5 Things I Do at the Start of Each School Term

Hello there lovely readers!!!

I had my first day of the Spring 2016 university term on Monday, and I am already excited for the next 13 weeks of classes. I know that sounds weird, but when you’re a Psychology and Linguistics nerd, small things fascinate you and you can spend days analyzing an utterance like “I can’t even” without getting bored.

The first three weeks of university are usually pretty slow, with professors starting to delve into new material, course loads being shuffled, and no midterm in sight. It’s really tempting to pilfer away this time, which is exactly what I did in my first year, and I instantly regretted it when the first wave of midterms hit me. So, while this is a time to blog more, read more, and cherish the last weeks of social life, here is my list of five things I do at the start of each term to prepare:

1. Create a Master Syllabus

What is this, exactly??? Well, it is a page-long list, organized by month, of all of the important course dates for all classes over the course of the term. It provides an easy way to quickly glance at deadlines, cross off completed items (so satisfying), and identify gaps of days that can be used to catch up, or get ahead in, classwork. I also find it really helpful to put the weight of each assignment and test in brackets so I can keep track of grades.

2. Organize my planner

This one is huge for me because I find it both cathartic and necessary to map out my study time to ensure I’m using it well. Using a day planner, I keep track of everything I have to do, with separate columns for appointments, assignments, and the sliver of life leftover. This way I never forget to do something or be somewhere and, once again, I get the euphoric rush that comes with crossing something off my list (or, in some cases, scratching the name of the item in Sharpie repeatedly out of spite).

3. Buy my textbooks

I know a lot of people who purchase their textbooks over the Christmas holidays, and even a few people who purchase their textbooks in September for the winter and spring terms all at once. Me, I like to wait until the first week because I tend to change up my schedule a lot. In the event that I decide to drop a course it will be because of one of three reasons:

a) It was meant to be an elective and doesn’t look nearly as interesting as I thought it would be.

b) It is taught by a professor whose teaching style I know won’t work for me, or

c) After getting all the course outlines and creating my Master Syllabus, the workload looks like it will be too much, so I swap out a course for another, less demanding one.

Regardless of which of these reasons motivates me to change my schedule, I don’t want to deal with any of the issues that can arise when trying to return a textbook to the school bookstore. If you are reading this and you are in high school, and therefore don’t have to worry about this, I envy you.

4. Get my desk set up

Turn your desk into the ultimate study space, stocked with pens, pencils, index cards, sticky notes, and a few snacks hidden here and there. Make sure you have a water bottle close by, because staying hydrated is key for a productive study session. Also, since you will be spending a lot of time at that desk, make sure it is at the right height for you, and that you have a comfortable chair. There are few things that irritate me as much as the discomfort characteristic of studying in a hunched over position for too long, or realizing too late that I was sitting at a weird angle and now my back is sore.

5. Decide how I plan to take notes in each class

To me, there are two main course styles: fact-based and idea-based. You may define these differently, but to me fact-based courses are those that involve memorization, like anatomy or history, while idea-based courses are those that involve understanding and applying concepts, like math or philosophy.

For fact-based courses, I really like using a coil-bound notebook so that all of my notes stay in one place and no stray piece of paper detailing key final exam information floats away on me. Index cards work really well for these courses, too, because you can use them to study word definitions, or to test your knowledge by summarizing a concept in its limited space.

For idea-based courses, I will either use coil-bound notebooks or loose paper on a clipboard depending on the speed at which the professor goes through the material. I don’t like leaving blank spaces in my notes that I have to fill in after class because the prof blew through an entire concept in one lecture, so for more fast-paced courses, loose leaf paper is the way to go. Highlighters and sticky notes are great for these types of courses because you can have little aside memos about things mentioned in class, or flag areas you want to study more.

I have written these five things from a university student perspective, but they also work really well for anyone in middle school or high school. A lot depends on your learning style though, so I’m curious: what do you do in your first week back at school to prepare for the term ahead???

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