Tips for Starting a New Semester

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It’s that time of the year again. The beginning of a new semester. This article will provide tips you can do before, during, and after class to help you become a successful student this semester.

Before Classes Start

Color Code Your Classes (and use it for your notes). When using colors for color-coding, I suggest staying away from the color yellow. Especially if you plan to take notes and use the corresponding colors you assigned to that class. The most number of classes I took during a semester were six (18 credit hours, my god) and I usually used these colors: red, orange, green, blue, purple, and pink.

If you want to know the specifics of which colors I used for some of my own classes:

  • Red – English.
  • Orange – History.
  • Green – Math.
  • Blue – Biology.
  • Purple – Spanish.
  • Pink – Speech.

Before you argue biology is green because of leaves or whatever your reasoning is, just remember you’re not obligated to follow what I have here and can choose whichever colors you see fit for your classes.

Put your assignments and due dates in a calendar and planner. Adding on to my previous tip, if you color-code your classes, using these will be much easier. For example, if you use red for English, and you write down in your planner “Essay due” in red, on March 5th , you’re going to know that you have an essay due for your English 101 class on March 5th. I suggest using both a physical and digital planner. Doing the extra work to make sure both are up to date will definitely help you to remember that you have a multitude of things to do and prepare for.

Resources I used:

  • Chipper (app only)
  • MyStudyLife (app and website, ideal if you have a laptop)
  • A physical planner

Other resources you can use:

  • Google Calendar
  • GoodNotes 5 – This costs money on the app store, but extremely helpful if you have an iPad. Many people have made digital planners on the app that you can search for. This is also a great app if you want to go paperless for note-taking.

Make sure you remember important dates. It’s important to know when the holidays are, any other off days, when midterms start, and when finals start (and what the finals week schedule will look like). Having a planner will help you keep track of these as well as your assignments and you’ll be able to lessen the stress of school.

For the beginning of the semester, you should know when the dates for withdrawals are acceptable. Let’s say, farther into the semester, you may be failing a class and don’t want to have that D or F on your transcript. You can withdraw from that class and instead of getting a D or F on your transcript, there will be a W. Some might argue having a W is better than having a D or F. However, there is a date you have up until to withdraw from that class.

Try to wake up at the same time every day. Building a routine can help you manage your time. I suggest waking up at least an hour or two before your class starts if it’s in the morning. That way you’ll have enough time to eat breakfast, get dressed, and whatever else you need to do to be prepared for class.

Keep your class material organized and use folders. As most classes are virtual, it is safe to assume you receive your files and papers digitally. Even if you may print out your papers, it’s still important to keep everything you get and put them into folders. You could separate them by each week, by the topic, chapter, etc. Whatever works for you. Keeping your items organized makes it much easier for when you have to go back and review things for a quiz or exam. You’ll be thanking yourself when it’s the end of the semester, and saving yourself the extra stress that doesn’t need to be added on to the already nerve wracking time that is finals week.

Use Rate My Professor. Rate my professor is a godsend. It has been the deciding factor for how I chose a class. I even changed up my schedule from its original state because I read reviews on how a class might’ve gone for me. This website will help you prepare for how your class may be due to the professor. If your school is on there, there may be students who left reviews on the professor for the future students of the class. You can find out whether you’ll have a lot of homework, essays, tests, and how hard or easy the class may be. It also warns you of the professors you might want to avoid.

Read the damn syllabus. Professors might tell you a time where a student asks them a question and they won’t answer it, they’ll just direct them to the class syllabus. That’s because the syllabus literally tells you everything you need to know about a class. That’s why most of the time, the first time you attend class, the professor might go over the syllabus so you have an understanding of how the course is going to be. (And because they know students don’t read it.)

The syllabus should include information such as: the professor’s contact information (email and phone number), their office hours, the course overview, objectives, due dates, dates of quizzes or exams, the materials needed for class, how they calculate grades, etc.

There may be a section that shows how much certain assignments are worth a percentage of your grade. This is important when it reaches towards the end of the semester and you may not be as motivated to complete assignments and you can prioritize which assignments to do first. This also will tell you how hard you’ll need to study to pass a test.

During Class

Take notes during class. This will help you pay attention in class. Sometimes if I know a class might be boring because I’m not that interested in the subject, I’m more inclined to take notes so that I definitely pay attention. Also, you never know if the professor will go over that topic again or share the PowerPoint.

There are usually two types of students who take notes: the one who writes neatly and uses a bunch of nice pens and highlighters, and the other, the one who scribbles down notes with just one pen.

Well, I was the student who was the middle ground between those two. And it is perfectly fine if you are one or the other, or even both like I was. Whatever works for you. The way I took notes was with three colors: the color I choose for the class, black, and a secondary color, usually blue. If the color for the class was blue, then I used purple as a secondary color.

Here’s an example of how my notes would look:


Header for subject

Text for notes

If you already are color coding your classes, taking notes will help everything be cohesive and easier for you.

Get out of your bed and get dressed as if you were actually going to class in public because you still are. Your bed is for sleeping. If you stay on your bed for class, you’re going to end up getting comfortable and rest your head on your pillows. Next thing you know, you wake up and you’re the only one left on the Zoom meeting.

Use your desk, if you have one. If you don’t have a desk, try to invest in getting something that can act as a desk and sit up on your bed as you use it. Sit as far away from your pillows as you can. Sit up against the wall. Anything that will prevent you from laying down and falling asleep during class. Another option is going to a different area of the house, if you can.

Additionally, it would be wise to change out of your pajamas. Your brain associates them with sleeping, so change into something you’d wear if you were actually going out the house for class. If you decide to wear pants or not, that is completely up to you. Just make sure your camera is off or covered if you decide to get up, double and triple check! Please…just wear pants. Still check if your camera and your mic is off just because.

Clean your desk. Clean space = clean mind. You’ll be able to focus better. Set up your desk as you would if you were at school physically. Keep the essential items close like your textbook, spare writing utensils, and your notebook.

Keep water and snacks nearby. Depending on how long your class is and if you managed to eat something beforehand, it may be a good idea to keep something small you can snack on. You’ll be able to focus and prevent your stomach from growling loudly.

Don’t get on your phone during class. If you’re not going to pay attention, you might as well leave the Zoom meeting. Please have self control and wait after class. Turn it off, put it on Do Not Disturb, whatever helps you not get distracted.

Turn on your camera. Unless you’re having a bad hair day or you can’t because of some external reasons, show your face. Chances are, your professor may be a little older and can’t go outside as much as they did. No matter the age, it’s nice to see faces even if it’s through a screen. Instead of seeing a black screen, your professor can see your face and that might keep them sane for a little longer.

After Class

Study! Please study ahead of time and not 5 minutes before an exam. That way if you come across something and you don’t understand the concept, you can try to search for information online.

If that doesn’t work, email your professor or ask a question during the next class period. You never know if someone else in your class might’ve had that same question. They could have been too afraid to ask and by you speaking out, you and that classmate understand the concept better.

If you can, try to have a study group. I don’t recommend doing this with your friends (you’re probably going to get off topic with them). Instead, do it with other classmates you aren’t acquainted with, as this can help you to build new relationships.

If you’re the type of student that “doesn’t need” to study, do it anyways. It’s good to go over information again for even more clarity. If you can, in your study group, try to teach the material to your classmates. Teaching is a great way to learn because you have to make sure you understand the material enough to explain it to someone else.

Resources I suggest for studying online:

  • YouTube
  • CrashCourse on YouTube (they have a lot of videos on history and science)
  • Khan Academy
  • Quizlet (for making your own flashcards)

Try to stay ahead of your assignments and do them as soon as you get them. Not only will you have more understanding over the material during class, but in case something happens further along the semester, you’ll be able to miss an assignment or two if you have to.

During my last semester, when the pandemic had just started, I had spanish class. Towards the end of the semester, I wasn’t feeling my best and it was hard to continue doing assignments. I couldn’t give my 100% because I could only do 60% some days. Prior to that, I was doing every assignment and getting high grades. I even skipped out on doing my oral exam because I was so nervous about it. Despite all that, I still managed to get an A in the class because I started out strong.

So please do your assignments when you can because you never know when you can’t, physically or mentally, or due to other circumstances. Life happens.

Create a study environment if you can’t go to your usual spot like the library or the study center. Figure out what gets you in the zone. Personally, I like to listen to lofi hip hop on YouTube or Spotify because the songs usually don’t have words and are less likely to get me distracted.

Go outside for a walk and get fresh air. You’ve been staring at screens all day, you need it. Even if it might be cold outside, just go out for a few minutes.

Give yourself a mental health day, at least one day every week or every other week. It’s alright if you choose to do nothing that day. We get so busy that we forget to just exist every once in a while. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for just existing. Treat yourself to something nice, like some of your favorite food or buy that game you might want to get, anything that makes you feel happy. You deserve it.

Overall, I hope these tips can prove to be beneficial to whoever’s reading this. If you deem them useful, share it with your friends who may need it. Don’t forget to be kind to yourself and know when you need to take a break. I hope you have a great semester and good luck!

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