A couple of months ago, I shared our findings from last year’s freshman data about the impact of study behaviors on GPA. In essence, we found that studying in one’s dorm room appears to reduce GPA while studying during the day appears to increase it. One of my student workers, Katrina Friedrich, and I have been digging further into this set of data to identify significant predictors of another indicator of academic success: time management. It turns out that even after accounting for several other important student characteristics, studying during the day (again) makes a difference.
At the end of the first year, we ask freshman to respond to the statement, “During the year I got better at balancing my academics with my out-of-class activities.” Students can choose from a set of five “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree” response options. Since we also ask these students to evaluate their own academic habits in the Student Readiness Survey (a survey they take before they enroll at Augustana), as well as asking them near the end of the first term how often they think they struggle to balance academics and extra-curricular activities, we have a pretty good way of holding constant their pre-college and first-term assessment so that we can hone in on their sense of improvement over the course of the first year.
In addition to accounting for where our students might be on a spectrum of time management prior to college, our analysis also needs to account for variations in unscheduled time during the first year. Balancing curricular and co-curricular obligations is certainly impacted by the activities one chooses to join. For example, the pressure to balance multiple responsibilities would likely be higher for student-athletes because they have less discretionary time. The same is likely true for students who participate in music ensembles, for those who have committed themselves to be highly involved in a student organization or club, or even those students who work.
With both of these factors (early assessments of time management and potentially confounding first-year experiences) held in check, we tested three study behaviors to see if, and how, they might influence students’ sense of their own improvement in balancing curricular and co-curricular obligations:
- Using a planner
- Studying in one’s dorm room
- Studying during the day
For those of you scoring at home, studying during the day was the clear winner. The more students said they studied during the day, the higher they rated their improvement in balancing academics and co-curricular activities – regardless of their other obligations or pre-college time management skills. Although studying in the dorm negatively affected GPA in our prior study, it didn’t have any effect one way or the other this time around. I suppose that it’s good to know that studying in the dorm didn’t hurt time management, but that isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for studying in one’s dorm room, either.
The finding regarding the use of a planner was perplexing. Although the effect barely missed the threshold for statistical significance (for all of you stats nerds, the p-value equalled .053 when it needed to be less than .05), the direction of the effect was negative. In other words, student’s increased use of a planner appears to inhibit their sense of improvement in balancing academics and co-curricular activities.
With my apologies to the stats gods, for the purposes of this discussion let’s round that .053 to a .05 and say that our finding was statistically significant (after all, we are still talking about a 94.7% likelihood that this finding is not a function of chance). Why might the increased use of a planner reduce one’s sense of improvement in balancing academics and co-curricular activities? Katrina suggests that many students don’t use their planner for anything beyond keeping a list of what they have to do, as opposed to allotting differing amounts of time to complete specific tasks, take care of various chores, etc. Or maybe students, particularly freshmen in this case, don’t really have the ability to estimate how long most academic tasks take. Some of you might have insights to share here, since I think we all probably tell students to use a planner, assuming that they will know how to use it.
In the end, we again found that making it a priority to study during the day is beneficial to student success, this time in terms of the development of a key skill: time management. In conjunction with the previous positive effects we’ve found that result from studying during the day, it seems that this should be one of the things we emphatically encourage our students to do.
But I’m curious to hear what you might think of the findings involving the use of a planner. It could be something messy in the data or the result of a variable that we haven’t accounted for yet. Even though it didn’t quite meet the significance threshold, the direction of the effect makes me wonder if this is another thing that we tell students to do while not realizing that they need much more information on the “how” and “why” in order to gain the benefit that we assume will come from it. Curious, indeed.
Make it a good day,