Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P. is the author of Reform Yourself! and other books, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Shaun has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and temporarily lives in Italy.
You’re a few weeks into the fall semester and you’re still figuring out how to make it all work. Perhaps you’re struggling to figure out exactly what the expectation are and/or you’re just struggling to stay awake. I get it, and I can definitely sympathize with you, my friend. Learning can be a real challenge, but let me tell you: If you’re being challenged, you’re doing it right. You’re only wrong when you don’t push your talents and abilities, or you just quit altogether. Stay positive, keep those goals in view, and remember these suggestions.
Nonsense? Think again. Many people get this totally wrong by staying up later into the night studying, reading, barely staying awake. Do I have to cite a source that says an alert mind is more studious than an exhausted one? No, because it’s common sense. The latest studies have indicated there is not much difference between people who wake up early and people who sleep in. I can tell you, this data is not complete. What it’s missing is the key detail about sleep management. If you stay up late and wake up early, it’s a recipe for disaster. However, rather than studying on a tired brain, you can take a short nap, or you can go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier, too. Studies unanimously suggest power naps, because some people just aren’t “morning people.” Give it a shot.
Don’t cram, ever
Cramming is kind of an art, and mostly a complete failure. Don’t get me wrong: Prior to a big test you should be totally focused on the task, making efforts to study hard. But cramming, for most students, involves procrastination. Rather than cram, continuously review your assignments and material so that when the big test comes, you’re doing a review rather than learning for the first time. Cram what you already know, not new information.
Don’t suck up, but don’t be silent
This is not an attack on introverts. In your classroom, you might sit in the back and/or you might never raise your hand, and both of these are fine. Many teachers mistake students who never ask questions for students who don’t care. Then, there are students who … well, they’re suck-ups. They complement the teacher and are never disagreeable. Some of my favorite students are the ones who will – tactfully – make their case and stick up for their work. Students can be right in the middle by introducing themselves, ensuring they seek guidance when needed, and making suggestions through constructive feedback. Make sure your professor knows you, and knows you care.
Don’t stress if you get one bad grade
There were times in college, online and in the classroom, when I felt like I wasn’t treated fairly. In fact, at my own employer, Holy Apostles College and Seminary, there were two (unnamed but very respected) professors who were unfair about something, and I told them point-blank. How bold and how immature! I have to laugh at how wrong I was, and how big a deal I made of something so small. Grades matter, don’t get me wrong, but what matters more than the grades is actually learning the material and being transformed by it. If we are to study theology and religion, we must not just learn the big words and clever arguments: we must become conformed to Christ! When I think of the times I argued for a better grade, I think of the athlete who argues with the referee or umpire who already has made their decision. Do your best to accept the situation, ask for suggestions, and do better next time.
There’s no better time than the time you spend learning, really. When you’re in class, yes it’s hard work and the uncertainties are stressful, but it is also so enjoyable to be responsible for learning. What a privilege! If you’re studying a topic that involves religion (hint: they all do, really) then take to prayer and enjoy the benefits of studying divinity itself.
In addition to these, I’ve written another set of fantastic suggestions to help you become a lifelong learner.