“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”
I remember watching an old commercial that played that song with parents shopping for back to school supplies for the new school year while their children dreaded the day. It always made me a little sick to my stomach.
I know… some of you folks actually enjoy going to school. Good for you. It’s probably best that way but it can be a bit of a stressful time either way.
Your brain is reintroduced to the challenges of the new school year:
- Will you do well this year?
- Will you have more friends?
- Will you embarrass yourself?
- Will you thrive?
There is no good way to answer these questions. Heading into the new school year is unpredictable. A lot can change over a summer (but usually not as much as worrying about it would make you think.)
There are a few important things to think about starting a new school year. These can help you gain control over the new year faster with less stress.
1. Forget “Back-To-School”
Television ads like to sell stuff for “back-to-school” but it’s really not a major occasion.
Sure… it can be a bit of a bummer to go back to school but that’s just how time works. Eventually, summer break was going to end. You saw it coming all along. The more you let these ads trying to sell you jeans and new notebooks convince you the new school year is a big occasion, the more you’re going to worry about it.
It’s almost pointless to worry about getting new clothes or stuff for the new school year. Sure, if your clothes don’t fit or are filled with disgusting stains then, by all means, buy away. The reality is that the clothes you wear (or the notebooks you have) will have almost no impact on your social or academic standings.
Sure, you need something but buying before school starts is the least efficient way of getting what you need. Instead of buying tons of stuff before the school year starts, try buying tons of stuff after you actually show up to class and know what you need.
Advertisers like to pretend back-to-school is some important occasion because it helps them sell more crap that students don’t need. A good student doesn’t need much to stay a good student.
I had one friend in college that always insisted on keeping up with the latest trends and fashions. This is a little cliche but she would pull out her iPhone and complain about not having any money. She’d wear the nicest clothes and was friends with plenty of the coolest people.
One day she asked me how I kept up in class. I wasn’t prepared for a good answer at the time. Eventually I realized the correct answer was “because I don’t try to keep up with that (phone, fashion, and the coolest friends.)”
You only have so much energy to invest. (I really don’t think it’s about time but that’s a different story.) It’s all about choosing where you invest it. What are your goals? Are you doing what you should to get them?
Odds are, they don’t even need to go shopping for those things. (A cool student doesn’t need much to stay a cool student either.) Personality is a major factor. Most claims to the contrary will come from someone selling you something.
When you give into this pressure you’re just teaching yourself to worry more about some imaginary perception of school. Not much is going to change from last year. Even the “big” transitions like middle school to high school aren’t that big.
Relax. You already have most of what you need.
2. The Biggest Step Up Is A Look Back
The best way to prepare for the new school year is to review the last school year.
I don’t have the exact statistic on me right now but something like 20% of the average high school class is reviewing stuff the student needs to remember from the year before. That adds up to the first couple months of your class being pure review.
For more details you can read the Wiki on summer learning loss.
A common finding across numerous studies is that on average, students score lower on standardized tests at the end of the summer than they do at the beginning of summer (on the same test). Summer loss for all students is estimated to be equal to about 1 month (Cooper 1996)
If you want to prepare for class then do that review process before the class starts.
This is more powerful than any shopping or trying to study up on your course in advance can do.
It allows you to put yourself 20% ahead of the average student. By knowing everything you’re supposed to know you’ll step into the class with a head start. This head start will add up into more points on your final score. It will also get you ready for the new material far in advance of the other students in your class.
This kind of review is a necessity because the average student forgets a huge chunk of what they learn in school after a few months of summer break. Those losses mean the teacher is almost required to reteach their students the “basics.”
While the other students are catching back up to what they should know, you’ll be able to get top notch scores from the start.
Remember, points early in the class may be easier but they’re often worth just as much as the later points. If there are 4 major tests through the semester, the first test is usually weighted the same as the later 3 tests. It’s also, usually, the easiest.
3. Syllabus Mastery
The most important aspect of any new class is your syllabus.
It’s essentially a cheat sheet for smart students.
I’ve gone over this a number of times on this blog but the impact is absolutely huge. One small realization from reading your syllabus can cut the amount of work you need to do for class in half.
On your syllabus you can find:
- Exploitable grading quirks
- Generous late work policies
- High value, low effort work
- Class summaries for later work prioritization
“Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”
Dalai Lama XIV
Exploitable Grading Quirks
If homework is only 10% of your final grade but takes up nearly 20% of your time then you know it’s a poor choice to spend your time on. If tests are 90% of your grade then it’s almost pointless to do anything not related to preparing for those tests.
Generous Late Work Policies
When late work is accepted without a big penalty you get to create a schedule based on your convenience. If you have a busy week then you can skip some of your generous late policy class’ work. Then you can get to it when you have more free time.
High Value, Low Effort Work
If something is worth nearly 50% of your grade but takes up barely any time then you know you’re on track for an efficient class.
Class Summaries For Later Work Prioritization
Late in the year you can estimate how likely something is going to be on the test based on how far your teacher is in their plan. If they have 10 lessons and are barely done with 5 after ¾ of the class then you can guess most of the work you’re getting will be on the test. If they have 10 lessons and you’re done with all but one with two months to go then the teacher is much more likely to hand out “busy,” aka untested, work.
Learn to use your syllabus and you’ll have one of the most powerful tools for improving your grades.
Starting the new school year can be stressful but by making smart decisions early on you can make it a whole lot easier.
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