Five ways to improve on a bumpy fall semester

by Jenna Ratzlaff – Horizon Features Editor

Brinkli Jones gets ahead of her homework. Photo by Sarah Booth.

At week three, students are trying to get back into the swing of studying, creating better study habits than we had in the fall. For my roommate, Brinkli Jones, that means finding that perfect balance between softball and school work. With classes all day and softball practice in the evening, Brinkli has trouble finding motivation to complete her homework. She would much rather take a nap than start an assignment for a class.

But this semester she has a few new strategies.

“I use the time in between classes to get as much of my homework done as possible,” she said. “Most of the girls on the softball team are in the nursing program with me, so we are able to ask each other for help and hold one another accountable for getting our homework done.”

I can relate to Brinkli’s struggle. A quote I saw on Twitter sums it up: “If I studied the way I do during finals week all year long, I would be a genius.”

During the first month of school, I vowed to study twice as hard as I did in high school. I did a great job of holding myself to that, until my roommates, April, Brinkli, and I got into a the series, “Jane The Virgin” on Netflix. We all then  got into this routine of trying to squeeze in all our homework in the couple of hours we had left between classes and dinner. We wanted to make sure we left enough time for a whole evening of Netflix binging. Thus, some of our schoolwork and test grades showed how we lacked in studying. After winter break, we all vowed to work harder at setting the Netflix binges aside and create better study habits.

That is easier said than done, as Deb Roth, Dean of Student Success knows from working with countless other students who have tried to do it.

It’s all about replacing old habits with better ones.

Those good habits can begin here. Roth offers these five tips for getting back on track:

  1. Blow the dust off of that planner! Remember that free one from the bookstore (even if you didn’t use it much last semester)?   This is a life skill that needs to be developed during college years; why not 2017? Many students I know are making good use of the calendar on their phones for appointments and work schedules. I have also started encouraging students to also use an old-fashioned monthly calendar to hang in their room to write dates of games, exams, breaks, field trips, and other events that would be helpful to see in a month-at-a-glance format. (Free ones are available in my office or at Hesston Pharmacy. Baseball team is selling these for a fundraiser as well!)
  2. Explore each MOODLE page for your new courses and determine how each instructor uses their particular MOODLE resources. (Will there be things to print and bring to class? Does it appear that assignments will be turned in on MOODLE or hard copy? Is the MOODLE page organized by week, unit, or resource?) Don’t be “that student” who says “I don’t like MOODLE;” get to know it and use it to your best advantage. Use MOODLE to fill in your planner with due dates for the entire week every weekend. Planning your week in this way will help you plan for days when there is more than one exam or paper due the same day.
  3. Utilize the free daytime hours in your weekly schedule. Are there ways to use times between classes to open up some of your evening hours for intramurals, going to the wellness center or time with friends? Even 30 minutes after lunch before your 1:00 class can be used for looking back over the notes from the previous class or looking ahead to the chapter for the day.If between class napping is a temptation, go to the library during these between class times. (See #4)
  4. Sleep for college students is NOT overrated! Power naps of an hour or less are fine, but try very hard to avoid the “sleep all day and up past midnight” cycle. Our bodies are designed to do their best work when the sun is up. Daytime also offers important resources like the library, ACCESS, Writing Fellows, and instructor office hours. If you are having trouble falling asleep at a reasonable hour, try this: do not use your computer, TV or phone for the last hour of your night. Those blue rays stimulate the brain like caffeine and make it difficult to relax. Instead, read a chapter from a textbook, listen to music, or read your Bible.
  5. Be ready for the 3 week “reality check.” Things seem to be going smoothly and then week 3 hits everyone with first exams and papers. Just be aware that it is coming and plan for it, rather than over-reacting by emailing your advisor about withdrawing from a class! Things will calm back down again and you’ll be fine.

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