Ready for some back to school tips yet? Yes, I know it feels like summers are getting shorter, but they actually are getting shorter! The reason is that many schools are now moving up their start-date to mid-August. That’s crazy!
But no matter when you’re headed back to school, the beginning of every school year symbolizes new beginnings on many fronts: new classes, new goals, new friends, new schedules, and even new schools. Included in this list of “new” things should also be new school habits. Yes! New, or at least rejuvenated school habits.
Like New Year’s Eve for many people, the first day of school often marks the beginning of personal change. Let this year be the year when you get organized and stay organized. When you find the ideal agenda/calendar system. When you finally nail time-management. When you stop procrastinating. Seriously, make this year the year when you perfect your school habits.
So here are 10 back to school tips that you should really have in mind before the bell rings on the first day:
1. Do your summer assignments, and do them well.
Some of you have summer reading; some of you have AP work to do. Whatever the assignment that you’re supposed to hand in on your first day, do it. Do it all. And do it well. The amount of time and effort you put into your summer assignments sets the tone for the whole year. It sets the standard against which you’ll be measured until school gets out. Sure, some teachers don’t check the work and sometimes you might be able to slide by without completing the whole assignment. But don’t cop out on this. When you show up to class on the first day of school and hand in a piece of work, it represents you. So if you have poor quality work, that’s how you’re presenting yourself to your teachers. Shortcuts only get you nowhere faster.
2. Have the right materials.
A surgeon is going to have a tough time performing surgery without the right tools. A baseball game is going to be really interesting if neither team has any bats. (I am master of the obvious.)
Having the right materials is so important to starting the year off right, so make sure you take this step seriously. Plus, who doesn’t love back-to-school shopping!? But I don’t suggest you go shopping until you know what classes you’re taking, so that you can match the supplies to the type of class.
If a class requires lots of in-class note-taking, then maybe get a three-ring binder with loose-leaf paper so you can reorganize your notes when needed. For English class, maybe you’d prefer a notebook because those types of notes don’t need to shift around a lot.
If you only have 3 classes, maybe you only need one binder or one 3-subject notebook.
If you have more than 3 classes, I’d suggest getting a separate notebook for each one or things could get messy and bulky. Get new pens if you can. Get colored pens if you’re into color-coding. These are my absolute favorite colored gel pens. Get supplies that are functional, but also get those that excite you. If you like your notebooks, you’ll use them properly.
3. Connect with and understand your teachers from the get-go.
First, you have one shot at making a first impression, so on your first day of school, show up and nail it. Present the best version of yourself, and hold yourself to that standard from then on.
Second, just as all students have different learning styles, different teachers have different teaching styles. The sooner you recognize each teacher’s unique teaching style, the sooner you’ll be able to meet their expectations. You may not like a teacher’s teaching style, but that’s what it is.
So let’s say that in the first week back to school you realize that your new science teacher is a lecturer: she stands in front of the room and talks and talks. That might be okay for some students, but what if you’re a visual learner? Then that teaching style would not work for you. What do you do? You have to be your own advocate. You must find a way to get the information presented in a way that suits you.
Here’s some ideas: Ask your teacher after school if she has handouts or visuals to supplement her lecture. Search for the information online, perhaps in a video. Try to translate the teacher’s words into an image or a chart that makes sense to you. The bottom line is that you can’t change your teacher’s teaching style, and it’s hard to change your own learning style, so you have to compromise and find your own way to get what you need.
4. Take good notes from the beginning.
Having a trust-worthy note-taking system is one of the best school habits you can hone. From the very first day of school, make your notes a masterpiece. That might sound dramatic. But try it. I discuss in detail my note-taking system in this video. But the key nugget from my system is to take notes as efficiently as possible during class, using a bullet format, abbreviations and symbols to speed up the transcription. And then that day, type up or re-write your notes, being sure to fill in any missing pieces that escaped you during class. Fill in the blanks, complete your sentences, spell out the abbreviations, use color-coding if you want. But you must do this on the same day you took the notes; otherwise, you won’t be able to fill in the blanks even just 24 hours later. Guaranteed.
Also, you should do a weekly clean out – shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes – during which you go through your notebooks, binders and folders and toss the trash and put items back where they belong. Start your notes right, and keep them right.
5. Get a good agenda/calendar system.
No way you can get through school without having an assignment notebook/agenda and calendar that you use regularly. No matter if you’re in middle school or college, you have to track your tasks, appointments and due dates. You can use a paper system, an app, or a combination. But whatever you use, keep it simple enough that it’s easy to use every single day. And do just that – use it every day. Write everything down, look at it every morning, review it every night, carry it with you everywhere. The more you use it the more you’ll trust it.
I have been using the same agenda/calendar system for several years. Although I am a digital junkie, I love my paper set-up. This is what I use, if you want to know.
6. Ask for help early on.
Sometimes a class can be amazing for the first week, and then terror strikes. Or sometimes terror strikes on day one. The point is that you need to recognize the very moment when the material you’re learning gets to be a little too hard. You need to stop the train the moment you think to yourself “Ahhh I have no idea what that means!”
If you don’t understand how to add fractions, you’re going to be so lost when your teacher moves on to multiplying fractions. If you don’t understand what a thesis statement is, and you can’t recognize one in someone else’s writing, then you won’t be able to write your own. The minute that things start getting fuzzy, speak up and ask questions. Raise your hand. Stay after class. Ask a friend. Find the information online. Don’t be embarrassed either: chances are high that if you’re confused, someone else is confused too.
