed over it because it was given in a previous lecture, then its open game.
Demonstrations of the brush over include:
- Skipping over to the next slide
- Skipping over to the next sentence
- Speaking quickly and less slow with regards to a certain subject matter
- Speaking vaguely over the subject matter
- Looking down and away when discussing the subject matter when he/she usually gives direct eye contact during lectures
- Moving the laser pointer to an earlier point as he/she reinforces it.
Know your professor
Are they big on testing if you paid attention in class or knowing the information that’s necessary to succeed? Are they a jerk and will pick the most esoteric piece of content from a 1000 word slide or will they focus on main points? Get an idea on what makes them tick.
A test is a game
For some institutions the exam is to test competency. These are the most clear-cut, fair tests and to me, make the most sense. If, for example, in medical school one is studying poor lung function and what a spirometer discerns, the inventor and history of the tool will most likely not be tested. Keep in mind, your professor has bosses and they have bosses, so your competency reflects on them.
For other institutions it may be at the professor’s discretion. So you need to feel out each teacher and see what they’re all about. If they are big on class attendance and will weight the test towards those who showed up, expect questions on content that was highlighted in class. And if they are big on seeing if you paid attention, you will be tested on something they impressed upon you sometime during lecture. So during the lecture watch for the following:
- Long pause after finishing a point on a slide
- Eye contact when delivering the content
- Reiterating a point twice
- The key word the professor stresses with his laser pointer
So after you’ve done your “homework,” how do you tackle your studies?
Map out your strategy
Your time is divisible so grab a calculator and aliquot into equal periods. Make sure you have extra sessions included for breaks and catch up sessions. Or you can use a calendar that is already compartmentalized on which to create your timetable.
Clean your desk!
A nice clean, crisp desk with plenty of pens and highlighters helps energize one more than cluttered paper. Moreover have a second work space you can go to when you get sick of working at your desk.
Now this is easier said than done. Some will put their hardest classes on their study calendar first, some the easiest. There are pros and cons to both. What I suggest is alternating difficult and easy subjects. You need the start of your day and initial power hours knocking out the difficult material, but then the easier classes will boost your confidence and sometimes energy. So one option could be:
- Study block 1: Tough subject
- Study block 2: Easy subject
- Study block 3: Medium subject
- Hour 4: Review
- With breaks, of course, in between.
Take real breaks!
You should design two types of breaks: Short and Long.
Your short break should be no shorter than 10 minutes. During the break you must do the following:
- Get up and stretch
- Drink water
- Eat a small snack
- Go to the bathroom
- Listen to some music, dance, phone a friend
Your long break should be no shorter than 45 minutes. During these breaks you can:
- Eat a regular meal, if due, and drink plenty of fluids
- Take a small nap
- Take a shower – helps refresh and energize
- Check social media – stick to your time limit though!
- Watch a 30 minute episode of your favorite sitcom
- Exercise such as going for a run
Identify signs of burnout
If you’re “going through the motions” of studying and feel “burnt” you won’t be absorbing the material and subsequently you’ll be wasting precious hours. You must identify burnout by looking for the following:
- Poor sleep when you get done in the evening
- Negative attitude towards school and others
- Procrastinating your next study block
- Being irritated
- Feeling empty
- Low energy
- Thinking about quitting
How to avoid burnout
When studying you’re classwork it’s difficult to avoid the boredom and stress, but the following may help:
- Study with friends
- Mix up your study sessions with videos and flash cards if reading gets overwhelming
- Watch a short funny video to get you laughing
- Take regular breaks
- Make sure you’re eating and sleeping well
Remember, we’ve all been there and school is supposed to be challenging. Stay on course and get help if you need such as a tutor. We all make it to the finish line….even if we’re a little bruised up when we get there.