Strategies for Grad School

Prioritizing vs Procrastinating

Graduate school organization is a key to graduate school success! Most of your time spent as a graduate student will be a delicate act of balancing and doing multiple things at the same time, but sometimes, some tasks will require more attention and focus than will others. Consequently, you must learn how to prioritize and to plan tasks to be successful as a graduate student, especially because you probably have a limited amount of time each day to devote to homework and study. However, some students use prioritizing as an excuse to procrastinate on low-priority tasks or to ignore some tasks completely. In the following sections, we will discuss how to prioritize and to plan tasks effectively and how prioritizing tasks differs from procrastinating and ignoring tasks.

How to Prioritize and Plan

One of the most important school supplies that you should buy is a daily planner with a monthly calendar, something that will allow you to keep track of tasks on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. At the beginning of each semester, you should write all of the major assignments, projects, etc., for all of your classes on the monthly calendar in your planner. As the semester progresses, you can use this calendar to anticipate future tasks and to prioritize those tasks according to importance. For example, while reviewing your monthly calendar, you notice that you have assignments due on the same day for two different courses. The assignment for one class is a major project for that class and makes up a significant portion of your final grade, but the other assignment for the other class is a daily, repetitive assignment that does not make up a significant portion of your final grade.

When you plan your study sessions for those assignments, you should prioritize the major assignment over the minor assignment, starting with and spending more time on the major assignment than on anything else during your study session(s). If you do not get to the lower-priority task in one study session, then you should plan to address the lower-priority task in another study session. For this to work successfully, you will need to plan to work on assignments several days or weeks before (instead of the day before) they are due. This will also give you extra time to review and revise your work before you submit it.

How Prioritizing Differs From Procrastinating

You should prioritize and spend more time on major assignments than on other assignments, but this does not give you license to procrastinate on or to ignore assignments that you consider low priority. Procrastinating is intentionally avoiding a task when that task needs to be done and putting off that task until another time or until you completely forget to do the task all together, all of which defeats the purpose of planning and prioritizing. Once you have planned and prioritized a task, you should follow your schedule and do things when you originally decided to do them. Of course, unexpected events always happen to throw off your plans, but if you stay flexible and allow yourself plenty of time to complete tasks before they are due, then you should be able to adjust your plan and your priorities when something unexpected happens. Finally, prioritizing tasks does not mean that you can choose to do important tasks and not to do unimportant tasks. If you professor assigns something for you to do, then you must do it; prioritizing simply means deciding the order in which you will do something, not whether or not you will do something. Following these graduate school organization tips could help you feel more confident in your overall success in graduate school.


Reading for Detail

Reading for detail can be a daunting and challenging task but proves important in graduate school. Time is valuable, so reading things repeatedly is impractical. Here are a few tips and tricks to understand what you are reading the first time.

Staying engaged in what you are reading is vital to reading for detail. How can you stay engaged in the reading? Annotating the writing as you read forces you to pay close attention and respond to what you are reading, consequently increasing your reading comprehension. Annotating can include noting anything specific that you are looking (e.g., key words and phrases), anything that seems particularly significant, and any questions that you may have.

Another way to focus when reading for detail is to look for particular patterns in the writing can not only keep you engaged but can also reveal more information about the writing. Ask yourself questions about any patterns that you notice, and look for the answers in the writing. Finding the main idea is key to understanding a piece of writing. You can easily find the main idea of writing by identifying the topic sentence in a paragraph. The final step in comprehending what you have read comes from your own conclusion. If you have read and fully comprehended the work, you should be able to develop a response to or opinion about what you have read.

Another important lesson about reading for graduate school is that you don’t necessarily have to read everything. In graduate school, it is not unheard of to be assigned 500 pages of reading a week for just one of your classes. On top of everything else that you have to do for you classes, it literally may not be possible to read everything that is assigned. Now, to be clear, we are not saying that you should not read for your classes; you will want to engage yourself in the reading so that you are able to keep up with class conversation. However, if you are able to focus and apply these reading for detail tips you will hopefully find a balance between understanding the topic being covered in the reading and completing the necessary amount of reading needed to gain that understanding.


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