Developing good time management skills and effective study habits is critical to your success in college - not to mention your enjoyment of college life. Fortunately, working out a simple time management system and devising effective study strategies is less about gimmicks than it is about common sense. Follow these simple steps, and we can guarantee that you'll be well on your way to a productive life in college.
Get Organized and Stay Organized
Getting organized and developing a simple system to stay that way are among your first orders of business when you get to college. The first thing you need to decide is what your organizational tool is going to be. For those of us who still love working on paper, it could be a twenty-four-hour day planner, or even something as simple as a desk calendar. For others, it may be a PDA. Whatever tool you choose, it will be the one place where you will record all your classes, meetings, assignments, exam dates, and paper deadlines.
As soon as you've decided which classes you'll be taking during your fall semester, it's time to "rip" your course syllabi into this calendar. All your class meeting times go into the calendar, as do the due dates of all problem sets, lab reports, and other assignments. Dates of all quizzes, tests, midterms, term papers, and finals also go immediately into the calendar.
Find Your Study Place On Campus
It is time to decide where you plan to go to get your daily work done. And it shouldn't be your dorm room - even if you live in a single.
Because there are way too many distractions in your dorm room. People will come to visit you or your roommates. You will be tempted to surf the Web, play computer games, download music, or just chill out. Your roommates, suitemates, or hallmates, who may be on a totally different schedule (or have a significantly different work ethic), may draw you into a conversation, a card game, or a television show, or convince you to go out for a drink, a bite to eat, or to do something else on campus.
In short, your dorm room is where you should go to hang out and relax. It is not the place where you should try to study or get serious work done.
So where should you go?
Our advice is to find a quiet, out-of-the-way place on campus where you know you can be undisturbed. It is completely a matter of your personal preference, so seek out a place where you feel comfortable and empowered to do your best work. For me, it was a particular reading room tucked into the corner of the Yale library. It had little alcoves with comfortable leather chairs with side tables and individual reading lamps, and each alcove had its own window, which made it easy to regulate temperature and get fresh air. It was part of the main library, but isolated enough so as not to get a lot of foot traffic. Other than during reading period, when I usually retreated to a carrel on a high floor in the stacks (when I wanted to be completely undisturbed and unable to be found), I was a regular there on Sunday through Thursday nights.
Make a Weekly To-Do List
Speaking of the tasks at hand . . . obviously, you need to know what those are. College presents you with two distinct challenges you probably didn't have to face in high school. The first is the amount of "free time" you have, and the long periods between the times you actually get graded on things (often just three or four exams, or sometimes just a midterm and a final). This situation makes it all too easy to become complacent and to put off until tomorrow (or even the day after tomorrow) the things you really ought to be doing today. The other challenge is the amount of reading you'll have to do in college, which can become overwhelming if you fall too far behind. The way to manage these twin challenges is to try your best to keep on schedule.
At most colleges and universities, some point on Sunday afternoon marks the end of the weekend (which often starts on Thursday night). We recommend that the first thing you do to ease into your new work week is to sit with each of your course syllabi and your calendar and plot out a to-do list for the week. Figure out what reading assignments you have for each class and when they are due; you need to make sure you complete these readings before the class meets, so that you'll be able to understand, actively participate in, and enjoy the lecture. Next, do you have any problem sets or lab reports due this week? If you do, pencil these into your calendar for attention at least two days before they are due"not the night before. Trying to bang out an econ problem set or a chemistry lab report the night before it is due is just asking for trouble. If you can't figure something out (which will often happen), you end up scrambling around late at night trying to find someone who knows the answer or who can help you"either of which causes you undue stress and makes for a terrible start to the week. With an extra day to play with, though, you can handle these sticking points at any time during the next day"by talking to your friends or classmates about the problems you're having, or even going to visit your TA or the professor to ask questions if need be.
Setting Realistic Daily Goals: An Example
Let's go through an example of how you might look at a typical day's schedule and tasks, and figure out how to set them up - and get everything accomplished.
Wednesday, October 15
9:30 -10:20 Chem 115
10:30 - 11:20 American Literature
Noon (lunch with friend)
1:00 - 1:50 Poli Sci 110
4:00 - 7:00 JV soccer practice
Chemistry problem set due Fri 10/17
75 pages of history reading for tomorrow's lecture
Finish chemistry lab report (due tomorrow)
50 pages of psychology reading plus "thinkpiece" due for tomorrow's lecture
Meet Film Club members for 10 p.m. study break to brainstorm ideas for festival
Call Mike [friend from summer camp]
Handle Your Reading Assignments
If you’ve managed to get through the college admissions process, we’re confident that you’ve learned how to handle reading assignments—but you’re in college now, and as we’ve said, the reading load in college can be very different than what you were used to in high school. If you are not ready for it and don’t have a strategy in place for handling the volume, dealing with your reading can often feel like trying to drink from a fire hose.
But fear not: handling college reading is not rocket science. It simply requires an effective strategy and a commitment from you to follow through on it.
If you’ve followed our advice so far, you will, on Sunday of every week, sketch out your schedule and your assignments for the week. This will help you determine where the big reading assignments for the week fall and how to break them up or otherwise plan to handle them effectively. Proper planning alone, though, is not enough to ensure effectiveness.
First, we hope you’ve settled in to your “study place” where you have good light, a comfortable chair, and enough quiet and isolation to minimize distractions. The importance of this should be self-evident, as you are looking to get immersed in what you are reading. People stopping by every five minutes to visit, or other distractions will obviously break your concentration, slow you down, and reduce the effectiveness of your session.
