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Q & A: Studying with Kirstie Alley, Decoding the Quarter System, and Coping with Early Classes

From the reader mailbag:Questions and Answers

I read a lot about improving study habits, but I have never come across anything that deals with the emotional aspect. Sometimes when studying I feel despair about whether I can learn the material, other times I feel guilty for putting work off. What are some techniques for taming emotions while studying?

Cal responds:

There are few words I hate more than “study.” (Among them: “ebullient.”) It’s ambiguous, and for most students it’s entangled in all sorts of emotional baggage. They feel guilty if they haven’t suffered enough in the library. Student life, for them, becomes a constant struggle — always trying to “study” more, yet always falling a bit short. It’s a lot like dieting. But with less involvement from Kirstie Alley.

The key to kicking the emotions out of the classroom is to focus on the specifics of the process, not the big, scary, abstract idea of “studying.” My suggestions:

  1. Never again use the verb “study.” Don’t say “I’m going to study.” Definitely don’t say: “I’ve been slacking off lately, tonight I’m going to make up for it by doing a lot of ebullient studying.” The word is meaningless. Banish it from your vocabulary.
  2. Always talk in terms of specific actions. Instead of heading to the library to study, try heading to the library to do something obnoxiously specific. For example: “I am going to go review the notes from lecture 1 to 5 and then type up a study guide chapter for each.” When you finish the specific action, you’re done. Even if you’re friends are just getting warmed up in their “woe is me,” I’m going to spend all night in the library routine.
  3. Focus on the process, not results. Don’t worry too much about your test grades. Use them mainly to gauge how well your study process worked. When you get your results, go back and review what actions you did to prepare. Ask yourself what you could have changed to have done better. Follow this new plan the next time around. The key is to focus on the process. Not you. And definitely not Kirstie Alley.

From the reader mailbag:

Perhaps you can write a post about the quarter system versus the semester system? UCLA and other schools are on a quarter system, and it’s very different from a semester system.

Cal responds:

Dartmouth was also on the quarter system, so I understand where you’re coming from. For the uninitiated: a term in the quarter system is short, meaning you only take around three classes. This means less assignments. Damn straight! On the other hand, the assignments are larger and the time between test and paper due dates is shorter. Oh…

To handle the compressed quarter system workload, keep in mind the following two tips:

  1. Break up big assignments. Some quarter-system assignments are too huge to be completed in one sitting. Be careful to review your assignments well in advance so you’ll know which ones need to be started early.
  2. Be very, very aware of all test and due dates. Time flies fast in a quarter system. It’s easy to lose track of the date and then suddenly realize that you have two forgotten term papers due in the next twelve minutes. Definitely put all major test and due dates on a calendar that you see every day. In general: Always be aware of where you are and what is coming down the line. This is also, of course, good advice for crossing railroad tracks. So keep that in mind.

From the reader mailbag:

What would you do if you had to take this one class that started at 8 in the morning? How would you get some studying done?

Cal responds:

First, I would question the morality of any college sadistic enough to offer a class at 8 in the morning. Second, I would investigate the feasibility of using a cardiothorasic syringe to inject coffee directly into my heart.

Actually, I get up at 7 — by choice — so I’m familar with this schedule. Here’s the thing: that block of free morning hours after your first terrible class is actually a great time to get some work done. You’re focused, things are still quiet, your idiot friends haven’t yet woken up and decided to dedicate their day to getting you to do idiot things. Get some good coffee. Find a quiet spot near that classroom. And knock off a big chunk of your daily workload.

4 thoughts on “Q & A: Studying with Kirstie Alley, Decoding the Quarter System, and Coping with Early Classes”

  1. I too, have a dreaded 8 am class, and have a three hour break after it. However I did that intentionally. That 3 hours is great for working out or studying. I’m stuck at school for those three hours so I might as well use it productively!

  2. Are 8am classes so exceptional over there? Here it’s pretty normal and actually it’s not too bad. I pretty much like it, because it helps me to avoid being so sluggish. And these are always the emptiest and often the best courses.
    But once I also had an – let’s say – quite conservative prof, who offered his lecture at 8am on Monday. And he did that intentionatly, just for the sake of torturing the students. But in general they aren’t too bad, they can do you good

  3. Over here they schedule level 1 courses at 8 in the morning, then level 2 courses later, and level 3 and higher in the afternoon. It’s nice in many ways. Firstly when you start you start getting the routine of gatting up, which is nice. And it becomes easier for the scheduler to work out what to put where. Also it encurages taking beginner classes in some other field when you’re up in the higher levels of some field, because then you get a nice schedule. And also it feels rewarding when you reach the afternoon classes 🙂
    Taking level 4 math and level 1 numerics is awesome for me for example. I go to the easy lecture at 8 pm, then go to the library and learn geometry til 3 pm when the seminar starts.


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