Avoid the Fear Factor!

By Monika Marescaux

Picture this: a massive group of students sitting in a large lecture hall at an unknown post-secondary school. Some are talking, others just waiting. Minutes later, a professor walks in and, at that moment, most of the students begin preparing for the big race. The professor steps up to the podium, begins speaking, and they're off! The students are in a mad rush to record every word uttered by their professor. This need to accumulate notes is experienced by many students when they enter post-secondary school. Before the fear factor settles in, there are a few steps you can take that will not only help improve study habits, note taking and time management skills, but also ease chronic hand-cramping due to extended periods of pen use during classes.

Procrastination is a common symptom. It usually attacks students when crunch time begins. The thought of deadlines and extra long hours can frighten even the most seasoned senior. Don't let this happen. Procrastination could lead to the completion of last minute assignments that only hint at your true potential. Unfortunately, professors do not add points for what could have been.

At the beginning of each course, your professor will distribute an outline of the lecture schedule and readings. Periodical viewing of the syllabus will help you focus on important themes. Once you receive it, write down the due dates (including tests, assignments, presentations, labs and exams) in your pocket calendar and on a wall calendar. Try to review it every Sunday so you can be prepared for the week ahead. Reminders like these can be a drag, but it's well worth it.

You may have finished the readings, but what is the professor adding to the topic during class? There's a good chance that she or he will be inclined to test their students on material presented in the lecture. Don't ever rely on anyone to do it for you.

If possible, stay one or two weeks ahead of your readings. This strategy will help you prepare and reduce stress levels when another course becomes difficult or hectic. You'll also have time to focus your note-taking in lectures on problematic areas encountered in the readings. With a better overall sense of the readings, you'll have time to listen and absorb rather than strictly record.

Attempting to cram all of your readings into one night is a futile and draining practice. Instead, find a quiet place during a time when you feel alert before you begin. After you've completed one reading, try summarizing the material, jotting down key points and definitions, asking yourself why it was selected, and how it connects to previous topics before moving onto the next reading.

Try taking short breaks between each block. If you find yourself drifting, mark a star beside the section to alert yourself and go back afterwards. You may also want to identify difficult areas and write down questions. If the following class does not provide the answers, ask your course director and/or tutorial assistant (TA) for assistance.

Showing an interest in the course will help your course directors and TAs remember you. Most professors are happy and willing to help. Sometimes, if you ask the right questions, they will provide information not mentioned in class that will make an assignment or exam easier to tackle. Establishing a good academic relationship with your professors will also build a foundation that could help you find a good mentor and a possible reference.

The highlighter is a great invention; however, it may not be a good idea to highlight entire pages of text. Instead, try to isolate the most important points. If you're reading an article, for example, locate the thesis and find points the author uses to support her or his main argument with a critical eye. If you encounter difficulty with one area, find an alternative source that explains the information more clearly (keeping in mind the course text is your primary source). When reading, ask questions and determine how the sections, concepts, ideas, and definitions fit together. You can also create flash cards. These are great for quick reference, and will significantly reduce the time required to write study notes for exams.

Another way to decrease note volumes, save time, and leave more opportunities to listen is to develop a short-hand style. Also, using separate notebooks for each course will help eliminate big, unorganized piles of paper. Further, don't waste time copying overheads word-for-word (unless, of course, your professor insists on it). This information is frequently used to illustrate or emphasize points found in the readings. If you keep up with your readings and remember to review, you'll be able to identify this immediately and not waste your time writing down information you already have access to.

This is an obvious statement, I suppose, but a necessary one. It will be tough trying to balance all of your courses, especially when mid-terms pop-up. For your own general health and sanity, don't wait until the last minute. You cannot possibly cram months worth of work into one night of hard-core studying. If you've managed to stay ahead of your readings, you'll be able to devote more time to other assignments during the crunch and have at least one week to review.

You can also form or join a study group (anywhere from two to five people) and meet in quiet place, such as the library. A good time to stop studying the night before the big day arrives is around 10pm (depending on your schedule). Chances are, if you don't know the material by then, you'll just waste time cramming in loads of information you probably won't even remember.

The thought of writing an essay, especially one that requires research, can send almost any student running for the hills at top speed. This feeling often drives many students to put the whole process on hold, again and again. As tempting as that may be, the essay has to be done eventually, so why not start early and plan out a reasonable timetable, allowing at least three days to finish final editing.

Books are a good resource, but the information contained within many books are out of date and frequently unrelated to the topic at hand. Glance at the table of contents before you grab everything remotely connected to your topic. Generally, you'll only need to photocopy sections from one or two chapters. Finally, periodicals are one of the best, most overlooked resources available. They usually contain specific information, great references, and often have concise explanations. If you feel overwhelmed, ask your professor or TA to help you narrow your focus.

Rule #11 HAVE FUN
Your post-secondary experience should not completely revolve around studying. Take a breather every now and then. Hey, after all the hard work you will do, you're definitely going to deserve at least one day that does not include any studying.

Modified on April 23, 2009