It’s about that time that those of you who are still students have to start coming to terms with the upcoming semester and determining a plan of action to make sure you keep your head above the water and make it through successfully (I know this is the same song I’d sing to myself prior to each semester, anyway).
There are four different learning styles to keep in mind when it comes to determining your plan of action for the semester. I am a combination of a visual + verbal learner, meaning I have to be able to see images/processes + hear/use words, whether it be through speech or writing. However, there are also aural (auditory) or physical learners. Figure out what your learning style is here!
So while my methods are obviously fit to help visual + verbal learners best, these are definitely skills any learning style can benefit from, especially when used in combination with whatever best suits your learning style.
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Above all else, make sure you do what you can to start out strong. Slacking off at the beginning of the semester will make for a semester of struggling to catch up. Take it from me – it will be a lot easier on you to start the semester working hard maintain the grade. You’ll come to find that, come finals, you won’t have to break your back to make a 98 on the exam to move up a letter grade. Instead, you can focus on having to only make a 60 on the final to maintain the letter grade you already have. You’ll thank yourself later.
NOTES. LOTS OF NOTES.
It’s kind of a no brainer, right? If you want to remember all those details the professor throws at you in class, you’re going to have to jot it down. As much as you tell yourself you’ll remember, odds are you won’t – especially if you wait to come back to it around test time (and even if you do remember, you might not remember it in as much detail as you should).
When I was in school, I’d take notes in class on loose leaf paper, and as “homework” I’d rewrite my notes into my notebook.
I know. It seems like a lot – and for some classes this isn’t particularly an ideal method because in the day of Powerpoints, it’s easy to go through 50, 75+ slides, which is pretty challenging to transfer to paper during the day between class, especially when you have other classes/work/extracurriculars/etc.
But for the classes where you don’t receive information overload, it worked really well for me to be able to make messy notes in class, reorganize them, and make them look nice so they’re easier to study from. Plus, rewriting is going to help you study/review, which will help you stick it in your long term memory.
For classes that do tend to hand out mass information in the form of Powerpoints, I would do one of two things: I’d either have the slides pulled up on my computer and follow along and make notes in the “notes” section at the bottom, or I would print out the Powerpoint (either 4 or 6 slides per page) and make handwritten notes underneath the corresponding slide (which worked better for me, I always remembered things better when I wrote them down vs. typing them).
If you’re a visual person like me, doodling in your notes can be very beneficial. Sometimes I would remember facts/points simply because of a doodle they were written next to. If I ever doodled something in class, I would try and transfer it over to my notebook with the rest of my notes, mostly to keep my notes from looking too cut and dry.
I know it feels pointless to review a few pages of notes when your days feel hectic and you have other priorities, but I promise you that regularly reviewing your notes (and by regularly I mean daily) will help you immensely when that test finally rolls around.
Reviewing notes as soon as you can following the class you took the notes in will help lock that information in a lot more than you realize (at least, that’s what they tell me – they being my professors). Briefly reviewing each day following that class will help prep you for those loathed pop quizzes and make it so much easier to study for the exam.
I took a biology class over the summer one year. It was a semester’s worth of biology in 5 weeks – ew. It was one of those times that I knew I was going to need to buckle down if I wanted to come out with the grade I wanted despite the information overload I was getting each day in class. I’d go to class for 4 hours Monday-Thursday and every day after class I’d go through my notes, supplement them with information from the textbook whenever necessary, rewrite them into my notebook, and review all my notes each night. It was exhausting to constantly be doing labs + notes + class + lab reports, however I pulled through with practically a 99 on the first exam, and later, an A in the class.
I don’t say that to boast, but I do say it to show that this method does pay off, but it does take a lot of diligence and self-discipline.
I would leave 2 full blank pages at the beginning of my notebooks for organization purposes. On one of the pages, I would take some of the most important syllabus points and jot them down so I could easily access them if I had any questions. If the professor made any extra points on the first day of class that weren’t included in the syllabus, I’d write those down too (i.e. being able to come in 15 minutes earlier on test day, the final is cumulative, etc). The major points I would include were assignments, grading/weight of assignments, and major dates to remember of exams/projects.
I would also make a table of contents at the beginning of each notebook so I could easily find whatever lecture I was looking for (which is especially handy after you’ve been out of a class for a while and don’t quite remember where everything is).
INVEST IN A PLANNER.
I never was big on using my phone to keep track of assignments. For me, I have always found it to be more fulfilling to write all my tasks down + cross them off as I complete them. Plus, it’s easier for me to flip between my weekly and monthly views so I can see what’s coming up sooner vs. later. There are just some voids technology can’t satisfy.
You don’t have to buy an expensive planner – assess what helps you most. Is it just a monthly view? Do you prefer week or day views? Do you need various sections for notes or to do lists? Do you like to be able to customize your planners/journals yourself or do you want designs so it’s already colorful for you?
