“I have not yet begun to procrastinate.”
If you’re like most students, studying for an exam is one of the most dreaded, painstaking tasks you could ever be faced with. So, naturally, procrastination is rampant. Here are five things students say to procrastinate, how they rationalize their excuse, what they really mean, and what to do about it.
1. “I’ll start tomorrow.”
Rationalization: “It’s Monday, I have plenty of time to study and the exam isn’t until Thursday…”
What it actually means: We think that we’ll somehow have more motivation to study later, and naturally want to avoid difficult mental tasks, so we trick ourselves into thinking we know more than we really do, and tell ourselves that we can be prepared for an exam in a lot less time than is really necessary.
What you can do: Start now, even if it’s just for 15 minutes. This will get you over the initial hump, and will quickly provide a more realistic view of how much time it will actually take to prepare. Then, map out the rest of the information that will be covered on the exam, and make a more honest assessment on what time you need to block off for studying.
2. “I don’t have everything I need to get started yet. “
Rationalization: “I’ll wait until I get the study guide or go to the review for the exam.”
What it actually means: We’re overwhelmed by the task at hand and somehow think that our professor giving us an outline, reviewing topics in class, or some other brilliant resource will drop into our laps and make everything easier to understand.
What you can do: Start with what you have, and add new resources as they come along. This will allow you to get a head start on studying, but will also help you identify gaps in your understanding that you need to figure out later. This also means you can actually take advantage of asking the professor or TA questions during review sessions, rather than mindlessly following along and copying down notes.
3. “I just need to get organized. Then I’ll start studying.”
Rationalization: “I have to do laundry and fold it and neaten my desk anyway, and then once that’s done, I’ll study tomorrow.”
What it actually means: Studying is an extremely energy-intensive mental task, so we like to fill our time with anything else we can convince ourselves is relatively productive instead. We also mistakenly think that if our space is clean, we’ll magically have clarity and motivation, which will help make studying easier.
What you can do: Try changing locations. The urge to get organized is completely understandable, but sometimes there just isn’t time. Go to the library or a common area where you won’t have the urge to tidy up. This may also help to eliminate additional distractions like talking to your roommates or making yourself a midnight snack.
4. “If I start studying tomorrow morning I’ll be more refreshed and ready to go.”
Rationalization: “I should probably just relax and watch TV and let my brain regroup after a long day of classes.”
What it actually means: You don’t have the energy to get organized and delve into complex topics. You’ve lost the willpower to continue doing difficult tasks and so you make yourself believe you’ll definitely feel better in the morning and can give yourself a pass now.
What you can do: Rather than going to veg in front of the TV, get out and move for a bit. It’s more likely you’ll feel refreshed after an hour of exercise than an hour of television. Then give yourself a time limit and study or get organized for the next day’s plan of attack. You’ll feel better for being active and you’ll feel better having at least gotten a start.
5. “It’s okay, if I bomb this exam, it probably won’t affect my grade too much.”
Rationalization: “If I get an A on everything else, I’ll be totally fine.”
What it actually means: You don’t believe in or trust in the knowledge you have, so you create an excuse for yourself to lessen the blow. You already know your grade won’t be great so why try to make sense of what you don’t understand.
What you can do: We all know this is a slippery slope. Relying on a perfect score on all the remaining exams and projects is unrealistic for the best of students. So, take the time to brainstorm everything you know about a specific topic on the exam. Don’t look at the book or at your notes, just go from memory. You’ll be surprised at the amount of information you actually have retained, and it will help give you the little boost of confidence you need to start filling in the gaps.
Featured photo credit: Students via blogs.independent.co.uk