How Students Can Prepare For Fall Classes

 Do these 5 things to get your school year off to a great start.

Do these 5 things to get your school year off to a great start.

Like any part of the body that isn't used regularly, the brain gets soft if it hasn't been used in a while. When students take a couple of months off from intense studying during the summer months their brains prune learning pathways and it can take a few weeks to get them back online. That's why it's a good idea to ramp up them up before school starts so there isn't a grade "hiccup" on the easy material at the beginning of the school year.

A lot of students ask what they should do to prepare for the upcoming school year so they can get off to a strong start. The answer is simple: do what you'll be doing the first few weeks of school.

1. Figure out what classes you'll be taking in the fall.

Most students register for next fall's classes during the spring semester of the current year. If that's the case, then you should know which classes you'll be taking. If you don't, call the school and ask what classes you'll be taking in the fall — you don't need to know your teachers, just the classes. If you still can't figure out what classes you'll be taking then ask around and take your best guess.

2. Rank your classes in order of expected difficulty.

Some of your classes will be tougher than others. You can never know for sure which will give you the most difficulty, but based on your strengths and weaknesses you should be able to make a pretty good guess. Rank your classes from easiest to hardest and then put the most preliminary work into your toughest classes before school starts up in the fall.

3. Find the syllabus or class website for your toughest classes.

Now that you've ranked your classes in order of expected difficulty, find the class syllabus and/or website for each of your toughest classes. Most teachers won't post the syllabus or website for the upcoming school year until just before school starts, but there's a good chance you'll be able to locate last year's syllabi and websites since such things tend to live on the Internet indefinitely. If old sites have been removed or replace, you may still be able to find and access them on archive.org.

Look through them to get a feel for the class: the amount of work required, distribution of grades between homework, quizzes, and tests, etc. It'll give you an idea of how much time you'll need to put in to get the grades you want. And, most importantly, the syllabus or website should have the title, author, and edition of the textbook. 

4. Order a copy of your textbooks ahead of time.

Most schools use textbooks for several years before swapping them out for a newer edition. I've seen textbooks still in use that were well over ten years old, tattered, and falling apart at the seams. New textbooks cost a fortune, but older editions are usually very reasonable, in the $15-40 range. If you can track down a copy online, buy it. You'll be able to work ahead to get off to a strong start. Plus, you can keep a copy at home so you don't have to lug your heavy book to and from school every day and you won't have to worry about not being able to do a homework assignment because you forgot your textbook at school. Another, even less expensive, alternative is to check your public library or school library for copies of textbooks. Often, the school library or local library keeps copies of current or prior versions of the textbooks used in school. 

 Should only take a few days to get through these.

Should only take a few days to get through these.

5. Complete the first chapter before school starts.

Work through the first chapter of the book. Read all the text, follow the example problems, and work at least half of the problems in each section. Take the chapter quizzes and tests. Often, the first chapter is an important review or contains new, foundational concepts that are critical to doing well in the class.

If you work diligently through the first chapter, you'll score much better on your first homeworks, quizzes, and tests. This will get you off to a strong start, boost your confidence, and set you up for the rest of the semester. The beginning of the semester is always easier than the middle and the end so it's important to take advantage of the easy material, get good grades, and put yourself on solid footing before entering the middle and end of the semester when you'll be in full swing and likely won't be able to apportion as much time to studying. It's much better to start strong and build yourself a buffer for bad quizzes and tests than to miss easy points and get off to a mediocre start, or worse, bomb the first few weeks and have to dig yourself out of a hole the rest of the semester.

It's like taking the SAT or ACT — all the questions count equally so you might as well nail the easy ones.

BONUS: Work even further ahead, and stay ahead.

If you feel so inclined, work even further ahead. Better yet, while you're still covering the easy material during the first few weeks, keep working ahead in your book so you always have familiarity with the upcoming material. Smart students figure out that previewing material gets them better grades. Later, I'll explain why that is . . .