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Academic Pressure: 10 Tips for Handling Difficult Classes
Nov 10, 2010
We've all been there: It's the first day of class and you already feel lost. Maybe the subject matter is out of your comfort zone, or you've reached an exceptionally advanced level. Either way, the coursework is hard and you're going to need some tools to handle the pressure. Don't miss these tips for tackling difficult college classes.
Meeting the Challenge
It's not uncommon for students to drop difficult classes out of fear of damaging their GPAs. But some challenging classes are required for graduation, and others may be interesting enough to be worth the hard work. Here are some strategies you can use to overcome academic pressure and succeed in even the most advanced courses.
1. Study the Curriculum
You can reduce your stress significantly by knowing what you're up against ahead of time. Carefully review the syllabus and assignment guidelines so you're not surprised by any of the materials.
2. Plan Your Term
As you review the syllabus, start determining which topics will be the most challenging for you, then map out a study plan for the whole term. Set small daily and weekly goals, and give yourself extra time for the hardest readings and assignments. If you divide the work into doable chunks, you'll find that the parts aren't nearly as overwhelming as the whole.
3. Refine Your Study Habits
Maybe you haven't had a difficult course before, or you're a natural student who doesn't often struggle with schoolwork. Either way, many students cruise through a lot of their college careers with bad study habits. Now that you're confronting a hard class, it's time for you to whip your study strategies into shape. Get - and use - a daily planner. Set aside time for reading, writing and other coursework each day. And give yourself rewards. Did you meet your daily study goals before dinner? Go grab some sunshine and social time in the quad.
4. Get Focused
One of the realities of hard classes is that they take extra effort, focus and time. Be prepared to skip some parties, miss select events or even stay at school over spring break. Just make sure you still budget time for yourself.
5. Meet with Your Professor
Find out when your instructor has office hours, and make the effort to meet with him or her outside of class. Tell the professor what you find challenging about the course, and ask if he or she has any tips for helping you understand the more difficult material. Just knowing that there are students struggling with some of the material may help the professor adjust the pace of the course.
If you're having trouble understanding the professor in class, it may also help to specify which aspects of his or her teaching strategy aren't working for you. Be very polite, but don't be afraid to offer constructive criticism - you may find yourself helping the entire class by speaking up.
6. Form a Study Group
If you find a class exceptionally difficult, chances are other students do too - but you can help each other. When you study with a group you can gain insights from students who understand some of your problem areas, and help others with the material you're most comfortable with in return. Just be careful to always turn in your own work and avoid violating any course rules. Many professors allow students to study together, but ask that you complete your homework while working alone.
7. Visit Your Learning Center
All colleges offer learning or tutoring centers that provide students with additional academic support. Many even have separate centers or special hours for specific academic departments or disciplines, such as math or natural sciences. Find out when and where you can get help with your coursework, and make it a point to show up at least once a week. Even if you just sit there by yourself finishing your homework, you'll find that simply knowing there's help a few feet away will make things a lot less frustrating.
8. Seek Outside Help
Maybe you can't make your learning center hours, or there just isn't a tutor who can help you with your work. For some college students, outside tutoring can be a lifesaver. Look on your college bulletin boards for professional services, or put out a request for help on your school's job listings - you never know who might be able to help. Just be aware that private tutoring can be expensive and isn't typically covered by financial aid.
9. Lighten Your Load
We all have moments in life where we have to come to terms with the fact that we've bitten off more than we can chew. Even if you can't drop your most difficult course, considering dropping another course that isn't required for graduation. Clearing up extra time in your class and homework schedules can make all the difference for succeeding in challenging courses. And remember - dropping a course isn't always 'giving up.' Learning your limits and how to effectively manage your time is an invaluable skill for school and life.
10. Fight Stress
Sometimes we make things harder on ourselves simply by worrying about them. It's important to take some time for yourself to reduce your stress levels and gain perspective on your workload. Make sure you're getting enough sleep, eating well and making time for social activities.