You should never stumble into a semester or quarter. Planning should be intentional. Prior to the beginning of every semester, before classes begin (or soon after), take the time to follow these five simple steps to get a fast start:
1. Select a Calendar or Calendar App that’ll always be with you
Your calendar app should enable you to easily enter your appointments (classes, assignments due, holidays, etc.) but you should also have one that can capture your “to do list.” These are list the of the tasks that you have to do and when you’ll do them (on what day) in order to keep up with your work. I use the ToDoist app on my iPhone that’s tied to Google Calendar and Gmail which I use for scheduling, email, and to organize my work. ToDoIst has plug-ins for Gmail, Outlook, and other email and calendar systems. When I was in college, absent of all of the high tech devices at our disposal today, I used a simple paper calendar and notebook paper to record my “to do’s.”
Whatever works for you, use the first part of the semester to become familiar with the tools. You don’t want to waste time fiddling with its features when you should be focused on your work.
2. Collect all course syllabi
Every class should have a syllabus, the document the professor distributes or posts at the beginning of class containing the course outline, lecture topics, assignments and their due dates, grading policy, exam schedule, and office hours. Every class should have one. If your professor doesn’t voluntarily distribute a syllabus, ask for one. Collect and review the syllabi for all your classes.
3. Record dates in your planner
Record all critical dates for each class in your planner or calendar app. These should include the dates on which all of your assignments are due—problem sets, papers, and special projects. Also record your exam dates including midterms and finals. Be as descriptive as possible so you’ll recognize the assignment at a glance, and therefore prepare for it (in your to do list). In other words, don’t just enter “Problem Set Due.” When the time comes, you won’t know which class you referred to. Rather, enter “CHEM201 Problem set due” as the entry.
Here, I also recommend you enter key dates for important non-academic appointments or events as well. For instance, if your student group is going on a retreat, or your fraternity will be conducting a rush weekend, place those dates in your calendar as well.
4. Identify and anticipate crunch weeks
After you enter all of these dates, then step back and review your calendar for each week and month of the semester or quarter. Are there any “crunch weeks”—weeks in which you have multiple exams and/or problem sets due? You’ll invariably have a crunch week or two by week five. If you don’t plan for it, you can easily fall behind and never catch up!
Once you’ve identified the crunch week(s), you might want to block out the weekend before that week so you can be proactive in using that time to study, prepare the project, or write the paper(s). That’ll be the weekend that you stay in from the parties or organizational retreats and take up residence in the library!
5. Secure all required reading material
From the syllabus, find out what books or reading packets you’re required to buy (or borrow), and which are optional. If you rely on a campus bookstore, it’s important to buy all the required books right away for two reasons. One, you’ll be able to purchase your books before the bookstore runs out of stock. Don’t wait for the week or day before the reading is due to buy the book. When you need it most, it may no longer be available.
Second, if you go early, you’re more likely to save money by finding a used book. Many students sell their books back to the bookstore after a semester, leaving a good inventory of discounted books at the beginning of the next semester. Going early will assure you that you’ll have a better chance of purchasing a used book and saving some money.
Of course, purchasing books online is often a better option so you can shop around for the best price. The key here is to do it early so you’ll have them when you need them!
Follow these five simple steps to get a good start on the semester. Remember the 5 P’s: Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance!
For more tips, check out “Working Smarter, Not Just Harder: Three Sensible Strategies for Succeeding in College…and Life” available on Amazon.com.
Join the discussion 3 Comments
These are great tips, Karl. Thanks again for pushing us to use them in college, they are definitely a big part of the reason I was able to get through MIT in one piece.
Taking a few minutes that first week of classes allowed me to become prepared for the upcoming semester. Even just knowing what the expected work load was going to be was enough to put me at ease early on, instead of feeling incredibly stressed later. I can’t tell you how many of my classmates would respond to questions about the professor’s expectations with, “I don’t know, I haven’t looked at the syllabus.”
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