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Hailey Chapman

Back to Class Tips

A new year and a new semester are upon us, so it's time to get to work! I've tested a LOT of back-to-school strategies, and these are my favorites.

I've tried just about every trick in the book to prepare for a new semester. Last semester, that included winging it and purely taking things day by day. After the worst semester I've ever had, I'm going back to some of my tried-and-true strategies to keep myself on track to get back on the Dean's list!

One of the things I've found to be an absolute truth is that you NEED a planner. Even if you think you don't. You do. My boyfriend has been absolutely anti-planner for as long as I've known him, and even he got a planner this semester. Whether you get his $8 Walmart planner or my $40 Focus Planner, you need a place to keep track of your schedule, events, and deadlines.

I use the Focus Planner from Popflex, which is an academic planner with monthly spreads, weekly spreads, and daily spreads. It has lots of spaces for inspiration, prompts for reflection, goal setting, and self-improvement notes, and each daily section has cute little graphics for you to keep track of your sleep, water intake, meals, and exercise.  The calendar version for 2019, the Fit Planner is available now, and as I type this it's on sale! Also, I'm not an affiliate or anything, but I really genuinely love it, and it's definitely worth a look, and I wouldn't leave you unable to check it out, so you can do that here!

Now that you have a super cool planner, you need to know what to do with it. Get all of your syllabi together. Start adding your deadlines. I have classes that only have exam dates, and I have classes where all the homework is already available online. Whatever your professor gave you, start putting it down. Because I'm a nerd, I use different colored pens for different classes. Linear Algebra is purple, Software Engineering is green, you get the idea. 

I'm assuming you have your course schedule, and if you're like me, your first week is already about over. That's the BEST time to make a block schedule, in my opinion, because you can gauge the amount of time you need to dedicate to each class. I like to use Excel to make my block schedules, and I do 15 minute increments. First, plug in your class schedule, and your work schedule if you have one. Now, go through and make sure you give yourself time to do what you gotta do in between. Lunch breaks, wardrobe changes, long commutes, etc. Then you gotta put in your study times.  

I've found that it's best to study for a class as soon as you can after leaving it, because the material is still fresh. I've heard you should dedicate at least three hours of study time for every hour you spend in the classroom. I don't think I've ever met anyone to follow that rule, but more time studying is usually better than less. The most important thing about studying is that you want study time to be productive. Thirty minutes of quality studying is better than three hours of staring at paper.

Rewriting notes is an awesome way to make sure you're absorbing the material, because it gives you time to restructure and reorganize everything. The benefit of hindsight is powerful. Especially for math, in my opinion. I love to take example problems from my lectures and rewrite them, using different colored pens to denote different steps in the problem solving process. It really makes my notes useful and easy to read when I'm working on homework.

If you have friends in your classes (which I didn't up until last semester), I learned the fun way that making a group chat and using Google Docs to make collaborative study guides is the BOMB. Everyone starts pitching in what they know, people can comment their questions, and it really makes everything better. We started with one Google Doc for one class, and grew to the point that all of my classes were doing it by finals, and we had three Google Doc study guides for one class!

Whether you choose to follow any of this advice or not is ultimately up to you. I'm very Type A, so I find a clear structure and workflow really helps me thrive. So does getting into that routine EARLY. Even if the first couple weeks of classes are mostly introductions and reviews. I have two classes that have already assigned worksheets, and neither one is due for another week at the earliest, but you can bet I'm getting them out of the way now. I know that getting into the habit of doing homework as soon as possible is better for me than allowing blow-off assignments to sit until they're due, because I have more free time when the more serious assignments come along to prioritize those.

Thank you for reading my favorite tips for the start of the semester! Feel free to share using the buttons below if you think these tips could help someone you know, and comment YOUR favorite tips!