Homework & Studying

Surviving Semester’s End

Expert advice for avoiding panic at the end of the semester.

A worried high school student with ADHD looking at his test paper before starting an exam.

The end of the semester is panic time. Things appear to be going fine. Then, suddenly, you realize that you haven’t kept up with the reading, you have research papers and projects due, and you’re about to be inundated by exams… gulp, comprehensive exams.

Don’t give up. And don’t dwell on what you haven’t done. Focus your energy on what will give you the best chance for success.

Take stock of your situation

See where you’re behind and what challenges lie ahead. Grab your calendar and write down exam dates and deadlines for papers and assignments. If you use Excel, make a table to see what’s due, and when. Enter non-class activities, too. Are you the treasurer of a club for which you need to write a report? Add it to the list. That way, you can get a realistic view of where you are and whether you can get to it all.

Manage your time

Make a schedule and establish a daily routine. Use a daily planner, MS Outlook, or a Palm device. Enter all daily activities and block off large chunks of time (say, two to three hours) for studying, writing, and whatever else needs to be done. Keep it realistic: Don’t schedule study/work sessions to last longer than three hours. Your capacity to think may dwindle, and the extra time spent will only bring diminishing returns. Also, schedule to your advantage. When and where do you do your best work? If you’re an early-morning person and you focus best in the quiet of the library, set your alarm clock and plan to be there.

Prioritize and schedule

Consider where your efforts will make the greatest impact. If studying five hours for your English literature exam will raise your grade from a B to a B+, but studying five hours of calculus will keep you from flunking… well, you do the math.Plan to do the most difficult work first, and at the time of day when you’re freshest. Break the material into manageable pieces. If you have an exam coming up, study one topic each morning, then review it all just before the test. If a paper’s due, plan to write one section of it each day.

Organize your environment

For many of us with ADD, it’s difficult to focus, study, or even relax in a cluttered environment. If that’s you, and your desk or room is in disarray, here’s a quick way to clean up: Get two large cardboard boxes, free at your local grocer. Put anything essential for studying into one box and set it next to your desk. Throw everything else in the other – and get it out of sight. Print a copy of your schedule – big, bold, and preferably in color – and hang it in a conspicuous spot. Post reminders and motivational slogans. Don’t worry about seeming silly – you’d be amazed at what Olympic athletes post in their rooms to help with training. (For example, “Hang in there, you’re gonna make it!”)

Eliminate distractions

To stick to your schedule, eliminate temptations and distractions. Keep your cell phone off if you’re likely to have long conversations. Check your e-mail only once a day. Let your friends know you need to hibernate for now. Remember, this is just for crunch time, and soon enough you’ll be back to your favorite pastimes. If you’re easily distracted, set an alarm to remind you to stay on task.

Don’t neglect your health

Take time to eat, sleep, and exercise to maintain a healthy body and mind. Stay well-hydrated and snack on foods high in protein to keep you alert. Do aerobic exercise – at least 20 minutes a day, three days a week – to improve mental stamina and focus. Pray or meditate if it helps you relax. Reward yourself with short breaks, and try to stay upbeat. The more positive you remain, the more effective and energetic you’ll be.

Ask for help

Enlisting help can tip the odds in your favor. Visit your school’s Resource Office for disabled students and discuss your schedule and assignments with a counselor. If you’ve been formally tested and diagnosed with ADD, ask for accommodations. Extra time on tests, a quiet testing environment, extended deadlines, note-takers, readers, and tutors may be available to you. The key is to seek assistance as early as possible.

Speak with your professors. The secret to getting their help is to let them know where you are right now and what you need to finish. If you’re stuck on a paper, show them what you’ve written so far. If you didn’t understand a lecture, write out what you did comprehend, so they can fill in the blanks. If you’re studying for a test, outline what you’ve focused on to make sure you’re on the right track. At the end of each discussion, ask if there’s anything else you might have missed.

If you have friends in class who’ve been getting good grades, ask how they do it. You may learn that extra quotes and citations can boost your grade on a paper, or that the lecture notes are more useful than the homework when studying for a test.

If all else fails…negotiate

What if you’ve looked over your schedule and decided it’s impossible to get everything done? It may be reasonable to ask for an extension on some assignments. Show your schedule to your professors and propose an alternate timeframe for turning in a paper or taking a test. If they can’t grant it, ask if they can compromise on a due date or if there’s any other way they can help.