4 Weeks to a 4.0 is a four-part series to help you transform into an efficient student. Each Monday between 3/30 and 4/20 I’ll post a new weekly assignment to aid your transformation.
Welcome to Week 4
This is the fourth and final post in our four-part series 4 Weeks to a 4.0. Let’s do our review. In week one you gained some control over your schedule. In week two you mastered taking notes in class. And in week three you streamlined your assignments. In other words, we’ve covered all regularly occurring academic work. This leaves us only to tackle the big infrequent stuff. I’m talking about studying for exams and writing papers.
Week 4 Assignment: Create Project Folders
Your assignment for this week to adopt the project folder method, which I describe below. This simple method streamlines the process of studying for exams and writing major papers. I used it throughout my time at Dartmouth, and swear by its effectiveness. You can also see aspects of it in action in our ongoing finals diaries series.
The Project Folder Method
Buy a box of plain manila file folders. Set aside one folder for each exam and paper you having coming up in your semester. Label the folders with the corresponding subject and exam/due date.
For the exam folders, do the following:
- Print the relevant class notes and assignment notes. Label each clearly. Add to the folder. If you took notes in a notebook, either make photocopies, or just rip the pages out of your notebook.
- If the exam is for a technical course, include problem set solutions, past exams (if the upcoming exam is cumulative), and any sample tests made available by the professor.
- On the front cover of the folder write out a study plan using the date/action list method. A date/action list is a collection of specific review actions labeled with the date when you will do the work. The key word is “specific.” Don’t put down: “4/23 – study.” Instead, put down something like: “4/23 – meet with TA to discuss how to solve the problems I got wrong on the last four problem sets.”
- Mark each of these dates on your calendar to remind yourself you scheduled work. If you end up needing to change the plan, mark the new plan on your folder and change the relevant dates on your calendar.
For the paper folders, do the following:
- At first the folder will be empty. As you gather research materials, however, this is the place where they all go. This will keep you organized.
- On the front of the folder, use the date/action list method from above to construct a plan for researching and writing your paper. Follow the same rules as with the study plans. That is, record pairs consisting of a date and a specific action. This plan will probably change more than a study plan as you get going, so make sure you record all changes on your folder and your calendar.
Once you’ve created the folders, follow their corresponding plans. If you’re having a hard time fitting in time for all of your exams and papers, then you may need to do some emergency schedule clearing, setup a visual panic schedule, or perhaps even declare a temporary activity vacation. But don’t hide from what has to be done. The project folder approach makes the work you face explicit and unavoidable — allowing you to better spread out the work and streamline the steps.
Once you finish this week’s assignment you’ll be done with the program! These lessons aren’t a miracle cure. For example, it’s possible that your schedule is so overcrowded that no amount of smart habits can save you. It’s also possible that you’re suffering from deep procrastination, which thwarts attempts to follow even the most basic advice.
But if you stuck with the program for all four weeks, your technical study habits will be better than 99% of all students, which should put you on track to better grades and less stress.
For those of you who followed the program, let us know how it has been working for you.