How is the start of your semester? Are your classes going great for you, or are you still struggling what classes and commitments to take for the next semester?
Well, I have to be totally honest that it is definitely hard to adjust to the school routine after a whole month of holiday.
Luckily, for most colleges, the first week is usually the syllabus week – which means that only a brief introduction and the syllabus is covered in the first lesson, nothing too heavy.
But don’t get too happy just yet – you still have got some tasks to do during the week! Even though it seems to be a very easy week for all of us, you definitely do not want to waste the entire week to just go on partying.
While having fun in the first week is great (and almost necessary), here are some tasks that every student should do during their first week to make sure that their coming semester would be a productive, organized, and at least a slightly bit easier one.
Why is Syllabus Week Important?
I know that some people would skip the syllabus week because “the professor is just covering the syllabus, and I can easily read that from the document”.
While that might be true, I think it’s still a good idea to make the effort to attend the syllabus week, because:
- You never know if there are some basic information (e.g. exam and assignment requirements, office hours, information about the professor) covered in the lecture but not in the syllabus
- The first week is usually the time for you to get a taste of the course, and the teaching style of the professor. If you have attended the first day of class, you can tell whether you enjoy or like the class/professor/topic, and then you can make the decision whether or not you would like to take the class for the coming semester. If you didn’t make the decision in the first week, you may have to skip the first few classes of the other class that you intend to take to replace the one that you dislike.
- You never know if your professor starts teaching on the first day of class (especially when it is the first time that you take his/her course). You will not want to miss some important content of the course.
- It’s always good to know people in your class. If you have to skip class for one day, or you forgot the deadline for a certain assignment, there will be someone for you to ask about it.
If I didn’t convince you, here are more reasons why you shouldn’t skip syllabus week.
Things You Should Do During the Syllabus Week
Now that we have covered the importance of syllabus week, it is time to move on to some things you should do this week in order to get organized and get ahead.
1. Choose Your Classes and Arrange Your Schedule
I am not sure if this is the case for all colleges, but many allow you to add or drop a class during the first two weeks of college. So, this is the time when you can see whether the course matches its description, whether it is something you enjoy and that you would like to learn about, and whether its assessment model suits you.
Not sure if you should add or drop a class? Well, here are some indicators that may help you to think about it.
- Is the course content something I like and I want to learn?
- Do I like the learning model? Does the course require a lot of reading, presentation, discussion, or pop-up quiz? When I was in my second year, having gone through a ton of group projects in my first year, I understand that I would try to avoid group projects – they simply give me too much stress (and waste too much time too) – definitely not the best model of learning and assessment for me.
- Am I comfortable with the teaching style that the lecturer use?
- What do the seniors who have taken this course say about the course?
- Does the course match my career/academic direction? While this may not be particularly important for many people, some may find it helpful to take classes to expand their skills and knowledge in areas that they would love to work in.
All of the things above are things that you can figure out on the first day of class. Thus, during the syllabus week, it is the time for you to really think about whether the course is suitable for you. If you want to know more about how you should pick your classes and arrange your schedule, this post will definitely help you.
2. Mark down all the important dates on your planner
Now, once you have your schedule and courses fixed, it’s time to mark down the important dates. While this seems to be a trivial task, it is the first step for you to get organized. It wouldn’t be great if you miss a deadline during the third week of class!
What I did for this semester is that I drew a table on my bullet journal, and write down the deadlines for the assignments in it.
There are so many other ways that you can do it, but I personally find having a weekly view of the entire semester really helps me to keep track of how busy I will be in a certain week. It also allows me to plan ahead for each assignment (as you can see, I have planned how I will work on my assignments in blue – I actually use the pilot erasable pen with it, so I can easily amend my plans).
This table also helps me to separate my academic tasks from tasks from work and blogging – which is great because I want to make my academic deadlines stand out.
3. Set Your Semester Goals
Now that you know exactly what course you are going to take, it is the time for you to set your semester goals. Knowing your goals and targets would help you to better allocate your time for each course, and to better organize your priorities.
One of the most common goals would be setting the target grades for each course. You can do so by assessing your abilities from your past performance, or from what you know of the course. Make sure to write them down and put it in places that you can always look at (e.g. your desk)!
Of course, you can also set goals about your study habits or routines, or some more specific ones like not skipping class, or speak up more often during class. One of my goals for this semester is to be able to prepare for lectures beforehand and ask questions during the lecture!
4. Plan Your Study Schedule
As I have covered a bit in the previous point, planning ahead in the first week is the key to a successful semester. The first week is probably the only time that you are free enough to really sit down and plan ahead. Once you start to get assignments to hand in and tests to take, you will get so busy and hooked up with chasing all the deadlines without thinking about how you can finish everything beforehand.
Because of that, having a good plan in mind is really handy if you want to make your semester less hectic and difficult.
Remember what I said about how if you are finding your study tasks too difficult, you are doing it wrong?
Well, if you want to make studying and school less hard for you, then you should definitely plan ahead.
