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middle school, high school, and now college, is my ability to focus on an academic task when I really need to buckle down and concentrate. I get decent grades because I can give enough focus at the last minute, some call it "cramming," to get through the test, or get the paper done in time. But because I can't bring a consistent sense of concentration in a regular pattern, I become stressed when time comes to be tested, or to turn in a research paper or essay.
When I am assigned to read a book, I have a problem concentrating on the text, and very often I have to go back and read the whole previous page over again because I have no idea what I just read. Even very interesting fiction, my mind drifts off while I'm reading. But I have come to grips with my reading problem and that is I use yellow "post-it" notes on every page I read. I stop, jot down the main theme of that page, or point to a specific passage with a "stickie" and draw an arrow to the passage I should remember or later be able to retrieve. Sometimes I actually take notes on a separate piece of paper and identify important places in the text by page number so I can go back to that page when I need to review the book for an exam.
Of course, for most students, there is always some degree of cramming; it is part of being a university student. We all procrastinate to some degree. Or most of us anyway. We're not machines, we're not robots, and we have our distractions and flaws. But I believe that the majority of successful university students have good study habits that keep them up to speed with the pace of the class, on a consistent basis, so they don't have to encounter horrible stress at the last minute as they do "all-nighter's" and cram to get a passing grade. I am envious of those students who put aside specific hours each day (in the library or their room) to study and review, or to do online research as part of an assignment.
As background, my parents had me tested for ADHA in middle school when I got a "D" in a math class. My mother began looking into my room, checking on me to see if I was really studying, or just hanging out. I did have a television in my room for awhile, but they took it out because of that "D" in math. The results of the ADHA testing showed that I do not have an attention deficit problem. The person conducting the test told my parents that I just had "a very active and creative imagination" and with time, I would learn to concentrate for those important moments.
In fact I got the "D" because I hated math back then and I just didn't get the formulas. I saw numbers and equations, division and multiplication and froze up. The "D" resulted partly from me not studying, and partly because I just kind of rebelled against it. I visualized getting a "C" on a final test and just pushed those books aside so I could do something more interesting with my time, like collecting stamps and coins, and doing the research to see what was valuable and what was losing value on the market.
Speaking of psychological testing, I have not gone through any other tests because basically I haven't told my parents or my close friends or teachers that I have a block when it comes to concentration at the moment it is needed. For me, regular study, reading, research and review of assignments is just not part of my life. I must be pretty intelligent to be able at the last minute to fill in the gaps of what I should have become familiar with earlier, but I'm not bragging at all.
I just am revealing that I have gotten by on the strength of my ability to gain enough information about my classes or tests at the last minute to survive. I look back at grades I got in high school (high school of course does not challenge a student in the same way university classes to) and sometimes I think that perhaps I can recall things said by an instructor even though I didn't write it down or cover it in a textbook. I remember looking at multiple choice questions on tests and often (especially in social studies, Science, English and history classes) one of the choices would just jump out at me, and so I learned to go with my first instinct on multiple choice and many times it turned out that I was correct.
When it came to essay questions and "fill-in-the-blanks" I struggled, but because I was able to, under terribly stressful moments, cram the day before, I got enough right to get by. I even had a "B" average in my grades (except math) in high school.
The stress I experience when push comes to shove is mind blocking, too. I think that's part of my problem. Just thinking about the fact that I should be studying on a given week night is stressful. So rather than face the studying, or the stress, I go somewhere. I may just walk around campus or go to a movie or go shopping, but when I'm gone from my room and my homework I'm free of that stress. Then the next day in class, I say to myself that I will try harder to stay up with the assignments, and I pay close attention as best I can to what is being presented by the instructor.
"As best I can" is truthful. It means that I am distracted constantly. I am distracted by the places on the wall of the classroom where the paint doesn't quite match. I look for them in every classroom now that I have seen the non-matching paint in one classroom. It's not grossly mismatched, but I can see that someone painted a slightly darker color to cover up another swatch of paint. I am observant, I tell myself, not always distracted in a "negative way." The wind blows tree branches outside the classroom, and that interests me. So when I see branches bending in the wind I think about where I lived as a kid and how the tree branches came right up to my window in my bedroom. I notice what other students are wearing; I don't stare but I look around the room and see what everyone is wearing, and I compare it to what I would wear if I were that person given the weather outside.
Guys in shorts in cold weather always fascinate me; how could they wear shorts on a chilly day? Are they trying to be macho and show they aren't cold in 40-degree weather? See, thoughts like that interrupt my ability to pay close attention to what I should be concerned about. Female students are also a source of distraction, because I see some are wearing clothes that flatter them -- and those women wear flattering clothes ever day -- and other women just dress to be warm and comfortable, and don't care if the look pretty.
I will sit there and hear the lecture but not be listening as I observe a male-female couple that always sits together towards the back. I wonder if they study together, or even live together. Where did they meet and how long have they been going out? No one should be thinking about someone else's life while in a history lecture, but I do. They are very sweet to each other, the way I would like to be someday with a partner. But again, they lives are totally beyond any real meaning for me so I should not be distracted by them, or by the tree branches, or the paint.
Steps I Should Take to Become a More Grounded Student
I know very well that the university has counseling services for students that are troubled, but I have resisted reaching out for help because I am getting passing grades, I don't feel psychologically disturbed, and besides I should not use resources that people in more serious need want to use. The other day I looked through the counseling services section of the university's Web site and while looking for a service that might be specific to my issues, the word "anxiety" caught my eye. I do go through a lot of stress and anxiety, as I have explained, but it is only during the time when I have to bear down and study right before a mid-term or final test. I clicked on "Barry's Corner" and he has a friendly face but the subject was "grief" based on the death of Jasper Howard over a year ago. Don't they update those columns more often?
The counseling section gives…[continue]
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