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OCL Psychology Student Diary: The Breaking Point

For the last few weeks, we've been taking advantage of free college course material online thanks to the Open Course Library's psychology class. With more tests to take and lessons to read though this week, things have gotten overwhelming. Am I going too fast? Why is it so easy to get distracted? Will I find a way to buckle down and finish this next unit?

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By Laura Allan

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The Second Test: Remember Your Instincts

With the second test looming ahead , I was struggling to make sure I stayed on top of my notes. The lessons had really launched into being name- and term-heavy, and the number of videos had begun to dwindle. Still, I wasn't going to let that get to me. I was determined to do better on this test than I had on the last, so I had to be ready.

When I began the next exam, I told myself over and over to trust my instincts more than I had last time. I found it difficult to tear myself away from questions where I second-guessed my answer, but I reminded myself to just move on. I finished more slowly this time, and I felt like that was because I was reading the questions more carefully, trying to let concept terms link to names and descriptions. It was more difficult than remembering stages of development for babies and fetuses, like the last test had included. Still, I didn't feel particularly bad about my efforts when I finally clicked the 'submit' button.

My efforts were rewarded, though not as richly as I would have liked. It was 84% this time, which did mean I was improving. Sure enough, I saw several answers I had wanted to second-guess which had been correct after all. My initial instincts were telling me the right things. I just had to take the time to listen to them.

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My Head is Filling Up

I'm sure every student has hit that stage of studying where they feel like their brain is literally full to the point of bursting. You can practically feel words and numbers pouring out of your ears to be forever forgotten. Well, I was about to hit that point. As I began the next lesson, I felt as if the text was getting smaller, more closely spaced. I know it wasn't, but it just started to feel that way, which should have been my first warning. There were fewer videos again too, which made the mental breaks come less and less often. Still, I kept at it.

I realized I'd hit the metaphorical overflowing point when I was at the second to last lesson in unit three. I had finished reading a paragraph and I suddenly realized that I wasn't actually sure I understood what I had read. I read it over, and this time it made a little more sense but I still didn't feel right. I looked over the last page of notes I had written. To my dismay, I didn't remember any of the concepts I had written down. Sure, I'd written words and names, but none of them meant anything to me. I wasn't retaining what I was reading at this point, which meant it was time to take a break.

Self-Analysis is a Distracting Thing

When I went back to the lessons, I decided it would first be a good idea to look over my notes and review the concepts I had written. I wasn't sure when I'd started to 'overflow,' so I went back a few pages and went lesson by lesson, checking my bullets against the PowerPoint. Things made a little more sense this time around, but I couldn't help letting my mind wander as I looked over the concepts. The unit was talking about teens and early adulthood. I started to try to look at the concepts in myself, the way I had before by reflecting on childhood to make more sense of things.

I found I was analyzing everything from my connections with my mother to my study habits. I was picking little bits of myself apart, and before I knew it I wasn't even looking over my notes. It took a second to snap myself out of it and remind myself that I was not a psychologist but a student and also that as a student I should be studying, not picking at myself. Doing that to my child self had been helpful, but this was just distracting. Hindsight is 20/20 after all, so maybe in ten years I'll be able to look back on this part of my life and use psychology to make sense of it more than I can right now.

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