A new school year dawns, and there is excitement in the air.
At least at the university level, however, excitement fades quickly under the press of scholastic duties. The energy of September gives way to the ominous realities of October, the crush of November, and the sense of doom brought by the first of December.
So here’s my Top Ten list of counsels to help students avoid shipwreck and instead sail safely into port to the cheers of thousands:
- Go to class. Courses are like tours, and if you fail to keep up with your tour group, you quickly fall behind, get disoriented, and either waste time paying attention to the wrong things or give up. (Professors, take attendance. Always. Often the first sign that a student is in distress is class absence.)
- Use notepaper in class, not a laptop. I love my laptop. I write much faster and clearer on a laptop than I do by hand. But I am easily distracted, and so are you. And no one can truly multitask in class. So face the facts, use notepaper instead, and really listen. Facebook, Instagram, Messenger—they can all wait. They all should wait. You’re doing something important. Study.
- Don’t settle for boredom. If a lecturer isn’t fascinating—and no one is, all the time—then don’t sit back in frustration. Sit forward and start thinking: What’s going on? Why is this boring? Have I lost the thread? How does this material connect with what we’ve been talking about? Why does this stuff matter? Is it even true? Completely true, or only partly? How could this material apply to the world outside the university?
Don’t be passive. Go after your education. Grab for it.
- Work at understanding, not remembering. We learn best by associating the new with the old, the novel with the familiar. Connect: This goes with that; this is another version of that; this is the opposite of that; these are exceptions to the rule; those are the main evidences for this proposition.
Think organically, linking things together in networks. And see why things go that way, and not some other. If you understand well, remembering is much easier. If you don’t, memorizing is brutal.
- Review. Take notes by hand and then enter them into your computer afterward, taking care to think about whether and how what you’re typing actually makes sense. Consider whether you need to ask a classmate for missing notes. And capture any questions that pop up and then ask them in the next class.
- Review. On the weekend, take an hour to review your notes from each class. Don’t try to memorize them: Try to understand them. (See #7.)
- Review. (I’m not kidding about this “review” business.) Once a month, take a day to review all the notes from all your classes. See the big picture emerging. See how the pieces are fitting together, how topics 1, 2, and 3 set up topics 4, 5, and 6. Keep oriented on your tour and you’ll enjoy it and learn from it. If you let yourself get disoriented, though, all you’ll come out of the course with is a bunch of disjointed memories of what struck you as “interesting” rather than what is actually important.
- Sleep. The best thing you can do for your mind is respect your body. So exercise, yes, and eat right, yes. In my experience, however, most students do exercise and get by remarkably well almost no matter what they eat. But no one succeeds with sleep deprivation.
So buy ear plugs and sound conditioning machines. Make clear agreements with roommates about sleep expectations. Talk to your residence authorities or landlords about quiet hours. And insist to yourself and everyone else that you’ll get enough sleep. Lack of sleep equals impairment, and that’s a lousy way to go through any life, let alone cope with a demanding one.
- Pray. If you’re a believer, you believe that God wants you to succeed in your life, including in your studies (unless, of course, you’re disobeying God in going to that school or studying that subject—that’s a whole different matter). So each morning start your day with prayer and Bible reading to remind yourself, and to let God remind you, that God goes with you and will always help you to become that better person you’re studying to be.
- Go to church. Churches connect students with the real world as little else does. Churches remind us of really big problems that other people are having that put ours into perspective. Churches offer help when our own problems get really big. And churches help us remember and worship God when we are frantically tempted to reduce our vision to the pinpoint of the next assignment and, basically, not failing.
Will following these 10 short pieces of advice guarantee success?
Well, yes. Yes, it will. Get in touch with me if it doesn’t.
And have a great year!