Staying on top of your first-year workload 

Hey MaraudersToday I want to talk to you about how to stay on top of your workload in the first few weeks of university. I have a STEM perspective, specifically science, but a lot of the information shared can be relevant to any program. It can be an overwhelming transition to keep up with your courses, so hopefully this advice is helpful to alleviate some of that pressure. 

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These blogs are part of Mac101: Introduction to University Life, a collection of events, workshops and more to support your university transition.

July 13, 2023

By: Nabeelah (McMaster Graduate, Biology, Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour)

The work may seem significantly harder, and I remember already feeling behind after the first week of school. With the right strategies, you can ensure that you are instilling efficient study habits to maximize productivity. It is important to set goals, hold yourself accountable, introduce scheduling and understand the relevance of the content you are studying in the real world.  

Setting goals can create a sense of motivation to achieve the task at hand. This is something that has worked well for me. When I set out goals, I feel a certain sense of motivation to achieve the task at hand. Goal setting can be guided using the SMART goals template to ensure that your goal is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

A goal I would set as a first-year life sciences student was ensuring revision of class content was completed daily in addition to completing assignments and quizzes. This helped me keep up with a fast work pace and ensure that I did not fall behind on previous material. 

Holding yourself accountable can help you more effectively prioritize your goals and enrich your understanding of them. You can use accountability strategies to stay motivated and learn what study strategies work best for you. Accountability can be created through consistent scheduling as it establishes a routine. Some methods for holding yourself accountable can include:  

  1. Participation in study groups: This can help reinforce your own learning through immediate feedback. I preferred studying in groups with friends in my first year. This can be an enjoyable and productive experience.
  2. Having an accountability buddy: This can help you overcome the temptations to procrastinate. I had a friend be my study buddy and we would commit to testing each other on class material at the end of each week. This made studying for evaluations easier.

Setting a standing time to work with peers can keep you motivated. Connecting meetings with rewarding activities such as taking coffee breaks together can provide an incentive to stay on track and create a friendly work environment.  

Sometimes it might seem that there aren’t enough hours in a day to complete everything you need to get done or it can be difficult to visualize tasks. You must create a disciplined strategy for yourself if you want to achieve your academic goals.

Create a schedule to ensure that you are effectively utilizing your time. I would usually start off the week by listing out all the tasks I have to complete within the span of the week. This would allow me to visualize my goals and create a sufficient action plan. Your schedule will help you prepare well for challenging course exams, and it is an excellent habit to continuously develop and implement in your daily life.  

With many of the courses you take, you will find a surprising amount of overlap in the content that is presented to you and naturally we make connections. This helps consolidate information in a more meaningful way and you are likely to have a better grasp of the content when you are tested on it.  Take a moment at the end of the week to try to connect information across disciplines. 

  • Can I apply what I learned in physics today to what I learned in chemistry last week? 
  • Can I connect the information I am learning in my intro psychology course to what was taught in biology today? 

By connecting the information to your daily life, you will find overlap and think beyond what is taught in the classroom. It is always so interesting to see the things you are learning applied to your life beyond the classroom.   

Signing off

I hope you found these tips helpful and that they work just as well for you as they do for me.

Nabeelah student blogger

Nabeelah (she/her) is the program support assistant for the Student Success Centre’s (SSC) academic skills team. She has recently graduated from the Biology, Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour program here at McMaster University. Outside of school, she loves to play tennis, bake and hang out with friends and family. 

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