Sucking out the marrow (and spitting out the pits)

In Academics, Time Management by adminmark

Back to planning your study. Again, I mention that our key idea here is triage. If you have time to devote full attention to every class (and your ministry and your job and your marriage and your health), then knock yourself out. If you’re one of the rest of us who has to let something go, then this is how to let go the things that will cost you the least in value.

Our observations in hindsight about which classes are valuable are all fine, but they’re not helpful BEFORE you take a given class. So how do you extract the best that your classes have to offer and avoid the worst? Here are some ideas.

  1. First of all, determine your priorities. Do you want to be proficient in Greek, or do you just not care about languages? It’s best to do this determination after at least a little bit of exposure to the subject. Since you’re new at this, you may be surprised by either your love for or aversion to new subjects. But start with an idea of what you really want to take away from seminary… and feel free to revise it as you go.
  2. Second, before it’s time to sign up for classes, look at which ones you are thinking of taking, and interview other students who have taken the same course, same professor. Ask them about the value of the class. Be specific. Ask them about the professor, the lectures, the assigned books. Ask them what were the most valuable and least valuable parts of the class.
  3. Ask mentors in your life who have been through seminary which courses are valuable and not valuable.

I encourage you to keep a list of all required courses, and as you take them, assign them a rating to indicate whether they are high-value or not. My M. Div. program was 92 hours, so you can assume roughly that about 18 hours or so are going to give you the most value.

My point in this series of posts is this (mildly controversial) idea: not all of your classes are worthy of your best attention. Remember triage as a metaphor for time management? Here’s where it comes into play. As you weigh out the competing priorities in your life, you may well need to say: this class is less worthy of my attention right now than … fill in the blank: my wife and kids… this other, more valuable class… praying… or going to the gym.

What I want to do is to explode the notion that you must give your best, concentrated effort to every moment in seminary. You don’t. Your time is your own, and you are responsible for managing it. Wise management will mean not wasting it on low value seminary stuff.

Some of you will be offended by this, thinking that I’m encouraging laziness, which I absolutely am not. If we cheat classes, we should do so for good reasons, in order to spend that time on things that are important. If you blow off class to play cards in the student union or get high scores on Rock Band, that’s a problem.

For a more authoritative take on this subject from another angle, see Choosing to Cheat, by Andy Stanley.