It’s time to get back into classes! This year is a weird one for me, this is the first September I won’t be heading back to classes in 4 years. While I’m super stoked to be working on Redefining Health with FUM I’m also honestly missing being in class as well.
Looking back I thought it might be helpful to others to share a few things that helped me maximize my learning in college and I learned through my time as an academic coach. While these are specifically directed towards students, you could apply them to many areas of life. Don't underestimate the small and simple things in every day life; they will add up over weeks, months and years into monumental differences. :)
1.Know Why You Are There.
How people can dedicate months, or even years of their lives to post secondary education and then make it their full time hobby to complain about how ‘school sucks’ never fails to baffle me. Quit with your first world student martyr syndrome! You are studying at a university or college, Do you know how many people in the world would love to be in your situation and have the opportunity to study as their primary occupation? It is your job to learn and make yourself into a better person, but you’re whining about how hard it is. If it is so hard, you should quit. Save your money, save your time, save everyone from your drivel.
If you're not going to quit, here is the alternative; get curious, have a mission, know why you are there. If you’re there because of cultural/family expectations, a desire for money, or just something to do, you’re going to struggle.It is hard to work hard for something that you don't own for yourself. If you’re there because you have a vision of how you want to improve the world or see education as a stepping stone towards doing something you enjoy, you are setting yourself up for success. I honestly believe this is the most common root problem with under-performing students. If you lack motivation and mission, you’re going to struggle to learn and grow.
A practical application of this is to examine your specific classes and identify why the class you are about to take is valuable to you. Notice I didn’t say, ‘whether the class is valuable’. Important things can be learned anywhere, and often doing something hard or outside of your typical domain heightens your potential learning. The goal of asking this is to weave the class into how it fits with your larger mission. It may not be obvious how "Statistics 201" is going to help others through counseling, this is where you might have to be creative. Not creative as in making up a type of fiction, but creative in seeing the bigger picture in unique ways. Statistics 201 is a stepping stone towards your degree, and you need your degree in order to move towards your goal of helping others through counseling. Being knowledgeable in statistics is helpful for interpreting research, which then gives insights into human behavior and can improve lives. You need to know that what you are doing is important. If it is unclear for you, you need to search out what makes the things you are learning important, or else you are starting yourself on a torturous path.
2.Plan Your Assignments/Readings
This may seem pretty basic, but it’s surprising how many students don’t do this. At the beginning of each semester take an hour and look ahead to the journey. Typically what I do is I sit down with all of my syllabi at the beginning of a semester and put all of the major assignments into my google calendar. For large assignments sometimes I will add sub-goals.For example, setting a self-made deadline for a first draft one week before the assignment due-date. I also typically print off the assigned reading lists and put them on a pin board that is easily seen in order to stay on top of readings.
3.Push Your Brain, Don’t Just Wait for the Test.
Learning takes effort, there aren’t any shortcuts, so just embrace the fact that it is going to take some work and spread the work out. There are ways that you can make this work easier. Spread the energy necessary for learning over the semester, don’t just wait for the test. When tests aren’t looming, internalizing information is not urgent, but it is important. As you come closer to a test or big assignment it becomes both urgent and important. The ability to focus and accomplish things that are important but not urgent separates high performers from the crowd, and is a skill that will set you on the path to excellence regardless of the field you are in. Learning how to do this will help you improve your sanity, keep a more consistent schedule, and excel in your classes.
4. Daily Review
A very practical way of helping internalize what you are learning is a daily review. When I was in college, I created a habit of setting aside 10 minutes before I went to sleep to sit at my desk and review my day. I would try to recall a few of the main topics of the lectures I had attended, think about what was good about the day, what was bad, what I could do better at, and look towards tomorrow briefly. The returns on investment for this 10 minutes is significant. It's amazing how much thinking you can do in 10 minutes. My reasons for doing this come from a few sources; in general it has been found that the more times you recall a memory the more solidified the memory becomes, and this has been found to be specifically helpful in retention when the memory is recalled within 24 hours of the initial experience. I think developing the skill of intentional thinking is something valuable.
5. Weekly Plan
I have also found it useful to make weekly goals. For me I would take a half an hour every Sunday, sit down and put down what was most important for the upcoming week. This is pretty straight forward if you already completed a plan for your semester, it's pretty much taking what is on your calendar and reading lists, and revisiting them in a concise list, together with any week specific items. Personally my weekly plan would consist of a half sheet of paper with the headings of “Readings”, “Assignments” and “Personal”. Readings would be drawn from the reading schedules provided by profs, assignments would be drawn from my personal calendar, and personal would include regular life tasks that were important for the upcoming week. This piece of paper would then sit at my personal desk in my dorm throughout the week and I would cross off things as they were completed. Using this type of strategy creates clarity in your priorities and tasks. You can quickly know what your week will look like, and easily know throughout the week what you should be working on next. Your workload for a week may seem overwhelming, but if it is segmented and prioritized, the tidal wave becomes several smaller waves that are able to be conquered.
Being awake for more hours does not mean that you are more productive. The dream is not a 24 hour work day. Crazy right? I’m pretty sure I’ve heard the phrase “Imagine how much you could get done in a day if you didn’t have to sleep!” Not quite sure why we hate on sleep so much, personally I love it, as does everyone, and we always say we want more of it or don’t have enough of it. Yet we epitomize a twisted type of productivity so highly that we don’t give ourselves what we need, a good night’s sleep. It’s free, it’s enjoyable, it’s gloriously simple, treat yourself.
The legend of the sleepless student, entrepreneur, scientist, who puts in ridiculous hours but one day finally makes it big is for the most part just that; a legend. Your body needs sleep, your brain needs sleep. Invest in your long term well being, and short term success with sleep. I recently listened to a podcast in which neuroscientist Matthew Walker talked extensively about sleep that I’m drawing on for much of what I am saying here (if you're interested in more just search 'Matthew Walker sleep'). I found it so interesting how so many health and psychological conditions are linked to inadequate sleep.
As a student there are very real benefits to sleep. When you go to sleep your brain categorizes all of the information it has been receiving during the day, it stores, sorts, and reviews all the information you have been feeding it. Research shows that sleep improves memory retention (just search “sleep and memory” in an academic database or on google). So don’t pull an all-nighter the day before the test thinking this will maximize your test results. If you procrastinated and left your studying to the very last moment, your best bet is to do focused studying as long as you can while still getting a solid sleep the night before your big test.
ConclusionI hope these few things that I learned over my time as student and academic coach are helpful to you. They may seem overly simplistic, because they are, but they are also highly effective in setting you up for success. Start with the little things. Good habits are a wonderful thing, building on each other and propelling you towards a better life, regardless of what you are doing.
Braeden is beyond grateful to be able to be apart of FUM movement and to work on things he is passionate about. He graduated with a degree in Psychology from Briercrest College, and is excited to empower people with FUM.
Photographers in order
Header Photo by Priscilla Du Preez
Photo by JaronWhelan