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I am studying cs and biology in my first year, 7 courses in total.

From the start of the semester I pretty much learned every day from the moment I finished my day in the university until I went tto sleep (of course with breaks), and I also stopped working out and going out. I don't know really if I am over studying.

My routine is going back home to review the material thoroughly up to 1.5 hours for each course (I noticed I don't try to focus really on main parts and trying to grasp and understand everything), and then going to do HW. And doing that all week long, and during the weekend I continue studying extensively but with much more periods in between.

As a first year I don't really understand if I am exaggerating. I hope for your tips about studying effective and and time balance with studying and life (but I remained that I'm a dual major so it is much more busy)

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  • 24
    I think you need local advice. Courses vary in weight/length. I found it difficult to persuade my students to spend 42 of the 168 hours of the week at their studies (incl class time). When I started at university myself the VC suggested that 48 hours, the then normal working week was right. Commented Mar 11 at 15:30
  • 8
    What course load is considered full-time where you are? Or, probably more usefully, how many credits is full-time and how many credits are you enrolled (since not every course is an equal load)? If you are taking more than a full-time load, you should expect to spend more than full-time. If this is too much, the solution is to take fewer courses at once.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Mar 11 at 15:59
  • 5
    I am reminded of a story about (insert favourite physicist here) JJ Thompson. Thompson leaves to go home on Friday night and notices a graduate student still at work in the lab. He asks him when he will go home, the student says 11:59pm. He asks the students when he arrives, the student says 5:59am. He asks the student what he does on the weekend, the student says he comes to the lab. Astounded Thompson asks "so when do you think?"
    – akozi
    Commented Mar 12 at 13:19
  • 2
    Don't study more than you would like to work. Don't work more than you would like to party. Don't party more than you would like to love.
    – T. Sar
    Commented Mar 12 at 20:25
  • 4
    What strikes me is the possibility that you do not know how to learn and you do not know how to discriminate between what should be learned (the requirements) and what is superfluous. If you are spending THAT much time studying then you are likely focused on the minutia and are not seeing the bigger picture of your coursework. First-year courses show the overarching concepts while upper-level courses fill in the gaps. Knowing the big picture first enables you to appreciate the minutia, but learning the minutia first robs us of appreciation for the big picture.
    – tnknepp
    Commented Mar 14 at 13:42

10 Answers 10

54

An important aspect of learning, along with repetition and feedback, is strategic breaks. Giving up exercise, sleep, and proper eating isn't helpful to either your health or learning. Your mind works even when you aren't trying to push it into overdrive. You still think while you are running or cycling or ...

In fact, trying to push too hard at "learning" can be as detrimental to the desired outcome as pushing your body into danger zones while exercising.

Yes, it takes a lot of work, especially with seven courses, which I've done. I was once OK with it and once had to drop a course. It can even affect grades negatively.

Physical exercise, maybe aerobic especially, can be a help in learning. Giving your brain a rest can bring it back stronger.

Note that a fairly common experience of many people is having some special insight into a hard problem as they awake from sleep. The brain works in the background as it does in the foreground, occasionally better.

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    Bang on with aerobic and subconscious thinking.
    – Trunk
    Commented Mar 12 at 12:45
  • 12
    Nothing better for studying than sleeping.
    – DonQuiKong
    Commented Mar 12 at 13:14
  • 8
    I didn't even cram before exams back in college. You know what you know. If you are sleep deprived today, you will have a hard time recalling what you knew yesterday. The body learns by day. The mind learns by night. Get sleep. Commented Mar 12 at 18:19
  • 1
    My best ideas regarding academic topics come while I'm practicing my cooking. Granted, I'm horrible as a cook, but still - the act of doing something incredibly unrelated helps quite a bit.
    – T. Sar
    Commented Mar 12 at 20:27
  • Physical exercise (of any kind) is also good for maintaining mental health — especially important if you find everything else stressful or even depressing.
    – gidds
    Commented Mar 13 at 0:18
19

If I were to give advice to my (much) younger undergraduate self, it would be "Treat your studies like a flexible, but full time, job." Here in the States, that means 40 hours per week. And that tracks pretty well with the course loads I was taking, which would have me in class for 18-20 hours per week, leaving 20-22 hours for homework, projects, and studying.

