This semester had been incredibly smooth and calm for me so far. Even though the midterms are coming, I feel collected and in control. Everything seems to fall into place and the stars seem to be aligning. So in this post, I will share some advice about how to get into such a state in College or High School so that you don’t end up freaking out the week before exams.
1.) Cut Down on Procrastination and Social Media
I know, you love Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and probably can’t imagine your life without it. Which is why I’m saying “cut down on it” instead of “eliminate it.” Although “eliminating it” would be ideal.
By “cut down on it”, I mean that you should not be checking it every 5 minutes while you are studying or sitting down in class. This behavior will make you unhappy in the long run because you will not be in control of your life. Check it when you are taking a study break or (ideally) once a day before you go to sleep. If you have to use social media as a tool to organize your extra curricular obligations, promote a certain product, etc… than use it for those purposes only and set up specific times during the day for that type of social media use. If you just can’t keep your hands off of social media, than download a website blocker and block every social media website on your laptop for the time periods when you will be studying (and lock your phone away as well, of course).
Once the social media problem is resolved, half of the battle with procrastination will be won. The other half is not watching YouTube videos instead of doing work, talking to people, and entertaining yourself in other ways. To clarify, you can (and should) do all of those activities. Just not when you are studying. This type of multi tasking will only cause procrastination, force you to do everything at the last minute, and inevitably lead to stress. In order to stop yourself from procrastinating, remove as many distractions as possible, establish a special environment for studying, and if all else fails, find a friend to scream at you every time you decide to procrastinate.
2.) Make Yourself Look Presentable
No. I’m not suggesting that you should wear a suit every day to class or make yourself look like a Victoria’s Secret model.
All I’m saying is that you should look neat. This means that you should not through on the first thing you see lying around in your room. Make sure that whatever you choose to wear doesn’t look like something that you went to sleep in (Yes. There are some people who actually look like this at my university). Make sure that you brushed your hair, your clothes are clean, and everything in your bag is somehow organized.
The point of doing this is NOT to attract attention or to make you look attractive in front of someone you like. In my personal opinion, you shouldn’t worry too much about that issue in High School/College anyways. The point is to make yourself feel organized and “put together”. Doing this is much easier when you look the part than when you don’t.
And yes, you should also keep your room clean. Being in a clean environment will help you feel more organized.
3.) Establish a Routine
This is probably one of the most important items on this list. You should create a rough schedule for when you are going to work on your assignments and stick with it. This schedule should not be too strict because things will come up that you will need to take care off and too strict of a schedule will make you feel stressed out when those issues come up. However, having no routine will cause for your life to be all over the place, which is equally as bad.
Look at your schedule and decide when you can dedicate a certain amount of hours on studying each day. If you have a long term project (academic or otherwise) that you are working on, include it in your “schedule” and commit on working on it at least 3 times/week. If you are in High School, this part will be easy because most likely, you will have time to do homework after you come home from school. If in college, you will have more freedom of studying whenever so use this freedom wisely and study when you feel the most focused during the day. If you have a new extra curricular activity, part time job, or any other commitment that you want to add to your life, revise your schedule to include that activity.
You should allocate enough time for studying so that you can always be caught up with all of your readings and have most of your writing assignments/homework done a day in advance. You should also allocate some time for ongoing unassigned practice of the course material. If you do this, studying for the actual tests will not take that much time. With all of this said, I would not recommend going as far as allocating time for studying each specific subject. You might simply not have anything to do during a certain day and doing something simply for the sake of doing something is a waist of your time.
4.) Don’t Over Think
When it comes to academics, don’t make your life harder than it has to be and stick to the rubric. Do what you know is expected of you. Do not spend too much time crafting a perfect short story if your goal is to get an A and it doesn’t have to be perfect for you to get that goal. Don’t get passionate or attached to your academic work. You are not getting graded on”passion”. You are getting graded on standards and benchmarks that you must match. No one, except for your teacher, will read your work. Your work is mostly meaningless and is there for you to build up your skills, not to make significant contributions. Don’t spend too much time thinking about each specific assignment. Simply get it done, make sure that it matches the standards, and move on to doing something else. If you are obsessing too much over your academic work, it means that you have too much free time on your hands and you should get yourself another hobby, a part time job, an extra curricular activity, or anything else that’s productive and that you will find more significant to stop this behavior.
Just to clarify, I’m not saying to not take your academic work seriously. In fact, you should take it seriously and do all of your assignments thoroughly. However, there is no need to obsess over one assignment for days and days. In fact, doing this will most likely cause for you to have a lower grade on that assignment. So do your work, edit it, check the rubric, submit it, and move on.
