There’s always a moment in any hardcore study session when it all seems to be poised to go downhill. Your brain is getting fuzzy, you’re starving, you’re sleep deprived, and if you see one more French verb or Fourier transform, you’re going to go batty.
The question is- when should one push through, and when should one throw in the towel?
It’s not actually as tough a question as you might think. As you should know by now, I believe that short study sessions are the only way to go. When you’ve divided your workload into easily digestible chunks (remember splitting vs lumping?), you can call it quits whenever you need to, then pick up undisturbed at your next session.
Of course, not everyone takes my advice, not everyone has time for multiple additional study sessions, and not everyone knows the meaning of the word ‘stop.’ In my tutoring practice, I always get a few students every term who are obviously at the end of their rope. Their eyes are bleary, they can’t track what I’m saying, and they give the distinct impression that they’re existing in a universe that is slightly offset from ours in time and space. These are the kind of students I send home to take a nap. It takes cajoling, it takes gentle explanations, and sometimes it takes some hard bargaining (“Okay, we can go over ONE VERB, but only if you promise to go get some sleep!”) but I always send them packing. Why? Because studying when you’re not in the right mental space is worse than not studying at all.
So, how do you know when to stop?
If you’re going over the same thing again, and again, and again, stop. At a certain point you have overloaded all of your circuits, and you’re just not going to make any more progress without a break. If you have read the same page more than twice, or you’ve been doing the same math problem for more than twenty minutes, it’s time to go and do something else for a little while.
If you are dozing off, stop. Drool on your keyboard isn’t going to help anything at all. Go for a brisk walk to wake yourself up if it’s daytime. If it’s the middle of the night, go the crap to bed.
If you are emotionally distraught, stop. If the assignment is making you freak out, or something in your life has knocked you completely off balance, you need to regain some mental peace before you try to get anything else done. This is a good time for some exercise, meditation, prayer, a phone call to a friend- whatever is going to get you on an even keel and give you the balance and confidence to move forward.
If you are feeling angry or bitter, stop. This one might seem a little weirder. You can get good work done while feeling angry and bitter about the assignment, it’s true. On the other hand, it’s not going to be worth it. Just like angry cleaning, angry studying is a powerful force, but one that tends to leave you drained and unhappy. Go punch something or complain until you feel a little better, than break the problem down until you can approach it in a more neutral way.
Even if the assignment is due tomorrow, or the test is looming, you need to consider the quality of the work you are doing, and the quality of your mental health. Even if you can only afford a short break or a fifteen minute nap, it will boost your productivity and put you back on top of things.