Second Semester: the Redemption

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Here’s the thing. In high school, my classes for the most part stayed the same throughout the year, with the exception of a couple of electives. After a few awkward months of figuring things out, I finally got into the rhythm of things by second semester, and my grades always improved. But now, all of my classes change come January, which means that, just when I think that I’m getting the hang of things, I’m back to square one. Not to mention, all of the distractions from first semester are still here. So how do you prevent yourself from making the same mistakes again? Here’s what I came up with.

Eliminate Distractions
So, I’m a hypocrite because I’m writing this while watching The Legend of Korra with my friends, but my excuse is that my GPA doesn’t rely on my posts. By the time you’re eighteen, you’ve probably figured out the whole studying thing, which is exactly why I didn’t think that work ethic would be a big problem for me in college. I was wrong. It’s so easy to tell yourself that you work hard enough when it looks like everyone else around you is having fun. But, unlike high school, not everyone in your immediate circle of friends has schedules that are similar to yours. Every night that you have a test the next morning, someone else will have just finished theirs and will want to unwind. It’s not that no one works in college, it’s just that there will be some people who don’t have work when you do, so it’s important to have a set number of goals you want to accomplish for the day. Also, there are people who you’ll never see work in college, even in the Honors dorm. Don’t be those people. Even if you do manage to get by in your classes, either you or your parents paid a lot of money for you to be here, and you owe it to whoever is funding your education, especially if it’s yourself, to get the most out of it. I think that some people have the mentality that when you pay for college, you’re really paying for “the college experience,” which entails doing whatever you want without real-world consequences. Or maybe they’re too lazy to justify their laziness. Either way, as someone who has never had that mentality I can only suppose that my way of looking at things is better because it makes be genuinely excited about the future as opposed to containing all of my happiness in four years.

Maintain a Practical Schedule
Something that I didn’t get a chance to take advantage of last semester was the freedom you have to attend whatever lecture you want. For example, there is a 9:30am and a 10:30am section of my physics class, so if I’m feeling tired I can sleep in but if I want to get it out of the way and be more productive in the middle of the day, then I can go to the 9:30 class. Similarly, if there’s a TA session for another class during my 11:00am discrete structures lecture, then I can always attend the 5:00pm. Moving around your schedule doesn’t have to be limited to classes either. If your TA’s office hours don’t fit with your schedule, you can always find a different TA who teaches the same class to help. In fact, there’s nothing stopping you from attending a different lecture if you don’t find your teacher to be helpful, unless you’re being graded on attendance. The point is, you can make your schedule work for you without sacrificing the quality of your education or the balance of your life.

Repetition and Confidence
The bulk of the grades for most classes rely on midterm exams and the final. I’ve heard of classes where the final was worth 40%, and most of my classes have tests worth between 50-75%. That means that it’s really easy to get behind and really bad to have a lot of test-taking anxiety. The solution for me lies in repetition. Even if something seems relatively straightforward, I run through it in my head in class for as long as I can without losing the next thing that the professor is about to say, and then I practice the problems with the same concepts after class so that I cement the process into my brain. The point is to make these problems feel like routine. Even if you were really stressed out during a test, you wouldn’t forget how to tie your shoes, would you? Also, don’t schedule a three-hour chunk of time to catch up on a subject. Not only does it wear you out, but from experience I’ve found that I retain the material better if I go over it everyday for shorter periods of time as opposed to once for a long period of time. Other than that, just remember that you worked too hard to let your nerves get in the way of your future. No matter how stressed out I am, I always hit a point during a test where it feels like a burst of adrenaline is shooting through me as I realize, “This is it, Mina. This is your golden opportunity to show the world how great you can be.” Even if you aren’t as prepared as you thought you were, have some confidence in yourself. You’ve made it this far, after all, so you must not be doing too bad. As long as you show the initiative, your hard work will pay off in one way or another. So roll up your sleeves, Hawkeyes. We have four more months of this to get through, and it will be a lot easier if we spend that time in the library instead of in front of the television.