Getting ahead in your classes is one of the most useful things that you can do in your studies. Not only does it help with time management during the semester, but it also results in less hair-pulling, stressful all-nighters trying to understand concepts and write notes. If you can get ahead and prepare early before the semester even starts, then you will be well on your way to succeeding in your course.
This semester, I am taking a class on relativity for my degree and I have absolutely no idea what to expect from the class (except that it is notoriously difficult). It’s a bit scary but the right preparation can make all the difference. So, in this post I will take you through some tips to help you prepare for a new semester of classes so you can get ahead and be ready to tackle the rest of the semester.
Find Out What the Class is About
The first step sounds pretty simple. What is the class about? I’m sure when you signed up for the class that you had a vague idea, but you need to know a bit more than this. Take time to read the class description and find out roughly what topics are covered in the course. If you can’t find this, then you can email the lecturer or convener associated with the class.
Do Some Research
Once you have a clear idea of the class subject, write down some of the topics or terms associated with the area of study. Google the topics that you aren’t familiar with and find out what they are. This doesn’t have to be in-depth research, and you don’t need to completely understand them (after all, you will be learning this during the semester). By familiarising yourself with the concepts you can immediately recognise them when you learn about them and you already have a knowledge base to build on.
I mentioned previously that I know next to nothing about relativity. I completed this exercise today and made a great list of terms to help me understand some concepts. This way you don’t have to start the subject or learn a concept from scratch. This, no matter how small it seems, puts you one step ahead.
Find a Resource
Many classes have a corresponding textbook to take you through the course. In some cases, you rarely use these textbooks. In others, the lecturer may rely upon them heavily. Find out if your class has a textbook and try and get a copy as early as possible. This can be either hard copy or electronic. Prescribed textbooks usually provide appropriate information related to the course material. Reading a chapter or two, even a summary, can help you gain an understanding of the content.
If your class does not have a textbook, see what resources you can find online or in the library. I know, old school, but there are usually a dozen books on the subject you are after! Find something, flip through it, bookmark it, download it, read it, whatever. Spending 10 minutes of searching for resources related to your class is well worth it. This kind of preparation will save you time later in the semester.
Once you have a bit of research or preparation, look over it every now and then before your classes go back. This keeps the information fresh in your mind and it also helps for learning the concepts. So what if you already know what your class is about? If you are taking a class which builds on the knowledge of another class you have taken, then this step is particularly helpful. Language classes, for instance, can be tricky, because you know that you will be studying that language and it’s harder to research concepts or terms associated with a language class.
In the break between semesters, whether it is one month or three months, most students don’t touch their notes. In fact, many don’t think of revising because they have just finished one class and they haven’t started the next. However, revising (particularly in languages, maths, and science) can keep the skills you need right at the front of your memory. When you start a new class at the beginning of the semester you don’t have to spend any time trying to remember what you should already know from a prerequisite class. This leaves you more time to absorb and learn the new content in your course. Some revision in the week before classes go back will leave you feeling ready for the new semester.
These are the four methods that I use to get organised and get ahead in my classes before the semester starts. If you have any others that you use, please share in the comments below!