How to Start College Semester the Right Way

By Karen Palmer on July 2021
Category: College Life

As students all over gear up for the fall semester, it’s worth taking time out of your busy, last days of summer to start getting organized for fall classes. Whether you’re an old pro about to head into your senior year or just starting that oh-so-nerve-wracking transition from high school to freshman year at college, it’s always a good idea to brush up on how to practice good organization and study habits.

It should come as no surprise that solid study, health, and time-management habits can contribute significantly to your success in college. Likewise, students who have poor time-management skills and fail to take care of their health and sleep can experience extra challenges as the semester wears on.

Here are some great tips on how to improve your habits so you can get better grades and feel less stressed during the fall semester.

Get a Planner

Whether you like those old-school paper planners or prefer a more high-tech planner you can access from your devices, a planner can make a big difference in your ability to, well, plan. Using a planner has a lot of benefits, such as:

  • It gives you a quick visual of upcoming assignments so you can budget your time wisely.
  • You won’t miss deadlines or have to cram for tests at the last minute.
  • Writing something down creates a body-brain connection, so you’re more likely to take assignments and deadlines seriously. Even if you use a digital planner, you can use a Stylus to handwrite rather than type and still reap the benefits of this connection.
  • It’s like creating mini-contracts with yourself- when you see that assignment or test in your planner, you hold yourself more accountable.

If you don’t like planners, you can also just use Google Calendars or another organizational Calendar to record your assignments. While there are some low-cost planners out there, Google Calendars is free and it’s hard to beat free, especially when you’re on a student budget.

Learn to Take Notes

Are you a student who doodles their way through class or one who sits there attentively taking notes on important points the teacher brings up? If you’re in the latter category, congratulations. If you’re in the former, read on.

Taking good notes is an important skill in college life and as the content gets more advanced, you’ll be thankful you have good notes to review to help you stay on track. Some students are tempted to record lectures, but in the end, do you really have time to sit through all your classes twice (once in real-time and once to listen to the recording?) Why waste time when you could just take good notes the first time around? Here are some tips on good note-taking:

  • Create a system like color-coding your notes with pens or in different font colors if you’re typing your notes in class.
  • Pay special attention to any information that is repeated in the materials you had to read for class and what the teacher has written on the board or in handouts. These overlaps are important and are likely to be the key takeaways the teacher wants you to get from the material.
  • Watch and listen for physical or verbal cues. If the teacher slows down their speech when making a specific point or uses gestures to draw your attention or underlines something on the board, then that information is very important and you should write it down and highlight it.
  • When reading the assignment for class, write down any questions you may have before class so you can clarify them with the teacher during class.
  • After class, write a brief summary of the main takeaways of the material.
  • Go over your notes after class. If you can sit down and go over your notes within three hours after class, your retention rate will be much higher. If you do this after every class and review past notes as well, you create a cumulative memory of the material up to that point which will make it easier for you to study for tests and write papers.

Join a Study Group

So, there are study groups and there are study groups. There’s no point in joining a study group where most of the time is spent gossiping or fooling around. But, if you have a serious group of students who are dedicated to helping each other study, then that’s worth your time. A good study group can bring a lot of benefits to your ability to understand the class materials:

  • Each student has their own unique background and perspective. By learning to listen to others, you can enrich your understanding of the material.
  • Likewise, you have your own perspective and you’ll be pushed to communicate your point of view which will help you define your arguments more accurately. This will come in handy on papers and with short answer questions on tests and even in-class debates.
  • Other members of your study group can help clear up any doubts or questions you might have about the material.
  • It can also help hold you accountable for your study hours. You might not be so strict with yourself on your own, but if you’ve made a commitment to other people, you’ll be more likely to put in the hours of studying.
  • Study groups can also be fun and this can provide extra incentive for you to study and also improve the quality of your student life.

Incorporate Breaks Into Your Routine

Burnout is very real and striking a good study-rest balance is key to successful studying. Many students make the mistake of cramming in too much studying at once. The result is that, while they’re putting in a lot of hours, their brains are only able to absorb so much information. If you have a high volume of studying on your plate, don’t make the mistake of pushing through when you’re tired:

Incorporate 15-minute breaks for every hour of studying. This time can help rest your eyes, reset your brain and help you concentrate better during your next stretch of studying.

After a few hours, take a longer break. Get some exercise. Go for a brisk walk. Take some deep breaths to oxygenate your brain. Get your blood pumping. As you increase circulation in your body, you also increase circulation to your brain, improving its functioning.

Have a snack. A quick brain power snack is sometimes just the thing you need. Blueberries, walnuts, a snack high in omega-3’s can all improve brain function. Load up on your breaks so you’ll be powered up when you hit the books again.

Hydrate. The brain is approximately 75% water. That means if it gets dehydrated, it won’t work optimally. Make sure you drink plenty of water (about 8 x 8oz. glasses per day) to avoid sluggish brain activity.

Plan for Your Day the Night Before

Take a cue from the playbooks of many successful entrepreneurs and set aside time at night to plan for the following day. Review what classes and activities you have coming up and make sure you’re prepared for them. Take some time to visualize your day going well and all of your activities running smoothly. Putting yourself in a positive mindset of success can help improve your performance.

Get Plenty of Sleep

Though an unfortunate hallmark of student life, avoid pulling all-nighters as much as you can. They’re just not worth the toll they can take on your physical and mental health. It can take days to recuperate from an all-nighter, and they can result in foggy brain, delayed cognition, low energy, and depressed moods, hardly ideal circumstances to be in for taking exams or writing papers.

Additionally, it’s important to develop good sleeping habits. A full eight hours of sleep a night is the minimum for most students to function at their ideal levels. If you have trouble sleeping, try downloading a sleep app. Develop a ritual before going to bed such as writing in your journal or drinking herbal tea and doing some light reading for entertainment. If the problems persist, don’t hesitate to see a doctor about your sleeping issues. Sound sleep is key to maintaining a good mood and keeping your brain and body in top working order.

Conclusion

The college years should be some of the best years of your life and they can be either an exciting time of intellectual curiosity and fun or they can be stressful and difficult. In the end, developing a positive mindset and healthy habits can help significantly tilt the scale toward the former side. It’s never too late to make positive changes in your life and that includes your study habits in college. Adopting some of the organizational tips such as getting a planner, learning to take good notes, joining a study group, taking adequate breaks during study sessions, planning your day the night before, and prioritizing sleep can all contribute to making your college years as glorious as they should be. Good luck and happy studying!

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