In just under a month, pass or fail, you’ll be done with your semester. Obviously the goal is to pass your classes, but whether you cram or prepare, is up to you.
Yes, most of you will have a pretty good idea by now what your odds of passing your classes are. But successfully finishing a semester isn’t just about getting passing grade, it’s about how you got that grade as well. Did you plan ahead of time, or wait until the last minute? Being able to plan ahead and master those skills while you’re still in college is imperative, since they will help you after you graduate when you need to meet various deadlines throughout your career.
At the beginning of the semester, I was always hyper-organized, a different highlighter with matching-colored notebooks for each class, and a super structured plan for when I would do my homework for each of my classes. As the semester progressed, my homework plan would become more of loose suggestion and my highlighter use would be virtually non-existent – until the end of the semester.
Most classes are bottom-heavy, filled with assignments designed to refresh/test your memory on concepts learned earlier in the semester, along with freshly introduced material that you’ll also need to incorporate into the final exam, presentation, paper(s), etc. Now, during the last month of your semester, is exactly when you need to re-structure.
There are three steps you can take to figure out your plan-of-action:
1. Look At Your Schedule
Time to break out the spreadsheets, planner notebook, or whatever tool you prefer, and map out when your classes are, when you can do homework, when assignments are due, what your work schedule looks like, any extracurriculars, social engagements, etc. Lay it all out. It’s probably going to look pretty overwhelming at first, and that’s okay. Just breathe. This is just to give you a bird’s eye view of your life, and will help you with the next two steps.
Now that you can see all of what you would like to accomplish, it’s time to figure out what you can realistically commit to. While it might be nice to say to your professor, “I’m sorry, but this 10-page paper really doesn’t work with my schedule” that’s just not going to happen. No, this is the step for self-editing other non-coursework areas of your life, and for asking yourself questions like:
- Should I really be hanging out with my friends all weekend, or should I study/start on this assignment? (Answer: you should probably be studying)
- Can I cut back on my work hours? If not, get started on those assignments earlier than you think you should, and let your professor know what you’re schedule is like. Communication can go a long way, and the professor may possibly provide the opportunity for an extension if they know you’ve been working hard and are aware of your other commitments.
- What other non-essentials should I drop? This does include activities relating to extracurriculars like bake sales or other fundraisers for a club your part of, or possibly dropping it altogether. You’re not going to be the only student in this boat, so again, communication is key. Whether it’s run by faculty, staff, or other students, let them know what you’re schedule is like so that they can plan and hopefully work with you so that you don’t have to leave the group entirely.
To help you prioritize work for several projects due on the same day, a general rule of thumb is to leave the most time for group projects and subjects that you struggle with more than others.
In step one, you laid out everything that needs to be done. Did you have enough time to actually do study and work on your final assignments? After this second step, do you still need more time? And yes, you do need to sleep. You may have to go through your schedule and edit it several times. Again, it’s about being realistic and prioritizing.
3. Lay the Groundwork
You’ve laid out your schedule, trimmed the fat, and now it’s time to begin putting it into action. This is when you let your friends know you’re going to be a bit of a hermit for the next several weeks. More importantly, you’ll use this step to schedule appointments with tutors, writing advisers, and your professors.
Yes, you want to make these appointments sooner rather than later because the closer it gets to finals, the busier their schedules will be. With these appointments made ahead of time, you’re also less likely to procrastinate on work because you don’t want to show up empty-handed.
By doing these steps you’re far more likely to successfully finish your semester with planning and control rather than cramming and sheer luck.