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9 Tips and Tricks to Ace Your Classes

School is back in session, meaning it is officially our favorite season of the year! Friends are all around, warm sweaters are now seasonally acceptable, and plenty of new adventures are waiting to be had. But with these perks comes the inevitable mounds of homework with a heaping side of stress. Whether this term is your first or your last, it is never too late to learn how to overcome a workload of any size and earn the grades you are aiming towards.

1. Invest in a planner.

Planners are the ultimate tool to organize all of your assignments and important dates.  They come in an endless variety of colors and sizes, so finding one that matches your personal style is a piece of cake. The beautiful thing about using a planner is that they help to reduce stress levels and improve time management. The simple organization of projects and assignments allows you to better prioritize what needs to be accomplished. Overall, planners are a wonderful way to make your life easier.

2. Utilize the syllabus.

The syllabus is too often forgotten as an agent of success. The first week of classes, dubbed ‘syllabus week’, is often taken as a joke and nothing more than time to enjoy a few more days of nice weather. However, this is one of the most crucial periods of the term. Syllabus week gives students a chance to get a feel for the class and the professor’s lecture style.  But, more importantly, you actually have time to look through the syllabus. Although every instructor creates their own syllabus, each serves the same purpose: to break down the components that make up the class. Everything you need to know about how to succeed in the course will be laid out in this handy document. Always remember that the syllabus is all-knowing.

3. Take thorough notes.

Note taking is the best way to record information during a lecture, but this simple task can also create a big problem. Many a student has found his or herself reviewing their notes after class only to realize that what they have written down no longer makes any sense. It is important to find an organized note-taking style that works for you. The most predominantly used style is outlining. Outlining is the process of taking notes in bullet point format. Similar to outlining an essay, outlined notes create a structured, well flowing page of information that can be easily reviewed later in the term. When in doubt, add it in a bullet point.

4. Highlight.

One of the most effective (and fun) ways to study is highlighting. The only required device is a yellow highlighter. However, it is best to have a few different colored highlighters on hand so that you can find different types of information more easily. Not only does this brighten your notes and make them more enjoyable to read, but a color coordination system within your notes will also create maximum organization. There is also a secret benefit that comes with highlighting; you will be studying as you go through and highlight your notes simultaneously, making both your grade and your notes brighter than ever before.

5. Set a schedule with incentive.

Planning specific study times daily and weekly will help to prioritize projects and assignments. It is important to stick with your study schedule, but everyone struggles now and again with sticking to a long-term plan. To create an incentive for yourself, think about something that you would rather be doing as opposed to studying. For example: playing a videogame, going for a walk, or reading the latest fashion magazine. Turn this into a reward as you complete each item on your to-do list, whether it be reading a chapter in your textbook or finishing the next step of a big project. Rewarding yourself in small ways will boost your mental state and positively encourage you to keep studying.

6. Join or create a study group.

A great way to get extra help outside of class is through study groups. Chances are that any group you are involved in (i.e., social circles, extracurricular clubs, Greek houses) have a preexisting study group or would be willing to establish one. If you can’t find a study group to join, start your own. Talk to your professor about sending an email to the class roster to get the word out to your peers. Although study groups can be intimidating, especially when all of the members are strangers, the benefits are worth joining. Through the observation of other people’s points of view and study techniques, study groups will teach you about more than just the topic at hand.  

7. Attend office hours.

Large lectures can make one feel as if they don’t exist and make it difficult to speak up about anything confusing. Most professors offer open office hours to assist students. It is the perfect time to get individual help and express concerns. Office hours are terribly underutilized but have proven to be extremely helpful for both students and instructors. On one hand, you get one-on-one time with your professor to clarify any concepts that you have not yet fully grasped. On the other, your professor gets one-on-one time with a student who is having difficulties in their course. This is a perfect opportunity for your professor to examine what could be changed in the lectures to make this concept clearer, because chances are you are not the only student having difficulties. Speaking up is the only way to ensure improvement.

8. Fuel your brain.

A typical college student chooses the path of least-resistance: renting textbooks, wearing sweatpants and leggings, and starting class at noon. One important area where you shouldn’t take the easy way out is your nutrition. Sure, it may save you a few minutes to make that Cup of Noodle in the microwave rather than going to the cafeteria to get some chicken and vegetables, but are there any other benefits? The body needs a balanced diet to function properly. And while those microwavable meals may be convenient and a bit cheaper, they lack nutritional value and ultimately bring down the functionality of your body – your brain included. By eating more nutritious meals and consuming salt and sugars in moderation, your brain will feel and work better. Be sure to stock up on healthy snacks at home such as fresh fruits and veggies, and talk to the dining hall workers on campus to discover the best ways to balance out your meals on campus. The adage holds true: you are what you eat.

And finally… Go to class.

One of the top reasons professors give as to why students do poorly in a class or don’t receive their desired grade is that they do not attend. Some professors may tell you that you don’t receive a grade for attendance or that lecture is optional. Though this may be true, going to class will help you score better on a test or an in-class assignment. Some professors may administer weekly quizzes or activities. Though one quiz or assignment may not seem like much, the points will add up over time. In addition, you miss out on the notes accompanied by the lecture. Even if the class notes are online, the lecture is usually not and self-teaching is quite the feat. You are paying to attend the university and to be taught by professionals, and you should value your opportunity to pursue a degree.

Stress can be tricky to overcome, but staying organized and focused on the end goal will push you through and help you to achieve success!

Riley is a Junior majoring in Merchandising Management at Oregon State University. She is a Disney fanatic, works on-campus between classes, and is the current Vice President of a local sorority; Chi Theta Phi. Outside of involvements at school, you can find her crafting, exploring new music and DJs, or making chocolate chip banana bread.
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