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Hannah Jones/Winonan

With week three of class behind us, all of a sudden it’s time once again for tests and quizzes.

Until this point, we’ve all pretty much been able to skate by in our classes with the excuse of new schedules and confusing syllabi. Right about this time, however, the grace period ends, and we remember that all of our professors are essentially holding our grades hostage in exchange for the knowledge we were supposed to be accumulating dutifully for the good part of a month.

For most people, this means re-learning how to study. This, as it turns out, is no easy task. Studying is a lot like baking a soufflé in that it requires dedication, all the necessary materials and ideal conditions just to produce passable results. There’s an additional fact of import about soufflés, too, that closely relates it to studying. If you take a beautiful, fluffy soufflé out of the oven, steaming, radiating a buttery fragrance, swollen to perky perfection, there is still time for disaster to strike. A soufflé’s worst enemy is noise. A loud sound can cause the dessert’s delicate surface to rupture, popping and deflating it like a sad little balloon. Where once you had an elegant, delicious pastry, you have a saggy, wrinkly, misshapen sac of crust and cheese.

So it is with studying.

You can have the best notes, the finest table spread of materials in tandem with the perfect chair height and a gallon of coffee and a pair of horse blinders for good measure, but if your study environment includes a distracting sound, the entire effort is a bust. Pop, there goes your productivity. This makes choosing an ideal study environment of utmost importance—easier said then done when study rooms and Baldwin alike are filled to capacity. (After all, everyone remembers that their first test is going to murder them at roughly the same time.) My latest study session was no exception.

I thought I made a safe bet in the SAC. Comparatively tame compared to the Smaug and the cafeteria, this area is normally tolerably quiet. I even found a secluded corner not far from the reception desk, avoiding the line of traffic and the loungers playing online video games on their laptops. I set up my computer, my notes, my lunch and my phone; everything was within reach and primed for productivity. That is, until I discovered that I was actually sitting next to the Wells Fargo ATM.

You never realize how much noise goes into the everyday ATM transaction until you hear about five of them while you are trying to read a single poem. Upon the sixth, I was cursing the evils of our capitalist system and shoving my books into my backpack. Clearly I needed a more serious setting in order to get anything done. I decided to hit the library. What could go wrong?

When I walked through the door, I dared to hope I had come to the right place. Everywhere I looked, students were bowed over their handouts, absorbed in their computer screens or sleeping quietly face-down in their textbooks. Furthermore, nobody was withdrawing twenties from a reinforced box, so it was already a marked improvement.

I reassembled my nest in a cozy alcove next to the VHS section. Just as soon as I cracked my textbook and rolled up my sleeves, a fellow studier took the table next to me and set up camp as I did—with one important difference. It is quite common and acceptable to put in a pair of ear buds and listen to music while you study, as this student chose to do. It is not quite as common, however, to blast rap so loudly that anyone in a 20-foot radius can tell you are listening to Lil Wayne while you’re doing your algebra. The other student merely continued to work, oblivious to my very presence as I once again packed up and left.

I wound up back at the dorm, ragged, exhausted and still not done with my poetry assignment. Abruptly, I realized that I was quite alone. My roommates hadn’t come home yet; presumably they were all off studying somewhere. The entire apartment was splendidly silent, without an ATM or an iPod in sight. I let out a sigh of relief, pulled up a chair, and unpacked my things. Perhaps, after an afternoon fraught with distractions galore, it was finally time to get cooking.

I didn’t realize until later that I forgot my pencil, but I’d cross that bridge when I came to it.

Contact Hannah at [email protected]