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Six Steps to a Successful Semester

And we’re off. The new semester at Governors State University has begun. Notebooks are fresh, syllabi are still crisp, and enthusiasm permeates campus air. The next fifteen weeks is a chapter in your life waiting to unfold, the student, are ready to craft a tale of good study habits and A+ exams – right? Well yes, you are, and you can—but there are pitfalls along the way.

It’s easy to lose momentum in the chilly malaise of February or to let your focus wander when spring returns. Sometimes the exhilaration of a fresh semester can lead to post-midterm burnout, or you can just feel plain overwhelmed by your course load. There are ways to combat all of this. Below are six tips to help yourself to stay on track.

1.  Stay on top of your reading. Seriously. Don’t skim, and don’t try to combine a week’s worth of reading into one night of studying. It has been assigned for a reason, and that reason is neither to make your life hard nor to bore you on a Saturday night. Professors ask you to read so that you will have a greater understanding of the subject that will lead to an easier time with quizzes and exams, which in turn brings you less stress and better grades.

2.  Pace yourself. Don’t race ahead. Although the previous piece of advice was to make sure you’re getting your reading done, it doesn’t mean you need to overwhelm yourself by trying to get ahead of the syllabus. Balance your study time and make sure you’re keeping up with each class on your schedule.

3.  Communicate. Was something unclear to you during a lecture? Did you not understand a section in an assigned chapter? Ask questions. If you don’t have a chance to ask for clarification during class time, email your professor. Find out if he or she has an open office hour when you can drop in to discuss the material. Most college professors aren’t in it for the money—they’re there because they love teaching—and they want to help you succeed.

4.  Collaborate on inspiration. Admittedly, that sounds like it should be plastered across a photo of wild dolphins arcing above the ocean at sunrise, the latest internet meme that you won’t be reposting, but it has actual use and meaning. It means find a study buddy; pair up with someone else and be each other’s cheering squad. Take advantage of campus resources through the Academic Resource Center.

5.  Give yourself a break. Okay, so this probably seems counterintuitive. When the goal is to go go go and get things done, the last thing you probably think you should do is step away from your studies, but sometimes that’s exactly what is needed. Imagine that you have a fifteen-page paper to write. You need at least five sources, only three can be from the Web. You’re an English major, but this is Sociology so it has to be in APA, and although you’ve been poring over journal abstracts for three hours, you haven’t typed a word or cited a source in at least 45 minutes. This is when you need to take a break. Not a long one, but a guilt-free 20 minutes can change everything at times like these. Go outside or into another room. Call someone. Fix yourself a snack, do some stretches, do anything except stare at that screen. Set a timer if you need to, and when you come back to your work, you’re going to feel refreshed and better able to complete the task.

6.  Organize everything. From your folders to your time, if you don’t have some kind of organizational structure in place for your semester, at some point you’re going to struggle. All the studying tips in the world won’t help you if you can’t find your text book or failed to block out time to review for an exam. If you’re not a naturally organized person—and many of us are not—pretend that you are. Fake it ‘til you make it. Write down a schedule, label your folders (both paper and digital), and designate a time and place for regular studying. This is the missing link between struggling to keep your head above water and gliding through a semester.

College isn’t always easy, and, despite the excitement, navigating each new semester can be daunting. If you made it here, though, you already know how to succeed. Keep these pointers in mind and forge ahead. You’ve got this.