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Preparing for online classes: tips for studying, working from home

The online semester could be a challenge for many of us who aren't used to learning and working from home. Here are some ways to acclimate to the new remote learning arrangement.
Photo by The Daily TargumThe online semester could be a challenge for many of us who aren't used to learning and working from home. Here are some ways to acclimate to the new remote learning arrangement.

When entering college, many first-years have a hard time learning how to hold themselves accountable and keep up with their courses. Working and studying from home has added a new dimension to this challenge, as there are no professors or classmates around to encourage students to get their work done. Remote learning makes it easier for students to get off track, but there are some ways to keep yourself focused throughout the semester. 

Read your syllabus

Your syllabus will have everything you’ll need for your class: contact information, grading breakdowns, a summary of the topics you’ll learn, a schedule for the semester, textbooks and more. Use this information to your advantage and plan ahead. If you stay ahead of your lectures, you’ll not only find classes easier to understand, but you’ll also save yourself a lot of work as exam season approaches.

Study in segments

Don’t burn yourself out and study for 24 hours straight the day before your exam! It may have worked in high school, but it will never work out in college.

Breaks are important, even if you have an exam tomorrow morning. Studying for 25 minutes then taking a 5-minute break can keep you focused while you study, and may help you study for longer overall. 

Find a separate place to study

Even though we’re not on campus, try to find a space to study and do work that isn’t where you sleep! On campus, you can find a place like this in a library or a student center, even in the lounge of a residence hall. But at home, you can always study outside, your living room, the dining table and so on. 

The separation between where you go to sleep and where you study honestly helps with productivity. Sure, you can sleep anywhere, but at least you won’t find yourself curling underneath your covers rather than at a table doing work.

Find out what works best for you and your classes

For more STEM-oriented classes, practice problems are your best friend. Drill through old homework, quizzes, tests or textbook questions. Knowing how to recognize problems and how to solve them will help on exams. Otherwise, for more conceptual, information-based classes, find how you best internalize information. 

This takes some trial and error, but the sooner you find out what works for you, the better you’ll work for the semester!

Plan out your week 

When spending every day at home, it is easy for the days to blend into one another. Planning daily and weekly tasks in advance can help you be more productive and manage your time better.

At the beginning of each week, write down which days and times you have classes, which assignments are due or other tasks you want to complete. From there, you can plan out how much time you want to work on a given task or study each day. Listing out all your tasks can help you feel less overwhelmed and getting to cross them off when they’re completed feels rewarding. 

Maintain a normal routine

Your physical state will affect your mental state, and although it may be easy to stay in pajamas all day and wake up 5 minutes before your class is scheduled to begin, you might not be in the best state to actually retain the information you’re learning.

Since you don’t have to allocate time in the morning to physically get to class, you can use the extra time to maintain some sense of normalcy. Getting dressed, having breakfast and creating a morning routine will have you feeling more alert when it comes time to get some schoolwork done. 

Create a workspace

As mentioned in the list of study tips, it is helpful to keep your workspace separate from where you like to relax or sleep. It is important to work somewhere with minimal distractions, which could be in your room at a desk or table, or a common area like the kitchen. Having a source of natural lighting is also helpful for staying alert. Using the same workspace each day can encourage you to be productive once you sit down in the space and helps separate work from your personal life. 

Not everyone can find an area of their living space that is distraction-free, especially if you share a room or have other family members working from home. If you have no choice but to work from your bed, try making your bed in the morning and propping yourself up to avoid the temptation of laying back down. 

Take timed breaks throughout the day

Normally, a day on campus is broken up by things like walking from class to class, stopping to talk to a friend on the street or riding the bus. Working from home eliminates these natural breaks from each day, making it easier for you to become overwhelmed, overworked or bored.

To help your day flow better, try to plan breaks between classes or while studying. It’s a good idea to get up and walk around, get some fresh air or give your eyes a break from staring at a screen all day. Setting a timer for your breaks is also useful to help you get back on track and avoid getting distracted.

Allocate time for yourself 

Adjusting to college is stressful enough on its own, but doing so in such unique circumstances can definitely have a negative impact on your mental health. Keeping up with classes is important for any student, but taking time out of your day for yourself is just as crucial.

When planning your daily tasks, try to schedule the most rigorous work earlier in the day to have the nights for yourself. Knowing you’ll get to watch your favorite TV show, read a book or do some other enjoyable activity after working hard during the day will motivate you and help you unwind before bed. 

Communicate with professors and administrators

Working from home is still a relatively new practice that is challenging for everyone — students and professors alike. Certain circumstances, such as unstable internet access, sharing a bedroom, caretaking for people living with you, living in another timezone or other unique aspects of your home life, can affect your ability to attend classes — especially those held in real-time — or submit assignments on time. 

If you have concerns about working from home, contact your professors at the start of the semester to discuss your circumstances. Some professors may be more strict than others, but communicating is the first step to finding a solution. The Dean of Students office is also a great resource for students facing various challenges and can potentially accommodate your needs. 

In the end, please remember that it’s okay to fall behind. We’re in difficult times, and not many of us have the ideal home environment to devote ourselves to our studies. Just remember that this semester is only one of many, so do your best and make the most of your time!