Starting a new academic term is exciting — new classes, new books, new opportunities. But, it can also be challenging to come back after the December break. Whether you want a different experience this term or are excited to build on your previous successes, consider taking some practical and proactive steps toward change.
Reflect on the fall term.
Take some time to reflect on what worked in the previous term and what didn't. Maybe you took on too many work hours or extracurricular activities? Left studying until the last minute? Or, worked really hard but didn't see the academic results you wanted? While it’s tempting to focus exclusively on the negatives, remember to recognize the positives, as well. You can build on your strengths as you start addressing the challenges you encountered. As you reflect on your experiences, ask yourself:
- What do I want to stop doing?
- What do I want to keep doing?
- What do I want to start doing?
Set specific goals.
Based on your reflections, develop goals to help implement the change you want. To avoid becoming overwhelmed, start small and set targeted or ‘SMART’ goals — that is, goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.
For example, if you wanted to make better use of your lecture notes, you could commit to reviewing your notes within 24 hours of each class. Adding to this, you could also incorporate any information you remember and identify questions to look up. This is a terrific way to make the most of lectures (which, in turn, starts your exam preparations from day one)! When broken down, the identified goal looks like this:
- Specific: “I will add any information I remember and identify questions I need to look up.
- Measurable: “At the end of each day, I will know whether I have reviewed my notes.”
- Achievable: “Reviewing notes within 24 hours is new for me but, when I have reviewed 4 pages of notes, it’s done.”
- Realistic: “I have all the resources I need for note review.”
- And, timely: “As a daily task, note review will take less and less time as I practice it more, as well as keeping me track from the start of term.”
Take time to plan.
Creating weekly and monthly schedules — and planning now for your most demanding days and weeks — will pay off as the the term progresses (read more about useful academic schedules here). Also, ensure your goals are built into your plan: if you want to review class notes within 24 hours, schedule time to review notes within 24 hours of each class. Note review may take 10-30 minutes, depending on the course, but planning and prioritizing an activity, such as this, will help you accomplish your goal.
Put your plans into action.
Test out your new plans in the first two weeks of term, and then assess: what worked and what didn't? Small slips are not a big deal, but going days without consulting your new schedule is a red flag. Be realistic and honest with yourself, and adjust your plans as needed.
Access resources and advice.
If you are struggling with any of these steps, or are questioning why your plans aren't working, get some help. Meet with a learning strategist, visit a counsellor, or speak with your instructors. Accessing the resources available to you on campus is strategic in helping you achieve your academic goals and reducing your stress.
Remember that any change seems unusual at first but, with time, becomes a habit. Stick it out, and focus on the positive outcomes you’ll experience from small and focused changes.