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“I’m so far behind,” the ATAR student laments. “Look at all of this work I have to do,” they say, pointing at a pile of books, worksheets and practice questions. A sense of dread descends as they realise the situation before them: they really need to catch up.
If this sounds like you right now, don’t stress. Very many students have been in this situation before; very many will be in a similar situation in the future. And it’s not all doom and gloom; even though it might not feel like it right now, you definitely can get yourself out of this sticky situation.
Here are some things to keep in mind.
1. You’ll have to prioritise what needs to be done.
You know how it is: some tasks are more essential than others. And if you’re feeling wayyyyy behind at the moment, it’s obviously not the smartest of ideas to focus your time on things that ultimately don’t really mean that much.
The idea here is to sit down and list everything you need to get done. Then, order those tasks in terms of necessity. Do you have a hectic test in one week worth 80% of your mark? Okay, cool – that’s really important, so it should be near the top of the list. That other random assignment worth 2% of your mark in three weeks? Not so much.
This is true no matter how you’re sitting with your workload, but when you’re falling behind, it becomes even more crucial: prioritising is key.
Once you’ve worked out which tasks are actually the most important, you can go about ticking them off one by one – task by task. Set up a to-do list with what you’ve deemed the most important tasks right at the top. Write them in bold, or highlight them. Make them super obnoxious on the page so that you don’t miss them, and don’t procrastinate any further.
Sometimes, the hardest bit is simply making a start – but you’ve got this.
2. You might need to make some sacrifices.
Real talk: if you’ve backed yourself into a corner with your WACE ATAR workload but still want to do super well, you might need to make some sacrifices. For example, you might look at cutting down the number of hours you’re working in your part-time employment, or skip a few training sessions for your sport.
Of course, what you deem most important in your life is completely up to you, and your marks might not be the most important aspect of your life. That’s totally cool. But you won’t be getting good marks just with a click of your fingers – you’ll still need to put in the hard yards at some stage.
3. HOWEVER, your health is not one of those things.
No matter what you think about giving up, though, try to avoid those things like, you know, sleeping and eating well.
If you think about it, these things are really the most important things of all. If you run yourself into the ground in an attempt to get back on track, it’s going to be counter-productive in the end. Like, let’s say you have a week of hectic study in an attempt to catch up on all of your work, but only have three hours of sleep per night as a result. Yeah, it might be good to get through your work backlog, but what state are you going to be in? If you’ve only had three hours of sleep per night, you’re going to be absolutely wrecked, and you’ll probably just fall behind again as a result.
Study needs to be sustainable, else it’s not effective. And if you’re unwell (physically or mentally), you’re probably not in the best possible place for sustainable study.
4. Efficient study becomes even more important.
If you’re on track, you can probably get away with an ineffective study sesh or two. You know the ones: Facebook out, not that productive, sort of just going through the motions.
But if you’re really behind, and want to get back on track, this just won’t cut it. So, make sure you pay attention to all of the regular advice: limit distractions (for example, you could turn off your phone entirely, and study in a quiet place away from other people), make sure you’re well-rested etc. If you’re not in a conducive study environment, you’re not setting yourself up well. For example, let’s say you try to read through a chapter or two of your textbook, but you’re surrounding by your banter-filled m8s and you’re only half paying attention.
When you get to the end of the chapter, chances are you won’t remember much of what you just read – if anything. That’s just wasted time, and will further contribute to your plight – in fact, it might be why you’re in the situation you’re in!
Remember: it’s okay to focus on your studies for a bit.
5. This isn’t the time for super fancy headings.
You know that Spongebob meme where he spends like four hours meticulously writing the first word of his essay to make it look super pretty? That’s all well and good, but it’s just not necessary – and it ultimately won’t help you catch up on your workload.
It might be time to bite the bullet and get over the way your notes and stuff look (at least for now). I know this might be tricky for those of you who take great pride in your work’s aesthetics, but right now, all you need is legibility and functionality. You can always make things pretty at a later date, but you won’t be getting marks for the most beautiful handwriting.
It’s a common trap, because changing font titles and stuff sort of feels productive, but it really isn’t. You can spend your time more wisely!
6. Remember: extensions exist.
We’ve been speaking in this article as though your situation is self-inflicted. But if you’ve fallen behind due to external circumstances and things beyond your control, it might be worth looking in to an extension.
They exist for this very reason.
7. You don’t have to do it all alone.
In this situation, it’s pretty easy to work yourself into a frenzy and think you’re all alone in the world, but you’re simply not. You have people around you who want you to do well – particularly your teachers/other teaching staff. You could consider setting up an appointment with them, being honest with your situation, and seeing what they’d suggest you do.
Chances are, they’ve seen it all before – and they might appreciate your honesty. If nothing else, this can sometimes be a bit of a weight off your shoulders, because all of a sudden you’re working through the situation together. You’re not just an isolated number.
8. Try not to beat yourself up.
Attitude is genuinely a huge player here. Let’s think about this pragmatically.
In situation #1, you go, “oh, I can’t believe I’ve let myself get into this situation again – I’m so stupid – I’ll never do well – there’s really no point trying”, so on so forth. If you think in this way, your biggest battle is really against yourself – not against your workload. If you’re constantly dragging yourself down with a negative mindset, it’d be a huge struggle to overcome that in itself.
On the other hand, if you think more along the lines of, “okay, I’ve stuffed up here – but I’m dedicated to make this work”, then you’re already in a better position. Whilst still acknowledging that your preparation to this point has been less than ideal, you’re giving yourself a chance to catch up. You’ll be in a better study zone, and you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of this.
Everybody gets behind at some point – even those who do ludicrously well. And that leads us to the next point:
9. Keep perspective (you’re not the only one).
Studying is sort of like the Instagram effect, where you usually only ever see the best/most enjoyable/most enviable parts of people’s lives. Updates are pretty artificial, and don’t truly reflect the reality at hand.
Studying and school/uni/whatever is really the same. Even if it seems as though other people are really switched on and on top of everything, that doesn’t mean it’s true, and you can never really know how people are coping.
So, try not to fall into the trap of thinking that you’re the odd one out, here.
10. Learn what not to do in the future.
And finally, use this as a learning experience for times to come.
If you don’t like being in this position, use that as reason to not let yourself fall into the same traps in the future. Think about why the situation arose in the first place. Were you procrastinating heaps? Did you just not understand the content? Did you underestimate how long things would take you?
This sort of self-knowledge and understanding will make it easier to stay on top of things in the future – so hey, even this situation has a silver lining. 🙂