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.

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.

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.