Surviving First Year: What’s next?

Josh Li - 2A Mechanical
Posted on: November 20, 2016

We’ve talked about coffee, we’ve talked about procrastination, we’ve talked about simulation tests, we’ve talked about reframing. What’s left to talk about in this very final edition of How to Survive First Year?

Oh yeah, exams. Exams are going to be a big deal because they’re more heavily weighted, but they’re not going to be a big deal because you’ve prepared for them. Again, don’t think of them as anything more than problem sets, not to mention you’ll have several full days before those exams to study. It’s now about putting this crucial time to good use.

Putting your time to good use means two things: not procrastinating and not wasting time. Luckily, there is a surefire method endorsed by psychology, musicians, and writers around the world to sustain concentration and achieve useful progress. It’s called the Pomodoro Method. The method uses a timing device (the inventor used a tomato wind up clock) to sustain unwavering effort for 25 minute, followed by a 5 minute break. A longer break can act as a reward after four Pomodoro cycles.

Now let me tell you how this will help you with those exams. A Pomodoro session with the defined goal such as “finishing chapter nine of linear algebra” is much less daunting than the vague “study for linear algebra”, which can imply a whole course of knowledge that appears to be impossible to cover. Furthermore, wasting time is another major concern when “studying linear algebra” does not go well and you end up spending too much time on chapter 5, when the most important topics are in chapter 6. At the end of every Pomodoro session, you step away from the desk and evaluate: did I accomplish anything meaningful in this last 25 minutes? If the answer is no then you are usually better off leaving this question until later and moving on.

Non-stop studying will never alert you when you are wasting time. Research has also shown that the information you learn in the middle of long study sessions is most easily forgotten. You remember the information at the beginning and end of study sessions best. Therefore, doesn’t it make sense to have as many beginnings and ends as possible?

Now, life doesn’t stop after your first university exams, but life will get easier after getting through that first exam cycle. Just ask your TAs if 1B is any more difficult than 1A, and they’ll tell you that the next term is like an 8/10 if this term is a 11/10. In reality, the amount of content or material covered is about the same, with the same level of difficulty in some courses, but your second term feels less difficult than the first since you’ve adapted to university life.

In the upper years, design projects and lab work will make things more exciting. But keep in mind how with every passing school term, you are 12.5% closer to graduating! Keep the taste of real engineering from co-op; you may enjoy it and you may not. The whole point of these four-month, low-commitment work terms is to find what you thought you liked, but actually hated in practice. Each of these lessons is priceless, as you get even closer to finding real passion.

For further reading and life inspiration I recommend the following final pieces of advice:

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey  is a book to live life by. If you still consider yourself a kid at heart, and want to get the same life lessons with less text and some cartoons, I also highly recommend the Teen version by Sean Covey.

No Fears, No Excuses by distinguished professor Larry Smith is a book you will come to cherish after a lackluster work term. It’s also a personal journey to find a career where you love Mondays just as much as Fridays. If you didn’t think that was possible, you haven’t read this book.

And finally, I hope you young kids can appreciate these words. If you don’t get it, go watch the movie.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old time is still a-flying.

And this same flower that smiles today. Tomorrow will be dying.

Carpe diem, boys and girls. Make your life extraordinary.

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