Intentionally Bomb One Class Today, Outperform Tomorrow

By March 7, 2016HACKing Studying
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If you are like many students, you are overworked, overwhelmed, and strapped for time. That’s why you strongly object to taking on any more activities, even if those activities lead to multi-million dollar opportunities.

The biggest time commitment for college students is studying and attending class. But how important is one class, anyway? Is using studying and class attendance as an excuse to avoid high-value opportunities a good idea? As you’ll see, it’s not. And once you understand the insignificance of one class, you won’t hesitate to take a class off, if necessary, to explore higher value opportunities.

One Class = 2.5% of Your Overall GPA

I graduated Penn State having completed 134 total credits. That’s about 17 credits a semester. The average student completes 120 total credits or 15 credits a semester, which is roughly five classes per semester, or 3 credits per class. In order to be most conservative, let’s use 120 total credits for this example, even though many students, like me, complete more.

To complete the math, you take the number of credit hours per class—that is, 3 credit hours—and divide by the number of overall credit hours necessary for graduation—that is, 120 credit hours, which equals 2.5%. In other words, the significance of one, three-credit college course is less than three whole percentage points relative to all of your classes. That’s nothing.

Worst Case Scenario, One Class = 0.10 GPA Points

To illustrate the insignificance of 2.5% relative to your overall GPA, let’s conduct a worst case scenario. Suppose that you completely bombed a three-credit class so much that you failed and received an “F.” Now suppose that your “F” in a three-credit course is factored into your perfect 4.0 GPA, which you received in every one of your other 117 credits (120 – 3) worth of classes. This example illustrates the most severe impact possible for completely bombing an exam.

To get your answer, you can use the GPA calculator on Back to 2 College. Under “Course” write “Bombed Course” and assign it 3 credit hours with an “F” grade. Below “Bombed Course” write “Everything else” and assign it 117 credit hours with an “A” grade. The result is a 3.9 GPA. In other words, the worst possible scenario—that is, failing a class and factoring an “F” into a perfect GPA—can at most deflate your GPA by 0.10 GPA points. That’s it.

Realistically, One Class = 0.02 GPA Points

But how many 4.0-achieving students are likely to completely fail a class? Not many. So lets use a more realistic example. Suppose you got a “C” (2.0 GPA) in a three-credit class, which is factored into an overall GPA of a “B” (3.0 GPA) across 117 credits. The result from factoring in the your three-credit “C” (2.0 GPA) means that your overall GPA of a “B” (3.0 GPA) goes down to a 2.98 GPA—a mere 0.02 GPA points. In other words, underperforming in one class produces a drop of about 0.02 GPA points. That’s nothing more than a rounding error.

The Value of One Class: Summary

  • One class = 2.5% of your overall GPA.
  • Worst case scenario, one class can drop your GPA by 0.10 GPA points.
  • Realistically, one class can drop your GPA by 0.02 GPA points.

That’s your downside. With barely anything to lose by skipping class or not studying, students can look elsewhere for higher value opportunities.

Reclaiming Literally Hundreds of Hours of Time

Suppose you took a class off for one semester. You didn’t study; you didn’t read; maybe you didn’t even go to class. How much time will you have saved by forgoing every and all exam preparation activities?

Most 3-credit classes meet three hours per week over a 15-week semester. By not going to one class for one semester, you free up 45 hours (3 hours per week times 15 weeks).

Now consider the amount of time you save by not studying. This number will vary on the person. The general rule is that students study two to three hours outside of class for every one credit hour spent in class.

To calculate the time saved by not studying, multiply the study hours per week (2 to 3 hours) times the total credit hours of the course (3 credits) times the number of weeks in a semester (15 weeks). By not studying for one class, you free up 90 to 135 hours of time, depending on whether you typically study 2 or 3 hours per week per credit hour.

Combine this time with the time saved from not attending class, and you can see how much time you save by completely checking out of one three credit class for one semester:

  • 135 hours = 90 hours (assuming you study 2 hours per credit hour) + 45 hours (time not spent in class); or
  • 180 hours = 135 hours (assuming you study 3 hours per credit hour) + 45 hours (time not spent in class).

That’s a massive amount of time students can reinject back into their lives. And with such limited downside of bombing one course, skipping class in order to free up all this time suddenly becomes appealing.

Skipping Class to Invest in What Matters

I’m not necessarily advocating that every student intentionally sabotage a class in order to free up 90-135 hours in life. Students who are able to find time outside of class to pursue high value opportunities obviously have no need to forgo all classes and studying. Clearly, these students should go to class, study, and aspire for excellent grades.

The point, however, is to demonstrate the tradeoff that faithful class attendees are making: they are consuming a massive amount of time (90 to 135 hours) to protect against a tiny, bad outcome (drop of about 0.02 GPA points). And when students lack high valued skills, such as self-awareness, the decision to attend class over developing self-awareness is questionable, as demonstrated in my book.

For these students, they should skip class and focus on more important things necessary for success.
Clearly, completely abandoning all exam preparation is a radical move. But doing so, if necessary, can pay HUGGGGGEEEEE (as some politicians say) dividends. The secret to hacking college isn’t doing more. It’s knowing what to do. And frequently, that means intentionally skipping class, even bombing one course if necessary, in order to free up time to focus on higher value alternatives.

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