Taking the crunch out of crunch time
By Rob Taylor
In trying to come up with a new topic to write about in relation to the topic of student survival, I realized that we cover being pre-emptive pretty well. What we don't cover so well is how to pull your fat out of the fire if you haven't done such a good job of planning for the busy season of exams, essays and assignments.
Or what to do if Fate comes in, rips your plans out of your arms and tosses them screaming to the pavement below. And then sits back, arms folded, with a smile on its evil, evil, little face, as if it were saying, "Well, now you're right messed up. Whatchagonna do?"
Ask for an extension
I think I did this once or twice, but I hated doing it. I kind of felt like asking for an extension was admitting that I really couldn't cut it in the post-secondary world.
But not everyone took this view, and I knew people who would ask for extensions quite regularly. To my surprise, they were very often rewarded with a few days grace or if enough people from the same class asked for an extension for the same project or assignment, the professor or instructor would push the deadline for everyone. Which was very nice.
By all means, ask for an extension if you really think you need it. If you've had a family emergency or some other kind of major life upheaval, then tell your instructor / professor / teacher about it. Fair warning, though, that, "My girlfriend / boyfriend broke up with me" is not generally going to get a lot of sympathy.
You also want to watch out that asking for an extension doesn't make your life tougher down the road. Be aware of what other assignments, exams or tests you have coming up. Getting your deadline pushed back smack dab in the middle of a bunch of other deadlines might not be very helpful.
You can ask for an extension on writing an exam too, by the way. If there's a good enough reason, your school might work something out for you. A friend of mine had a professor who moved the percentages from a mid-term exam to the final exam because he had to miss writing the mid-term. The drawback was that the final was then worth way more than it was before and if he messed up on it, he really messed up.
Have a plan
No matter what, have a plan. There's nothing worse than sitting and worrying about a set of approaching deadlines. This is where the expression ‘like a deer caught in the headlights' comes from. You know that danger is approaching, but you're so freaked out about not knowing what to do about it that you don't do anything except worry about the approaching deadline.
Instead, sit down and figure out what you can do before the end of your free time. If you only have time to learn 50 percent of what you figure you should know, don't freak out. Pick out the 50 percent that you think is most important. This might be based on what has been stressed the most during your classes. You might be able get an idea about the kind of information that you'll need to know from looking at previous exams or tests for that same class (though it probably won't be exactly the same). Hopefully, the other 50 percent you'll have a passing knowledge of just by doing the assigned readings and going to class. Because skipping classes that you've paid for as part of your tuition is just silly, right?
The same goes for essays and other assignments. Figure out which assignments or essays are more important and actually block out sections of time to work on them. There are many factors to consider, such as the percentage of your final mark, how well you are doing in the rest of the assignments or tests and which deadline is first. For example, if you have an essay that is worth 35 percent of your mark and another which is worth 10 percent, and both have the same required length, then you might want to schedule yourself to work longer on the essay that's worth more.
Here's an example from my own experience:
I discovered, much to my dismay, that I had an exam on a Thursday afternoon and an exam on Friday morning AND the final essay for a course was due the same morning. And I had one week to get ready for all three events.
So I came up with a plan. This kept me focused and kept me from panicking.
The first thing I did was to do all my research for my essay, basically following through on the process to the point of creating an outline for my essay and making sure that I had all the bibliographical notes that I needed. At that point I stopped. That took up most of my weekend.
Then I concentrated on studying for the two tests, studying for the Thursday afternoon a bit more than the Friday morning exam up until Wednesday evening. Then on Thursday morning, I got up at 9 and studied for the Friday morning exam exclusively.
I wrote my exam on Thursday afternoon and in the evening I wrote my essay (which I believe was only ten pages). It took me until from about 4:30 to about midnight to write two drafts and then until 1 a.m. when I was happy with how the essay was printed up all pretty with proper endnotes and page numbers.
I immediately went to sleep.
I went and wrote my exam and handed in my essay. I did well on all three, I believe. I know that I passed all my courses.
I don't know if my plan saved my bacon in any academic sense. What it did do was keep me focused and kept me from freaking out, which would have decreased my chances at accomplishing anything.
One more factor helped me and that was living on campus while all this was happening. My bed, my desk, the classrooms where the exams were held and where I had to hand in my essay were all a fifteen-minute-or-less walk away from each other. Going immediately from studying to writing to sleeping kept my mind on the tasks at hand and off of what a big job it all was.
And the third thing to do...
... is prepare ahead of time. Seriously, it's just so much better.
Barring that, I guess you could just run around in circles screaming and tearing out your hair. You're still going to fail, but if you do the running around in circles / tearing your hair out thing in a public place often enough, some nice people in a nice white van will come. They'll take you to a nice, soft room where you can hug yourself all day in a special jacket and never have to worry about exams, essays, assignments, tests or deadlines ever again.