Learning is a continuous process; it does not begin and end with the change in quarters (or semesters, for that matter). The time for formalized instruction is agreed upon so that those that fascilitate learning can provide group instruction in an efficent manner. In order to help us evaluate the progress of students we must give homeworks and exams; if approached properly, these can also be of great help to students in their learning.
Students, at some point in their academic careers, tend to learn how to procrastinate. Some students can "pull it off" and seemingly suffer minor or no consequences. Most students, however, despite what they might think, do not work their best under pressure. This habit should be avoided. In general, people who plan ahead and get work done early lead less stressful lives.
In his book Tomorrow's Professor : Preparing for Careers in Science and Engineering, Reis dicusses a method of dividing tasks into four categories:
|I) Not urgent, unimportant||II) Urgent, unimportant||III) Not urgent, important||IIII) Urgent, important|
The majority of your time should be spent in category III. Category II items are things like phonecalls from important people that cannot be ignored but are not productive; they can be minimized but not completely avoided. Category I items are unproductive tasks that people usually do to avoid real work, like sorting their e-mail. Category IIII is where most people actually spend most of their time because they either spent too much time on Category I or they have entered a vicious cycle of deadlines. The more one plans ahead, the more time one can spend in the productive and less-stressful Category III.
Last-minute review sessions and extra study time before exams send the (incorrect) message that all studying and learning can be done immediately before the exam. Review of the covered material should take place throughout the period of instruction, not just before exams. In addition to the provided homework and readings, students should review their notes within a few days of the lecture to re-enforce the material. Questions should be brought to the professor, a TA, or a fellow student immediately, not at the last moment.
Proactive students do not need extra study time or a review session before an exam. The promise of either of these encourages procrastination and ineffective learning.