How to Start a New Semester (or Quarter) Right

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Winter break is over and most of you are starting a new quarter or semester. Here are some tips to get you off to a strong start.  

1 | Reflection

First, it’s important to do some reflection on last semester. Did things work out for you the way you planned? Were you able to achieve your academic goals? Health and fitness goals? Personal goals? If not, it’s time to sit down and assess what did and did not work for you. Telling yourself that you’ll just try harder will only set you up to fail. Instead, you should work to create a new plan and set of habits to bring you closer to your goals. Reflection doesn’t just mean figuring out what didn’t work. Also look at what things did work for you. Did you try a new study style or flash card system, and do you think it helped improve your grades? If studying right before bed helped your retention rates, keep doing so. If you tried some of my tips on sleeping that increased your productivity, stick with them!  

2 | Resolutions

As it is the new year, I know a lot of you have set up New Year’s Resolutions. Unfortunately, most resolutions are doomed to fail because they are created out of brief moments of inspiration. Making New Year’s resolutions requires almost no action. The simple thought of intending to eat healthier gives us instant gratification, makes us feel good, and we don’t actually go carry out the tasks required. This tendency can be attributed to affective forecasting, where we use the current moment to predict how we will feel in the future. So when we make the New Year’s resolution, we feel good in the moment, and we predict that we are going to feel good about it in the future. But when you actually go work towards it, those actions don’t make you feel as good as expected, so you put it off.   Therefore choosing discipline and habit over choices is what will allow you to actually make the changes you want. If you haven’t already, check out the Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.  One key message is that changing a habit is easiest during large life events. While a new semester or quarter isn’t a significant life event, it’s still a new starting point and a great opportunity to start with a clean slate and redefine your habits. Let’s jump to some concrete examples.  

3 | Steps

A | Scheduling

Preparation is key. Before your first day of class, go through each class and organize details about lecture schedule, assignment due dates, and exams. I used Google Calendar for scheduling and Google Tasks for reminders. On Google Calendar I had one calendar just for classes, and another for exams. This allowed me to set up automatic reminders for my exam calendar about 1 week out, then 2 days, etc.. so every time an exam was approaching I was given a reminder. You can also put office hours on a separate calendar, which may increase the chance of you taking advantage of the opportunity. That being said, I know you guys may have different preferences. Some prefer physical calendars and planners, but I prefer something digital that syncs across all my devices. Leave a comment below on what works for you so that others can learn from your experiences.  

B | Prepare your Materials

Know which textbooks and other materials you need ahead of class. Some “required” textbooks aren’t actually all that necessary, but others are crucial to your success. It’s a tricky balance because you also don’t want to wait too long to get the important books and subsequently fall behind. On a college budget you may opt for ordering books online versus going to the student store to save some cash. In these instances, keep in mind that shipping the book takes a couple days even with Amazon Prime. Ask people who have already taken the class for what is necessary and what you can do without. You can also order ahead of time with Amazon and return the books if you decide against it. Careful though, third party sellers may have more stringent return policies.  

C | Talk to Others in the Class

One of the best ways to know what to expect from a class is to speak to someone who recently took it. As above, ask them what resources were necessary, but also lecture style, podcasting options, exam questions, etc. Also find people you know in your class or make new friends for group studying in the future.  

D | Start Good Study Habits Immediately

I’ve been there and I know how tempting it is to not do any work the first week of a quarter or semester. After all, there’s so much time until midterms, right? Don’t fall into this trap. Start studying on day 1, even if it is for only 30 minutes and there isn’t much to do. This builds good habits and momentum. Use a calendar to plan out study time if you know you’ll keep putting it off each day without a plan. Getting started early translates to more time for fun, more time for exercise, less stress come exam time, and of course better grades.  

E | Start Fitness and Health Habits Immediately

Similarly, start your exercise habits immediately as well. I find that a routine works best for me. If I plan every day before dinner to go to the gym, I’m more likely to stick with it than by going at a different time each day. Its the beginning of the quarter and a new year. There’s a rush of people going to the gym, but in three weeks when midterms roll around most will put off exercise. Setting up a routine will allow you to maintain consistency at the gym. Again, habits and discipline are stronger than your willpower. Even better, going to the gym first thing in the morning leaves you feeling energized, productive, and happy for the rest of the day. Try it out for yourself.
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