(My much younger undergraduate self did not spend 40 hours per week on educational activities, at least not the first two years.)

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  • In the States however you pay to get your degree, so it seems lame to spend so much money and then spend less than 168 hours per week on it.
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Mar 11 at 18:26
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    @EarlGrey I had a scholarship
    – Anonymous
    Commented Mar 12 at 1:31
  • 10
    @EarlGrey It's even more lame to spend so much money and then being unable to complete the course 'cause you lost your passion because of academic burnout, as it happened with me.
    – T. Sar
    Commented Mar 12 at 20:30
  • 2
    @T.Sar of course I was ironic. It's a messed up system, I still wonder how much suffering can fellow americans bear ...
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Mar 12 at 21:32
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    @EarlGrey I had one professor who used to say that college is the only thing where people don't want to get their money's worth. This is when students would ask to be dismissed early (at 10-10:15 PM).
    – Esther
    Commented Mar 14 at 21:36
9

As a first year I don't really understand if I am exaggerating. I hope for your tips about studying effective and and time balance with studying and life (but I remained that I'm a dual major so it is much more busy)

As someone who has been through many varying combinations of studying, dual majoring, working part time, volunteering, researching interning and probably ticked all of EarlGrey's bullet categories (gifted maniac bearing it) at some point or another, my advice to you boils down to the following:

Be incredibly strategic with your time, and actively adjust and evaluate your priorities as you go.

By priorities, I don't just mean academic. Your undergraduate years aren't just a preparation for your life: they are your life. Do you still have time to pursue hobbies, form friendships and relationships in this setup? You seem to be studying all the time: if you're studying for a full day, are you still actively engaged and focused the evening?

Some tips, inspired by your question and based on my experience:

  • Give your hobbies and social life the same priority as a third major

To use a clichéd metaphor, there are activities that drain your battery and those that fill it. Make sure you're balancing your study drain with activities that bring you joy and some level of socializing. It is a proud tradition of undergrad to claim to be studying approx. 110 hrs/day and complain about it, but (as other answers have pointed out), it's much better to have a few productive hours, balanced by other activities, than to try and force yourself to study every waking hour for diminishing returns.

  • Quality of study time > Quantity of study time

My favourite piece of study advice/personal efficacy advice was to strictly time your actual study hours. By "strictly time", I mean set a timer (for instance on your phone), and pause it whenever you take any break or lose focus (+add a penalty time). Compare the result to your wall clock time. I discovered pretty soon that I studied better in certain places, and that I usually only had a few (4- absolute max. 6) genuinely focused study hours per day in me. After the first round of exams, I also had an estimate range of how many effective study hours I needed relative to the official course hours, course topic and format. I used that to plan out my next semester, and adjust plans for my day-to-day: if I know that I only can focus for n hours, that means I can plan to do other fun things in my remaining time. I was also very strategic about study groups: I leaned on them in subjects where I found them helpful, and refused them for contexts when I worked better alone.

  • Be very strategic about your timing and choice of courses

This will depend on your local university rules, but when I was dual majoring, I never just took all the courses from both subjects. That would've been too much for me: I wouldn't have been able to retain all the information. Instead, I planned the sequence of courses to exploit topical overlap, and balanced between classes that graded based on projects, exams or more cumulatively (homework). Since I knew how much time I'd actually need for various projects, I tried to avoid having concurrent project deadlines and exams.

  • Don't be afraid to re-evaluate, consider your goals

If your work-life balance is out of alignment one semester, adjust your plan for the next one. A lot of my major plurality (and working) boiled down to financial reasons specific to my situation. As time went on, I realised that I wanted to do a PhD, and that I could qualify for (and get) a PhD position in the field of my second major without technically finishing that degree (because of my research experience and my other degree). So in an ironic twist, I ended up achieving my goal of getting into that field by dropping the major.

I don't regret the experience - I learned a lot, somehow still found time for fun* and it sure softened the transition to a PhD workload - but it did require a ton of independent planning, time management and self-discipline. So I wouldn't necessarily recommend it either, unless you already have a clear picture of what you want to get out of this experience.

