One of the scariest things to a new college kid is the sheer volume of work that needs to get done. You pick up your stuff and your stress level is already going up. You have to read it AND understand it. Not having enough time is bad enough, but having too much to do with no time makes it even worse.
Your brain is looking at it as one monstrous pile of work. It has you worried. Very worried.
So relax, take a deep breath, and give some thought to exactly what you need to get done each day. Break it down into nice, less stressful, manageable chunks.
Parents – your goal is success in college. The problem is that you launch your kids without any planning or analysis of what it is going to take to achieve it. So why the surprise when they don’t make grades?
They have an idea of what they need to get done, but they never systematically break it down and determine what needs to be accomplished each and every day to stay ahead of the game.
They need a plan for how they are going to get good grades.
How much work needs to get done
You need to know your numbers – the work you need to get done each day to stay consistently and comfortably ahead.
Falling behind is the death of good grades. It causes a cascade of problems that become almost impossible to fix.
You try to study material too quickly, you stay up too late, you cram for exams and otherwise cut corners. You fail to concentrate and really learn the material. One class is the foundation for the next one. When you don’t learn, and I mean really KNOW the material, the problem compounds next semester.
Continually playing catch-up is a recipe for stress and frustration.
To prevent this, you need to know at the beginning of each semester exactly what you have to do to get the A. Just like you created a view of your time, you need to create a view of your study workload. You can’t get to where you need to be without knowing what you need to do to get there.
You have that huge pile of books to read, and other stuff to do. When you look at it all in total, it is enough to scare you half to death.
The best way to lower that stress is to look at it in terms of what needs to be done each day. Your best time to do that is on Day 1. You’ll stop thinking in terms of big piles and start thinking in terms of small bites each day.
You need to have a number fixed in your head. That number is the average amount of time that is required each day to accomplish your tasks for each class, each semester. That can be calculated with pretty good accuracy. This is a simple exercise that takes only minutes.
Every class is different in terms of the material used and the assignments required. It may be as simple as reading your textbook, going to class lectures, and taking a few exams. However, it will likely include all kinds of other activities – labs, problem solving, workbooks, other reading materials, research, writing papers, doing interviews, attending events, volunteering, and who knows what else.
On the first day the Professor will go over all of the requirements for class. You’ll cover the textbook, the extra reading, the activities, the workbooks, the labs, the pop quizzes, the mid-term exams, the final exam. You’ll set your expectations. Take careful notes. Ask questions. Understand fully each and every thing that is discussed.
Now make a list – how many pages do you need to read, how many quizzes and when are they given, workbook problems, papers, mid-term exams, final exams. You need to know each and every thing that you have to do from the beginning of each class until the end to get good grades. What is required to get to Grade A?
How long will this take?
The same way you got a high level overview of WHEN you need to do things, you also need a high level overview of HOW LONG.
Your goal is to estimate how long it will take to cover the material in each and every class. Look at that textbooks. Reading is usually the biggest item on the list. Find out EXACTLY the number of textbook pages you are going to be reading this semester in each class.
Identify any other outside reading, the research, and the papers you need to write.
If there are workbooks or math problems or whatever, ask how much time a student would be expected to spend each week doing these additional assignments.
You need to find out. Go see the Professor. Ask about everything. What do you have to do, how much is there, when is it due, and how long will it take?
Do Some Simple Math
There is a lot to do, but you don’t have to do it all at once. Break it down into smaller pieces. It’s a whole lot less stressful when you look at it that way. Again, you just need to think about what you have to get done each day. Then we’ll make a plan to get it done.
Let’s say classes start August 23. Finals end December 17. There are 116 days between now and the final.
What is the average number of pages per day that you need to read? How many before each class? How many each week? Know those numbers.
Plant This Number In Your Head
I know, there is no way to know exactly how much time things take, but you can make a pretty good guess – and you’ll get better over time.
Time yourself. Don’t rush it. College isn’t about speed reading, it’s about learning. It’s going to take time to do it right. You need to know how long it takes you to read and fully understand each and every page.
Don’t do it over just a few pages. You need to average it out over a longer period. Look at your watch and then just do your reading and highlighting at a normal pace for one hour. How many pages did you cover?
Do it for each class. The pace in Physics may be very different from the pace in English. How long to do the math problems in your workbook? How many hours to pull your paper together?
Now do the same for the other material you have to do. How long will the paper take? What about the workbook or other problems? Do a rough calculation of the amount of time you think it is going to take to cover all of the material.
Pretty soon you’ll know almost exactly how long it takes you to cover almost anything.
Again: every class – list all of the materials you need to cover. How many pages? How many problems? How many papers? How much time? How many days to cover it? How much on average each day to get it done?
Total up the time estimated to complete all tasks for the semester. Divide it by the number of days to get an estimate of the daily time commitment per class.
Plant that number in your head. It should echo inside your skull daily. Live each day by that number. There is nothing that says you can’t do more each day. NEVER DO LESS. Don’t get behind – ever. Falling behind is the death of good grades. Try to do too much and you’ll burn out. Do too little, you just get burned.
KNOW the daily workload for each and every class, every semester. You’ll discover it’s very manageable. You’ll lower your stress.
Planning your daily schedule just became a whole lot clearer, but the Devil is in the details. We’ll cover that soon enough.