Studies of Life

Learning by doing.

On Becoming a Better Student, 2012 / 2013

22 September 2012 by Jim

A new year at university is set to start soon, mid-October in my case, and making the necessary preparations. I am looking forward to learning new things and seeing things I thought I knew from a new perspective, and that is, for me, the delight of going to school and listening to people who teach me. Of course, once I’ll be drowning in homework again, I probably will feel that two or three of my courses I could very well live without, but that’s a minor issue only.

Like most people at the start of a new year, I’ll be making some resolutions. In 2012 / 2013, I am going to be more engaged with my studies, study more, study harder and I will definitely get a better grade than last year (I passed by a hair). I’ll do all my not mandatory and mandatory homework, as good students are supposed to, and mostly because I saw during the last two years that simply not doing any homework didn’t do me much good. I intend to stand a little further away from the abyss by the end of this year.

So, in order to improve, I have to think about what I actually did wrong during the last two years. I did show interest for the subject matter, so that is not the problem, but I did not study the material regularly enough, and I did not even do half the homework I was supposed to do. I was also behind in many classes. Distance education is not for the faint of schedule. So I’ll try to change these aspects.

First, I’ll definitely stop getting carried away by the flow of content. To do this, I will have to schedule my work. Secondly, I will not get caught up in life at the expense of my studies, so I will define clear priorities and devise a system that makes me do my work each and every day. Thirdly, I will use regular, repeated revision to burn the content into my head, and I will not get behind.

How I will go about this reform of my studying process:

  1. Schedule the work
  2. Follow the schedule
  3. Do not give up

— The Scheduling —

In order to schedule everything, my current university has devised a system where the course sheets are distributed in monthly sets. I will use these sets as the framework for my studying schedule, which force me to plan my work in periods of roughly one month at a time. This is pretty smart, because each month offers up 4 weeks of work, of which I can use the first three for digestion of the course material and the fourth for revision.

– one-month sets (three weeks of digestion, 1 week of revision)

I will schedule my work during the week, from Monday to Saturday, which leaves my Sunday open to relaxing and doing, sometimes literally, nothing. This is a day that, although I will definitely have a hard time doing nothing, I simply need, otherwise I will burn out. Instead of doing nothing, I will probably do some work, but I’ll stop feeling guilty if I don’t get everything done on that day.

– workweek from Monday through Saturday

Then, I will schedule my studying hours to be about 6 per day, broken up into two chunks of four hours in the morning from 7h00 to 11h00, and a second chunk from 14h00 to 16h00. This gives me plenty of time for other things after 16h00.

– working hours 7h00-11h00, 14h00-16h00

#Update October 28: I will follow a rough schedule instead of actually following specific hours for courses, because it makes no sense to schedule my course work so strictly if I am at liberty to use my flexibility to the best of my ability. I currently have a minor assignment that requires me to complete a big chunk of reading (about 2000 pages) in the next few days, and it would be mad to force myself to do 4 hours of course reading instead of concentrating on what’s urgent right now.

 — Following the schedule —

Following the schedule, the discipline part, will be the hardest of all. It’s easy to devise great systems, but hell is paved with good intentions, so more important than the system employed is actually finding a way of sticking with it.

To stick with it this year, I will devise a weekly and monthly review sheet that I will post on this blog. The monthly review sheet will show the starting position, the arrival position after the month of studying, split up into four weeks of studying, where the achievements of each week are summed up.

For tracking purposes, I’ve posted a post on academic progress tracking for this year.

– daily, weekly, monthly review

To get through the day, I will use a pomodoro timer to handle the 6 studying hours.

– pomodoro timing of studying hours

#Update October 28: Using the pomodoro system for anything besides truly dreadful work is a bad idea because it makes you feel like you can’t stand working on that task even if you actually like it. I am now reading books and forcing myself to use a timer is torture instead of just trying to get to a certain page and spreading my reading out as I see fit.

Furthermore, I will use about 20 minutes each evening at 18h00 to schedule whatever I need to study the next day, to make sure that I know what materials I need to get and so that I can mentally prepare.

– 18h00 preview of next day

 — Habit building / Sticking with it —

I will use an app called Lift to log each day that I successfully follow this schedule not use any app to log this because simply getting my work done in time is easier if I don’t think about too much bureaucracy surrounding the actual work. Simple progress reports should be sufficient to keep doing this. Travelling is the only time when I am allowed not to follow the schedule. If I can stick to running thrice a week, which is far more contrary to my ‘teenage nature’ than studying is, I should certainly be able to stick to a studying plan. During much of last year’s pre-exam period, I stuck to a 5h00 getting up and studying routine, which proves that, given enough feeling of urgency, I can get the work done. I just need to artificially create that urgency during the beginning of the year.

 — Analysis — 

Using a spreadsheet that I have yet to design, I will log various metrics like sleep duration, quality, engagement, mood, work ethic, productivity, confidence and so on, to track my personal evolution and time as a student over this year. The resulting graphs will be published along with the monthly reports here on this blog to visualise the progress.

I will try to use the form presented by this post on Lifehacker to get a basic first simple tracking habit going.

#Update October 28: As can easily be seen I’ve removed some of the strict guidelines and made the actual studying simpler. I was too enthusiastic about changing and tried to change too many elements at once without being sure that I needed to do that or that it would be a positive change because, well, we sometimes get carried away by too much optimism. In order to change a habit or improve a system or behavioural routine, it now seems to me that simpler is not only better, but essential, because the more complicated a system is, the harder it is to assimilate. So let’s keep it simple and see how far we get.

This post will be updated with modifications to the system as I go.

Leave a comment | Categories: Learning | Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply