3 Tips for Starting Your Semester Off Right

At the start of a new semester (or new school year), we all have every intention of being the best student we can possibly be. We buy our textbooks and tell ourselves we’re going to start our reading early; we make sure we have folders, highlighter pens, and every note-taking accessory needed; and we even promise ourselves that this is the year we stop procrastinating. Yet, all of those things are easier said than done, especially when the school year hasn’t quite begun. Once our academic, social, and work obligations begin, suddenly, all of those promises we made to ourselves become that much more difficult to keep. That’s why we’re sharing tips for starting your semester off strongly (yes, even during a pandemic), so that you can maintain all of that positive momentum and earn good grades.

Tip #1: Actually read your syllabus.

You know that piece of paper or PDF your professor distributes at the beginning of the semester with all of the due dates, assignments, and class rules? Yeah, that’s your syllabus, and yes, you should definitely read it. In fact, we recommend reading it multiple times. Your syllabus helps you keep track of due dates, but it also helps you understand what your professor’s expectations are to earn that A. Oftentimes, if you have a question about the class, an assignment, or a rule, the syllabus is able to answer it for you. You’ll want to reference your syllabus throughout the semester, so keep it accessible (and safe).

Tip #2: Make sure you are aware of every deadline and due date

Depending on your professor and syllabus, you’ll know when every one of your assignments, exams, and essays will be at the start of the semester. That is some pretty valuable and important information — you can see into the future! And you should use that information wisely. Utilize a digital planner (like your calendar app or a productivity tool) or a good old-fashioned paper planner and start marking down all of those due dates and deadlines.

Just as importantly, you’ll want to also mark down when you have other obligations as well, like your work schedule, club or organization meetings, that weekly call you have with your parents, or even some time for self-care, even if all of these things are virtual for the near-future. This will ensure you know how to manage your time properly amidst all of the things you have to do. You’ll be able to plan when you need to get work done, and also when you need time for recharging.

Tip #3: Get help as soon as you need it – not just before test day

In a perfect world, you’ll be able to understand all of your assignments and the content of upcoming test materials and complete them without any questions or difficulty. Unfortunately, when you’re learning new materials and juggling a full course load (on top of any other extracurriculars), that doesn’t typically happen. This is why you need to utilize the resources you have available to you when something becomes too challenging for you to tackle on your own. Whenever you reach a point in the semester where something just is too confusing or you’re having trouble completing an assignment, ask for help — don’t wait until right before the due date when it could be too late. Asking for help doesn’t mean you’re “giving up” or that you’re a “failure” for needing help; it means you recognize when getting another perspective, or having someone help you review your work can help you overcome any hurdles of understanding.

Make sure you know what resources are available to you at your school’s library, and look into whether your school offers tutors in various subject matter. Many schools have things like math or writing centers whether other students and professors can help answer your questions. Another excellent resource is your professor’s office hours. They dedicate time each week that’s exclusively for helping their students navigate their class and assignments. If you have a TA (teaching assistant) for a class, reach out to them too. All of these resources are there to ensure you aren’t struggling through a class; they can help you feel confident that you can understand class material and tackle assignments. If you do this throughout the semester ahead of your assignments and tests, you’ll be better positioned to earn a good grade at the end.

5 Unconventional Study Tips for When Flashcards Just Don’t Work

Studying is a necessary – and unavoidable – part of academic life. If you want to do well in your classes, you need to prepare ahead of your exams and assignments to increase your chance of getting a good grade, and even more importantly, to retain the information and knowledge shared with you in that class. We go to university to learn more about a subject matter of interest to us, so it only makes sense that studying enables us to become an expert in that subject, and as a result, do better on our tests and essays. However, that’s usually easier said than done. Studying involves a lot of time and effort, and unfortunately, there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” approach to studying. Everyone learns and retains information in different ways, so sometimes just reviewing your notes or making flash cards isn’t enough to help you actually understand what you need to know for that upcoming test. Fortunately, there are plenty of other study methods that can help you break out of your routine. We’re sharing five unconventional study tips that might just help you ace your next exam. 

1. Create a recording of your class notes

You know all of those notes you feverishly take during class? How many times do you actually review them before your next exam or test — if you even review them at all? Put those notes to good use and record yourself reading them. After each class, create a recording of yourself reading your notes, but don’t just stick to the script. Add some context for yourself for when you listen back to the recording later. Expand on some of the key terms or concepts by adding examples or recounting anecdotes that your professor might have shared but that you didn’t quite catch in your notes. You might even want to add some of your own questions into the recording as a reminder to find the answer. After you record yourself reading the notes, play it back when you walk to class, when you have to do chores around your room, or in any other scenario when you could add a study soundtrack. 

2. Create a study guide background for your phone background

You’ve probably been instructed to create a study guide before – but have you ever considered making a study guide worthy of your phone background? Think about it. Make a study guide that’s fun and colorful that puts key concepts and terms front and center. Use a user-friendly design tool like Canva to add graphics or fun fonts and colors that’ll make it easy to see the content when you look at your phone screen. Every time you look at your phone, you’ll be reminded of and become more familiar with the material. Consider making a new phone background after every class to brush up on what you learned, or just create one prior to an exam. As an added bonus, you’ll be forced to review the material while you’re making the study guide so that’s extra time with those terms and concept.

3. Doodle all over your notes

Sometimes words alone just don’t cut it. Sure, you try to write down as much as possible during class as your professor discusses the subject – but ultimately, you might need some more visuals to better understand what you’re learning. Go back through your notes and try adding some drawings and illustrations to help you consider the concepts in a different way. Sometimes it makes sense to add diagrams or charts, but you’re not limited to those sorts of illustrations. Maybe you’re learning about a particular event during a history or literature class. Draw it! Maybe you were learning something in physics class and there’s an example that helps you remember the concept – draw that example. If you’d rather make some doodles during class – do that too. It could help cement your understanding in the moment so that when you look back later, you can recall exactly what you meant. They’re your notes, so doodle in them and perhaps you’ll gain a better understanding of the subject matter in the process.

4. Assume the role of the professor

Having a study group is by no means an unconventional study method. Studying with classmates is an easy way to compare notes and collaborate on assignments when possible. However, maybe it’s time to rethink how you have your study group. Instead, reframe your study group as another sort of lecture or class session. Assign one person in the study group the role of the “professor” and have that person teach a key concept, term, calculation, or any other important element of the subject matter. That person can prepare a mini-presentation or lecture, and then “teach” the “class” (or rather, your study group). This is beneficial not only for the person assuming the role of the professor, as naturally that person would have to prepare and review the subject matter to ensure they can teach it to the study group. The study group itself also benefits because the “professor” might present the subject matter in a way that’s more accessible than the actual professor might have originally presented it.

5. “Explain it to me like I’m an eight year old”

Any Office fans? If you’re familiar with the show, The Office, you might recall one particular episode where Michael Scott asks his coworker, Oscar, to explain what a “surplus” was. Michael had been tasked with deciding what to do with the “surplus,” but didn’t know what it was. He asks Oscar to “explain it to me like I’m an eight-year-old” because the concept was difficult for him to understand. This reframing of the term in language that’s simpler and easier-to-understand is actually a great way to approach reviewing some of your subject matter. Take a concept you’re struggling with or that you’re trying to better understand, and then if possible, try simplifying it as though you were going to explain to someone who had never heard of it — or an “eight-year-old.” This forces you to consider the topic in a different way and once simplified, you might be better able to recall it.

How to Write an Awesome Thesis Statement

At university, one of the assignments you’ll be frequently tasked with is writing essays. They’re inescapable as a student, and you likely have already written many throughout your time in school already. However, one of the key components of a successful (and high-scoring) essay is a good thesis statement. You may have heard your teachers over the years emphasize the importance of a thesis statement in the papers you’ve written, but as you progress in college, it’s even more important that your papers are guided by this important element.

It’s pretty simple in theory: a thesis statement is a statement that describes what you’re going to discuss in your essay, usually appearing at the end of your introduction paragraph. Per Rasmussen College, it “clearly identifies the topic being discussed” and “should only cover what is being discussed in the paper and is written for a specific audience.” It’s usually one sentence (sometimes two) and it should give your reader an indication of what’s to come in your paper.

Without a thesis statement, you’re unlikely to meet the requirements of your assignment, and therefore, won’t be able to get a good grade. But having a thesis is more than just helpful in completing the assignment at hand — it’s a crucial tool for guiding your reader through your argument. To help you get an A on your next paper, we’re providing three tips for how to write an awesome thesis statement, including examples.

Tip #1 – Pick a side.

A thesis statement is not merely a statement – despite what its name implies. Your thesis statement needs to have an opinion. Neutrality is not an option when it comes to a thesis statement. It should not just be making a comment; it should be taking a stance, and deciding how you feel about the topic you’re about to discuss. When you think of your topic, the thesis statement should clearly indicate if you’re for or against it; it should allow you to prove something in relation to the topic you’ve chosen.

Basic statement:

The final episodes of Game of Thrones elicited mixed reactions from viewers.

Thesis statement:

The final episodes of Game of Thrones did a disservice to the show, undermining the build-up, and plot and character development that was a hallmark of the rest of the series.

In the first statement, there’s really no opinion on the final episodes of Game of Thrones, but in the second statement, you can tell that the writer is going to argue about something. In this case, the writer will argue why the final episodes did a disservice to the series.

Tip #2 – Guide your reader.

In addition to having an opinion, your thesis statement should also indicate what’s to come in your paper. In reading the thesis statement, your reader should then know: “This is what this paper is going to prove or argue, and this is how the writer is going to do it.” It should lay out the foundation for your argument. At the same time, the thesis statement will also serve as a way to guide you. Everything you write should be in service of your thesis statement, and should relate back to your point. The thesis statement acts as your North star or lighthouse – both you and you reader should be able to return to it and understand how the rest of your paper relates to it.

