Ready or not, college is on! The summer seems to have whizzed by, and whether you are a new first year or an upper classman, getting back into the new school year can be bumpy. It always takes a few weeks for things to settle down, but if students use the first two or three weeks of each new semester thoughtfully, the semester can proceed relatively smoothly with few surprises and some less stress.
Making the semester run well is all about planning and time management.
The first few days of school, students head to their first classes, which are somewhat light (reviewing the syllabus, etc.). Because of the lighter workload, students spend their free time hanging out with friends, napping, partying, etc.
While I am not here to be a buzz kill, there is something students should be doing during the first week (and weekend) of school instead: making their semester calendar.
I wrote about the semester calendar in my Get On Track III post, but it bears some repeating here.
The semester calendar is the #1 best tool you will have to keep your organized and reduce stress.
Q: Why do I need a calendar when you have individual syllabi for each of my four, five or six classes?
A: You have work to keep track of everything dues for four, five, and six classes…plus a life that involves going here, there, and everywhere. Your brain can only contain so much information, and you are liable to forget something along the way. Forgetting a test, paper, or other assignment can result in zeroes and F’s, and general unhappiness. Having one place to look at deadlines for 4-6 classes is much easier than having to look up dates every day.
Q: I have a calendar on my phone. Why can’t I just use that?
A: The calendar on your phone is not going to help you too much when it comes to illustrating what your semester deadlines look like. The phone calendar is too small, and the reminders don’t always go off (because sometimes we forget to set them!).
Q: What is the purpose of this calendar?
A: This semester calendar is to help you plan your semester work-wise, to illustrate when you will heavy periods of work vs. normal workloads, and to literally “see what’s coming” next so that you are not surprised by the 10- or 20-page research paper that is due one the same day you have a math quiz and a psych exam.
Q: Where can I get this calendar?
A: You can use a generic calendar you get at a store, a semester calendar you may be able to grab from an advising office at your school, or one you make yourself (in something like Publisher, etc.). The Dollar Store has cheap calendars that you can you use for this purpose. Rip off each month and tape them in a row on your wall so you can see the entire semester in one look. A large, dry erase calendar is great too. Check out this one on Amazon.com.
Q: How many calendars do I need?
A: Ideally, you will have two (2). Yes, two. One wall calendar for tests, papers, big assignments, and personal appointments and a second day planner that you’ll use to keep track of daily homework assignments and break downs of the work needed for the big projects listed on your wall calendar.
Q: What do I need to make a semester calendar?
A: You will need:
- A calendar
- X number of different colored pens (x = the number of classes and labs you have)
- Y number of colored pens for extracurricular activities (y = the number of clubs, sports teams, etc. to which you belong and that have events that meet throughout the semester)
Step 1: list relevant school-related information
This calendar will the following information:
- School holidays (days on which have no class) and breaks (i.e., spring break, fall break, etc.),
- Special changes to the schedule (for example, a Tuesday that runs on a Monday schedule),
- Reading days,
- Finals period,
- The last day of class and the last day of finals, and
- Dates when mid-term and final grades are due.
You can find these dates by looking up your school’s academic calendar online.
Step #2: list your big assignments on the day they are due
- Separate your syllabi and select one color pen for each class or lab you are taking.
- Go through each syllabus and list the big assignments on the calendar on the date on which they are due. List only tests, quizzes, exams, essays, days off (if your instructor is absent), conference days, presentations, etc.–anything that is not a normal, daily homework or reading assignment.
Step #3: list any non-academic events you expect to attend during the semester
- Select one color per club, sports team, etc. Write down each game time, each meeting, and each special event you have for that particular group.
- Sometimes you might not know when things are happening, but at least give yourself an idea of when something might You can always modify the calendar as you go.
Step #4: look at the calendar
When you have finished listing everything you have due and every event you will attend, put down the pens, and take a good, long, hard look at the calendar. Answer the following questions:
- When do you have clusters of assignments dues?
- When do you have more than one assignment/test on the same day?
- When do you have a day off from class (i.e., a long weekend, or a school holiday)?
- When are your extracurricular events? Do you have to travel for these events? Do these overlap with some assignment clusters?
- When are your exams?
- When do you have heavier weeks? When do you have lighter weeks?
If you know you have time management or procrastination issues, you will have to be very vigilant about staying on your study schedule to get things done on time (and done well).
Step #5: plan ahead
In addition to noting when assignments are due, you will also want to note when you should start these assignments so you can get a jump on planning. Here is a schema I like to follow for studying and planning assignments:
- For tests, you will want to start studying at least 7 days ahead of time. You will need a day or two for putting study materials together, 2 days to test your self, and at least 3 days over which you will strategically review materials. (How to strategically study will be the subject of another post.)
- For reflection/general essay-type papers, take the number of pages you are to write then add 2. If your paper is 4 pages long, you will want to begin 4+2 days ahead of time (i.e., 6 days).
- For 10 pages research papers (ones in which you are required to find new sources), you will want to begin at least 21 days (or 3 weeks) ahead of time: 7 days to research, 10 days to write, 4 days to edit and polish.
- Count back from the due date of a specific assignment, and write START _______ on that date (and in the same color as the other assignments for that class). **If you have extracurricular events in that time span, you might want to add an extra day or two to give yourself extra time in case you can’t study or write on a day.**
Feel free to change the number of days you take to study or do a project, these are not carved in stone. If you feel like you need to start studying for tests 10 days ahead instead of 7, use that time frame.
The purpose of planning ahead is to prevent overloaded days and all-nighters (which don’t work FYI), and to reduce your general stress level over all. Doing this type of planning up front allows you to save time later on. You won’t have to think “When is that test/paper? When should I start it? Oh no! It’s due in two days and I haven’t done anything!!”
Step #6: post the calendar at your work space or other central location in your room
You want to make sure the calendar is in the place you do your work, so that you can consult it when necessary. Don’t put the calendar on your fridge or something like that since you need to look at it when you are in work mode. The calendar will be easy to avoid or forget about if it is somewhere other than the place you work.
And that’s it!
You’ve just created your academic assignment calendar.The trick to making this calendar work for you is active engagement. Read the calendar, start study plans on the days you say you will, and don’t miss any assignments!