Hitting The Books

SirineIn high school, studying seemed simple: I knew exactly what to expect when tested in each class and my teachers always walked us through multiple practice exams, hinting “that’s a good thing to review” when we asked questions. None of my exams overlapped since each teacher knew when the other would give a quiz or test. Especially in standardized classes like AP’s, there was no doubt that the material on our class website and even in my test prep book would be almost identical to what was going to be graded later on. There were simply no surprises. In high school, there were far fewer classes, meaning there were many more older students who had taken the same classes and could offer precise advice about what to look over. All my teachers knew me very well, and I was never afraid to swing by their room after school to get some one-on-one tutoring.

I had the perfect formula to study for any exam – it was a science.  A few days before the test, I would review the homework problems since I knew they would be almost identical to what would be on the test, then I would go over practice exams the night before. My success was directly correlated to the time I spent reviewing the material. In some classes, I was memorizing a method and applying it. It seemed simple to get a good grade and test well.

In college, however, finding out how to succeed in classes took a lot of time and was much less formulaic. Longer classes meant that there was much more content and I was learning about things I had never encountered before. No longer could I rely on background knowledge and in-class reviews. Some classes were held in auditoriums, making it seem harder to interact with my teacher. My exam schedule was sporadic, too – there were some weeks where I would have no exams, then others where I would have two tests and a project or paper due at the same time. I found it challenging to balance my social life, my involvement in clubs and studying since there was never a set time when I would take the bus back home and could focus on work like in high school. Adjusting to the new workload and finding out that sometimes I didn’t have as much time as I thought forced me to reconsider my perfect formula and how I defined success. Where should I spend my energy if I’m in a time crunch but still want to do well?

Fortunately, my anxiety and confusion about how to study did not last long. I was quick to find out how many resources were available to me when I needed help and needed to focus. My perception that my professors, even in the largest classes, were unavailable was totally false. I have taken advantage of weekly office hours for both my professors and TAs to get personal answers to my questions and develop a strong relationship with my teachers. I was surprised to see how accommodating they were to answer all of my questions, in person and via email when I couldn’t stop by office hours that day. Additionally, tons of material was posted online from practice problems to past exams in addition to the class slides and homework solutions. I was never left wondering what would be tested or what I could expect, even if it was a class none of my other friends had taken.

I have relied on my peers and study groups much more than expected, too. The collaborative environment here is not limited to team projects at all. I have spent just as much time in a Group Study Room working on a team case as I have going through a practice exam in a smaller group. Everyone is keen to help the other understand since teaching someone helps you learn, too. Having good relationships with the people taking the same classes has helped me enjoy my courses more and succeed when things get more complicated, since there is an additional person to ask outside of the TAs and professors.

Often, I do my most productive studying when I am alone – this is why quiet spaces like the GSRs in Huntsman Hall and Van Pelt Library, the Forum, the computer labs in Huntsman and cafés like Joe’s and Bridge have been great resources for me. I know I can always find a place to sit alone, plug in my headphones and get to work at any time. There are even study spaces and computer labs in the Quad and other dorms, too. Its much harder to just close the door to your room and work without interruption when you’re living with a roommate!

Finally, I have taken advantage of campus-wide resources when all else has failed. The librarians in Van Pelt have helped me find sources hours before my papers were due and the Weingarten Learning Resource Center has helped me develop time-management skills and adjust my calendar to prioritize what is most important when I have felt stressed and overwhelmed. Yes, college is much more difficult than high school, and it is a completely different experience. There will be challenges and sometimes, you will feel pressure and stress. But, there are so many resources to turn to whenever you need help – it’s just a matter of reaching out and knowing where to look.

My name is Sirine Benjaafar and I am a Junior from Minneapolis, Minnesota, though I went to high school in Singapore. On campus, I am my business fraternity, Delta Sigma Pi, and the Wharton Undergraduate Consulting Club. In my free time, I like to listen to upbeat music, try DIY projects and explore Philly by walking.