Back to School

You knew it had to happen, right?


 

I don’t want to spoil the last month of anyone’s summer (I’m certainly still enjoying mine) but it’s pretty much that time. The stationary supplies are in all the stores, laptop manufacturers are hawking their wares, and it’s officially time for back to school. It’s time for the extended version anyway – like how Christmas starts in mid-November.

A lot of students head into each new school year hoping for better results. Unfortunately, however, many students pin those hopes only on renewed determination and vague resolutions to “try harder.” While determination and resolve are certainly useful they aren’t enough on their own. If you want a different result you’ve got to change the way you go about doing things. So if you’re serious about improving your grades and performance in school, next year, this is the time to actually sit down and figure out in concrete terms what’s going to be different this time.

I can’t tell you what needs to change in order to sort out your particular problems. It might be your sleep cycle and your social life. It might mean reexamining program choices. Maybe you need to lighten up on the work hours, create a more structured study schedule, or form a study group. Even if you realize you don’t know what to change that can be a good place to start. Book an appointment to visit your academic advising office and they may be able to help. If you can visit campus during the summer that’s a great opportunity to really sit down with sometime. They tend to have more time.

No matter what else you do, if you intend to make a change you need to figure out the steps that are needed to make that change and then follow through with them. Changing your results in school is not different from any other part of your life. Whether it’s exercise or diet or even saving money you can’t get anywhere just because you wish you were better at it. You start with the desire to see some change and then you settle on concrete steps. Write them down if that’s what it takes to keep yourself honest. Treat them like back to school resolutions.

One thing I really like to do before I head back to school is read some material for a class or two on my own schedule and with no rush. Of course that works especially well for English studies but it can work for any subject as long as you’re genuinely interested – and you are interested in what you’re learning, right? You don’t need to make a special effort to start a whole class early or to read what comes first. Just pick anything from your courses and read for the heck of it. If you aren’t sure what you’ll be reading try e-mailing the instructor. Most will have the reading list already sorted.

What I’ve discovered, from doing this, is that I have far better memory and retention for things I read just because I want to. I’m sure we’re all like that. Do you remember your course work from a year ago? I’d bet not. But the novel you read that you really enjoyed? That’s a whole different question. If you can trick yourself into reading course material for fun you get the best of both worlds. And it’s not as hard as you think. Once you remove the deadlines and the pressure, and you read just because it’s the book you happen to have with you, the material is often quite interesting. And you will retain and remember it, I promise. Even if you don’t get to the text for months you’ll know it better than your classmates who sped through it all the night before.

Finally, I really recommend to everyone you try to do at least something near the end of the summer that’s productive and intellectually stimulating. If you’re doing that already that’s fine, but if summer has been just one long vacation or if you’ve got a boring and repetitive summer job you want to break out of that pattern before the first week of September rolls around. Sometimes it takes a couple of weeks to shake the dust off. When you fall behind early you might find you’re playing catch up all year long. Some people are so used to that pattern it feels natural and inevitable. But when you break the cycle and stay ahead of the game everything just feels completely different – and a whole lot less stressful.

It may be a bit sad to contemplate the end of summer but just a little time and thought about the pending school year could make a world of difference. So invest a little now to reap the rewards later. And then get back to enjoying the rest of the season.

Questions are welcome at jeff.rybak@utoronto.ca. Even the ones I don’t post will still receive answers, and where I do use them here I’ll remove identifying information.


 

Back to School

  1. A very good post, along the same lines as one of your previous entries. Is this a refinement or extension of that one, i.e., is the old one worth digging up?

  2. @Michael – You know, I’m not sure. I’ll admit, I’ve been blogging here for a couple of years and of course I have a book full of similar stuff in addition to that. It’s entirely possible that I repeat myself once in a while. Then again, I don’t expect we’ve had the same readership for the past two years, so hopefully there’s no harm in it.

    I do refine my views as I go. I’m sure everyone does. The stuff of more recent vintage might be considered my more refined opinions, but I’ll look back in the archives all the same, and see if there’s something I’ve missed.

  3. this article inspired me to really push myself this coming school year – i had a tough time this past year but worked extremely hard and am planning to strengthen that even more. Awesome tips on how to make sure students make the most of their desire to achieve more. I often find that using to do lists for everything really acts as a stress reliever. This way you can organize every thought and have it infront of you. The feeling of crossing out a “to-do” after its been done is therapeutic :). Take care!

  4. Excellent advice. I’m back in University working towards another undergrad degree and have upgraded my study habits significantly.

    Getting a head start on reading and course work pays off. I’ve been doing this for the most challenging subjects for the past few semesters and my results at the end of the term are well worth it. You are so far ahead of the game when you sacrifice a little time before classes start. Everything becomes easier and far less stressful when exam time rolls around.

    Every professional sports team has an off season training program to prepare their athletes for the upcoming season. The result, those who participate are WAY ahead of the competition when the season starts.

    There’s no reason why students can’t follow their lead. 2 weeks is all it takes to get you into “game” form. If you want superior grades, start early!