Coping with the Workload

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(Please note that this material is getting dated: Freerider is largely defunct now after a faculty backlash and a largely confusing debate about the Honor Code.)

The first quarter is tough---the toughest of all quarters they say. Here are some helpful tips to get you through the quarter in good shape.

Attitude: P = MBA

Coping with the workload can be hard. Before you even figure out specific techniques, you need to determine and possibly adjust your attitude. Even if you are very good, there is no way you know all of it or could do all of it. Hence, the most important aspect if you want to have a life next to class and homework is to let go. The less you care about grades, the better for your emotional and personal life. The GSB makes this easy for you: grades are not disclosed ever to the outside world. As one alumni put it: P (for pass) equals MBA. And that's about it. Access to the alumni database is not regulated by your grades.

Not everyone subscribes to this attitude, but most do. As competitive as this place may be, few seem to think that becoming a Siebel scholar is worth the additional time spent on class.

Preparation Strategies

The average workload of preparing for one class session is to read two articles of 10 pages length each, and read one case of another 10 pages. With 5 classes per week of 2 sessions each, this amounts to reading a 300 page textbook each week while answering 10 problem set questions. Is everyone consistently doing this? Go figure...

The most important tool during the first quarter was the "freerider" service, a student organized document database where students post summaries on any of the upcoming readings. This works, because any one student has to do only one or two readings and corresponding write-ups per quarter while getting the rest for free.

From what I've observed, people follow an escalation strategy based on interest and available material.

  • If no interest at all: no reading at all.
  • If minimal interest: read freerider case write-up.
  • If some interest: read freerider article and case write-ups.
  • If real interest: read freerider article write-ups and read actual case.
  • If this is your course: read all of the original material.

Once understood and emotionally accepted, this is a workable strategy that makes your life considerably more enjoyable. Unfortunately, professors are cracking down on the freerider service now, trying to severly restrict its use.

Professor vs. Professor

Different professors employ different strategies in what they seem to believe helps learning. Most notably, this means checking on the handed-in homework and cold-calling in class to see how well someone understands the material. However, not everyone does this. Some classes are balanced, some are not. Most notably, in one of my classes, we get cold-called a lot, while in another class the professor does not cold-call at all. The consequence? For most students, the first class gets all the preparation attention, while few seem to prepare for the second class. (Amusingly, this can be viewed as a simple case of the prisoner's dilemma.)

Of course, this strategy works only in the short-run. With midterm or final examinations approaching, students request and attend review sessions on those topics they skipped or would like to learn more about. Does this work well? Hardly. The goal of learning is replaced by the goal of passing the exam. Can you do something about it? Not if you are not interested in the course. If you are interested, you will make the time anyway and learn, but then you push aside other classes, resorting to the strategies discussed above.

My main point here is that the professors should coordinate and focus on our overall learning experience rather than on the learning experience for just their class.

Copyright (©) 2007 Dirk Riehle. Some rights reserved. (Creative Commons License BY-NC-SA.) Original Web Location: http://www.riehle.org