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Dos and Don'ts: Study Time

Considering that I've been around the proverbial collegiate block a few times, I figure now is as good a time as any to start letting you delightful readers in on some things I've learned outside of the classroom. Welcome to Dos and Don'ts, the first of a series I'll be doing once each month in which I do exactly what it says on the tin: giving you advice on things you should and shouldn't do on a certain subject. We'll get started with something that I learned to quickly become proficient in--the dying art of successful study time.

You should heed my advice carefully, Yotes. Remember, the difference between an A and a B can lie in a single question, a question that you could have properly prepared for if you weren't so distracted by Netflix and Super Smash Bros.

-DO keep a to-do list handy. This blog has gone over the usefulness of to-do lists at some length in the past, and I definitely recommend giving those posts a quick glance. Put simply, to-do lists have done more to organize my thoughts and give me a proper study schedule than anything else I've tried, and they've helped me remember things I would have forgotten if I hadn't written it down beforehand. Just yesterday, my to-do list reminded me that I had an online quiz due for my World Religions class before midnight. I was actually going to head over to Boise for most of the evening, but I luckily glanced at my list before I made my way there, and I saw a reminder in bold red lettering. Had I not been keeping a list, I would have taken a zero, which wouldn't have been good.

-DON'T try to cram the night before a major test. The temptation to do so is great often times, but I can say from experience that this technique will net you far less stellar grades than keeping a schedule of regular study. Big exams are already stressful enough without placing more stress on yourself through cramming. Attempting to learn six weeks of material over the course of one night will not only cause a freak out, but will also exhaust you before you sit down for the test. There's no point to studying all night if all you're going to remember is how badly you're going to do, since you can only remember about one page of notes. By keeping to a regular study time, you're going to be reviewing the material at a constant rate, which is going to help you to retain it far better and help you be truly confident as you walk into your exams.

-DO have a quiet, distraction-free space that will really help you crack down on whatever homework you're doing or material you're reading. This is one of the biggest problems I have as a student myself--Facebook always ends up open when I've hit a difficult part on my studies, or if I've just hit a wall and I need an immediate break. Unless you really need the internet for what you're working on, just stay away from it. Turn your computer off. Leave it with a friend if that's what it takes to keep you focused. Keep your cell phone on the other side of the room, too, way out of arms reach. Smartphones are just as distracting as the internet, what with all the apps that exist these days. Limit any distracting noises that will keep you from focusing--music is fine as long as it isn't too loud. I actually have done some of my best homework while listening to symphonic versions of video game music. Point is, you need to put all your effort into getting down the material in front of you. The less distractions you've got, the quicker it will be done, and the less guilty you'll feel for not getting in a good study session.

-DON'T underestimate the course material. The biggest mistake you can make while you're studying is to flip through a page or two of notes and scoff "I know this stuff already." This is NOT the attitude you should go into a study session with. Most of the time, you don't know what exactly is going to be on that test. You might think you know everything going into it, but as soon as you get that test, I promise there will be a question on that first page that will make you say to yourself "When did we talk about that?" Confidence is great to have, but overconfidence is going to cause you to study inefficiently. You might very well know a lot about the material, but reinforcement in short bursts will just make you more sure of yourself, and that is far from a bad thing.

-DO reward yourself for good study sessions. We're all human, after all. Our brains, like everything else in the body, get tired, and nothing can exhaust the brain more than memorizing French vocabulary or making sense of 17th century documents. We can all use breaks from studying now and then to do things we enjoy. There's nothing wrong with Netflix or Super Smash Bros after you get your work done. You deserve to watch Mean Girls for the 24th time after you finish up a series of difficult mathematical equations. You'll burn yourself out if you study non-stop, and studying when you're not in the mood will just make you more distracted, and nothing will get done.

-DON'T be afraid to ask for help. Course material can be dense, confusing, mind-numbing, or all three. It's hard to study effectively if you don't know understand the subject matter. Luckily, the campus is full of resources to help you out. Our class sizes are small enough that meeting one-on-one with professors and getting personal attention is not out of the question. They're there to help you learn, after all, and they want to see you succeed just as much as you do yourself. Or, if you'd prefer, you can enlist the aid of student tutors, many of whom are the strongest students in their fields. A very wise teacher I had in middle school once told me that the difference between a B student and an A student is that the A student isn't afraid to ask questions. Don't be nervous about looking stupid. No one is going to judge you for having difficulties--we're all in difficult classes ourselves, so we get it. Chances are good that you're asking the questions that everyone else is too nervous to ask.

-Clayton Gefre

Clayton is a junior creative writing major from Meridian, Idaho.