Don’t Delay! Set Up A Study Schedule

The start of the semester means that exams are on the horizon. I would not expect you to be happy about these exams, but at the same time I would hope that you don’t have an “end-of-the-world” attitude about exams—exams are simply a part of college. In my opinion, the best thing you can do right now about your exams is to make sure you are going to be prepared to study for each exam by setting up a study schedule ASAP.

glasses-studyBefore I get to the specifics of how to do this, I must step back and say that there are always going to be some students who will read about setting up a study schedule and will shrug it off. Some will argue that they never had to be very organized with their studying in the past and have still done well. To these students I say “Lucky you”–you are either that smart or your classes so easy that you were not challenged on your exams. However, it is typically the case that these students will run into a class or classes where the lack of a study schedule will lead to a very low grade. I know this, because every year when I teach Introduction to Psychology—not the hardest class but a class that definitely has a lot of content—I get students who did poorly on exams because they had no plan for studying.

There are also other students who tell me that they do not have the time to study until a day or so before an exam because of a busy work schedule or their other classes. With regard to the former, I can empathize with you because I worked two and sometimes three jobs during college and had a lot of classes, but I always understood that school was my highest priority. Hopefully, some of the tips I will provide can get you on a study schedule where you can manage your time effectively. With regard to the latter, juggling classes can sometimes be very difficult. However, again I feel that having a plan for your studying can help you deal with all of your classes.

Most of these students who do not set up a study schedule can be labeled “crammers”–they wait until the last minute and then work very hard to learn a lot of material. Although cramming may lead to some short-term success, cramming typically perpetuates poor study habits, does not lead to successful long-term learning and may even lead to health problems as a result of stress.

To avoid cramming and thus lead to better learning and exam success, here are some tips to help you set up a study schedule. The key to these tips is to improve your time management—organization and planning—so that you have enough time to study, even when you have exams close together in time.

1) Create an academic calendar with all exam dates marked. If you are going to have quizzes that will require studying these should be marked too.

2) Determine when you have free time to study. This can get tough considering that you have to account for time to eat, sleep, attend club meetings, go to the gym, work, etc., but it should be the case that you have enough open times in your schedule to mange all of your studying.

3) Determine how much time you will need to study for each exam. For example, some will argue that they need a week before each exam to prepare. However, others (including myself) feel that studying for any class should occur as soon as you get new material for that class. This “new material” approach is especially important if you plan to use flashcards to help prepare for exams.

4) Determine how much time per study session you will need for a particular class. For example, if you are good in Math you might need less time to study for this class compared to another class for which the subject matter drives you crazy. One thing I will add here is that if you choose a long study session (e.g., 60 minutes) it is best to break this time into parts (e.g., 20 or 30 minutes pieces). Breaking things up can help keep you focused on the material.

5) Set up study times and days (including weekends) using a calendar. You can organize your calendar to indicate each class you have by using different colored markers.

two studying

6) Be strong and stick to your schedule! It’s easy to blow off a study session, and there will definitely be times that you would rather do anything else but study. However, it is critical to stick to your schedule and try not to miss any session. Of course, something may come up and you have to skip, but the more you can be true to your study schedule the greater the probability of a good grade. One way to help you stick to your schedule is to see if (for specific classes) you can find a study partner. However, only choose a study partner if you are actually going to study and not talk more than you study.

If you can follow these tips I think you will find that you will have greater control over your studying, learn more, and be more prepared for all of your exams. Good luck!

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Decisions, Decisions…Choosing a Major

          The Spring semester is ready to start and for many of you it is probably time to start thinking about choosing a major, or if you already have a major, deciding if your major is best for you. Just to be clear a major involves the concentrated study of a specialty area. These specialty areas are referred to as “disciplines”. Psychology is a discipline. Similarly, disciplines include English, Hispanic Studies, Economics, Mechanical Engineering…I think you get the picture! It is possible to have two majors–a “double-major” for those who have two primary interests.

student&computer-15812_1920          It would be nice if I could simply tell you what to major in, but that decision has to be yours (no matter how much your parents think it should be their decision!). For some of you choosing a major will be relatively easy. Let’s say you want to be an accountant, you will major in Accounting. In this example, your major allows you to enter a profession upon graduating. This example is what we call a “vocational major” and it involves an applied career. Other vocational majors include Nursing, Education, Architecture, Engineering, and Journalism.

          There may be some of you who are also clear on your professional career goals in other fields. As examples, you may be interested in Medicine (not just being a doctor, but a physician’s assistant or physical therapist), Dentistry, or Law. You should understand that there is not a major (e.g., “medical doctor” major) for any of the careers just listed. If you have one of these career goals you will typically choose a major in a discipline directly related to Medicine (e.g., Biology or Chemistry), Dentistry (e.g., Biology or Chemistry), or Law (e.g., Political Science). After graduating with your undergraduate degree, you will then apply to a specific “professional school” to get a graduate degree. For example, if you want to be a doctor you will hopefully get into a medical school and graduate with a graduate degree—an M.D. (Medical Doctor). All of these fields have changed quite a bit in recent years and you do not necessarily have to major in a directly related field. In fact, you can major in anything as long as the courses you take meet the requirements of the medical school, dental school, or law school you would like to attend. As an example, I can tell you that there are an ever-increasing number of Psychology majors who apply to medical school and law school.

          Unlike the examples of specific careers above, it is important to keep in mind that most majors prepare you for a range of job opportunities and professions. For example, if you decide to major in History the job opportunities include: advertising executive, analyst, archivist, broadcaster, campaign worker, consultant, congressional aide, editor, foreign service officer, foundation staffer, information specialist, intelligence agent, journalist, legal assistant, lobbyist, personnel manager, public relations staffer, researcher, and teacher. For many students, having a major with multiple career options is a real advantage.

          If you really do not know what to major in, try to keep calm about it. You will start college as “Undeclared” or “Undecided”, but you will be fine for two reasons. First, at most four-year colleges and universities, you are not required to declare a major until the end of your sophomore year. Second, it is important that you take the time and effort necessary to make an informed choice. This way, in the end you will be rewarded with a major that will help guide you to a successful career. Exploring different majors will require some research, including reading about different majors, talking to others students and faculty and even taking a course in various majors. Other ways to help you decide about majoring is searching the Internet, reading about different majors, talking to your academic advisor, talking to your parents, going to the Career Center on campus, attending meetings of student organizations and clubs, and reading campus bulletins. One thing I will add about taking classes in different disciplines is that while all students seem to know what certain majors are about (e.g., Biology and Psychology), until you take an Anthropology or a Geology course you may not really understand what career possibilities there are in these lesser known majors. As a student said to me, “When I came to college I didn’t have my major chosen and I would  advise    people to explore. Say you do know what your major is, still explore different classes. That’s what your first two years are for. Then if you don’t like your major you’ve already found out. You don’t want to find out your senior year.” A faculty colleague also said to me: “Shop around! Take a broad assortment of classes and see what is the best fit. Don’t be afraid to try out a class that you think you might hate. Make sure that you pick a major that will help you think about the world in a new way.”

          There is one final point to make about majors: Changing your major is not the end of the world. On the one hand, it is OK to change your major because it is critical that you decide on a major that is best for you. In fact, some students will change majors several times before deciding on a good fit. On the other hand, it is important to understand that when you change majors you always risk delaying your graduation date, hopefully by just a little but possibly by a lot. This may occur because certain courses you need for one major do not fulfill requirements for another major. In addition, your new major may require additional courses to be taken. Of course, you should check out all requirements for a major you like and discuss the implications of switching majors with your academic advisor.