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.

3 Ways You Can Improve Your Participation Grade as an Introvert

If you’ve ever freaked out when receiving a syllabus and noticing that “participation” was part of determining your grade – you’re not alone. For introverts, or really anyone who can feel insecure speaking up during class, “participation grades” can be scary.

Professors require participation grades to encourage class discussion, to facilitate the exchange of ideas, and to make lessons overall more interactive. Class participation ensures that class is less boring for everyone (your professor included!), but it also can be a source of stress if you’re an introvert or if you’re feeling unsure of the class material. There’s no need to stress though – we’ve rounded up a few ways you can tackle the participation grade, even if you’re not outgoing in class:

1. Attend your professor’s office hours

Visiting your professor during office hours can be helpful to your participation grade for a few reasons. First of all, use this as an opportunity to express your stress or concerns about in-class participations. Let them know you’re introverted and that it’s a little more difficult for you to speak out during class. Ask them if there are alternative ways you can participate and contribute without missing out on crucial grade points. Your professor might suggest you emailing him/her directly with your thoughts after class or some other options for boosting your participation. Additionally, come to office hours with some questions and thoughts about your recent class material. Sometimes professors will offer participation points to students who attend office hours, as that is a form of participation, and in a more personal setting, you won’t have to worry about speaking in front of a large group.

2. Participate in online discussions

Does your class utilize Blackboard or other online platforms for class discussion? This is your time to shine! If contributing to discussion boards online is part of your class structure, use this opportunity to participate. Pose thoughtful questions about the class material either to help you understand a topic or to facilitate further discussion among your classmates. Whenever another student posts, be sure to reply to their question or comment, explaining why you agree or disagree, or reinforcing their point with new evidence, material, or thoughts. Not only will your professor appreciate it, but it will contribute to thoughtful discussion.

3. Be an active group participant

You know those times during class when you have to split up into groups to work on an in-class assignment or discuss a particular topic or concept? These smaller group settings can be much less intimidating — and much easier for participation. Be less of a passive group member and more active by contributing to your group’s thought process. Pose ideas and questions to the group. Voice your opinion and thoughts. Your professor will notice that you’re participating in the discussion, but there’s less risk of “saying the wrong thing” like you might worry about when speaking in front of the whole class. In fact, you might even be able to help your group come up with the right answer – or a good answer – and you’ll be associated with that victory.

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.