Fighting the Pre-Exam SlumpApril 28th, 2009 · 14 comments
A reader recently sent me an e-mail in which she admitted:
I think I am starting to suffer from deep procrastination — and it’s only six weeks until my exams! I need some motivatiom for this final push, but I just can’t seem to find it.
She’s not alone. I’ve noticed an uptick in similar e-mails, and this doesn’t surprise me. For students teetering on the precipice of deep procrastination, exam period, with its significant increase in work, is a perfect catalyst for pushing them over the edge. If you see exams looming but simply can’t muster the energy to start seriously preparing, then you may already be in the grips of this scourge.
In this post, I describe a collection of simple tips that can help you escape this pre-exam slump. It’s not a long term solution to your potenital deep procrastination (for this, you need to evaluate your relationship with your major and reconnect to your studies). But it will help in the short term.
Five Tips to Fight the Pre-Exam Slump
- Remove Decision Making From Your Studying.
Some students construct their study plans one day at a time, each morning asking “what should I do today?” For someone suffering from deep procrastination, this is a recipe for falling deeper into a slump. Instead, you should remove decision making from your day to day work. Use the project/folder method to plan your exam prep and plot this work on a visual panic schedule. Then follow what you planned.
- Take Days Off.
There is something magical about putting aside a day in which you do nothing related to schoolwork (outside of attending classes). No to-do lists. No studying. Just relaxing. Maybe you go see a movie in the afternoon or have a long lunch with friends. Because I’m a nerd, I use my off days to spend absurd amounts of time browsing bookstores. In the lead up to your exams, try to schedule one day off per week — even if it means piling up more work on the other days. The idea of working every single day for over a month is enough to drive even the happiest students into procrasination.
- Break the Rules.
Identify the conventions that direct most students’ study habits. Then try to violate as many of them as possible. For example, convention says that most students start studying for an exam a few days in advance while the organized students might start a week or two in advance. Consider, therefore, doing something radically different, such as starting to study 6 weeks in advance. Does convention say that studying happens in the libraries on campus? Take the early morning train into the nearest city and work in a major art museum. Does convention say that you’re supposed to reread all of your notes? Build an elaborate system based on colored index cards. The novelty of approaching your work completely differently than your peers has a way of breaking the cycle of resentment that builds to deep procrastination. When your mind doesn’t recognize the work as conventional school work, it doesn’t generate the same sense of going through the motions.
- Blow the Curve.
Combat your feelings to do no work by instead resolving to do the opposite. That is, choose one course and decide that you’re going to get the best grade in the class. Plan a strategy that has you ready for the exam a week in advance, then spend extra days really mastering the nuances. If it’s a non-technical course, for example, you might start reading some sources that weren’t even assigned. There’s a sense of purpose behind an A* effort that can neuter the impulse to curl up and do nothing.
- Make an Exciting Summer Plan.
It’s a curious phenomenon, but human’s are willing to take on massive amounts of hard work if they feel it’s building to something worthwhile. (Consider, for example, the training top athletes endure.) You can simulate this effect by planning, and then getting excited about a cool summer project. This transforms your exam prep from a meaningless task among a long line of meaningless tasks, into the last challenge to overcome before your summer plot unfolds. For students, vision can act like a deep procrastination vaccine.
Exams are hard and deep procrastination is serious. But it’s surprising how often the little changes, like those described above, can knock you out of even the deepest ruts.
(Photo by xtheowl)