It’s late September. The leaves are turning yellow, the days are getting shorter, and… you are lost in your classes. You start to slip behind in one. No big deal, you’ll catch up on the weekends. Of course, hanging out with friends, playing video games, or getting drunk at frat parties are much more interesting than studying. And so you don’t catch up. Then more assignments start popping up. You procrastinate more because you’re behind and slip even further behind. That affect another class, and then another, and then another. And before you realize it, your prof starts to speak Martian. And soon, too soon, your first round of midterms are here.
While you can always dream about making the perfect cheat sheet or trying to do damage control after failing a midterm, your time might be better spent studying now. But how? How do you catch up if you are way behind in your classes?
Step 1: Start somewhere.
Choose a class to start with. It might be your most important course. It could be the one you’re most behind in. It could be the one you’re least behind in so you can quickly catch up and move on to classes you’re more behind on.
Step 2: Figure out why you’re behind.
Have you fallen so far behind that lectures no longer seem to make any sense? Does the prof have an accent you can’t understand? Is there another reason the lectures aren’t making sense? Is there a huge disconnect between what’s covered and practice problems at home? Do you always have trouble completing the assignments because they are too hard? Is there so much material you don’t know what to focus on?
List the top few reasons you think you’re behind in a course, then:
Step 3: Fix it.
Need to go over the material? Use an effective study technique and get through it. If your prof has an accent or you just have trouble understanding him or her the first time around, ask your prof if you can record the lectures. If the assignments seem to have nothing to do with the lectures, talk to your prof – there may be a connection you’re missing. Need help with the assignments? Go to office hours or form study groups. Don’t know what to focus on? Look for learning outcomes detailing exactly what you have to know or make it yourself.
Whatever the problem is, find one or more solutions and try them.
Step 4: Reiterate
If your solution in 3 doesn’t work, don’t give up! Try another way to solve the problem. All caught up in one course? Repeat steps 1 through 3 for another course.
Step 5: There is no way to get around actually studying.
No, there is no magic bullet. And if you’re looking for an instant fix… well, please tell me when you find it. Because I would love to know! For now, nothing beats taking the time to actively learn and understand the course material. However, you can learn to be more efficient at learning. Really work on figuring out what study techniques work the best for you and how to minimize the amount you need to spend on a topic to understand or master it. In other words, judge how well you’re doing based on your progress and accomplishments, not by how much time you spend! In other words, don’t pseudo-study!