Thursday, November 20, 2008

How to Ace the Last Month of the Semester

According to Professors Lynn F. Jacobs and Jeremy S. Hyman, here are 20 tips for taking control of your courses—and your life—during the crucial last month of the semester:

1. Plan to work harder. You might be used to thinking of college as a two- or three-day-a-week job. No more. Come the last month, you'll need to turn it up a notch—or for some, a number of notches—to get done what you need to get done.

2. Triage your preparation. Now that time is at a premium, devote most of your time to the reading that really counts. And ditch the reading that's just for general background, additional detail, or mere enjoyment (don't even think about recommended reading). By now, you should know whether the reading is really doing any work or is merely filling (or wasting) time.

3 . Don't blow off the classes. Because you'll get more out of the professor's one-hour lecture than out of three hours of studying on your own, you'd have to be a bonehead to cut any of the last month's worth of classes. Besides, the closer you get to the final, the more likely the prof's going to drop hints in lecture about what's going to be on the final and how best to study for the final.

4. Try the homework. Professors are prone to putting homework questions, or variants of homework problems, on the tests. Don't trade short-term time saving for long-term point loss. And don't skip out on any quizzes, either. These, too, furnish fodder for exams.

5 . Look for the structure. Every course has a "plot" or direction of argument—both from lecture to lecture and within individual lectures. Search for it. The better you are at figuring out the plot, the more efficiently you'll be able to study, because you'll focus on all, and only all, the central points. Look to the syllabus, the sequence of your notes, and any verbal clues the professor gives for the key points.

6. Don't do "make work" activities. Some students are tempted to copy over their notes, go over the readings, visit other sections, and listen to the lectures again on their iPod. That's a regular three-ring circus. Resist these temptations. Such extraneous activities make you think you're doing something when what you're really doing is putting off something else: your papers and tests.

7. Take advantage of "high value" extras. Review sessions, study guides, sample tests, and extra office hours are all designed to help you increase your chances of doing well. Relatively small time investments, big payoffs. A no-brainer.

8. Cuddle up to the TA . Teaching assistants are especially willing to help in the last few weeks of the semester. They feel sorry for you and are probably having to take finals and prepare for exams themselves (so they understand what you're going through). What's more, they haven't yet built up the defenses of a broken-in (or broken-down) professor, so they're more likely to tell you what's really going to be on the exam. An incredible time-saver.

9. Phone a friend. Hopefully one smarter than you who is willing to form a "study group" with you. Talking through the material will not only help you internalize it better, you might even get new insights, which will help you with your test or paper.

10. Consider campus resources. The writing center, tutoring program, or academic advancement center might be exactly what you need to light a fire under your ass, now that your ass is on the line.


Additional tips are available at the Professors'Guide website.

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