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Targum toolkit for surviving Rutgers' most difficult classes

Making sure you're dressed comfortably for those difficult Rutgers classes is one way you can decrease pain and increase productivity. – Photo by Rachel Chang

A sigh that a senior lets out as they watch a graduate school interviewer furrow their brow at the tiny letter stamped on the first page of their transcript.

A sigh exerted by a precocious first-year as they browse Reddit, trying to gauge what level of hell they're about to go through.

Sighs that spill out of sophomores and juniors as they wade across a river of assignments and quizzes for a second or third time, hoping they aren't swept away again.

At Rutgers, one of the most sigh-inducing experiences you can have as a student is taking a difficult requirement class, i.e. Calculus II, Organic Chemistry, Data Structures, Introduction to Managerial Accounting, etc.

While the difficulty of a course is fairly subjective and dependent on each student, there are some courses that are notorious for having high fail and withdrawal rates, scaring students out of their desired majors and generally becoming a source of great stress.

Clearly, this brings up a greater issue of whether the structures of these courses are actually conducive to learning or whether they just encourage cramming and rote memorization.

While this issue still remains to be resolved, here are a few tips to help you deal with the hardest classes at Rutgers.

Suit up

Oftentimes, if I don't feel comfortable in the clothes I'm wearing, both my confidence and my motivation lower as a result. This can be a major problem when taking an intensive class, where both academic confidence and motivation are key to success.

To fix this problem, I suggest curating uniforms — outfits that you can routinely wear to class and feel confident in.

First, identify clothing and accessories that make you feel both comfortable and self-assured. Maybe it's those jeans that fit you perfectly or the t-shirt featuring your favorite band or that beautiful piece of jewelry your best friend gifted you.

Essentially, choose garments that make you feel skipping-to-the-bus-stop, pushing-the-car-door-closed-with-your-hip, coolest-person-in-this-lecture-hall kind of good.

Then, group those pieces together to form your uniforms — one outfit per each weekly class is a good guideline to follow.

Next time you have class, you can simply grab and change into one of your uniforms, assuring that you feel confident in whatever clothes you're in and saving you time in the process.

Look around

Many of Rutgers' most difficult courses are formatted as large presentation-based lectures, with one professor reciting information as hundreds of students scribble it down.

In fear of sounding unintelligent or not wanting to draw too much attention to themselves, many students in these lectures shy away from asking questions about the material. Even after class or during the professor's office hours, a long line of students and limited time discourage students from asking for further clarification.

For this reason, it's necessary to look around you and realize that you're not alone.

First, there are hundreds of other students that are just as confused, clueless and behind on their work as you are. Use your class group chat or find people after class to form a study group.

Four people is an optimal number of people for a study group — large enough to fact-check each other but small enough to find a time to meet that fits everyone's schedules.

After finalizing your group, use a list of exam topics (usually available on your syllabus or upon request from your professor) to create a schedule for review sessions.

In addition to study groups, you can ask one of your class' teaching assistants to help answer some of your questions or even go over key concepts with you. Rutgers Learning Centers also offer many resources including walk-in tutoring and academic coaching.

Absorb information

Sitting down and paying deep attention to a lecture for an hour and 20 minutes (sometimes, 3 hours), without breaks, is challenging.

The baseline difficulty of this task coupled with the increase in attention issues found in college students during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic means that it's now necessary for students to stay vigilant against getting distracted during class.

Some tips to help keep your concentration include making sure to sit toward the front of the class so the lecture will feel more like an engaging group conversation than a live hour-long Youtube tutorial.

If your professor allows you, chew gum and eat snacks during class so that your body has something else to do other than stare at a board (needless to say, clean up after yourself when you're finished).

Give your eyes a break by closing them for 10 seconds and just listening to the lecture instead. When you open them again, they'll feel a bit more refreshed.

Make sure to get up and stretch at least one time during class. This may feel awkward to do in front of others so just exit the room for 20 seconds, move around and go back inside — just make sure you don't bring your phone with you.

Yee-haw

One of the worst characteristics of difficult courses, especially those for high-intensity majors, is how they breed insecurity and envy among students.

Rather than being proud of themselves for taking such an intensive course and learning challenging material, many students start to compare their progress with their classmates.

An 88 on a difficult exam is now worth nothing because one of your classmates got a 98. Remember that comparison is the thief of joy: Your exam grades don't define your intellectual worth and there are plenty of things that you're great at that others are not.

To avoid being stuck, try to celebrate the little victories — whether it's passing the exam that you thought you failed or getting your first grade above an 80.

Don't worry about your grade not being as high as your friend's or what you woulda, coulda, shoulda done differently. Just be grateful for what your past self did and set a goal for your future self.

While I hope these tips will help you find your footing when you take a difficult course, I realize that these tips may not work for everyone.

I encourage you to find what approaches work best for you and share them with other students taking challenging courses. After all, as Rutgers students, we can either sigh together or S.L.A.Y. together — the choice is ours.


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