Friday, 23 September 2011

The Critical Difference - Time Management

Following is an excerpt from Dr. Richard Light's book, Making the Most of College (Harvard University Press, 2002)

"Things that worked for me in high school, I discovered, don't work for me in college. I really was unprepared for the amount of material that is presented here and the speed at which it is presented. I: was a bit of a shock. Things I picked up quickly in high school I couldn't pick up so easily any more.

Here at college I wasn't being checked every day. I did not get off to a great start because I had never really learned to study this enormous amount of material in a systematic way. I tended to do one subject for a big span of time and then neglect it for a week. Then I moved on to another subject, ad forgot about that for a week. So there was no continuity within each course. That had a lot to do with it. Finally I figured it out. This year, I'm pushing myself to spend a little bit of time every day on each subject.

Why is it that some undergraduates make the transition from high school to college smoothly, while others have much more trouble? Do certain behavior patterns tend to differentiate students who quickly, making superb academic and personal adjustments to college, from seemingly similar student who do not adjust as well?

To pursue this idea, Constance Buchanan and a group of colleagues from four universities devise detailed protocol to interview two groups of sophomores in depth. (The quotation that opens this section is from one of their interviews.) One group had had an outstanding first year in all ways, both academic and social, while the other group struggled. The interviewers' goal was to explore how each of students, as a newly arrived freshman, had thought about making the transition from high school to college. They hoped to find, a few important differences between the two groups of sophomores. They quickly discovered that one difference, indeed a single word, was a key factor. Sophomores who I made the most successful transitions repeatedly brought up this word on their own. Sophomores who had experienced difficulty hardly ever mentioned the word, even when prompted.

The critical word is time. Sophomores who had a great first year typically talked about realizing, When they got to college, that they had to think about how to spend their time. They mentioned time management, and time allocation, and time as a scarce resource. In contrast, sophomores who struggle during their first year rarely referred to time in any way.

Several advisors have told me that some first-year students find it a real challenge to allocate their time so they are both happy personally and effective in their academic work. Students who learn to manage, their time well are often those who work hard on this topic when they first arrive. It isn't easy for every student. It requires systematic effort. But the heavy demands of most college course, compared wit what students faced in high school, reinforce the value of making such an effort. It certainly beats the alternative of feeling overwhelmed when suddenly facing the amount of reading assigned in college courses. When seniors are asked what advice they would offer new arrivals, this idea of learning to manage time is a common response. I think it is a wise one. The distinction in attitudes towards managing time translates into distinction between new students who prosper and those who struggle.

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