It’s about time.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Ku/Unsplash

There is likely no better predictor of how well someone will do in a given college or university course or program than how much time they have available to give to their studies.   But the devil is in the details–understanding where and when, and even how a student spends their study time is critical to optimizing the approach to academic success.  How good students spend their study time–good time management–will be covered in the next post. 

A hypothetical example should make this point clear: Imagine twins attending university, with comparable intellects, with equally strong motivations to do well at school. Imagine one of them having only half the free time of the other to review and study for exams, do homework, complete essential reading, and do research in preparation for essays. Which one would be more likely to have a better grade point average after a school term?  The answer should be obvious.

Where.  To do quality work in your undergrad years, you need a reliably quiet, accessible, comfortable place to books down.  Although campus libraries–with their many tables and seating areas, nearby resources, daily open hours, and intolerance for noise–have been classic places to study over the last century, the advent of the computer and tablet has widened the options, so that library resources are now at most people’s fingertips with just a wifi or internet connection, whether at home or at a coffee shop.

An ideal study site also needs to be convenient to get to. Many students waste untold hours in travel time, commuting long distances to campus from where they live.  If you are spending more than half an hour a day travelling to and from campus, consider trying to find more convenient accommodation, even living on campus if you are able.

Quality, undisturbed schoolwork can get done if your student desk is somewhere quiet, where your internet connection is reliable, and your computer is up to date, and you have enough desk space to organize and spread your course materials.  Essentially, if you have a well-oiled machine for a study area, your study time will be maximally efficient–time will not be wasted looking for books or notes, waiting for your internet connection to return, or dealing with loud noises or conversations.

When. Study time can be divided into two groups: Preterm time and time windows during the semester. These are very different considerations, so let’s look at them indvidually.

In the month(s) leading up to the beginning of the term, there are considerable opportunities to get a head start on your term studies.  Indeed, from the moment you commit to taking courses in an upcoming semester, you can start your term work.  There is no rule that says that you need to wait for the first day of classes before you can start chipping away at your studies! 

Since course professors have a semester’s worth of a curriculum usually well-laid out, and well before a term starts, conscientious students can usually easily get access to this information, with little more than an email to the professor directly, or to the department head office.  Imagine if you have an entire semester’s reading done before the first day of classes–would you not feel you already have a leg up on the competition?  Would you not feel that you might enjoy the reading more, since it is not being done with the  time crunch typically felt during a semester? Would you not feel that you might even enjoy the course more, since you know what is coming? And would you not feel that you would be doing better on exams, since re-reading a given part of a book will be a more solid review than reading it for the first time?

Essentially, then, getting into your books (and even your assignments) before the semester starts is a great way to add time (and even enjoyment) to your studies.  You will almost certainly become a more relaxed student, and you will have little need for burning midnight oil.  And most importantly, it would be more than likely that you will get better marks as well.  This is how you become the high-performing twin. 

There is another good reason to connect with your professor before the semester starts.  Since few others in your class will be using this strategy, you will have almost uncontested access to your professor, allowing you to even ask questions about your reading or your assignments before the semester even starts.  And if there is any subjectivity to how a teacher grades, they will in every case notice your pre-term conscientiousness as keenness.  You will find it satisfying sitting in the front row of your class on the first day at school, when the professor greets you by your first name, while the rest of the class groans with what they might perceive as preferential treatment.

Once the term gets underway, reading, work assignments and exam schedules come fast and furious. Having regimented study hours set aside will help, although being adaptable will also help.  If you have already gotten a head start prior to the semester beginning, then it should be easy to stay ahead of your school work demands, especially if you get to homework as soon as it is assigned.  Whenever possible, getting to it right after the class is finished will be the most efficient way to get it done.  If that isn’t possible, set aside a time window as soon as possible, so it does not slide until the day it is due. Having a small day planner is a handy idea for posting time windows for your study needs.

Although it depends on both your knowledge base and the difficulty of the course, you might consider a rough formula for how much study time you need to find windows for each week: For ever hour of class time, you should allow 2 hours of study time per week.  If you cannot reliably find this kind of time, whether due to other commitments or excess travel time, you might reconsider your course load at the outset of the semester.  Not allowing yourself enough time for your studies each week is the easiest way to compromise your grade-point average.

In the next post, we will discuss the “How”: how best to spend study time.