Basic statement:

Many people consider Friends one of the greatest sitcoms of all time.

Thesis statement:

Friends proves to be one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, thanks to its relatable characters, multi-seasonal narratives, and its emphasis on the power of adult friendships.

The first statement doesn’t give any hint as to what the paper is going to talk about. Could the paper be about Friends? Could it be about sitcoms? Could it be about what constitutes a great sitcom? It’s unclear. The second statement clearly indicates how the writer will prove that Friends is one of the greatest sitcoms – suggesting that the following paragraphs will discuss the characters, narratives, and friendship theme.

Tip #3 – Be supportive.

What came first: the thesis statement or the evidence? The evidence should come first – enabling you to come up with your thesis. It’s hard to know how you feel or have an opinion about a topic until you’ve gotten some background on it. As you start researching your topic, write down how you feel – your reactions, your thoughts, and your questions – and from there, you can formulate your thesis. The evidence is ultimately the foundation of your thesis statement, and allows you to determine how you want to present your argument to the reader. As you write your paper, your evidence should always be working to support your thesis. If you find that what you’re writing about isn’t in support of your thesis, then it’s time to re-think either your thesis statement or the argument that follows.

Basic statement:

In the TV show, the Office, the protagonist Michael Scott makes many inappropriate comments.

Thesis statement:

Michael Scott’s repeated offensive comments related to sexual orientation, race, and gender render him the most unlikeable character in The Office.

The first statement is really just an observation of Michael Scott’s behavior in The Office. The second statement, however, not only provides an opinion about Michael Scott’s behavior, but also lays out why he’s unlikeable. This sets the stage for the writer to lay out evidence in the following paragraphs in regards to the offensive comments he makes throughout the series and why that makes him unlikeable.

Why You Should Attend Your Professor’s Office Hours

As you start a new semester, you likely are going to class and getting a new syllabus from each of your professors. You might have noticed on these syllabi that your professors list their “office hours” and wondered what exactly these mysterious office hours are. What does the professor do during an office hour? And why should you go? Office hours are actually an incredible resource available to you — and one that you should take advantage of — so we thought we’d provide some more information so that you can utilize them throughout the semester.

What are office hours

Office hours are a designated time in a professor’s schedule where they are available to talk with and help students. Generally, professors will offer a few times throughout the week when they are available, and during this time you can make appointments with them, or simply stop by their office if you have any questions or if there’s something you want to discuss.

Why do professors have them

Simply put: professors have office hours to help students with class material and assignments outside of class time. Though you might see your professor and ask questions during class, attending office hours gives you one-on-one access to your professor. Professors like to make themselves available to provide more information to students or to go over class material in a personalized way, versus during classtime when they’re trying to give a generalized lecture to the entire group of students.

Why you should go

There are a few reasons why you should attend your professor’s office hours:

Get more information about or help on an assignment

If you have an upcoming assignment, but feel like the expectations or guidelines aren’t totally clear, visit your professor during office hours to find out more. This allows you to get a clear picture of what you need to do so that you can be sure you’re giving the professor what they want. This is a great opportunity to also bring what you’ve worked on already and ask for help. Just remember to ask for specific feedback – your professor likely won’t have time to read an entire assignment or review all of your answers, so come prepared to talk about what you’re having difficulty with and what you are looking for help on.

Ask questions about class material and content

Have you had a class recently where the professor was going over a new concept or topic and you just didn’t get it? Or maybe you didn’t have a chance to ask a question about something, or maybe you just simply feel uncomfortable asking questions or sharing ideas during class. Office hours provide a great opportunity to do exactly those things. Write your questions or ideas from class down, and go to your professor’s office hours. Not only will this allow you to get answers and feedback on your ideas, but it will likely affect your participation grade – which is often a significant percentage of your overall grade for the class. If you’re uncomfortable participating in class, then doing so during office hours is a great way to ensure you still earn full marks for that grade.

Review unfamiliar terms and concepts before a test

Ever wish you could prepare for a test with your professor? You can by attending office hours. Your professor won’t re-teach concepts and content to you, but your professor can help explain things that you’re still having trouble understanding. Come to office hours prepared to speak about what specifically you need help with. It helps to bring your notes or any study materials you’ve been using, and mark what you’d like to discuss. Your professor can help you feel confident ahead of test day, and they’ll likely appreciate your commitment.

Get feedback on an assignment or test

So you got an essay or test back and you aren’t happy with your grade. Go to office hours and talk to your professor about it. Let your professor know ahead of time that you’d like to get feedback on your essay, or maybe you’re confused as to why certain answers were marked as wrong on your test. Bring whatever the assignment was, and think about what specifically you’d like to get feedback on. If you think that you deserve a different grade, ask why your professor gave you the grade they did, versus arguing for or against a particular grade. It also helps to ask your professor what you can do next time to get a better grade. Avoid being argumentative, as that will result in an unproductive session.