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College Study Habits and Time Management (page 2)

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

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.

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