7. Keep notes and materials organized for end of year studying.
My fourth back to school tip was to take good notes. But this back to school tip involves keeping those notes organized long after you’re done with them.
Most classes are structured with quizzes and tests throughout several units, a mid-term halfway through, and a final at the end. So it’s all fine and dandy to keep your notes fresh and organized for your quizzes and tests, but store them someplace smart so you can find them when you need to pull them out again for midterms and finals. There’s no need to keep every little piece of paper with you at all times, so keep a folder for each class at home where you regularly put retired worksheets, old quizzes, and notes so that you can just pull that folder out when it’s time to study for the final.
8. Establish a study/homework routine.
You should have a regular routine that involves doing your homework in a certain space each day. Create a personal work space that is equipped with supplies, is quiet and distraction free, and is comfortable but not too comfortable.
On most days, try to do your work in the same place so your body and mind begin to “expect” to enter study mode every time you’re in that environment. Studies that support the idea that over time, our environment can trigger particular feelings and thoughts in us if we regularly use that environment for a single purpose. That’s why trying to read in bed is the best way to fall asleep with a book on your face – your body expects to sleep in that environment and not work. That’s why we get hungry when we walk into a kitchen or a restaurant, even though we weren’t hungry before we walked in. Over time, your personal work space will trigger in you feelings of focus, purpose and learning.
Another back to school tip (which is a good school habit to have year-round) is to do your homework at the same time each day. You will likely have one routine during the week, and a different routine for the weekends. Of course things will pop up here and there that will disrupt your routine, but aim to do your homework and studying within a consistent window of time each day. Block this time out in your calendar as if it were a doctor’s appointment or something else nonnegotiable.
9. Take care of yourself.
I am a fitness and nutrition fanatic, so I could go nuts with this topic here. Here’s the thing: if your body isn’t fueled, rested and strong, then your mind won’t be fueled, rested and strong. You MUST do your absolute best to get some exercise every single day. You don’t have to go for an intense daily run, but you could walk or ride your bike to school, play ultimate Frisbee, walk the dog, do a workout through an app (Sworkit and Workouts are fun!). Just move your body. Our bodies are meant to move, and if you are blessed to be healthy enough to move, you must.
What? You’re too tired? I dare you to do 20 burpees and tell me you’re still tired. You don’t have time? What, for a 10 minute walk? How much time did you spend on SnapChat today? 😉
Also, food. Oh boy, don’t get Katie started on food! We are what we eat. That’s just science. (That’s as scientific-y as I get.) The food we eat becomes a part of us. It becomes a part of our cells and changes our blood chemistry and our hormones. Every single morsel of food that we put into our bodies affects us in ways that I can’t even get into here. If you eat junk, you will feel like junk. If you eat well, you will feel well. Sure, indulge in madness occasionally – but your default foods should be real food. The majority of your food should not come from a box or a wrapper with a UPC code. This will just set you up for failure and will make it that much harder to get through your school day.
Breakfast before school is critical. If you can, eat before school, or you can always take something with you. Smoothies are good and simple, but be sure to throw in some protein powder and a handful of spinach to balance out the fruit sugars. Protein powder can be expensive so another option would be to add a little cottage cheese. I swear it’s not chunky once you blend it, and it just makes your smoothie super creamy. A simple packet of oatmeal can do the trick – I actually throw in a scoop of protein powder into my oatmeal every morning. Or eggs are so easy to cook:hard-boil a dozen eggs, keep them in the fridge and grab them as you go.
You can even eat non-breakfast food for breakfast, like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Just please, no Skittles and Fruit Loops. Those are more toys than food anyways if look at the artificial ingredients.
And lastly – sleep! Go to bed, people. Just kidding, I know how hard it is to get to bed on time when you have a gazillion things to do and you don’t even get home until 6 and then you have 3 tests to study for the next day plus a book to read, yada yada. But the better you get at time-management, the better you’ll get at sleep-management. So watch my time-management videos for some ideas to manage your time better, and hopefully you’ll get some more control over your sleep habits.
10. Don’t procrastinate! Start assignments right away.
I know this the final back to school tip in the list, but it’s by no means the least significant. It’s huge, actually. Procrastination is just terrible. Although completely normal and we all do it, it never, never works out. Of course, putting off assignments until later feels amazing in the moment, but doing so will stress you out in the end. Plus, you’ll produce poor quality work if you do it in a rushed state.
My advice: From the very first day back to school, make a promise that you will start every single long-term project you’re assigned on the same day it’s assigned. What? Am I nuts? No. But let me explain: I’m not saying complete every project on the same day it’s due, but at least start it.
If the assignment is an essay, then just pick a topic or write your thesis on a piece of paper, or even just open your word processor and create and title a document. Just take one step towards the project, and you’ll get momentum from there. If the assignment is to read a book by Friday, then read just one chapter on the day it’s assigned. If the assignment is a research project, write down a list of sources you’re going to need. Just do something that puts you closer to the end result.
So that’s it, folks: 10 back to school tips to start the year off right. And if you start to feel yourself slipping halfway through the school year, check back to this list to see which of these 10 areas you need to bring more attention to. Establishing good school habits is a process. It takes time. But you have to start somewhere!
Also, if you have your own back to school tips that others might find helpful, let me know!
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