First Person

Reading-Day Rituals

Readers reveal their test-preparation tricks and trials.

Brains of Steel

Cynthia Wrathall Ray, ’83, American Fork, Utah


When I returned to BYU after my mission in Central America, I needed to work part-time in addition to taking a full load of classes. This limited my study time. I had enjoyed running five miles a day prior to my mission, and I looked forward to getting back into that routine, especially since I had gained 20 pounds as a missionary. But with time at a premium, running was a struggle every day—until a study idea hit me.

I would put my study notes on 3 x 5 index cards. As I stretched, I put them on the floor of the track to refer to. As I ran, I held the cards in one hand and occasionally glanced at them and would repeat in my mind the points I was trying to learn. Not only did this help me fit in time for both exercise and study, it helped keep boredom away as I ran around and around the track. I gained some of my best college grades, and I lost those extra 20 pounds.

Operation “Don’t Study”Michael E. Matthews, ’97, Yerington, Nev.

During my first semester at BYU, I crammed during reading days and got A’s. I have an excellent short-term memory, so during the semester I wouldn’t pay as much attention, thinking I could learn it right before the test. I realized halfway through my second semester that I had forgotten almost everything from the first semester. This was not good. I was at college to learn. I couldn’t say later at a job, after botching something, “But I got an A in that class.” So I took a totally different approach.

I decided not to study during reading days. And an amazing thing happened when I decided to stop cramming—I learned. I started asking questions whenever I ran across unfamiliar words, concepts, and skills. I made realizations and connections between ideas that I would not have otherwise made.

Reading days became really nice. I did whatever I wanted to relax and enjoy the time—working, playing games with friends, reading, and dating. And my test grades went down only slightly. I got about a 3.5 on my finals from there on out—and I even remembered most of it beyond the Christmas or summer vacations too.

Unbridled Procrastination

Lisa Dearden Trepanier, ’88, Redmond, Wash.

Reading days begin with the glorious hope that I can still read all the material I haven’t read yet—until the morning dawns with a sunny sky and new snow. One day on the slopes won’t matter. After skiing I realize that studying for finals requires long, uninterrupted hours, so I can’t start studying while waiting for Domino’s. And studying should,of course, begin on the hour—the next hour.

I awake on the day before the first final with slightly diminished hope. By noon (a few minutes later), a vague feeling of panic sets in. But it’s only noon; there’s still time to do most of the reading. At dinner, panic and skimming are in full force. But Domino’s and a few roommates arrive, and the drug of fast food dulls the panic for a couple of hours. The rest of the night goes like this—8:00 p.m.: I’m tracking down someone who has notes from the classes I slept through. 10:00 p.m.: This is only the first final. So what if I get a B in this class? 1:00 a.m.: Third can of stimulating soda (bootlegged from off campus) thrown in general direction of garbage can. 4:00 a.m.: Can I pray at this point? Aren’t I supposed to pray over my flocks and fields? 6:55 a.m.: Roommate pounds on door—my final starts in five minutes! I slept through the alarm. (Note to self while running to final in 11-degree weather—schedule classes for next semester strictly by time of final.) Post-final: Collapse in bed, drafting speech to parents about how professor hates Utahns and that’s why I got a C–. Awake at 5:00 p.m. with two days until next final. Two days is a long time. . . . I wonder what my roommates are doing?

Related Article: RM Memories

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