For many of us students most of our semesters will start off at a nice and manageable pace, only to hit us like a freight train during the last few weeks of class. Why does this seem to happen every semester and what can we do, both to alleviate the stress of those final few weeks and to help our grades? First, let’s be clear—no matter how fantastic a student is at getting ahead and fighting the temptation to procrastinate, the last few weeks are going to be hectic. The difference, experienced by the overt procrastinator, is felt in the severity of the stress level and often in anxiety over the uncertainty of coming grades.
Let’s forget that “I work better under pressure” mantra we have all heard before. Study after study shows us that this is little more than wishful thinking used to justify regrettable actions after it is too late to change course. In particular, one Ohio State study investigated the relationship between GPA and degree of procrastination and established that the grades of students who moderately to severely procrastinate are routinely lower than those who are proactive about getting their work done in a timely manner. The study also recorded that many of those who were deemed “severe procrastinators” claimed that they worked better under pressure, even though the results showed their grades were significantly lower than their non-procrastinating peers. Bruce Tuckman, OSU professor and author of this study, says that what they have seen is that students who make this claim consistently prove that they “don’t have any idea how well they might do if they didn’t procrastinate.” What we do know, from this study and countless others, is that overall those who routinely make this claim and procrastinate just so happen to receive lower grades than their peers.
How can we connect these facts with your semester? Well, now that we are well into the semester we are certainly all busy. Those of us who have at least a few college semesters under our belts know that it gets worse toward midterms and the end of the semester, much worse. For you freshmen or transfer students who have yet to experience this… take our word for it. The only way to make midterms and finals more manageable (increasing our chances at getting the grades we want) is to go ahead and get started on that research or term paper right now. All those dates in your syllabus that highlight deadlines and checkpoints that seem so far away should not be put off. Getting ahead on your long-term assignments now can truly be the key to a successful semester. These assignments are often worth a huge percentage of your semester grade and are often due towards the end of the semester when you will be needing to focus on those other annoying little things that are worth quite a bit of your grade as well… final exams. So look ahead and work ahead to make sure you increase your chances of getting the grades you want later by working hard now. Remember, starting on long-term projects and papers early gives you that much more time to pick your teachers’ brains, use the writing studio, meet with a tutor and explore all of the other resources at your disposal that will assist you in achieving the grade you want and the success you are capable of this semester.
So get started, and good luck!