Best Practices for Week One

This is the time of the semester when all is possible. Classes start next week and everyone comes into the class with a  clean slate. Today nothing stands in the way of a perfect grade.

What can you do this week to ensure that you get the best possible grade in all your classes? Here are some first week must-do’s that will help you have a successful semester (revised from a similar list on one of my favorite blogs, Lifehacker):

  1. Take Charge. Whether this is your first semester or your last, it’s often hard to come to the realization that no one is going to look over your shoulder or hold your hand or push you to do what needs to be done to be a successful student. It’s going all up to you now.
  2. Get Yourself to Class. In a class that meets 35 times in a semester, each class meeting is about 3 percent of the content (if your class meets less often, say once a week, each meeting is an even greater percentage of the total course content). Blow off one meeting and you’re already behind. Blow off the first meeting of the semester and you’ve missed an important orientation to the whole semester. Drop/add policies seem to imply that the first week isn’t important, but believe me we professors think differently and often include important information that will help you succeed in our classes during those initial meetings.
  3. Scrutinize the Syllabus. The syllabus is your guide to the class. It’s like a contract between you and the professor. It not only includes all of the assignments for the class but also policies and procedure the professor will use to conduct the class. Read it carefully. Pull out your calendar and make a note of all the important dates including dates for exams, due dates for papers and other assignments, holidays and days the class doesn’t meet.
    While you’re at it make a note of the professor’s contact information and office hours. If your professor has online office hours, make a note of that, too.
  4. Start Your (Note-Taking) Engine. Get in the habit of writing down all the important information from the very first day of class. Listening, writing and reviewing what you’ve written are proven ways to absorb class information. If your professor provides study guides, copies of lectures or other study aids, snag them early. They not only help you with your note taking but also help you to see what the professor thinks is important material.
  5. Buy the Books. You’ll want, and need, your own copies of the text books. If the campus bookstore is too expensive for you, check out alternatives including Amazon,, Craigslist and other online resources. If you find an earlier edition of the text used in class, ask the professor if it’s an acceptable alternative.
  6. Find Your Cave. It’s not too early to scope out a quiet place to study. Consider the library and while you’re there check out the study rooms for an extra-private study area. Empty classrooms, coffee shops, even outdoor spaces may work for you. If you are planning on studying at home develop a system to let your family or roommates know “I’m studying, do not disturb.” Close the door to your study area, put up a colored flag, wear a silly hat, anything that lets them know your are temporarily unavailable.
  7. Develop a Study Rhythm. Studies show that frequent breaks enhance learning. Study for a half hour or 45 minutes, then take a 5 minute break. Do something different on your break, walk around, do the dishes, get something to drink, play with your kids. Be sure to set a timer both to remember to take a break and to remember to get back to studying. Don’t start surfing the web or playing a game and forget to get back to the books!
  8. Find a Study Group. Many people benefit from doing some of their studying with others. Look around your class during those first meetings. Who’s a serious student what might be willing to work with you to enhance both your grades? Set up a regular meeting schedule to discuss the course material, work through assignments, solidify your understanding of the week’s work. Remember that you can share ideas but each person’s assignments must be their own work. Sometimes there’s a fine line between studying together and cheating. Don’t ruin everything by crossing that line.
  9. Get Down to Business. Despite the fact that you may have other responsibilities, work, family, etc., your most important job for the next several months are your classes. Keep in mind that you (or someone else) is paying hard-earned money so you can get an education. Don’t waste this opportunity.The time will go fast and you’ll never have a better opportunity to ace these courses.
  10. Have Fun! Learning is sometimes hard. Professors challenge you to push beyond your normal limits. But it should be fun, too. You don’t have to go to the Amazon or climb Mt. Everest to challenge yourself, you can do it in the classroom, too. Enjoy the mental and physical challenges of being an excellent student, the wonder of expanding your knowledge, and the pleasure of earning that “A” in your courses.

What tips have you found to be most helpful in becoming a successful student?


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