You walked the stage on the day of your high school graduation. But will you do it this time around?
Though many bright-eyed university students walk onto campus filled with hopes dreams, not all of them leave with a degree.
The university dropout rate is 16% in Canada. In the United States, the situation is even worse: a mere 53% of American students actually walk the stage. There are many challenges that make university life difficult, as outlined in Back to School Series: Are you Ready? Unfortunately for some, the academic challenges of university education simply become too overwhelming.
Manage Your Time to Manage Your Stress
A major obstacle to high scholastic achievement is poor time management.
Personally, this was a lesson I had to learn firsthand during my first final exam. I had paid attention in lectures and done most of the readings, but I had not sufficiently prepared myself in the weeks and months leading up to the exam. So, at 1am on the eve of my assessment, I called my parents only to sob on the other end in utter fear of failing. I hardly slept that night. The next day, I dragged myself out of bed and walked down to the examination hall with one eye twitching from lack of sleep. I sat down in a room with hundreds of worried students, and then hurriedly scribbled my answer to the first question. Those three hours were grueling, and all I could think was: “I wish I had studied harder.”
Thankfully, I decided that I did not enjoy the end result of my deliberate procrastination. Poor time management had made me into a tired, grumpy, and malfunctioning zombie with hazy thoughts and poor retention skills.
After that stressful episode, I turned for help by setting up an appointment with an academic counselor. I also attended a variety of free sessions on how to time manage, study effectively, and manage stress. Combined, they improved my study habits in a way that was tailored to my personality, including my strengths and weaknesses as a student.
Thankfully, you do not have to subject yourself to the same level of anxiety and stress that I experienced.
Procrastination: The Road to Anxiety
According to Palmer and Puri, there is a relationship between the passing of time and your level of stress or anxiety. The closer you are to a deadline for an assignment or the day of an exam, the more likely you are to feel stressed. It follows that the earlier you begin working on an assignment or studying for an exam, the less stressed you will feel and the better you will be able to focus.
As soon as you get your course syllabus, draft a study plan that covers all of the readings, assignments, and exams that you will have during the upcoming academic year.
Even better, revise your study plan with an academic counselor – and do not procrastinate on this one. He or she likely has a good understanding of which courses will be more demanding. This can help you achieve a balanced work distribution. Your academic counselor can also help you understand how to study for each course. For instance, a course in history will likely require a heavy amount of readings, while a course in mathematics will probably involve a great deal of practical exercises. These different focuses require different study skills.
If you understand what is expected of you, you will also know how to balance your study time and free time. But if you procrastinate, you will probably end up having loads of free time for months and then a combination of stress headaches, cold sweats, and stressful all-nighters at the library - not a great way to end the year.
Eat a Frog for Breakfast
One of the best words of wisdom I received from my academic counselor was to “eat a frog for breakfast.” The meaning of this saying is twofold. Firstly, do not procrastinate your most challenging work; do your most difficult studying first and then turn your focus to easier tasks or courses. Secondly, work hard and then enjoy your free time – not the other way around.
You can only be productive if you eliminate distractions, as argued by Forsyth. To perform well, you need to focus. And this will likely involve studying in an environment – be it a library, a café, a park, among others – where you are not distracted by your fun and gregarious roommate, where you won’t waste your time watching the latest episode of your favourite TV show, and where you won’t be tempted to throw everything aside for a night out with your friends.
Learn what your distractions are, as well as when to avoid them and when to enjoy them.
Perfectionism Isn’t Perfect
Another tendency for some students is to try to do everything perfectly. But this can also become an obstacle to proper time management.
Ask your professor or teaching assistant what you need to do to achieve high marks on your exam or assignment. You do not need to read every word of Plato’s The Republic if there will only be one question on the topic. You also do not need to discover the cure for cancer prior to your biology exam.
Be reasonable with the amount of time that you devote to each assignment or to studying. You will then discover that you can actually enjoy your Friday night off. Your professors do not expect you to become the next Shakespeare or the next Einstein. You can aim high without going overboard.
Time is Not Your Enemy
University can be a challenging phase for many students. But you do not need to let poor time management get in the way of a brilliant academic career. Manage your time, and you will find the time to both succeed academically and delight in all the excitement of university life. And if you’re not sure how to plan your studying, then take the time to meet your academic counselor.