26 September 2011

Fall Fix-Up: School

My friend Jessica has this as a doormat in her apartment :)
 Fall means a lot of things, but for the majority of people under the age of 22 (and a lot of people over the age of 22 as well) it means school. back to hitting the (400 dollar) books, trading sleep for good grades and a social life, playing frizbee on the quad (this really happens at my school. such a cliche.), and counting down the days until the end of the semester.

It's taken me longer than usual to get into the groove of the fall semester this year, probably because graduation seems closer than it ever has before. I've let myself get distracted with trips to prescott, work, and other little things and I've let a few reading assignments or "unnecessary" classes here and there slide.

But no more! It's time to crack down. In this feature I'm going to share a few of my own tips and strategies for how to stay on top of school (without letting it rule your life).

The single most important tip I can offer you is get a planner. One that has ample space for each day of the year from august to may. after the first couple days of the semester, gather all your syllabi and write down the reading assignments/homework assignments/due dates/test dates/etc for the entire semester for all your classes. For really important things like essay due dates or test days, highlight or put a star next to the assignment/test. This way, you'll never be wondering just what you have to do on any given day. All you have to do is open up your planner and it will all be written down for you. Also, it's really satisfying to cross off each thing as you complete it and to know that you have finished all your work for the day. Hell, you could even finish tomorrow's if you felt like it. But we're starting to talk crazy.

Now that you know exactly what you're supposed to do every day, try to actually do it on that day. There are plenty of weeks when I get caught up with various things and then find that I have 200 pages of reading to do for 3 different classes, 2 assignments, and a test to study for. That's way more to tackle than if I'd just done a little bit of work each day. Sometimes it's tough to convince yourself to do homework every day but it really is helpful.

So make the time that you do homework something that you might not exactly look forward to but can at least see as bearable. Choose a spot in your house or dorm or on campus that is comfortable and conducive to studying. This could be a specific nook in the library, a nice, secluded place outdoors, a comfy chair in your living room, or just your desk or your bed. The space should be free from distractions like traffic noise, other students, etc. If you like music while you study, play it. My freshman year in Portland, my favorite way to study was at my desk, with my feet on the heater under my window and a blanket over my legs (I'm always cold) and with my cupper's travel mug full of hot tea and a napkin full of cookies stolen from the bon. Mint tea+Chocolate Chip cookies= best thing ever, especially on a chilly, rainy portland day. This way, the activity itseld (studying) might not be all that enjoyable, but you can please the rest of your senses (music to listen to, something yummy to sip on/eat, cozy surroundings) to make the experience as a whole decent enough.

Planning on a day to day scale is very important, but planning for the big picture is just as if not more important. The first thing I did when I got to Lewis and Clark in 2009 was put together a 4 year plan. I figured out exactly which classes for my major/minor/gened I would need to take to graduate and arranged them in a schedule that made sense and left room for adjustments. The first thing I did when I got accepted to the media arts program at UofA was put together a 3 year plan. With each change I make- wether it's adding a minor, contemplating another major, etc I make a new 3 year plan to figure out how the classes I need to take will fit into my graduating on time. So many students go into college without really knowing what they're supposed to take to graduate on time... which is why the average student take 5-6 years to earn a bachelors degree. Since I've been planning since day one of my college career, it seems absurd that I would ever have to take more than 4 years to graduate- but that's because I took the time to figure out exactly what I'm going to have to do for all my remaining semesters.

Looking at the results when I googled "academic tips", I got a lot of the same old thing that you probably don't need to be told. "go to class prepared", "take thorough notes", "do the reading", you know. The thing is, I don't think the same tips are applicable to every class, and I think if you try to do the same things for every class you will end up wasting a lot of unnecessary time. During the first couple weeks of class, pay attention to your professors' teaching styles. Some may really expect you to remember important details from the reading, while others may assign the reading but then go over everything you need to know in class. Some may take attendance every day and expect you to take detailed notes, while others may post their lecture notes online and simply expect you to show up on test day and know the material. Obviously in a perfect world where we all have unlimited time and brain power we would do the same amount of work for all these classes just in the name of learning. But it's college, and we all know that college is part academia, part having fun, meeting people, experiencing new things, and exploring life as an adult. We have jobs and social lives and we certainly don't want to spend these four years with our noses in books the whole time. So adjust your learning/studying style depending on the teaching style of the class and the professor. If doing the reading does nothing more than tell you exactly what the teacher is going to say verbatim in class the next day, maybe just skim it. If the lecture notes are given online, don't worry about writing down everything word for word- just supplement the given notes with additional things the professor might say in class. This will save you a lot of time and effort without really compromising your gpa.

Those are my favorite tips, but here are a few more short ones:

-establish and look towards goals. Even if it's just getting through the semester or getting to graduation, know the steps you need to take to get there and feel accomplished as you take them.
- taking forever on a project or revising a paper a million times doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be better, and doing something all in one sitting doesn't mean it's going to be bad. Some of the best grades I've gotten were for essays I wrote in three or four hours the night before they were due. I went through the next morning and just made minor wording/grammar corrections before turning it in. Find a way of writing/doing assignments that works for you and don't let all those people tell you that you have to have at least three drafts or have to spend at least two weeks working on a paper for it to be good.
- Don't take it too seriously. Yeah, it's college, and it's your future, and it's expensive... but a few missed classes or assignments here or there are not going to matter in the long run. One failed test will not be the end of you. Just do your best not to let it happen again but don't freak out if it does. In the end it's the time you spent outside of class that you're really going to remember, not that one time you got a D on an essay.

What are your tips for staying organized and clear-headed in school? Interestingly enough my only class of the day today was cancelled so I'm going to do all that homework I put off last week ;)


1 comment:

  1. I have to constantly keep my self in check. I'm the one that freaks out over a 78 on a test or feels super guilty after missing class...and sometimes that just makes me feel worse about myself. "Don't take it too seriously" is something I should chant in the mirror everyday!