It’s early December and final exams are around the corner (if not already upon you). With them comes another opportunity to positively set yourself apart or save yourself from academic disaster – hopefully the former. If you’re anything like I was as an undergraduate at this time of year, you’re stressed out and desperately craving winter recess. It will come. Now is the time to focus.
Easier said than done, you say? Yes and no. Yes, because your life is surely filled with distractions that draw your attention away from the task at end. No, because it’s really not that complicated. Earning great grades in your class is like peacebuilding (my area of work) in that it’s less a matter of possibility and more a matter of willingness. That is to say, it’s not whether earning an “A” is possible, it’s whether you’re willing to do the work necessary to get there. There are, of course, noteworthy exceptions to that general proposition, but now is not the time to dwell on them. Now is the time focus.
Although I’ve earned degrees at various levels, I’ve never really thought of myself as all that smart. Consequently, I tell many students with whom I work that they don’t necessarily have to be smart to excel in college (although it helps), but they do have to be smart enough to take good advice (and discerning enough to separate out bad advice). That was my strength academically. What I lacked in sheer brilliance (and that was a lot), I made up for by following good advice. If a teacher said to study for three hours, I did. If an advisor told me to take a particular course from a particular professor, I did. If a trusted friend told me to throw out a paper and start over, I did. The recipe was not complicated and it need not be for you either. The key is to focus.
Your last final may seem a long way off (or not), but it’s only three weeks out at best. Put the distractions aside and make it happen. Make this grade – your grade – happen. Do what ought to be done. Do what needs to be done to let you rest comfortably over winter break knowing that you did everything in your power to fulfill your commitment to sound learning. Put in extra hours, avoid distractions, eat food that nourishes your mind and body, get fresh air, get some rest to replenish yourself, and most importantly FOCUS.
That’s good advice. I promise.
– Jay Wilgus, J.D., M.D.R. (Utah Alpha, 2001) is the Director of the Office of Student Conflict Resolution at the University of Michigan. He earned a bachelors degree and law degree at the University of Utah. He earned a masters degree in dispute resolution at Pepperdine University.