It’s back-to-school season, and you know what that means. Tons of exciting learning opportunities, a chance to follow your passion, interactions with fascinating new people… and a whole lot of work. With the projects, essays, lectures, and tests to keep up with, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. But school doesn’t have to be an insurmountable challenge. By following these 12 simple guidelines, you’ll get yourself in the right mindset to conquer your workload. Those rewarding straight A’s are just a semester away!
1. Go to every class.
Yes, every class. Even the ones that don’t require attendance!
Of course, each professor will have a different absence policy. Some will drop you from their class if you miss just three lessons, while others won’t notice if you fail to show up for the entire semester. But the absence policies shouldn’t matter when you decide which classes to attend. You want to attend them for your own sake.
Regularly attending class helps you to center your life around school and adhere to a schedule, which is imperative when you’re putting the rest of your structure in order. Not to mention that the classroom and lecture experience gives you access to information that you simply can’t get through your textbook. Bite the bullet, go to class, and you’ll absorb information without even trying to.
2. Learn the ins and outs of your professors.
There is no singular “college professor type.” College professors are as varied in their teaching style, rules, and attitude as the entire human race. Each of your professors will run their course a little differently. Never assume you understand how they think until you’ve gotten their explicit confirmation.
Some professors will send casual information about tests and projects through your email, never once mentioning these in class. Don’t neglect your school email!
You’ll probably get a syllabus for the majority of your classes (or all of them). You’re responsible for understanding the information in that syllabus, including the course requirements and major deadlines.
If you’re having a hard time with the material, you need to talk to your professor. Some will take questions during or after class, while others have open office hours. Communication is key. Don’t assume you’ll be able to figure it out later: You won’t. You’ll only become more lost.
3. Get all your electronic materials in one place.
Chances are, a good portion of your schoolwork functions through a laptop and the internet. Your textbooks might be online. Class notes, the syllabus, and important emails are often accessible through the web. It’s just as important to organize your digital clutter as your in-person clutter.
Files get lost just as easily as physical pieces of paper. You need to save your information to a backed-up cloud drive, ensure everything has clear labels and folder placements, and use the document formats you need. One great tip is to convert essay to PDF format so it’s readable on any screen. Keep the .doc for when you need to print a physical copy. It’s easy to convert essay to PDF format and back again, and it’ll save you a lot of hassle.
4. Use planners, updated calendars, and organized notes.
You’ve gotten your electronic clutter together. Now, you need to tackle your physical clutter. This means organizing your notes, color coding your folders, and making sure all homework is in the right place.
If you have a homework PDF that would be helpful for studying, print it out and put it with your notes. Your organizational system should be kind to future you’s needs. Bring electronic documents like a homework PDF and school PDFs into your physical space if you learn better through tactile sensation.
5. Manage your time well.
Time management is not just a skill — it’s a bunch of interlocking, complex skill sets that even the most methodical people haven’t quite mastered. Color coding your schedule is a great idea. You should know when you need to be in class, when you need to be other places, how much time must be allotted to homework, and how much time must be allotted to studying. Make yourself a basic schedule and stick to it. Making the schedule is useless if you don’t abide by it.
6. Give yourself breaks when you need them.
College burnout is a real phenomena that is killing graduation rates. You’re not a superhero. Nobody expects you to take on the entire world at once. Remember that your body needs rest just as much as it needs to finish its work.
7. Develop good note-taking skills and active listening habits.
Get used to formatting your notes in an organized manner. The date and title of the lesson, the chapter and section in the textbook, and any other important identifying information. A section for key terms and their definitions. A section for broader concepts. Space it all out so you can refer to different parts of the notes as you study different aspects of the lesson.
8. Use your textbook; it’s there for a reason.
You either bought your textbook for an exorbitant amount of money, or you found a pirated version on the web. We’re not judging either way! But you didn’t go through all that trouble to use the book as a paperweight. Your textbook is the best guide you have through the course besides your professor. And your professor isn’t always available. Your textbook is.
9. Learn the basic rules for writing assignments.
You’ll have to tackle essays and writing assignments no matter what field of study you’re in. Practice the formatting. Once you have that down, you’ll be able to write efficient and knowledgeable papers in no time. Get used to the process of note taking, outlining, drafting, peer reviewing, editing, and re-drafting until you have the perfect paper.
10. Study like you’re relearning the whole course. Even the parts you’re sure you know.
Back when you sorted out your time management, you should have set aside blocks for studying. Each class should have its own study period, with lengths of time that depend on how much difficult material there is.
Spend most of your time on the difficult material that makes you sweat, but don’t neglect the basics either. If you forget those building blocks, you can’t do anything with your advanced assignments.
11. Get comfortable with testing environments and test pressure.
Tests are worth a huge part of your grade, and test-day stress has felled many a dedicated student. Make sure you get enough sleep the night before a big test. Eat a breakfast that’s rich in antioxidants, since these help clear brain fog.
Study in reasonable chunks leading up to the test rather than cramming. And most of all, practice relaxing. Take up deep breathing and meditation exercises if you must. Nerves are the biggest killer of your test-day performance. Don’t let them be.
12. Practice presentations like your life depends on it.
It’s a rare soul indeed who actually likes giving presentations. But they’re a part of the college life. It helps to save your presentation in multiple formats, from documents to PowerPoints to school PDFs. Practice what you’re going to say. Your demeanor and ability to teach will be graded just like the information.
Look at it this way: Presentations are a chance to teach other people about your subject. If you fall in love with your topic, your passion will shine through. Even if you’re nervous about the public speaking, you can get excited to learn and teach.
Doing well in school is about your state of mind, not your innate talent. You need to develop skill-sets that allow you to succeed. These include organizational systems, project management skills, physical stress-reducing tactics, and use of your social connections. Studying and memorization are just pieces of the puzzle. The rest is about being dedicated to the work, even when you don’t feel motivation.
By Katherine M.