You can always go to Target and search they collection of planners that range from simplistic to cutesy/girly. One of my favorite planners came from Target until the company it was from stopped manufacturing planners (CRIES). Since then, I’ve been using Lilly Pulitzer planners in size large (I tried a jumbo – it was a little too big for my liking).
INVEST IN SUPPLIES.
I am an avid lover of school supplies, and being the visual person that I am, I needed consistency when it came to my school supplies theme. I know it might seem excessive, but sometimes looks do matter. And I always felt convinced that if I loved my supplies and if they made me feel like I had things together, it’d put me a little more at ease when it came to sitting down and getting my schoolwork done.
Not everyone particularly cares about these kinds of details, and that’s totally fine – but if you’re like me and do feel overstimulated by inconsistency in the theme of your school supplies (or maybe for that matter, understimulated by the simplicity of your supplies), make it another investment.
DOWNLOAD THIS APP!
I used this app all through college and it saved my butt, especially when professors weren’t the best about logging grades online, leaving me with no clue what I had in the class – and if you remember my initial point of making sure you start strong, this app will help you do so (even if it is a little outdated).
You can create terms, input your classes, and then add assignments + their weight towards your final grade. Then you can set your “target grade” (which I usually set to 91, just to make sure I wasn’t simply scrambling for an 89.5). As you put in grades, it will update your current grade and show you what you need to get to/stay above your target grade, which will take away the guess work.
There’s even a GPA calculator where you can see what your cumulative GPA will be if you were to make certain grades in certain classes, you can set assignment due dates, make notes, put in professor contact information, etc.
Enroll for your next semester of classes as early as you can. You’ll be more likely to get the schedule that you want and get the better selection of professors. I always wanted to make sure I was with professors that were encouraging and willing to help, rather than professors that pride themselves in making their classes “so hard” that practically no one passes. I was lucky enough to avoid those professors, but I’ve heard stories from my friends that end up with them and it’s no wonder some people lose their motivation to try at times.
You have to expect to work – getting “push over” professors isn’t particularly going to benefit you either. You are going to have to work for the grades you want, but there’s no reason you should be ending up with the professors no one wants because they only seem to discourage their students.
PS: ratemyprofessor.com was my best friend – but be sure to read reviews and be prepared to know how to discern between the students that slacked off and want to pass blame on the professor and those who are offering a truly honest review.
GO TO OFFICE HOURS + FORM FOUNDATIONS WITH YOUR PROFESSORS
Sometimes going to office hours feels like just another thing to add to your schedule, but it’s helpful when it comes to getting to know your professors and forming a relationship with them. I’m not saying to go as a way to be a kiss up or a teacher’s pet, but if you go to genuinely get help with a certain point from class or to any review sessions they might hold throughout the semester, it will help you in the class/on the exam to have the additional help. Plus, if you ever need a letter of recommendation for anything later on, you won’t just be “some student they had once,” they’ll (hopefully) remember you as someone who made an effort and showed dedication to their work.
I also highly recommend going to follow up on exams/not too hot of grades. One time I went before finals so I could study for the final exam better, and a grade that was put in wrong online as a 63 (or something) but I had actually made an 84, and it didn’t include the extra 10 points of extra credit I had done. Can you imagine my relief?
DO EXTRA CREDIT.
Even if you think you won’t need it – DO IT. If your grade stays high throughout the semester anyway, great. But it’s just another contributor to helping you be a little more at ease come finals, and showing your professors you’re not just there to do the bare minimum.
UTILIZE STUDENT RESOURCES.
Writing centers… math labs… language labs… these are all things that should be accessible to you for free to help you excel.
REWRITE TO STUDY.
Yes, yes, I know – I’m telling you to do a lot of rewriting. My senior year, I used a whiteboard and dry erase markers to write out points I needed to know for my exams; then I’d compare what I wrote to the study guide, note what I missed/got, and then I’d erase and rewrite. And rewrite. And rewrite… until I had that concept down. It especially helps with lists or processes you need to remember, but I would do it for concepts/definitions as well.
Was is time consuming? Definitely. But I could have spent the same amount of time simply reading/looking over the same study guide and not have remembered nearly as much as I did this way.
This is where all that daily reviewing will help you – if there are simpler concepts you can remember from it, then you can spend your time focusing on the harder points instead.
I know a lot of these things are easier said than done. I worked all through college (and even had two jobs my final semester) and had a full load of courses – on top of that, I tried to maintain my schoolwork, relationships, friendships, and my mental + physical health. However, these are the skills I formed and used during my 5 years in college (I was nowhere near this diligent in high school) and pulled through with a 3.83 GPA and graduated with distinction – so it is possible, even if you feel bogged down. School is taxing, and studying gets exhausting. However, something to keep in mind is that right now, school is your job, and it will feel good when you can pull through after all your hard work – both at the end of the semester and by the time you graduate.
I hope that this helps you plan your semester out and gives you the motivation you were needing/looking for to figure out how to approach your semester!