August 11, 2014

17 Tips For a Successful School Year

photo credit: clevercupcakes via photopin cc

A couple days ago I wrote a post about going Back to School on a Budget. I also wanted to give out some of the tips I've gathered throughout my education from elementary through college. I had to take a lot of tough courses as an electrical and computer engineering major, and I had to learn how to retain heaps of new information in as little time as possible so I'd have time for a part time job and still be able to keep up with my favorite reality shows (*cough* real housewives *cough*). Here are my tips for optimizing the time you spend studying, paying attention in class, and getting to school ready and  on time. These tips are general and would work for students in most grade levels, but I plan to write some more college-centered posts in the future, such as how to get acquainted with a new place and get over your homesickness and how to get through college without accumulating thousands in debt.

Breeze Through Your Weekday Mornings

Choose an outfit and prepare your breakfast the night before

Two parts of getting read for school in the morning that can really take up a large chunk of time are preparing a healthy breakfast and choosing your outfit. You can definitely choose your outfit the night before and avoid the anxiety of picking out the perfect thing and ending up with half of your closet on the floor of your bedroom. There are also tons of options for fast "on-the-go" breakfasts that you can take straight out of your fridge or pantry, but unfortunately many of the prepackaged options are high on sugar or saturated fats and low on protein and fiber. Making a healthy breakfast at night and sticking it in the refrigerator or freezer is a great way to save time and still be able to leave the house feeling full and healthy. Some of my favorite fast morning breakfast ideas are to (1) stick a bag of sliced fruit in the freezer that you can stick in a blender with some milk for a breakfast smoothie, (2) prepare a bowl of oats (these are really delicious, and here is a link to my favorite brownie batter-flavored oatmeal recipe) and leaving them in the fridge overnight,  or (3) spend a few minutes over the weekend to prepare a bag of breakfast burritos or muffins that you can leave in the freezer and pop in the microwave in the morning.

Pack your backpack, make your lunch, and look over your agenda while you're at it

If you have to make your lunch, pack your backpack, put some finishing touches on your homework assignments, or anything else for the next morning, you'll either have to wake up earlier or speed through the rest of your morning, which will leave you feeling frazzled and stressed out. Check your agenda the night before to make sure you're done with everything that's due the next day and that you know what to expect when you go to class. If you prefer to bring your lunch, pack it the night before. And lastly, make sure your backpack has pencils, pens, headphones, and all the notebooks and folders you'll need for the next day, and make sure your phone and laptop are fully charged if you typically bring those to school.

Set your alarm the right way

I personally never had a problem waking up with my alarm, but I had plenty of friends who consistently missed classes or showed up 15-30 minutes late because they overslept. If you're a snooze button addict, make sure to either set multiple alarms a few minutes apart or keep your alarm clock far enough away to force you to get out of bed when it goes off. That way you don't have to worry about sleeping for "5 more minutes" and waking up 2 hours after your class started.

Stay Focused in Class

Put away your phone and computer

Unless you really prefer taking notes on your laptop and can do it without getting distracted by the other things on there, it's better to use a notebook if you're really trying to focus on the lecture. And you probably know that phones are very distracting when it comes to being in class, and most teachers and professors are very against students having their phones out in class. Put it on silent (not vibrate, because you'll hear it and start to wonder who's trying to get a hold of you and why) and stick it in your backpack so you're not tempted to text or browse the web.

Take good notes

If you make an effort to take thorough, well-organized notes, it will be a lot easier for you to focus on the lecture, and will give you some good material to use when you're preparing for exams and working on homework assignments.

Before class, review your notes from the last session

I've always found that when I don't know anything about what the lecturer is talking about or how to relate it to other information, I have trouble paying attention because I just get lost. Reviewing notes from the previous lecture will help you understand what you're professor is building off (so you're not already lost right at the start of the lecture) of and will also help you retain the notes better when you start studying for your exams.

