The stopwatch of success

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By Cara Zimmerman

“Orgo” is a word that makes many students cringe. Organic chemistry is a class that requires perseverance, a drive to succeed, and hours of work to master difficult concepts. So how does one tackle such a monster of a class? It is all about being honest with yourself about the amount of time you spend studying.

In Orgo during the winter of my sophomore year at Union, I used the stopwatch on my phone to record every minute I was studying organic chemistry. At the end of the day, I would record my time spent studying in the Notes function of my iPhone. One could easily do this on the computer or in a notebook. Many students are told on the first day of class that they must put in three hours of outside preparation for every hour they are in class. So before I started timing myself I knew that I wanted to study 12 hours a week, as Orgo meets four days a week for about an hour each day, excluding lab.

A common problem encountered with hard classes is that students feel they spend all day studying, but are not getting the grades they believe they deserve.  This problem stems from a loose interpretation of the phrase, “all day.” It is important to not cheat yourself when you say that you are studying.

With my stopwatch, I found that around the 20-30 minute mark of my study session, I would begin to become saturated with the material, having to re-read some sections over and over again. This is when I would stop the timer and take a break. During the break, I’d either move on to doing different work for my other classes or mosey onto Facebook for about five minutes until I felt rejuvenated enough to focus all my attention on Orgo.

If you are reading a text and not comprehending what it is saying, what’s the point of reading it? It is most efficient to work for around 40 minutes, and then take a 10-minute break. It’s okay to take short breaks. In fact, the key is to plan for fatigue during your study schedule and to take the planned break whether you think you need it or not.

An interesting phenomenon I observed was that, if I was studying for a four-hour chunk of time, I would get close to two hours of “real” studying completed. I counted “real” studying as when I paid complete attention to the text or the problems in front of me. That means no texting and no Facebook open in the background.

As soon as I got distracted or felt like I needed a break, I would stop my timer. I was shocked at this two-to-one ratio of the amount of hours I thought I was putting in versus the amount of studying I was actually doing. Just because you sit in the library all day does not mean that you are studying.

We all need to be honest about our study habits. Study time needs to be accounted for truthfully and without including time spent on distractions. As soon as you’re distracted, you must stop the timer. Orgo, like many other classes, requires consistent, truthful amount of work completed outside of class. Cram sessions almost never work.

By timing myself, I had hard evidence that I put in the time, so this gave me confidence before every exam that I knew the material. If someone runs a marathon, they know they can complete the race because of all the miles they put in on training runs. Your performance on exams will most likely reflect the amount of time you have put in studying. So I give you a challenge. Time yourself to see how much you are actually studying and to know for sure if you are prepared for the exam or not. Be honest with yourself. What have you got to lose?

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