By: Manveetha Muddaluru
I came into university with decent grades and hopes that they would hopefully remain the same. I mean we’ve all heard of the same things coming into first year: that an A in high school would drop to a B in university. But, what I’ve realized over the past four years is that with the right habits, academic success and improvement is possible.
The biggest thing that I had to get used to in university was the amount of self-directed learning I had to do. In high school, I always had someone motivating me to finish my work, whether it was a teacher who reminded the class of a certain deadline, parents, or even just the fact that I had to maintain certain grades to get into a university program that I liked.
But as a Life Sciences student, in my first term, three out of my five courses used the blended learning format (CHEM 1A03, BIO 1A03, and PSYCH 1X03). Although I was briefly exposed to blended learning in high school, I was mostly used to a learning environment where all the information was coming from a teacher who taught in class. I found it really difficult to watch modules, attend lectures, and do the practice questions and the readings without that support.
For courses like BIO 1A03 and PSYCH 1X03 that I could start cramming a few days before a midterm/exam or on Friday when the weekly quizzes were due by watching the modules, reading lecture slides and the textbook (essentially memorizing and regurgitating the content) and still somewhat do well. But for my courses like MATH 1LS3 and CHEM 1A03 that built on concepts throughout the semester, I hadn’t put in the work to consistently listen in lectures or learn the material outside of class by doing practice questions and readings. It was these smaller things that did not have set deadlines that were the hardest to keep up with and which ultimately led me to do poorly in these courses.
Going into second semester, I realized that a prof won’t personally ask me if I had done the required work for that week, like a teacher or parent once may have in high school. The onus was on me to finish the work and to do so, I had to learn how to manage my time wisely.
As many of you mentioned on Instagram, time management is one of the hardest skills to develop. Between classes, assignments, extracurriculars (club meetings and volunteering), work, and wanting to have a social life, time can really fly by and before you know it, it’ll be exam season. Thinking about ways to implement time management techniques at the beginning of the semester is a perfect way. I also think it’s important to develop it now as it’s not just an important skill for university but a life skill that will be really useful in a workplace environment.
As much as I don’t like sticking to a schedule and wish my life wasn’t a routine, learning how to manage my time has been a work in progress and something that I’ve had to learn from trial and error. In first-year, I was overwhelmed by the fact that to be a well-rounded student I felt like I had to be involved in everything. I didn’t know how to say “no” to doing new things and not only did it take longer to get used to the transition from high school to university, my schedule was all over the place.
I should have used my time wisely to catch up on coursework. Instead, I spent my long breaks hanging out with my friends. When I got home, I was too tired and procrastinated on doing any work. The result was that my grades suffered and my self-confidence began to drop as I felt like I had lost control of my life.
To take back some control, my goal for the second semester was to find a balance between maintaining a social life and academics. I was stressed and decided to attend an Academic Reboot workshop at the Student Success Centre in January, in which I learned all about time management and academic skills to set myself up for academic success for the upcoming semester.
The best thing I took away from the session was to start using a four-month calendar (tip: there are free ones you can get at the MSU office, MUSC Room 201!)
If you’re a big picture thinker like I am and hate having to maintain a physical daily planner, having a physical four-month calendar can be very helpful in planning a few months ahead and having a visual overview of what your semester is going to be like at a glance. I’ve now gotten into the habit of looking at all my course outlines in the first week of classes and adding all the big deadlines, volunteering, and club meetings to my four-month calendar. It’s gotten to that point where I really look forward to doing this every September and find it kind of therapeutic and relieving to know when my busiest times of the semester are so I can better plan out when I can take time to relax. It also doubles as a great way to countdown to the winter break or summer vacation!
I also input this information into Google Calendar because it can easily be synced with all my devices if I make any changes and also update my four-month calendar to reflect these changes. I personally also like getting notifications to remind me of upcoming deadlines and use the time pressure as a motivator to get me started on studying or working on an assignment.
I find this system works well for me. If you personally like having a physical daily planner instead to keep track of your deadlines, there are free ones available by the Underground Printing in MUSC! But by all means, if you find having a daily planner or keeping up with creating a cool Moleskine or Leuchttrum bullet journal like ones you see on tumblr or YouTube counterproductive and taking up more time than you have to maintain, use scrap pieces of paper, notepads, or sticky notes to write to-do lists. I love using the stickies on my Mac to keep a running to-do list throughout the semester.
Speaking of deadlines, if you have a big term assignment (like a final essay or research project) and you’re finding it daunting and hard to start on it, break the assignment into smaller pieces and set some deadlines for finishing these smaller parts. This way you can motivate yourself to keep on track to finish the assignment by the deadline, especially if it’s a group project!
Another way to manage your time is to prioritize the things you have to do by making to-do lists. I personally like to have one long to-do list, but you can also make different to-do lists for different areas of your life (school, chores/errands, social, etc.). Although I love making to-do lists, prioritization is still something I struggle with. I find that when there is way too much work to do and there is no time to waste, I default to procrastination to avoid the stress. To work around this, I’ve realized that blocking out some time in your calendar for a study session, especially between other scheduled responsibilities, can help motivate you to start being productive (like finishing a reading during a two-hour break between classes or on your commute to campus if you’re taking the GO Bus). Also, outline exactly what you will be doing during this blocked off time using a to-do list or other method that works for you ahead of time so that you aren’t wasting time during the allotted study session time trying to figure out what to do and prioritizing tasks.
At the end of the day, to achieve academic success its just as important to pay attention to other aspects of your life, especially your physical and mental health. Create a rewards system for every time you finish a big (or small) task! Taking the time out of your day to take care of yourself, whether this is through going to the gym, hanging out with friends, going outside, painting, and/or watching a movie help you clear your mind and also refocus when you do get back to studying. Attend the monthly art crawls that happen in Downtown Hamilton or check out Sketching Thursdays at the McMaster Museum of Art. Get involved in the McMaster and Hamilton community by joining a club and/or volunteering.
Again, just like the time you allocate for studying or finishing an assignment, having a start and end time scheduled for these breaks can help you stay on track and not get behind in your coursework.
These are only some tips that have helped me manage my time and it is completely okay if they don’t work for you. We all have our own personalities and finding time management techniques that work for you can take some time.