“I feel overwhelmed.” I heard this often from my advisees when I was a freshman adviser at Duke. This didn’t surprise me given that they were trying to adjust to a new living environment while also trying to make sense of classes, extracurriculars, a social life and a million other things. The main contributing factor to this feeling, however, was usually academics given the precipitous increase in difficulty and amount. Compared to the relatively calm waters of high school academics, college academics felt like a tsunami. The good news is that this is preventable if you follow these steps.
First, get a planner. This might seem like a no-brainer; but I remember one undergraduate who when I asked him how he kept track of things, said that he just remembered them. My heart skipped a beat when I heard that. Don’t do that. There are a million things to keep track of in college and no matter how elephant-like your memory is, you’re bound to forget things here and there.
Once you get a planner, write down when every test, quiz, assignment, project and paper is due for that term. Assuming that you are taking four to five classes, you will quickly realize that you have a lot due. Then for each thing that is due, put thought into when you want to start working on it and mark it down in your planner. The key is to start as early as possible. Don’t cling to your old high school habits of procrastination. There you could get away with studying for a test or writing a paper at the last minute and still get an A. You’ll be much less successful trying this in college.
Now you may be wondering: How early should I start? There are a few factors you need to consider when determining this:
- Volume – The more material you have to study or the longer the paper has to be, the earlier you should start.
- Difficulty – Not all courses are created equally. For some, five chapters of general chemistry will feel like climbing Mount Everest while for others, it will feel like a walk in the park. For whatever courses you are struggling with, earlier is better.
- Importance – While you want to put 100% effort into every test, quiz, paper, project and assignment, sometimes this isn’t possible even with the best planning. If that’s the case, you need to prioritize the things that count the most for a class. If you have a test that counts 30% for class A and a problem set that counts 5% for class B due the same day and you’re crunched for time, focus on the test!
Once you’ve decided when you’re going to start preparing, you need to carefully plan out day by day exactly what you’re going to do. For instance, let’s say you’ve decided that you’re going to start preparing for your next general chemistry test, which will cover chapters 1 through 5, two weeks in advance. You need to write down when you’re going to study each chapter, do practice problems and review the chapters.
After that, you actually have to study! While everyone has his/her own way of going about this, I offer two pieces of advice based on my observations of undergraduates.
First, I may be asking the impossible but if you’re addicted to your phone (and most of you are), turn it off and shove it into the depths of your bookbag. If you interrupt your studies to check your phone every time it beeps or pings, eighty percent of your study time is going to be spent on your phone and something that should only take an hour to do will take three.
Second, if you’re a social butterfly, avoid study groups. I remember sitting in the library at Duke one afternoon watching a study group. While I saw a lot of talking, laughing and looking at each other’s laptops, I saw very little studying. Understandably, students like studying in groups because it’s more fun. But like with phones, something that should only take an hour to do will end up taking three. Efficient and effective study habits will actually free up more time for you to look at your phone and hang out with your friends later on.
Follow these tips and you’ll be on your way to acing academics your freshman year!