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Studying Prioritizing classes without sacrificing quality

  1. Jul 31, 2017 #1
    I'm finishing up my first semester of college this month and looking ahead for long term planning and I'm in need of a little insight.

    This was my first semester and I took 6 classes (all entry level generals like basic Chemistry, Psychology, History, etc) and worked pretty hard to get A's in all classes. I know it's not much as the classes aren't exactly difficult but it still took a lot of time.

    I wanted to spend a lot of time preparing for my Mathematics class next semester (didn't get too far having my course load) which is a beginning class prior to Trigonometry. Has anyone been in this situation where your menial classes strip significant amounts of time from the classes that are actually important? I want to spend a great deal of time in prepping and self learning Mathematics however I still want to get A's in my classes because I want to increase my chances of getting into a good graduate school after undergrad.

    At what point would you tell yourself that a class is taking too much time away from the important ones and that a lower grade is okay? I want the best grades possible but not at the cost of not understanding critical information.

    Thanks for any help.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 1, 2017 #2


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    This is not a easy question to answer.

    In an ideal world, if you were diligent about your time management you would have time to put in all the time you need for each of your classes, take good care of yourself (get a full night's sleep, exercise, eat well, socialize, etc.), hold down a part-time job, and even have a side project or two for independent learning or skill development. In the real world students are often operating on a Pareto front, where all of these have been optimized to the best of the student's ability and improvements in one variable demand reductions in the others.

    So how do you make these kinds of decisions though?

    First, to the extent that you can, make sure you're optimizing the important variables. If you're taking a program that requires that you take too many "unimportant" classes, it might be a good idea to re-evaluate whether you're in the right program/school for you to begin with. Remember this is your education. If you don't feel that a class is important - why are you spending any of your time on it? I realize that just about every program has a few classes that are less than desirable, but my point is to keep an eye on the big picture of your education.

    Something else that can help is learning how to recognize diminishing returns. When I was a student, I often found it hard to let go of a problem when I couldn't solve it. And while that stubborn approach had some advantages, it also meant that sometimes I ended up spending far too much time on some things that could have been more effectively spent on others. Time management is a skill that comes with practice and education, not an inherent ability. One of the important sub-skills here it to get into the habit of tracking your time, and identifying points where putting more time into one area is taking away from other areas. Another important skill is the self-discipline to stick to a plan, and spend time on the less-urgent demands before they become urgent.

    Sometimes you can be operating as efficiently as possible, but still encounter tough decisions. We've all had those nights where multiple assignments are due the next day along with a mid-term. There's no easy decisions here. As I've said, the best approach is to avoid these as much as possible, but when they do happen you just have to prioritize the best you can. I would usually optimize based on grades in these cases - spending more time on the assignment worth 50% of my grade than the quiz worth 5%. The idea is that if you're doing everything else right, your long term understanding is not based on the decisions you make in critical pinch points, but based on your overall study habits.
  4. Aug 1, 2017 #3
    Thank you for taking the time to write that. Very helpful.

    Its kinda of a weird situtation because I havent met the Mathematical prerequisites to declare my major as Physics yet so I have to take these classes that wont count towards the degree until I get into Calculus I.

    One thing I have been doing is keeping a study schedule to stick to as well as tracking the amount of hours spent in each subject. It has helped a lot. I just would prefer to not spend 2+ hours a day on generals that dont mean much when that time could be spent on teaching myself Mathematics.
  5. Aug 2, 2017 #4
    Choppy made some very fruitful suggestions on how to attack this problem in your particular case, but in general, I'd like to add that most college students are immensely frustrated with this problem as well. The teachers of the lower-level physics courses recognized that their students were non-STEM majors and adjusted the standards for time spent preparing for the course respectively, but it seems many other "general education"-type teachers did not extend the same courtesy. I think there is much benefit in taking courses outside what is "strictly" required for one's future type of work, but the time expectations should be reasonable. Okay, rant over :)
  6. Aug 2, 2017 #5
    Thanks for the response Dishsoap and I fully agree. I think part of a college education is to be a well rounded student in many disciplines and I do enjoy the classes. I guess I'm just really looking forward to getting into my Physics and Mathematics classes. In my situation 95% of my generals will be complete becore I can even declare Physics as my major so my time can go solely to that. Wouldnt mind a few extra hours in the day though!
  7. Aug 2, 2017 #6
    I know this may sound silly, but go onto your university's subreddit if it has one and ask about manageable gen-eds. Or just ask other students in person. Or just look for something interesting to take and investigate the professor. It's most modern day students bread and butter to check ratemyprofessor before taking a class with someone.
  8. Aug 2, 2017 #7
    I would take the ratings of ratemyprofessor as the inverse of truth. I have seen the ratings given to faculty members that I know, and the posted ratings rarely ever seem to correspond to the facts. The ratings are mostly an opportunity for students to vent. Who can take seriously a rating system that includes factors like "hotness"?
  9. Aug 2, 2017 #8
    I always take the negatives with a grain of salt. But when I see a prof rated above average >2.5, the advice tends to correspond very well.
  10. Aug 2, 2017 #9
    I think it can be useful but Ive noticed two things- one is that people can be simply lazy terrible students and take it out on the Professor. Another is Ive seen many reviews as ridiculous such as "Such a hot teacher." Not sure how that's helpful.
  11. Aug 2, 2017 #10
    This is bascially how I feel about it. It takes a little sifting, but ultimately can be very useful at picking out a good professor, and can be less useful in identifying a bad professor.
  12. Aug 3, 2017 #11
    If you still have general ed's to go. I strongly recommend a class in symbolic logic. Check to see if your college offers a class in symbolic logic that counts towards an unfulfilled GE.
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