5.) Have a balance of activities, not just academics
In order to resolve point #4, you should start doing things outside of academics. You are probably thinking that this advice will make you more stressed out because you will have more work to do. However, I found the opposite to be true. Having a hobby that you can focus on, a club that you attend, a part time job, etc… will help you 1.) get experience on your resume, which will decrease your stress later when you will be looking for a job or a summer internship (or help you with college admissions if you are still in high school 2.) do something that you enjoy and take your mind off of academics 3.) help you get out of the house and talk to people 4.) stop you from over thinking your school work and 5.) have experience with the “real world” outside of academia.
For specific activities, I would recommend doing 1-2 major/career related activities (or activities such as community service that will help you get into college if you are still in High School. Yes. I am including part time jobs and internships in this category) and 1 activity that you find “fun” so that you can relax. This is what you should do at minimum. If you find yourself having too much free time as mentioned in point #4, you should get yourself another activity. I’m using the term “activity” loosely here and don’t mean just extra curricular activities but also internships, part time jobs, hobbies that you might do alone at home, etc… If you are doing the IB program, than obviously you will already have guidelines in terms of extra curricular activities that you will have to follow. I have already described my advice on that in my post on IB so follow that guideline instead.
6.) Hang out with Friends
Even if you have a lot of school work to do, you should not allow for that to stop you from having social interactions. Going out with friends will allow for you to get advice, encouragement, and much needed social interaction in the week. Your friends will help you feel less stressed out. I usually hang out with friends a minimum of once a week. Again, I’m using the term “friends” loosely here and mean “anyone who you want to talk to”. For you, it might be going out to parties and meeting random people, speaking with a mentor, or going out to a restaurant with your best friend. Basically, you should have at least one “social” activity a week. This will help you get out of the library/house and not turn into a socially awkward person.
7.) Think of Education as You Becoming the Best Version of Yourself
Now that I am done with the more practical items on this long list, I am moving on to more of “things that I think about to remain chill through out the semester” type of items.
The most important thing that you should do in order to stop yourself from stressing out about schoolwork is to start thinking of the education process differently. Instead of thinking about how you “must get a certain grade”, think of it as a process of you becoming the best version of yourself and your grades being there to help you reflect on what you did wrong. This doesn’t mean that you forget about grades. You still pay attention to them and do your best to get the highest grades that you can get. You are still striving for excellence. However, you are focusing on the process of studying, completing assignments, and improving in order to get good grades rather than on the actual grades. Once you get a score on the test, you reflect on what you did wrong and change your studying/test taking strategy. You don’t start freaking out over your GPA or stressing out about needing to get all 100s on other tests to get an A. You concentrate on learning, not making the same mistakes again, and becoming the best version of yourself. If the subject is actually significant and you enjoy it, than you focus on doing your best for that reason. If it’s a stupid elective, than you think of the class as teaching you how to complete assignments on time, improve your time management skills, and soft skills of figuring out what the teacher wants you to say.
If you always do your best, good grades will follow and you will have nothing to worry about.
NOTE: point #4 is still valid. You do your best on assignments but you don’t over think them. You think of them as “practice” and “work that helps you become better” not as “masterpieces that I need to spend countless hours perfecting”.
8.) Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
Your focus should be internal (on yourself) not external. You shouldn’t care about what other students are doing, what grades they have, and wether or not they interned at Facebook this summer. Their life is the their life. Your life is your life. You don’t know for how long they have been getting good at something, if they have connections at those firms, and other circumstances in their lives. Instead, you focus on comparing yourself with yourself, looking at wether or not you are making improvements, and wether or not you are achieving your own, individual goals. Yes. You should ask what other people are doing in order to get ideas about what you should be doing. However, they should be just ideas and not what you “absolutely must do to be successful”.
9.) Focus on What you Can Control
You do not think about “what if” scenarios or complain about what happened in the past. You can’t change the past and you can only react to situations as they arise. You can’t change global events. Therefore, you should not worry about them. This should apply to everything that you do in your life but because we are discussing academics (college/high school life) here, I will apply this concept to academics.
For example, if you got an F in a class during your first semester, that sucks but their is nothing you can do about it now. Therefore, worrying about it now makes no sense. You can’t control or change the past. What happened, happened. Let go and move on. Also, you do not spend a lot of time thinking about how you will do a certain academic program or assignment, unless you are actually in that program or working on that assignment. You don’t start worrying about the IB Program at the beginning of 10th Grade. Why? because you are not yet doing that program. You think and address everything when it comes up not when it might come up.
So this are the main points about what I do this semester to remain calm and in control. A lot of those points will probably help you become a better student as well. Just remember that stress is an emotion that (just like any other emotion) you are in control of (or you can learn to be in control of).