“There is no greater danger than underestimating your opponent,” Lao Tzu.
When it comes to college students, we’re not exactly talking about a war, but underestimating can cause college students fairly significant issues. This problem is rooted in the fact that we, as human beings, always tend to overestimate our own abilities. Never is this more apparent than when it comes to estimating how long it will take to complete a task. Studies show that people consistently overrate their own ability and underestimate the amount of time it will take to complete a task.
This can happen in everyday life, and it can happen with school. For students, this will show up most frequently with their bigger assignments—papers, projects, presentation—and tests.
When students are underestimating the amount of time needed for certain tasks, they are going to get themselves in trouble. The most common example of this? Studying for midterms or finals. Students will often completely underestimate the difficulty and the amount of preparation needed in order to do well on an exam. This will lead to long cram sessions, all-nighters, less retention of information, high levels of stress, and ultimately, lower test grades. When we start working with students, it’s fairly common to hear that students were constantly falling into this trap during the previous semester.
So the question is: how can students avoid this? The answers are quite simple, but it often takes a coach to help with the follow through. Students need to do 2 things, analyze assignments and plan ahead. These two things must go hand in hand. Students must dig into the details of an assignment (or test preparation) and put thought into how they will prepare, how challenging it will be, and how much time they need. The key is, students need to do those steps with plenty of time in the future to plan out and manage the appropriate time. If I help a student analyze a test and the conclusion might be that they need 8 hours of study time. In order to give themselves 8 hours, this analysis needs to be happening at least a week prior to the test. This will allow the student to be organized, planned, and execute their studying while keeping their stress level low.
Students must constantly be looking ahead and asking themselves the question, “What is on the horizon?” Planning should usually be taking place 1-2 weeks in advance. When students are able to be consistent with this skill, they are able to avoid those late night cram sessions and all the negative side effects that go with them.