*This post will not discuss sleep deprivation.

6

Why did the system was set up with one major? Because the vast majority of people can address one major only and have a life.

Who can afford to be a double major? Then there are at least three categories:

  • the gifted ones, that can address two majors with the same requirement as addressing one major;
  • the maniac ones, that can address two majors refusing to have a life, and having no doubts about it;
  • the bearer ones, that can grind themselves through the two majors suffering extremely for sleep deprivation and neglecting their hobby and their "non productive" life and getting enough to rest in the summer breaks doing an internship and focusing a bit on their life.

So depending on which one of the three you are, it boils down to:

  • do you have enough money to cover the expenses for the next 4 years (take 1 year of reserve for possible issues)? if you are in the loan system ... good luck!
  • do you know who you are?

Each one of the three can suddenly realize that there is more to understand a topic than the stamp coming from the "dual-major degree". There are marginal gains from obtaining a dual-major degree, and there marginal gains in overworking (for example the well-known factoid that 4 hours worked during the weekend equates almost 1 hour worked during the week).

At the same time, each of the three may realize they have to grind for just 12 blocks (3 months, 4 periods per year), so they may accept it. Being a full-time student however should mean not being a slave student, so some kind of physiological boundary must be put in place (also because the brain is a crappy muscle, it works best when focused and not strained, which is another way to say that it works well when it runs at the minimum load).

I know your question is on the work-life balance, my answer is just trying to expand on the "it depends" answer.

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    The 4th category: As someone who double majored in Electrical Engineering and Mathematics, in hindsight doing this in 4 years was not a good idea. I would have been better off taking 5 years (or 5.5 years + internships) with fewer classes per semester and doing a better job of learning the material. This would also have improved my GPA, which is a more important metric when applying for jobs or graduate school than the time it took to complete it. Commented Mar 14 at 6:16
5

You're likely studying too much.

Treat your studies as a full-time job. Research indicates that although you can work longer, it doesn't mean you'll be more productive. In particular:

Productivity and creativity tend to plateau after a certain amount of hours. In a 2014 study, Pencavel and his colleagues found that “long weekly hours and long daily hours do not necessarily yield high output.” Productivity per hour falls after a person works more than 50 hours a week, they found.

After 55, productivity actually drops so much that it’s pointless to keep working. In fact, working 70 hours or 55 would result in pretty much the same level of productiveness, they found.

So the maximum number of hours a week you want to study is 55 hours. Any further than this and you would be "studying" without actually learning anything.

55 hours a week comes to about 8 hours a day, seven days a week. That's still a lot. I doubt I can keep it up for months, but you might be different.

You might want to consider what the standard course load is at your university as well. For example one university I'm familiar with said the expected workload per course is 10 hours, and the standard number of courses per semester is five (= 50 hours per week). If your university has the same expectation, then seven courses is likely too many. If it does turn out to be too many, the obvious thing to do is to drop a course. Being a dual major should not be a factor; you still can only take so many courses a semester before you burn out.

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    The Pencavel (2014) study linked to from that article, and mentioned in the quote in this answer, looked at data from UK munitions workers during the Great War. It's unclear (to me, at least) to what extent conclusions from such a dataset transfers to studying.
    – Anyon
    Commented Mar 12 at 4:42
  • @Anyon good point. UK ammo workers were working under great mental stress: general life conditions WW2, dangerous work performed, and finally from the greater scope of their work, it translates well to academia (respectively bad general life conditions from job wage+unsec, dangerous quite often, human progress as greter goal). It is still a vast improvement over the Taylorian approach "if two men work 8 hours a day and produce x, let them work 12 hours a day so they produce x*1.5 ... and if they have a shorter life because of that ... they can be replaced before getting old expensive workers"
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Mar 12 at 7:46
2

My goodness, you are very hardworking! Some great comments above, you need a life too.