Just imagine you are doing things bit by bit, rather than everything at once. Doesn’t the idea of it sound good?
Thus, it would be great if we take this time to plan the assignments ahead. Make sure you spread things out so that you won’t have to finish everything right before the deadlines. As you can see in the table I have just shown, I have planned to do research in the first three weeks, then I would spend 4 weeks to work on my first draft of the essay, and 3 weeks on the second draft.
By starting to do my assignments and study early, I am definitely hoping to ease my stress in the middle of the semester!
Related: 10 Ways to Prepare for a Successful Academic Year (Some things you should do at the beginning of the semester!)
5. Develop Your Study Routine and Habits
Now, here are some study tasks that I can think of (and my personal study plan too!) that can make your semester much easier. For more good study habits you should take up for this semester, check this post out!
Review your lecture right after it
I personally find this the number one key to academic success. I used to keep this study habit when I was in high school, and I find it super helpful.
- If you want to retain the information, you would have to review it on the day you have learned it (check out the forgetting curve!)
- You probably best remember what you know and don’t know during the lecture on that day. Once you have put the lecture materials aside, when you go back to it, you won’t even remember what you don’t understand during lecture. Hence, after the lecture, you should definitely take the time to do research (or listen to that part of the lecture again if you do record it) about the things that you don’t understand.
- That also means that you won’t have to understand everything right before finals – since you are studying and reviewing them week by week!
Do my readings on the weekend before the lecture
I definitely hope I am not the only one who cannot keep up with their readings! I used to struggle a lot about whether I should do it beforehand or after the lecture, but now I have decided to do it before because:
- It kind of forces me to finish my readings – as I know that I have to get them done before the lecture. Whereas if I decide to do them afterwards, I would just push them to a later date thinking “it is not urgent anyway”.
- Doing my readings beforehand actually allow me to focus during the lecture better – because I will know what’s going on during the lecture, and I would have in mind what I would like to know more during it. I may even have some questions in mind when I was reading that I can find the answer during the lecture or ask a question after it.
Make study guides after the lecturer finishes teaching a topic
Ever since I am in university, I find out that it is almost impossible to take an exam without study guides. How am I going to review all the materials (lecture notes, readings, textbooks, problem questions etc.) in just a day? I would definitely need to have my own notes that have summarized all the key points to make my study process easier.
While I was able to make all my study guides during the week right before exams last semester – I find that doing everything in such a short period of time very stressful. This semester, I am telling myself that I need to make myself finish compiling the study guides after a topic is covered.
6. Make sure you write down your weekly routine!
Now that you have decided what you would like to do every week/month for your courses, you should then set a specific time for you to work on it. Since you already have your schedule with you, you can easily play around with your schedule and decide how you would like to spend your free time.
You may ask, why do I have to set a specific time for my study tasks? As what I have said in my last post How to Set Goals and Achieve Them, you can better do your desired behaviors by making your tasks very specific. While “study for my psychology class for two hours” sounds a specific plan, it will work even better if you have marked it on your calendar to “study for my psychology class after I get home from it at 8pm to 10pm”.
This way, you will know that this time is specifically set for you to review your psychology class, and you are more likely to complete this task.
How much time should I study each week?
If you are wondering how much time you should spend for each class, it is said that “most professors suggest that college students spend about two hours studying per week for each credit hour they take”.
While this is a good number to start with, I generally recommend you to refer to your course workload and your own study habits.
You can also better estimate your study time by breaking your tasks down. For example, for my politics course, I would break down my tasks as:
- Previewing the lecture slides and notes before class: 30 mins
- Finishing the readings and take notes: 1.5 hours
- Review the lecture and make study guides: 1 hour
This way, I would know that I would have to spend 3 hours per week to study for my politics class. I would then fit each task in my calendar according to my schedule.
7. Order Your Textbooks and Get Your Study Materials Ready
I have once gotten questions on whether you should get your textbook before the semester starts or after it. While there is no a right answer, here are my suggestions:
- If you know that you will need the textbook (probably from people who have already taken the course), and you would like to prepare for the course as soon as possible, you should buy it beforehand.
- If you are not so sure whether you will need the textbook, you can wait till the syllabus week – usually your lecturer will tell you whether they will actually use the textbook and whether they would require you to read it.
- Alternatively, you can always email your lecturer before the semester starts and ask about it.
8. Create and Organize Your Study Space
What’s more motivating than having a nice space for you to work on? So, if you have not done this already, make use for the free time you have during the syllabus week to make your study space, and place all the study materials you need for this semester in the most accessible place!
That’s It for Now!
I know this is a long post, so let’s do a quick recap!
In this post, I have explained that you shouldn’t skip the syllabus week because it is a great time for you to know more about the course and see if it is right for you (and of course to meet new and old friends!). And, during the syllabus week, you should do the following:
- Pick your classes and confirm your schedule
- Mark down all the important dates on your planner
- Set your semester goals
- Plan your study schedule
- Set and develop your study routines and habits
- Set your weekly routine
- Order your textbooks and get your study materials ready
- Create and organize your study space