Exam advice week here at Study Hacks is winding down. So sad! Next week it’s back to the normal mix…
An Inspiring Space
Two days ago, I spent an afternoon roaming Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, which, in its new building, is situated right on the harbor. While exploring the main exhibition space on the the fourth floor, I stumbled into a room they call the mediatheque. It was stunning. The ICA’s architecture has the fourth floor cantilevered out over the water of the harbor. This particular room hung off the bottom of this ledge, and featured a steep set of descending tiers. At the bottom was a full-length picture window through which only water is visible. (See the picture above.)
The full effect is hard to describe. You lose your sense of height and location in space. Are you in a ship? In a building? Are you a few feet above the water or hundreds? Very Zen.
My first thought: this would be a damn good place to work on a paper.
You Can’t Do That!
For many students, this thought reeks of heresy. Conventional wisdom says: studying happens on campus, or, if you’re feeling particularly crazy, maybe in a Starbucks near campus. And that’s it. It is supposed to be a grind that takes place in in the same old boring libraries surrounded by the same old boring people. And by the end, with your eyes rimmed red with exhaustion, and your skin sallow and whitened from fluorescent saturation, you can grin, feebly, and announce: I survived…
Here’s my question: does it have to be like this?
Beyond the Ordinary
At Dartmouth, I frequently sought ways to challenge this conventional wisdom. When I would see the hooded sweat-shirted masses trudging toward the library at the beginning of finals period, I would turn and run in the opposite direction. I was known to drive 20 minutes away from campus to study at bookstore where no one knew or cared that my school had exams. I would sometimes tackle thorny take-home exam questions while walking the banks of the Connecticut river. Anything to avoid the cinder-blocked study lounges that most students believed — bafflingly — that they were contractually bound to inhabit during this period.
Introducing Adventure Studying
I call this tactic: adventure studying. The basic idea is simple. Our minds crave novelty. If you work on exam preparation and paper writing in novel environments, it becomes easier to engage the material, be more creative, form stronger comprehension, and, overall, dare I say it, perhaps even enjoy the process.
My Challenge to You
I’m embarrassed, however, that as an undergraduate I didn’t have the confidence to push adventure studying as far as I should have. I want you to make up for my shortcoming. I want you to push the adventure studying concept to its limits. What is the most outrageously exotic yet undeniably perfect location where you can migrate your exam preparation or final exam writing? Try it.
Ignore ingrained student traditions of camping out in libraries and study lounges. Redefine finals period to be a source of personal reflection and novelty and intellectual adventure.
Some examples of adventure studying possibilities:
- If you have a car, spend a day reviewing in a completely different town. Preferably one that is small, and idyllic, and more than 30 minutes from campus. Switch between little cafes, the public library, and parks. Meet the locals.
- If you’re near a body of water and live somewhere reasonably warm: spend a day reviewing in your bathing suit. Cycle through: reviewing; napping; swimming; then back to reviewing. I’ve never tried running through flashcards at the end of an ocean-battered jetty; but I imagine it’s not a bad way to learn those art history dates.
- Head to the nearest big city and camp out at museum. Find your own local equivalent of the ICA mediatheque room.
- If your family owns a vacation house that has been opened for the season: camp out for a couple days. Bring a friend. Study during the day, have philosophical, semi-incoherent conversations at night. (Don’t, however, go late-night drunken skinny-dipping. According to the movies this will lead to you getting eaten by a shark.)
- Load up some quiz-and-recall study guides in your backpack and hike some place isolated and wild. Switch between studying and wandering and reading and zoning out in a Thoreau-esque state of blissfulness; like Into the Wild — but, hopefully, with less death. Who says you can’t review on a 5000 foot summit? It’s better than the library basement.
The Golden Rule of Study Advice
I’ll let you in on a critical secret: no one cares how or where you study. You don’t have to punch a time card when you enter the library. The dean doesn’t track how you spent your day. Take 100% advantage of this reality.
Just because it’s “tradition” to spend the week before exams holed up in the library in some macho display of academic self-flagellation, this doesn’t mean that you have to follow this path. Why can’t you study alone on the beach? Or in your parent’s cabin in Maine? Or sitting on a bench near that crazy, completely enclosed Egyptian Tomb they have setup at the Met?
The Zen Valedictorian Tackles Finals
You might have noticed that I tagged this article with “The Zen Valedictorian.” I think the adventure studying concept fits nicely with the ZV philosophy. It’s about the larger goal of constructing the college experience you want, not stumbling through the path of least resistance.
If you take up the adventure studying challenge — and I hope you do — keep me posted. We want to hear about your adventures. I’ll share the best with the full gang. Bonus points for pictures.