Sit at the front

Maybe not the very front if that makes you uncomfortable, but near the front. Sitting in the professor's range of sight is a good way to make sure you don't start dosing off or daydreaming. There's a good chance your professor will call on people during lecture, and if you're at the front you have a good chance of being picked on, so you definitely want to be paying attention. You'll also give the professor a better chance of remembering you if they see your face at the front of the room everyday, and that can really help when you're straddling the line between a letter grade at the end of the semester.

Participate (but don't be "that" guy/girl)

You'll almost always have people in your classes that try to answer all the questions, constantly ask things that don't even seem relevant, pestering the professor about homework and exams, and just being overall annoying to everyone else in the room. You don't want that to be you, but you do want to speak up enough so that the professor knows you're paying attention to lecture and keeping up with the readings. Answer questions every once in a while and reserve your own questions for when professors allot time for it (or else just try to ask the professor or a TA after class or go to office hours so as not to distract from the rest of the lecture). 

Get a good night sleep and have a healthy snack beforehand

While all of those mental preparation tips can really affect your ability to pay attention, you'll still struggle a lot if you're stomach is making whale calls or you're running off a mere two hours of sleep after a long night of video games and talking on the phone. Make sure you get as much sleep as you need (aim for 6-8 hours a night) and have a healthy meal or snack before you head to class to make sure you're physically prepared as well as mentally.

Study Tips

Do your reading before you sleep

Studies have shown that we retain information better if we review it before we go to bed. It has something to do with the way your brain stores information, and you'll store it better if you learn it before you sleep.

Space out your study sessions

Don't cram. Try to space out the time you study so that you aren't trying to learn a ton of information at once. You'll be overwhelmed and have trouble concentrating on such a large amount of material, so break it up into sections and look over them for a few minutes every couple of hours.

Teach someone else

Another way to retain information longer is to teach it to someone else. You'll find out whether you really know the information or not when you have to know it without reference material, and you might get asked something that challenges your knowledge of the topic and gets you to learn even more about it. Putting things into your own words and teaching them to someone who doesn't understand the concept gives you a feel for how well you understand it and will also strengthen your knowledge of it.

Write it down and write it again

One study method that I practiced frequently in both high school and college was rewriting my notes. This one can be pretty time consuming, but I found that it was an easy way to remember things and I was able to focus on studying longer as opposed to if I was just reading my notes or a book.

Read it aloud

If you prefer reading to note-taking, try reading your notes or your book out loud. Don't do this in the middle of the library or during another lecture, obviously, but if you have a room to yourself or are in a loud study area, reading out loud is a good way to slow down and really focus on what the text says to make sure you don't skip over anything.

Switch up your topics

If you have multiple classes you need study for, try to switch between subjects so you don't get overwhelmed by a ton of math or a ton of literature at once. You'll also get less bored with a particular subject, and if there's one that you particularly enjoy you'll have something to look forward to while you're studying the others.

Take breaks

I know you guys have definitely heard this tip, but it really is important to take study breaks. You'll give your mind a chance to recover and absorb the information you're trying to cram in, and you'll be able to study for a longer time without getting distracted if you allow yourself a few minutes of fun. I try to take a 10-15 minute break every hour, but you may need more or less than that. Try to get up and walk around a bit, or do some quick exercises to get the blood flowing. It'll help keep you from getting tired and lethargic and you'll feel like you just had a cup of coffee (but you won't have to use the restroom every 20 minutes).

Create a comfortable study area

I try to keep the desk in my room relatively clean and keep all of the supplies I need within arm's reach. Giving yourself a clean, distraction-free study area can make a world of a difference in your ability to focus. While studying on your bed or a big chair can be tempting, you can't really take notes and focus unless you're at a clean desk or table, in my opinion. Make a designated study area at home so you can study whenever you have time, and you won't have to trek all the way to the library to do your homework every night.

I hope this article gave you some ideas, and let me know if you have any tips that have helped you succeed in school! Keep an eye out for more school-related posts in the future. Education is very important to me and I love sharing my tips with you all.