Once you’ve settled in to start a reading assignment, though, there is more to handling it effectively than just plunging in and plowing through it. If you haven’t already done so, take a look at the course syllabus as a whole and then at the section containing the reading assignment you are about to begin. Pay special attention to any titles, headings, or other descriptors that your professor has indicated on that section of the syllabus. Consider how your assignment for tonight fits in with what you’ve been doing and with where you are going in the next several lectures. What you are looking for here is a context for your reading, so that you’ll know specifically what to be thinking about as you read.
Once you’ve done that, take a few minutes to flip through the section of the textbook or course packet containing your reading assignment for the night, and get a sense of how it is organized. Scan the chapter titles and section headings to give yourself a framework for organizing the material as you read. Doing this will help you read actively, think critically about what you are reading, and better retain the subject matter.
Once you’ve done this, go ahead and plunge in. Highlight, underline, or make margin notes in the textbook next to key points. Write any questions triggered by your reading in the margins as well, so you’ll remember to ask the professor about these points during or after lecture. If as you read you come across any words, terms, or concepts you do not understand, look them up in the glossary (if there is one), a dictionary, or another secondary source, and write the definitions or explanations right into the textbook so that they’ll be there if you need them again. Don’t simply read past them—doing so may significantly impede your understanding of the topic.
Finally, force yourself to read actively. Don’t simply paint the text with a highlighter, thinking that you’ll come back to tease out the important ideas later. Think critically about what you are reading: force yourself to actively relate the subject matter you are covering to the most recent section heading or chapter title and then to the section on the course syllabus you reviewed before you began. If you find your mind wandering or if you find yourself just blindly reading words without thinking about them, stop.
Don't Miss Classes
If you attend the average college or university in this country and take the average course load, you are paying somewhere around $65 per lecture for your college education. If you're attending a top private university, the number is closer to $85 per lecture.
Do you routinely go out in the street throwing away fistfuls of twenties? Because that's exactly what you're doing if you skip your class lectures.
I don't care what anyone else tells you. You are always - and I mean always - better off going to your classes than you are skipping them. It doesn't matter how hung over you are or how dreadfully bad a lecturer your professor is. It doesn't matter that you haven't started or finished the reading for the class, and it doesn't matter that you might be embarrassed by the professor if you get called on to participate and cannot. It doesn't matter that the class is small and you won't be able to hide the fact that you are unprepared.
You must not skip classes unless you are really sick. There are so many good reasons for this, we'll have trouble covering them all in this section. But we'll try. The corollary to this rule is that you must also show up for class on time and not leave class early - and the reasons for the corollary are the same as the ones for the general rule.
Put It All Together
The last trick about preparedness is finding the time to put everything together before the pressure of an exam strikes. Once you've completed a section of the syllabus, using your lecture notes as the guide, go back and backfill into your class notes relevant details from the readings, including any margin notes, underlines, or highlights"and if applicable, any particularly vexing problems highlighting difficult concepts from your problem sets. What you're looking to do is pull the readings and the lecture notes together into a single, cohesive outline.
Once you've completed this consolidation, studying for tests, midterms, and finals is as simple as mastering this outline.
A Word About Study Groups
Although everyone masters material in different ways, it was our collective experience that college study groups frequently devolved into inefficient social or gossip sessions, rather than effective study sessions. As you have seen, our approach has been to make room for study and room for a rich and vibrant life in college. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule - but to us, effective study in college is best done either in isolation or with a single study partner.
Robbins, Anthony. RPM Planner Kit (time management system).
Campus Confidential Mentors and Uber-Mentors:
Campus Confidential contains the collective advice of a a diverse group of people who have traveled the road to college. Some are recent college graduates who can counsel you on the college experience as it is today. Other are a few years removed from their college days and can provide a longer view of the decisions you will need to make before, during, and after college. Here is a little bit about the mentors and uber-mentors in these articles.
Dan Bissell – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
B.A. Middlebury College cum laude, 1993. Major: Geology
M. D. University of Colorado School of Medicine, Adler Scholar, 2002
Tom Teh Chiu – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
Brooklyn, New York
B. A. Yale University, 1993. Major: double major in Chemistry and Music
M. M. Juilliard School, 1995
M Juilliard School, 2001
Jim Bright – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
B. A. Duke University, magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, 1997. Major: History
Amanda Cramer – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
Paso Robles, California
B.A. Cornell University Phi Beta Kappa, 1993. Major: Mathematics
Graduate study in food science – Enology, University of California at Davis 1997-2000
Zoe Robbins – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
B.A. (1) Wellesley College magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, 1997. Major: Economics
B.A. (2) University of Pennsylvania, 2001. Major: Nursing
Carolyn Koegler – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
Hopkinton, New Hampshire
B. A. Tufts University, cum laude, 1993. Double major: History and Spanish
Erik Norton – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
B. A. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1993. Major: Mathematics
Lyndsee Dickson – Campus Confidential Mentor
Concord, New Hampshire
B.A. New York University, cum laude, 2004. Major: East Asian studies
Kevin Donovan – Campus Confidential Mentor
B.A. Boston College, honors in the major, 1993. Major: English, Minor: Creative Writing
Tiffany Chan – Campus Confidential Mentor
Concord, New Hampshire
B.S. New York University, 2005. Major: Communication Science
Erica Eubanks – Campus Confidential Mentor
B.A. Tennessee State University, National Deans List, 2003. Major: Criminal Justice
Dave Irwin – Campus Confidential Mentor
B.A. Middlebury College departmental honors, 2004. Major: American Civilization, Minor: Education
Chase Johnson – Campus Confidential Mentor
B. A. Duke University, with Phi Alpha Theta distinction in history, 2005. Major: History
Aaron Paskalis – Campus Confidential Mentor
West Point Military Academy, then transferred to UMass Amherst
B. A. University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 2005. Major: Legal studies