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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Working hard at hardly working

Published: September 29, 2006
Section: Opinions

Now that were safely a month into the school year, I thought it was about time to give the freshmen some sound words of advice on how to steer their academic careers. Perhaps some of you are overwhelmed with the amount of work that has been piled on in the last few weeks and you arent sure quite how youre going to survive. Most likely, many of you are the studious, over-achieving types who want to ensure the best grades and stellar GPAs. I used to be just like that, so rest assured that this wisdom comes from a knowing source. As a now reformed over-achiever, I am taking it upon myself to let you in on a few very important tips. (Keep in mind, this is coming from an English major. Science people can throw my advice straight out the window. Good luck with the MCATS.)

I used to gasp and groan when the syllabus was passed around during the first session of a class. There was so much reading, I didnt know how I could possibly do it all. Sixty, eighty, a hundred pages a night – sometimes all on WebCT, and oh, how much worse reading can be on WebCT. It seemed endless.

It has taken me a while to figure this out, but you know, you dont have to do all the reading. A novel idea, really. The best approach is to view the syllabus as a suggestion. It is an ideal, but certainly not a mandate. Exams and papers are a must, but everything else is optional. I used to feel bad when I was hardly able to skim the daily reading, but sometimes skimming is all you need. Learn the art;

itll be a big help over the next few years. Skimming allows you a basic idea of what the reading was about so you can nod along in class. Didnt do the reading at all? Its ok. Most likely a whole slew of your classmates didnt do it either.

In college, it is key to figure out what it is that you have to do in order to get the grade you want, and this will vary with each class. Youll figure it out. Sometimes youll have to work way too hard to get a B+, other times all you have to do is show up and remain conscious for the A. The standards will reveal themselves as the semester goes on, but by now you probably have a pretty good concept of what is expected of you. Once you have that all figured out it is pretty simple. When you need to make a good showing and exert the energy, do it. We all know you are capable of doing the work. Everyone here is pretty smart. You just have to learn the right ways to be lazy.

For example, there are ways to supplement this laid-back attitude and still retain very good grades. First, go to class. This is the downside of the system. If you arent going to be a stickler with the reading, then you need to at least show up. Professors do recognize faces, and although they may not always notice an absence or two, they can get an overall sense of whos there and whos not. This rule holds true even in big lecture classes. You might be able to get away with it in those, but I would say it is generally a good idea to bite the bullet and go.

In addition, while youre in class, try to open your mouth and say something every now and then. I am definitely not a big contributor to class discourse, but I try to put in a few cents when I have a reasonably coherent comment. It really doesn't have to be mind-boggling. I used to think that the people who spoke in class were so much smarter than I. Most of the time they were just more vocal. Speak in a confident voice and use big words and youll sound like you know what youre talking about, too. So dont let them bother you. Also keep in mind that the student in the corner with the goatee who looks like hes 35 is probably only a sophomore. And just because were upperclassmen doesnt mean that what we have to say is any better than what youve got.

Except when it comes to this article, of course. With three plus years of practice, my system is fine tuned. Youll know youre doing well when your GPA is up and your workload is down. My only regret is I didnt realize all this sooner. Now youve been informed. So the next time you sit down at your desk to tackle that daunting pile of work, ask yourself, Do I really need to do this? If the answer is no, forget about it and go do something else. College isnt all about studying.