On Surviving Reading Period

Reading Period is that time of heaven/hell when students have approximately a week and a half of “no” classes to spend time reviewing for their finals and writing their final papers. It’s wonderful because classes meet less often. It’s awful because it’s a mammoth amount of free time to re-remember what you should have learned this past semester.

Kids at other schools looong for this. Harvard kids have a tendency to love and hate it because it is and isn’t quite the original conception of the “Reading Period.” Sometimes classes still meet, sometimes you have four papers due and take-home finals.

Here are some tips I’ve gained from my 3 previous reading periods on how best to survive and utilize this precious but damning amount of free time.

1) Start early, start fast

Many freshmen fall into the trap of thinking that the first week of reading period doesn’t count. They quickly realize their mistakes once the first week of reading period disappears and they have a weekend and a few days before a slew of finals.

Give yourself a weekend (like I’m doing right now), but start fresh that Monday and start doing your work. Find a study buddy, go to the Leverett dining hall, bribe yourself with iced coffee from Starbucks. Just break into the habit of “all day” studying by attempting to study “all day.”

2) Figure out when you’re finals are

This sounds obvious, but double check with the Registrar’s site to make sure you’ve engraved into your mind when your finals are. Also engrave your finals schedule into the minds of your roommates as well. This is called your emergency support network.

But MORE importantly, figure out if you have morning versus afternoon finals. Morning finals are bitches because they start at 9:15 am — and most Harvard students find it difficult to make it to their 10 am or 11 am class. So, if you know you have a string of morning finals, make sure you adjust your sleep cycle accordingly. Go to bed early. Go to breakfast.

3) Distribute study time according to difficulty not test date

Unless you have a week between one final and the next, you should distribute your reading period study time according to how hard the tests are rather than when the tests are.

For instance, if you have a Monday, Wednesday and Friday final, don’t spend your entire week studying for the Monday final, Monday night and Tuesday for the Wednesday final, and Wednesday night and Thursday for the Friday final. You’ll want a break after each final without having to worry about cramming 14 weeks into 1.5 days.

4) If it’s Spring, don’t forget the importance of Moving Out

Moving out occurs shortly after finals period finishes. Start packing things up whenever you need a break from studying. This means, figuring out what you’re going to store, what the storage policies are, and figuring out how you’re going to schlep your stuff to the storage place BEFORE everyone else freaks out and takes up all the dollies.

5) Plan and Organize what you need to do

Because I’m meticulously anal, this is what I do for each class. I figure out and list all the tasks I want to accomplish in studying for each class. This could range from re-reading the textbook, redoing the problem sets, looking through lecture notes, etc. etc. I write all of this down, and then, I assign myself based on the number of days I have during reading period what I need to do each day.

Once I do this for all of my classes, I can then understand how I need to pace myself each day in order to get through all the reviewing I want to get through before final period comes.

6) The 20/80 rule reapplied

For papers/projects, I like to apply the 20/80 rule accordingly. I like to finish 80% of the project in the first 20% portion of the amount of time I have total for that project. While this is absolutely counter-intuitive to any procrastinator, moving all that stress to a handful of days BEFORE the actual due date, gives you the rest of the time to ask questions and ponder thoroughly as to how to make the final version much better.

This obviously works best for classes you enjoy. And if you’re doing this for classes you don’t enjoy but aren’t forced to take, you should reconsider your concentration or selection of electives.

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