Cramming for a test? Give me a break

McClatchy Tribune

McClatchy Tribune

Daniel Vasilchuk

You might assume the more hours you study for a class, the better your grade will be.

But studying is not about the number of hours. It is about following a predetermined plan, like the autopilot strategy.

Much like airplanes can use autopilot systems to navigate, study habits can be automated.

The strategy works like this: Assign specific times of the week to do homework for each of your classes. Then follow the schedule as you have laid it out.

If you are always worried about not finishing your homework assignments on time, this will more than likely help get rid of your anxiety.

Not only will you be less anxious, the schedule will help you stay focused and be more efficient.

Cal Newport, author of “How to Become a Straight-A Student,” interviewed a multitude of college students who had high grade point averages as research for his book.

Newport came up with the idea of an autopilot schedule after his interviews showed that this was an effective strategy for getting better grades.

“The power of this strategy is that it allows you to sidestep the ‘what work should I do now’ trap,” Newport said. “You just have to follow the schedule blindly, week after week.”

Newport said it might take a bit of restructuring until you get the schedule to work for you.

Using the autopilot schedule involves time management. If you schedule too many things to do in one day, the strategy might fail.

Also, include breaks in your study schedule. A study session does not have to be a long period of time. Plan on taking a short break every hour or so to refresh your mind.

“A big enemy to the effective studying process is that feeling of mental numbness and fatigue that signals your brain is done for the day,” Newport said.

Working without breaks will only cause you to mess up and produce lower-quality work.

Newport suggested taking a 10-minute break for every 50 minutes of work.

Taking a break might seem like the wrong thing to do, especially when you have a limited amount of time to do an assignment, but it is vital to working effectively.

Along with an autopilot schedule, there needs to be a specific list of things you will do during those study hours.

“Most students approach studying as some amorphous activity,” Newport said. “Never ‘study.’ Instead, be working on specific actions.”

Even when a schedule can be planned out and followed, many students still choose to procrastinate and put things off until the last minute or for an all-nighter.

No amount of energy drinks or coffee can substitute for sleep.

If you must work on an assignment under such pressure, there are ways of working more productively.

Dan Melzer, University Reading and Writing coordinator, said one strategy for removing pressure when writing a paper is to write a “zero draft.”

This involves writing very quickly and without thinking about grammar or other mistakes.

Melzer also said that it is important to be an active reader. To actively read is to highlight or underline the important ideas or concepts within a text.

By creating a plan and following it, you will be studying smart, not hard.

Getting better grades is only an autopilot schedule away.

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