Dr. Atef Jawad Al-Najjar

Computer Engineering Department

Three simple rules can help make your life as a student more enjoyable, more fruitful, and can help you develop good work habits that will stay with you for the rest of your life. The three golden rules are:

  1. Organize your time.
  2. Do not delay today's work until tomorrow.
  3. Attend on time.

These rules appear simple and intuitive, but let us explain them, and show how they work together. Before we start, a word of warning: It is very difficult to start applying these rules, but once you start, it becomes easy to continue. Now let us explain the rules.

Rule #1: Organize your time.

We are not going to go into the details of time organization. However, the basic element is regulating sleeping time. For the most efficient use of one's time, it is very important that you get enough sleep. This requires rule (2), and contributes to rule (3). Assuming you need seven hours of sleep, and you need to get-up at five in the morning, then your bedtime is ten PM. To be able to do that, you need to apply rule (2).

Rule #2: Do not delay today's work until tomorrow.

Let us first define today's work. For every subject you study today, you need to read the text and make sure you understand the material today. This takes less time since the material is still fresh in your mind. It also helps in the application of rules (1) and (3). For the homework assigned today, you need to start solving it today; after studying and understanding the material. This should take less time since the material is still fresh in your mind. When there is difficulty, you still have time to ask for help, since it is not due tomorrow. You do not have to spend hours trying to solve a problem, and you still might not solve it, let alone having to stay up past your bed time. Since it is not due tomorrow, you can easily go to sleep at the regular bedtime. In this case, the homework that is due tomorrow has already been solved some time ago.

Rule #3: Attend on time.

Attendance has three basic components. First, physical attendance. You must be in the classroom, your self, ontime. You can not send your photograph with a friend! You can not send a copy of yourself. Second, mental attendance. Your mind must be awake. This improves your level of understanding of the material. It also leads to a more efficient use of class time. Third, attendance with previous material. Understanding the material is like building a structure made of blocks. In each class, you are building, say, one block. This must be placed and cemented to previous blocks. Other wise, you will be placing blocks in the air, hoping to cement them later! They will fall, and no structure will be built! When you attend with good understanding of the previous material, you enhance your understanding from the lecture to a very high level. This reduces the time needed when you go later, the same day, to reinforce it by reading the text, and makes applying rule (2) easier. It also saves time and leaves enough time not only to sleep on time (rule 1), but to do other things as well. (Enjoy your time!)

What if I don't?

To appreciate these rules, let us see what happens when they are not applied. Early in the semester, time is wasted doing very little useful things. After the second or third week, the workload starts to increase. Assignments due, quizzes, and before you know it, it is major time. Each homework will take longer to solve, keeping you up late at night, you start to miss classes (or go sleepy to class). Each class then requires more time to understand. Your gain from attending classes becomes 50% or less, which adds further to the time you need to bring your level of understanding to 90% or higher. Your performance is expected to be low at quizzes' time! For a major in one course, you neglect other courses, possible missing classes. There are two problems here. First, you try to understand the material of several weeks in two days. No matter how hard you try, the level of understanding will be much lower than understanding the material on a regular basis from day one. The classes you miss will require yet additional time to understand them. As time goes on, your need for time continues to grow, and your level of understanding continues to fall. You start to become nervous, you will develop a sleeping disorder, and your mind will not function at its most efficient state. More work, and more pressure, with less fruits. Well, what fruits are we talking about here?

If understanding is the tree, then grades are the fruits. The healthy tree produces fruits that are sweet and great in number. As the tree (understanding) becomes weaker, the fruits become few, sour in taste, and may lead to no fruits at all (The fruits will all Fall before they become ripe.)

Remember that you need to try, and keep trying to apply the golden rules. Once you succeed in applying them, and have started to enjoy the fruits, be prepared for the Golden Rules Pro. The next step is the Golden Rules Pro Plus!

The Golden Rules Pro:

This requires a simple addition to the golden rules, which takes little additional time at first, and saves a lot of time later. This is the reading of the text before the class. You go to the class with your mind ready to receive the new knowledge. In this pre-reading, concentrate on understanding the key words and the key issues. Leave understanding the details to class. Make sure you know all the new terminology. This qualifies you for two things. First, you will follow the instructor very closely, and hence achieve a very high level of understanding. Second, if you do not understand an issue, you are qualified to ask the correct question. As a result, the time needed to read the text after class, and to solve the homework becomes less. The time “invested” in pre-reading is time well spent! Your use of class time is excellent.

The Golden Rules Pro Plus:

This requires a not very easy addition to the Golden Rules Pro. As you study the material on a regular basis, read both the class notes and the text, possibly with additional references. Then, make your own summary. When it is time for a major or the final, it is only necessary to read your summary. This takes less time, and provides for better grades. An important element in any important job is concentration and the ability to think. Exams are important. And when you have confidence in yourself, and a high level of understanding of the material, you can sleep well. At the exam, your mind is really awake. You can understand the questions. Furthermore, you can think! Should there be a question that requires thinking and analysis, you are among those qualified to answer it correctly and completely.

Best of luck, and may you receive sweet fruits

(Revised, November 7, 1998.)