Mrs. Smith teaches a weekly composition class. One evening she gets an email from one of her students.
Student: Is it okay for me to cite Wikipedia as a resource when I write my paper?
Mrs. Smith: May I ask why you waited until 6:45 p.m. to begin an essay that’s due tomorrow?
Sound familiar? You assign a report on Aztec culture, and you ask your teen to turn it in to you three weeks from now. But when will he typically start working on it?
That’s right—a day or two before it’s due!
Squelching a Myth
We’ve heard it. Perhaps we’ve even said it: I work better under pressure.
But actually, studies have shown that pressure and procrastination cause myriad problems.
“Psychologists have focused on procrastination among students because the problem is rampant in academic settings; some 70 percent of college students report problems with overdue papers and delayed studying,” according to Joseph Ferrari, associate professor of psychology at Chicago’s DePaul University.
“Procrastinators generally don’t do well under pressure,” says Ferrari. The idea that time pressure improves performance is perhaps the most common myth among procrastinators.
[A study by Tim Pychyl, Ph.D.] found that “procrastination is detrimental to physical health. College students who procrastinate have higher levels of drinking, smoking, insomnia, stomach problems, colds and flu.”
~from “Stand and Deliver,” Psychology Today
Obviously, there’s more than just a deadline at stake here. So what can you as a parent do to help your teen develop consistency and routine before he heads off to college?
The wise parent will begin early to teach study habits for college. Weave responsibility into your expectations for your student’s academic performance. Make it clear that his all-nighters or similar day-before heroics do not amuse or impress you.
As adults, we know what it’s like to work under pressure, and though many of us say we function better that way, in reality it is VERY stressful and counterproductive, and our families usually bear the brunt of our short tempers and long hours—even when the end result is worthwhile. Instead, tell your teen you expect him to schedule his work in advance and tackle it with his full attention.
Divide and Conquer
Start out by breaking longer assignments into chunks and establishing mini due dates along the way. If it’s a research paper, for example, set deadlines for topic selection, brainstorming, thesis statement, note-taking and research, outlining, bibliography, and rough and final drafts. Put these on a master calendar. That way, he can pace himself not only with this project, but with everything else vying for his time.
If, during the same two weeks, he is working on his paper, performing at the community playhouse, taking a biology test at the homeschool co-op, and going to winter camp with the youth group, he needs to plan well—and early—so he doesn’t end up with the proverbial freeway pileup when everything comes due at once.
Secret to Success
What is the most consistent difference between the college student who is snowed under and the one who is calm, happy, and academically successful?
It’s the successful student’s ability to use organization and study techniques to simplify his life, whereas the stressed-out student tends to fly by the seat of her pants—hoping she lives through the semester one anxious assignment at a time. Building an early—and strong—association between good habits and school work will pay off in the long run.
Catch the Whole Series
College prep 101: Take deadlines seriously
College prep 101: Learn to meet deadlines
College prep 101: Create a quiet workspace
College prep 101: Limit social network time
College prep 101: Focus on key writing skills
Photo: MC Quinn, courtesy of Creative Commons.
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