Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Organizing your studies when you are overwhelmed

Okay, so you're back from Spring Break (or will be next week) and the rest of the semester is looming. My classes still have 7 weeks remaining, and this is a good time to buckle down for a successful end to the semester.

Last semester I wrote about what to do if you are impossibly behind at the end of the semester. This semester I want to write earlier about how to prevent being overwhelmed when lots of due dates and comprehensive exams loom.

How to organize your workload:
To start, figure out the work you need to do to finish out your course. Whether you are impossibly behind or caught up, you will have work to do to prepare for your final exams and the end of the semester.  If you are impossibly behind, use your syllabus to figure out work you may have missed, and talk to your instructor about possibilities for late submission. If you are "caught up", your syllabus can still help you go into finals with an effective study plan.

Every class is different, so it is hard for me to give specific advice about your plan. Make sure that you know the requirements that you have left to fulfill for your class, and how you plan to meet them. The important thing is to put your plan in writing. Don't just keep it in your head. When writing it down, break it down as much as possible - this will help when it comes time for 20 minute chunks. 

There are many posts about to-do lists and productivity. Much of that advice is applicable to a written study plan. Write study tasks that are specific, that have an end point, and that are reasonable for you to accomplish. Don't just write "work on bone paper" or "study bones". Instead make your listed items specific: try "find  references on osteoporosis" or "study bone markings of the skull". Phrasing your work items in a specific way will help you avoid the "gloss over" when you look through your list.

How to organize your materials:
Armed with your written plan, move on to organizing your study materials. If your final isn't cumulative, remove any notes from your binder that won't apply to this exam. Put in lots of blank paper for making your study guides that you will use. Don't try to start getting all fancy with color-coded sticky notes and gel pens - make sure you have the essential items you need but don't start an entirely new note taking system at this point.

It is important to keep all of your study materials in your bag or backpack, and keep it with you. You never know when you're going to end up with 20 minutes of time to kill, and you definitely have something that could kill it!

What to do first?
Okay, we have a plan, we have our materials organized, now what? We sit down to study and we still procrastinate not by organizing or stressing about what to do, but now we don't know what to do first. If your instructor has indicated that all topics are equal on your final, then it won't matter if you start in the order the topics were presented in class or go in reverse chronological order. If you are impossibly behind and getting caught up, you might want to go in the order that topics were presented so you make sure to get the background for the current topics. If half of your exam is on a certain topic, however, it might be better to start putting some time toward that topic, and going back to others as they start to relate.

So you know what work to do, you have the supplies to do it, and you have decided where to start. Take a deep breath - doesn't that feel better?

Readers - what do you do to get organized when you feel overwhelmed this time of the semester?

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