Learning Physics in 36 Hours

Late Fall 2015, I realized that I didn't have the money to take 17 credits during Spring 2016.  However, I also realized that I needed those credits if I wanted to graduate in a timely fashion.  Luckily, my university offers "credit by examination".

While considering this option, University Physics II (which focuses on electromagnetism) came to mind.  Not only was it my most expensive class (5 credits) it was also physics, which happens to be a subject I love.

After speaking to professors, program directors, and department heads, the date was set.  I would take the test a day before classes for Spring 2016 started.  This gave me the entire winter break (a whole month!) to study for the exam.

Unfortunately, time management has always been a struggle for me.  I didn't begin studying for the exam until late Saturday night, and the exam was on Monday.  Here is how I studied for an entire physics course in 36 hours:

1. Focus on the most important things
In 36 hours, you don't have the time to read the entire textbook, do every practice problem, or focus on anything you already know well.  Instead, skim chapter summaries, do a few problems, and learn how to apply the equations.  If you struggle on a problem, that's when you read the textbook or do extra problems.

2. Take naps
In 36 hours, you don't have time for a good night's rest.  However, sleep deprivation will harm your studying efforts and lower your ability think on the exam.  Naps are the solution.  Naps not only give you energy, they help you retain the information you've just studied. Leave your longest nap for before the exam (try for 4 hours minimum).  Still tired?  Drink coffee.

3. Exercise
In 36 hours, you don't have the luxury of being inefficient.  Physical activity might seem unnecessary, but exercising will help you learn.  Exercise reduces stress, improves focus, and gives you a study break.  I doubt I could've learned a semester worth of material in 36 hours if I wouldn't have taken the time to workout.  In my experience, semi-intense cardio exercise is the most effective.

4. Eat Well
In 36 hours, you don't have much time to cook super healthy, nutritional meals.  However, you need to eat something.  That something should not be junk food.  Eating well can increase your ability to learn.  While studying, I reheated leftovers and ate relatively healthy microwave meals.  A Michelina meal is way better than a bag of potato chips.

5. Actually Study
In 36 hours, you don't have time to go out with friends, play video games, watch Netflix, or anything students tend to do when a scary deadline is approaching.  When you're mentally exhausted, go for a run, eat some dinner, or take a quick nap.  Then get back to work.  This is not the time for procrastination, kicking yourself for not doing this sooner, or giving up.  This is the time to get things done.

The Results:
My grade on the exam (which was the final for the previous semester class) ended up being one of the highest grades in the entire class.  In 36 hours, I not only learned the material, I performed better than a majority of the students who took an entire semester to study the material.  Miracles are real.

Despite my good grade, this was (understandably) one of the most stressful 36 hours I've ever experienced in my life.  From now on, I think I'll study ahead of time.  Though I'm pleased with the results, this is not experience I ever want to have again.

Now the new challenge:  How can I stop procrastinating?

This post was originally posted on my old blog on Wordpress.com.

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