Student studying for an exam

Student studying for an exam, Sept. 24 2019

There comes a time in every semester that a team must assemble to meet the challenge of course-specific testing, to face the threat of a lower GPA and to come out of the conflict victorious, united in survival and intellectual enlightenment (or perhaps simply sheer bewilderment of the passing of the storm). Students will form into teams, which we call study groups, in order to make it through these trying times with their sanity, not to mention their grades, intact.

But what makes a good study group? This is no trivial question. A good study group can dramatically improve course performance, and a bad one can make one wonder why they even bothered in the first place. Final exams precede the other two absolute inevitabilities of the human experience: death and taxes. As such, the lives of students must be arranged around them. But there are ways in which students can work around them and prepare for their arrival, and some truths universally acknowledged have arisen out of the constant struggle against them.

One of the greatest tools in any astute student’s arsenal is time management. Many students will develop their own methods for keeping track of how they spend their time with spreadsheets, schedules and other such implements. But for those that do not have the time or energy to do so, there is a simple method that works especially well for exam season. 

It’s called the Eisenhower Matrix, and it is a method used by people such as author John Green in order to make sense of a heavy workload. Named after President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Matrix allows one to divide one’s time by taking necessary tasks and assigning each one two variables with varying value. This sounds complicated, but it is actually quite simple, which the variables themselves show. The two variables in question are importance and urgency.

Say you have an assignment that is very important, which is to say it will greatly affect your grade, but is not due until a much later date, and is thus not urgent. According to the Eisenhower Matrix, you should schedule time to work on the assignment — time that will be uninterrupted. If something is both important and urgent, meaning that an important assignment is due very soon, then there is no time to waste; begin immediately, full stop.

If something is urgent but not important, you should not devote great amounts of stress to its completion, but at the same time it should not be neglected. And finally, for things that are neither important nor urgent, they need not be considered. How one’s workload will fall into this paradigm is ultimately up to the student, but the Eisenhower Matrix is one of the simplest and yet most effective methods of dealing with a busy schedule one can learn.

Now that the framework is in place, it is time to assemble a team. Putting together a study group requires a clear understanding of what you want out of the group. What matters is striking a balance between seriousness and silliness. This is no mean feat, as you might be tempted to fill a study group with extremely close friends or with the smartest kids you can find. Swing too far to the latter and studying will be joyless gathering, and go too far in the opposite direction and little will get done.

 “Get the students who you actually talk to, that’s all it is,” said Ryan Balluck, a senior political science major.

A good study group must be able to communicate, cooperate and coordinate with one another, and without these characteristics in play, studying can become far more arduous than it has to be. Getting the right people involved in a study group is an absolute necessity to make one work, and a judicious selection among your classmates is the best way to go about forming one.

Getting ready for finals season is an important step toward being free from studies for a time once vacation starts. Useful time management skills paired with an excellent group of fellow students in a study group will allow you to navigate this period much more effectively than one might otherwise be able to.

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