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.

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.

How to Prepare for Your First Week of Classes

It’s finally here – your first week of classes! Maybe you’re starting university for the first time this semester, or maybe you’re returning for another year. Either way, we’ve compiled some tips to help you prepare for class so you can start the year off successfully.

Read the syllabus ahead of time

You know that thing your professor posts on Blackboard or emails to you a week before class with all of your required books, class schedule, assignments, and due dates? That’s your syllabus – and yes, you should be reading it before the first day of class. We know you’re probably saying “But isn’t my professor going to go over it in class?” Some of them will; some of them won’t. Regardless of whether the professor discusses what’s on the syllabus, you can have a sense of what’s ahead for the semester by reading it thoroughly. Make a note of any questions you have about due dates, assignments, required reading, and anything else the professor included on the syllabus so you can ask about them on the first day of class.

Map out where your classes are on campus

Whether you’re a new or returning student, it’s important to know exactly where your classes are on campus. It’s helpful to know just how much time it will take you from your dorm to get to class – or even to and from other classes or activities you have throughout the day. This ensures that you’re not rushing around campus your first week back trying to get to class on time because you are unsure where a class is. If you need help locating where your classes are, consider checking the class roster (if available to you) and buddy up with a classmate to walk to class. Determining where your class buildings and rooms are ahead of time will remove some of the stress during your first week.

Charge your laptop or organize your class supplies

Before classes start, make sure you know exactly how you’re going to take notes and organize all of your materials. Some students choose to do this digitally, with physical notebooks and folders, or both. The benefit of getting your supplies in order means that you can show up to class knowing where to start taking notes and storing your information. Additionally, it means that you’re not devising an organization method a few weeks into the semester, ensuring that you don’t lose any notes from the first days or weeks of classes.

Get a good night’s sleep

It might be tempting to go out or stay up late the night before your first classes because you don’t have any homework yet, but just remember, these first weeks can help set the tone for the whole year. Getting a good night’s sleep before your first week ensures that you can be alert and make a good impression on your professors – and your classmates. You’ll be able to better plan for the weeks ahead, and better process the seemingly overwhelming amount of new information you’ll be taking in.