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How to finish a semester in under a month

Marc Anthony Rosa | Monday, April 2, 2012

Over the past four years here at Notre Dame, I’ve found myself spread thinly between multiple classes and mastering none of them. I’d begin semesters compelled to genuinely dive deep into my curricula, but would become inundated with an intense workload impossible to champion. We’re urged to eliminate the distractions of our lives – the likes of socializing, extracurriculars, and the passions that make us who we are – in order to rebalance ourselves around academia. However, the biggest obstacle in the way of genuine learning is simply school itself.

This semester, I found myself fed up with the typical tempo of an education system that is far too inefficient. Instead of business as usual, I sought to completely rework how I consume my education, becoming a test dummy in an experiment that would challenge how education is fostered. I believed that I could complete my entire academic semester in less than one month. And I succeeded.

Here’s how I did it:

Almost every class I’ve taken has been fundamentally rooted by textbook readings. That is, textbook chapters are the foundations of assignments and lesson plans, which then become the underpinnings of projects, papers and exams. Ipso facto, the textbook defines the class. I broke down all of the deliverables for each of my classes into their overarching categories – reading, assignments, projects, exam prep, etc. – and organized them together by category in order of their due date.

By prioritizing class deliverables according to how material is consumed, I could effectively complete a class in less than one week. I attacked each class one at a time, beginning with every reading assignment for that class and working my way to the next category. It would take about a day and a half to finish each category, and under a week to finish an entire semester’s worth of class deliverables. Then wash, rinse and repeat for the next classes.

The benefits of this kind of system are astronomical. By completing assignments in order – instead of highly scattered and intertwined around unrelated tasks throughout the year – we gain the benefits of contextual recall and focused learning. As most textbook chapters are built off one another, a clean read without stagnation makes for a more effective understanding of progressive concepts. Similar assignments call for similar actions, and consolidating them together reduces the total completion time by a major fraction. And instead of quickly forgetting material, this system actually reinforces content throughout each category, as well within class discussions, where content is no longer freshly new but reiterative.

It seems like all of this makes sense, but as you probably guessed, its execution is a nightmare. Classes have definitive due dates for deliverables, and there’s little time to fit a program like this into a normal schedule of classes. To complete a class in less than a week is to operate within a 12-hour workday that is simply impossible to maintain ordinarily. A student must make a major tradeoff between academic efficiency and punctual participation, and there’s no question that participation factors and submission deadlines dissuade many from even trying something like this.

So what did I do? I chose the classes with the smallest participation component attached to the final grade, with the fewest deadlines in the initial month, and with all deliverables and deadlines outlined for the semester. I then spent the first two weeks of school locked away in my room, working from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day for what was the most intensive academic session of my life. In that time, I had managed to complete a total of three classes for the entire semester, a feat that still amazes me.

After spending those two weeks knocking out half of my semester deliverables from sunup to sundown, I returned back to class and organized my assignments around class periods. I found that my time wasn’t scattered between three classes a night per usual; instead, I was able to devote my focus to the major projects and class assignments for my remaining classes. I was able to finish the rest of my assignments for the entire semester in less than a month.

What’s the ultimate takeaway of all of this? While I’m certainly not urging you to commit to this system, what I am suggesting is that we must become better consumers of our own education. I’ve completed my deliverables and prepared for exams and for the first time in my life, I’m also mastering it all. It’s a win-win scenario in which my schedule and academic enlightenment is infinitely more governable. But this luxury doesn’t come freely.

We can’t continue to blindly accept rules of a system where courses are engineered irrespective of how we learn. If we wish to continue having faith in the university system, we can’t simply deprioritize everything else important in our lives en lieu of University demands. We must be willing to make tradeoffs and challenge our “that’s the way it is” attitude towards academia. An education in which success comes at the expense of the passions and opportunities in our lives is simply no education at all.

Marc Anthony Rosa is a senior management entrepreneurship major. He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.