Anecdotally, from 1988-1992 I studied at the University of Stirling. 1st year courses were Computer Science, Maths, Biology, Japanese. 2nd year - Computer Science and Biology (I dropped Japanese and Maths was only a one year requirement). 3rd and 4th years, just Computing Science I attended lectures (mostly), tutorials and labs (always), did the homework (sometimes, but always the maths), did the assignments (always). I also did a HELL of a lot of partying, socialising, sports, slacking off and generally having a life. I decided it wasn't personally worth the extra effort to aim for a First class as opposed to a Second (though my head of Dept tried to convince me). I got a good 8hrs sleep almost always.

I graduated with a BSC Hons, and have worked as a software developer and consultant for the last 30+ years. I still get a good 8hrs sleep almost always. The partying stopped 2 decades ago, mind you!

Just a counter-example. Loosen up a LITTLE and I am sure you will still do really well - for the rest of your life, not just in this brief few years.

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    Yes, you have to socialize a bit. Mild socializing with classmates so you can swop understandings or attack the issue with a common mind. General socializing with students from all other courses so your soul can develop while in college. But no excessive boozing !
    – Trunk
    Commented Mar 12 at 12:50
  • having done the excessive boozing, I heartily agree! (not touched alcohol now for over 20 years!).
    – kpollock
    Commented Mar 12 at 13:07
0

There is not one good answer to say how much you should study. If you study more, you will generally get better grades and a better understanding of your material. How much time you're willing to sacrifice (or spend?) is up to you.

What you're saying is slightly worrying though. Especially that you've given up exercising and going out. A human mind needs a certain amount of rest and a certain amount of fun and unwinding activities. Also a certain amount of exercise. If you don't get this, you will slowly drain your batteries. Signs of draining batteries could include

  1. More procastrination
  2. Being more sluggish
  3. Disturbed or non-refreshing sleep
  4. Being moody or anxious

The things I listed make you less productive in the long run. So not only are these side effects not fun to experience, they also make you less productive overall.

It might feel like you can't change this, but there are always options. If you have the means, you can extend your study and do less courses per block. You could take a break of one block where you don't do courses. You could ask for tutoring to work more efficiently. You should change something. Don't give up exercising and friends. Talk to someone who can help you with this.

0

I am an undergraduate math and physics major graduating this semester. While I can't claim I spent the first few years studying as much as you did, I did spend a lot of time taking many courses, speaking to professors, doing research, and reading mathematics in my own time.

However, in this last semester, after all the stress of graduate applications, I began to relax, taking courses "unofficially," joining various clubs. While I still spend a lot of time doing research, I also spend a lot of time talking with my friends, something I hadn't really done the first few years.

Having friends you trust helps immensely when times are stressful. While I am glad that I made myself a strong student the first few years, I do wish I had a better balance of learning time and socializing time, and I would advise you keep this in mind.

0

For most students, the answer to "how many hours spending learning a day" would be "as little as you can get away with".

For me it was:

  • Turn up for the lectures. Listen and make notes.
  • Do the coursework.
  • Revise the lecture notes in the run up to the exam.

and nothing else. That got me an above average grade. Many other students didn't try so hard.

-1

My rule of thumb, after several years of burnout and bad grades, was to never have more than one 'crazy course' at a time. Crazy courses included math (all the problems) and courses with large reading lists. This was because they would consume disproportionate amounts of study time out of class. At that course load you might have 2 or 3.

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  • I have to thoroughly disagree with this answer. Learning math and physics is not a linear process after basic calculus; concepts from algebra, analysis, and topology appear "simultaneously" in each of these courses, and it would be absurd to restrict myself to just one of these courses a semester. Similarly for classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, and electricity and magnetism. Commented Mar 14 at 0:36
  • A physics course is not a mathematics course. A CS course is not a mathematics course (unless it's how Discrete Math has been labeled). Running calculus 3, linear algebra, and statistics, all at the same time, with professors who want 40 long problems in ink, is what you're trying to avoid.
    – davolfman
    Commented Mar 14 at 17:52
  • The pedagogy standards of mathematics dictate that they will almost always have an order of magnitude more homework that the usual in-major or elective courses. Literature courses are similar. So might writing courses if you have confidence problems. The point being, the more courses you have the more likely you will get more courses that give you a problem with completing the work than you can handle in the hours of the day.
    – davolfman
    Commented Mar 14 at 18:01

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