7 Ways to Start Your Semester Right
A new semester means a fresh start. That’s exciting, but sometimes you aren’t sure where to begin. How can you make sure that this semester is more successful than your previous semester? What do you need to do differently?
You may be surprised to find that a few simple changes can have a profound impact on your success. Get your semester started right by practicing these seven strategies, and your productivity will soar.
1. Get organized
Organization helps you reduce chaos and stress, thus making you more productive. Develop a system at the start of your semester. This may include:
- Color coded notebooks and/or folders for each class
- A planner with important dates and deadlines filled out (do this as you receive your syllabi), potentially even color-coded to match your notebooks
- Cleaning out your backpack, desk, and dorm room to reduce clutter from previous semesters
- Organizing your computer files (e.g., by school year, semester, course, and assignment type or project)
- Designating a place to keep your notebooks, folders, and other school supplies when you are not in class
Different systems work for different people, but the key is having one that makes sense to you. If you keep track of deadlines, know where to find everything, and maintain a well-organized space, you free up your mind to focus on learning and achieving.
2. Get into a routine
Like being organized, establishing a routine helps your life run smoothly. It leaves you more brain power for organic chemistry or business mathematics.
It’s easier said than done, but try waking up and going to sleep around the same time each day (or at least on weekdays). Schedule time for the gym, any clubs or activities you participate in, and studying. Instead of waiting until the last minute to work on assignments or cram in information, set aside studying/homework blocks each day. Choose a time of day when you feel especially productive.
Start each day on a positive note by preparing the night before. For instance, set out the outfit you’ll wear to class and pack your backpack with the supplies you’ll need that day. Instead of frantically scrambling around in the morning, you’ll begin the day feeling confident and prepared. Ultimately, these small habits make a big difference in your overall mood and performance.
3. Go to class
Yes, it may be too early, or nearly impossible to find parking, or maybe you got the cool professor who says attendance is optional. Still, going to class is one of the simplest ways to have a successful semester. (Plus, you might as well get your money’s worth.)
By going to class, you’ll have the opportunity to:
- Get to know your peers, who can be sources of information and support
- Get to know your professor, who can answer questions and may note your interest and participation when it’s time to grade papers and finals
- Earn easy participation points (in some classes)
- Take notes and absorb important information
- Maximize these benefits by sitting near the front of the classroom, where it’s easier to focus and read the board. In addition, your professor is sure to see you and your enthusiasm for their class.
4. Take notes and ask questions
We’ve already discussed going to class, but sitting there zoning out or dozing off isn’t enough. Actively take notes and ask questions as needed.
If you have too many questions to ask during class, don’t be afraid to attend your professor’s office hours. It’s a great and underutilized way to build a relationship with your professor and learn valuable information one-on-one. For instance, you can ask about a problem type you’re struggling with or go over your most recent essay and how it was scored.
And remember, no one knows how to ace your class better than the professor who designed it, teaches it, and determines your grade. Often, you’ll pick up extremely useful tips and hints simply by visiting your professor.
How to take good notes
When it comes to retention, it’s best if you write your notes by hand. However, if your professor talks too fast or you find yourself falling behind, it’s OK to use your laptop instead.
As you take notes, save yourself time by using shorthand (that you will understand later). Don’t try to write down every single word your professor says. Don’t write it if you already know it.
Look for information that isn’t already mentioned in your textbook or readings, and note when your professor emphasizes something or repeats it more than once.
If possible, write headings and subheadings for your notes during class. If not, take a few minutes right after class to do so. This will help you find key information later, and breaking the information down into chunks helps you remember it.
Of course, don’t forget to review your notes once you’ve taken them! Consistently reviewing your notes for short periods of time is far more effective than trying to cram right before the test. For example, read over your most recent notes while you grab lunch between classes or as you ride the bus home.
5. WOOP your goals
You probably have a few goals for the semester, right? Having goals is a great first step, but achieving them is a whole different story.
Based on 20 years of research, psychologist Gabriele Oettingen developed a mental strategy called WOOP that helps people turn their goals into reality. WOOP stands for:
- Wish- What is your goal? It should be both challenging and reasonable.
- Outcome- What will it look like and feel like to reach this goal? What will be the best, most positive outcome of this achievement? Take time to imagine and feel it.
- Obstacles- Are there obstacles that have held you back from reaching this goal in the past, or obstacles that might hold you back? This includes inner obstacles, like self-doubt or bad habits.
- Plan- If these obstacles occur, what action or thought will you use to overcome them? Write an if/then statement: If [obstacle], then I will [action or thought].
By intentionally practicing visualization and planning, you’re much likelier to achieve your goals. Instead of becoming discouraged by an unexpected obstacle, you’ll be ready to handle the setbacks that come your way.
6. Surround yourself with motivated peers
Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” It may sound dramatic, but it’s true that the people you spend the most time with have a major influence on you. If your friends are partying every night, skipping class, and seemingly unconcerned about their grades, staying motivated will be an uphill battle for you.
Try to make at least one positive friend in every class. Meet ambitious people with clearly defined goals, good study habits, and healthy lifestyles. These friends can help you stay accountable, and they make great study buddies too.
7. Take good care of yourself
Finally, remember to practice self-care and healthy habits. When you eat poorly and don’t get enough sleep, it impacts your mood and your mind. You may feel fuzzy and forgetful, and you’ll have a tough time learning new concepts. Obviously, this is not helpful for a successful semester.
Eat nutritious meals (as often as you can), exercise, and get plenty of rest. Studying in small chunks instead of relying on cram sessions is one way to ensure you sleep enough. You can also check out helpful apps like Sleep Cycle, Headspace, and Calm.
If you use the six previous tips, sleeping and studying don’t mean you’ll miss out on a social life, contrary to popular belief. By practicing good habits, you can achieve a balance between all three.
Final Thoughts: How to Get Your Semester Started Right
Having a successful semester doesn’t mean you need to be the most gifted person in the room, or the most stressed. It’s all about small habits that make a big difference.
Get off to a positive start by being organized, creating and maintaining a routine, going to class and being an active learner, using the WOOP strategy, finding positive friends, and taking good care of yourself.
Creating new habits is tough at first. Stick with it, and you’ll find that you’re far more productive and successful—and probably happier, too.