Back to School: Surviving Classes

Terrifying Classes?  Here’s some tips I survive by:

1) Attend Classes-It’s an obvious one.  You gotta be there to absorb the info.

2) Use your cellphoneNo, seriously.  Take pictures of your printed out schedule that has all the times and locations your classes are at.  This is super helpful to me during the first week of school.  Also, use your cellphone to alert you 12 minutes before class starts (just to allow yourself 2 minutes to get to class).  I like getting to class 10 minutes early so that I have lots of time to set up/find out if I’ve forgotten something and need to run back to my dorm.  I’ve never been late to a class because of this.  Not even the one time I slept in and only had 10 minutes to get ready and get to class.

3) Take notes like your life depends on it. Because your academic life really does depend on those notes.  This is also a good way to keep your brain active in class.  I recommend developing a good shorthand system of writing notes.  ie/ because = b/c, with = w/, * = important, ∴= therefore, ~ = approximately,  etc.  Just make sure YOU understand your own shorthand.  Whenever I start developing new shorthand words I write in the margins what it means.  Here’s a website that talks about note taking tips and strategies.  I strongly recommend reading this if you are a first year or find your notes hard to study from.

4) Pre-read notesIf you’re finding that you are getting lost in your lectures, try pre-reading the slides that the prof sends out.  I don’t do this for every class, but the two classes I DID do it for, I usually just took 5-10 minutes reading the slides right before class and that helped SO much.

5) Voice recorder.  This is not mandatory at all.  I have only used my voice recorder for my two toughest classes.  It turns out that the prof, who taught both classes, actually said a LOT of helpful info, but she NEVER wrote it on the board and I missed all of that helpful information because I was so busy trying to keep up with her pace.  (She wrote in shorthand that didn’t make sense to me, so I would have to translate her shorthand, and try to decipher her drawings and listen to what she was saying to write in extra information.  Basically she wrote quickly and talked even quicker, so her lectures were a bit of an overload for me.)  I was actually struggling to get a “read” on this prof because I felt so overwhelmed and I couldn’t keep up with her pace.  After recording a couple of her lectures, I realized that the few “this is important” hints she did give were ALL VERBAL.  It’s not like she literally said “this is important”, but she would put a bit of an emphasis on some words that I always missed because I was overwhelmed.

6) Make friends!  It is SO helpful to have friends in your class.  Sometimes they understand a concept you don’t or vice versa.  They can even help you study.  Plus it’s nice to have someone to sit and talk to while your waiting for the class to start.

7) Make outlines.  I think this is pretty obvious, but some people don’t write outlines or study guides.  I have written briefly about my outlines and ways to help you retain information in my Back to School: Study Tips 2 post.

8) Do the practice problems.  I’ve noticed this being particularly helpful to me in my many Chemistry classes.  It’s a good way to study for the test because sometimes similar questions show up on the exam.

9) Bullshit reading vs. actual reading.  Some profs love to assign readings.  LONG. BORING. READINGS.  Even though my Art History prof was a good lecturer, we had to read these 24-30 page articles that were soul-suckingly dry.  AINT NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT.  What I did was I somehow managed to crawl my way through the first article and wrote the requested write up, then from how she graded the write up and what information I had used from the article, I cut out unnecessary reading.  I actually ended up reading just the first page and the last paragraph of the last page for all of her assignments from there on out.  This is part of what I call “reading my profs”  I try and “read” my prof during lectures to see what’s important and in assignments to know what sort of readings are bullshit readings.

Beware, always do the FULL amount of reading the FIRST time, just to be safe.  For some assignments, you legit have to read the entire thing.

10) Figure out how you best study and which times you are most productive at.  These two things are so important to me.  Browse both my School Tips and Study Tips 2 posts, other peoples posts, EXPERIMENT WITH ALL OF THE DIFFERENT WAYS OF STUDYING THAT YOU CAN FIND.  Pick and choose which methods work best for you.

Additionally, take a moment to sit back and think about point in the day your brain is most active.  For me, my brain is most active after supper, so about 6:00 pm -12:00am.  So I really try to get as much homework and studying done as possible in that time frame. What I do is I split up my homework into “I’m really going to have to think hard on this stuff and gather resources” (high brain) and “I can do this absent minded” (low brain).  I do the high brain stuff in my 6pm – 12am period, because that is when my brain is functioning the most, therefore I will get the most done.  High brain stuff for me is studying, practice problems, assignments, take home quizzes, lab reports, and essays.  I typically do low brain stuff in between classes, during the day.  So these will be writing outlines, sometimes studying, and summarizing readings.

11) Print out the syllabus!  If you take time to read the syllabus, it’s a pretty good resource.  It provides class descriptions (use that to identify mega important topics when studying for the final), when certain deadlines are for assignments, when tests are.  Sometimes the prof includes how to be successful in their class.

12) When working, avoid distractions.  Pretty obvious, right?  Well, this is something that I struggle with because I use my laptop to find a lot of resources for all of my pre- and post-lab work.  I obviously use my laptop to write essays as well, so facebook, pinterest and tumblr are really tempting.  I know you can download software on your computer to block you from going to these websites for a specific time period.  Unfortunately, since I like to procrastinate, I have not tried any of these, I can’t say “This is the best one out there!” but here are some that Huffington Post talks about:

Self Control (Mac)        Focus Booster (Mac + Windows.  Uses the pomodoro technique)        Stay Focused (An extension for Google Chrome)

For assignments, I print these out and work as much as I can with my laptop shut.  Unfortunately, that will lead me to another distraction–my cellphone.  You COULD shut your cellphone off–but I don’t do that because my friends are hazards to themselves and I just naturally fell into the role of “ambulance” for my group of friends.  Also, sometimes my friends need me to boost their car, so I also help them out with that.  Honestly, what usually works for me is I just flip my cellphone so that the screen is face down.

13) Don’t pay full price for textbooks!  Do you have a class demanded that you spend $200+ on a textbook?  DON’T pay full price for that!  First and second year classes are really easy to get used textbooks for and it saves you a ton of money.  Seriously, I got a used bio text book for $100 and it was in really good condition.  That textbook would have cost me ~$400 if I had bought it new!

14) Returning students–skim over last year’s study notes.  I do this in the last week of August.  Basically, I do this just to refresh my memory, because if you give me four months of summer, I aint going to remember crap from last year.  This is important to do because profs (or at least my chem profs) expect you to remember EVERYTHING you learned.  It sounds like a stupid expectation, but uni is fast-track learning;  those profs aint got time to hold your hand and review last year with you.  This may be different for other disciplines, but all I know is that the entire Chemistry department at my uni expects me to remember everything or at least a good chunk of what I learned last year.  (I can say the ENTIRE Chem department, because my uni is small.  Believe it or not, by the end of my 1st semester in 2nd year I had had every Chem prof, lab prof and lab tech for at least one semester.)

15) Create a “safety net” for your marks.  Basically, what I mean is this: bust your butt off the entire semester (especially near the beginning of the semester, when the stuff you’re learning is relatively easy/basic concepts…they won’t feel easy at the time, BUT THEY ARE.)  This means that when you go into the final you kind of have a “safety net” and you don’t have to knock that final out of the ball park to pass the class.  Life is a lot less stressful at finals if you know that even if you don’t do well, you still have a hope at passing the class.


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