Class Preparation

Photo of a guy doing homework on a table
To be prepared is half the victory.

—Miguel de Cervantes, Spanish novelist and playwright

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Identify effective mental and physical strategies to prepare for an individual class session
  • Describe typical ratios of in-class to out-of-class work per credit hour and how to effectively schedule your study time

Prepare for Class

Kai feels like he is struggling through his first semester of college. He works long hours at a job every night, lives at home, and helps care for his younger sister. When he gets home from work, he is ready for bed and is often too tired for homework or studying. He has trouble focusing in class and occasionally drifts off during lectures. Kai knows he needs to change some of his habits, but he feels too overwhelmed to know where to start.
Lots of students like Kai have to balance a lot of responsibilities, such as work, school, and family. Such competing demands can make it hard to get the most out of class time and assignments. The effort you put in to succeed in college will pay off, though, and there are ways that you can physically and mentally prepare to excel in class.

Eat Healthy Meals and Snacks

Sometimes students get so busy that they skip meals like breakfast or lunch and then resort to junk food and coffee or caffeinated drinks to get them through. While a candy bar and soda might give you a temporary boost, you'll soon feel tired and hungry again. Eating healthy meals and snacks that contain lean protein, vegetables, and fruits will give you the energy needed to accomplish all of your daily tasks. The United States Department of Agriculture MyPlate on Campus site includes tips on healthy eating, especially in the cafeteria setting. We'll return to this topic later in the course.

Exercise Regularly

Similarly to healthy eating, exercising can give you energy throughout the day. Physical activity can also help prevent you from getting sick, which can lead to missed classes and work and lower grades. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), college-aged students should get at least 2.5 hours of exercise each week.Three young men playing basketball in an urban park

Get Enough Sleep

Sleeping is like recharging your personal battery each night for the next day. However, studies show that on some campuses like the University of Alabama, 60 percent of the student population doesn't get adequate sleep. Although some students will need slightly more or less sleep, most should aim for eight hours every night. Along with getting enough sleep, students can practice healthy habits to sleep soundly, like avoiding caffeinated beverages before they go to bed and reading instead of using electronic devices before bed to help the body start to relax.[3]

Manage Stress

According to a recent American Psychological Association (APA) study, more than half of college students who used their school’s counseling services cited anxiety as the reason they sought help. Other stress points included relationship and academic problems. Stress management will look different for each student. For some students, the solution might include exercising. Other students might want to make time each week to meditate, go out with friends, spend time with pets, listen to music, or work on arts-and-crafts projects. Regardless of which activities you enjoy, it's important to make time for stress management in your schedule.[4]

Talk to Guidance Counselors or Instructors

Guidance counselors and instructors are good resources to help you learn strategies for being successful both in and out of the classroom. For example, your guidance counselor might suggest dropping a class if you are currently taking too many, or your instructor might be able to give you additional studying resources for any concepts you find difficult, so you can catch up for future classes.

Sometimes student success can be as simple as changing your mindset. For example, if you identify what makes you happy and brings you positive thoughts, you might generate more motivation and enthusiasm for schoolwork and class time. The following video discusses other small goals students can set in order to succeed.

Class-Time to Study-Time Ratio

After Kai decides to talk to his guidance counselor about his stress and difficulty balancing his activities, his guidance counselor recommends that Kai create a schedule. This will help him set time for homework, studying, work, and leisure activities so that he avoids procrastinating on his schoolwork. His counselor explains that if Kai sets aside specific time to study every day—rather than simply studying when he feels like he has the time—his study habits will become more regular, which will improve Kai's learning. 

At the end of their session, Kai and his counselor have put together a rough schedule for Kai to further refine as he goes through the next couple of weeks.

Although Kai knows that studying is important and he is trying to keep up with homework, he really needs to work on time management. This is challenging for many college students, especially ones with lots of responsibilities outside of school. Unlike high school classes, college classes meet less often, and college students are expected to do more independent learning, homework, and studying. The amount of time students spend on coursework outside of the physical classroom will vary, depending on the course (how rigorous it is and how many credits it's worth) and on the institution's expectations. However, a general rule is that the ratio of classroom time to study time is 1:2 or 1:3. That means that for every hour you spend in class, you should plan to spend two to three hours out of class working independently on course assignments. For example, if your composition class meets for one hour, three times a week, you're expected to devote from six to nine hours each week on reading assignments, writing assignments, etc.

If you account for all the classes you're taking in a given semester, the study time really adds up—and if it sounds like a lot of work, it is! The only way to stay on top of the workload is by creating a schedule to help you manage your time. You might decide to use a weekly or monthly schedule—or both. Whatever you choose, the following tips can help you design a smart schedule that's easy to follow and stick with.

Start with Fixed Time Commitments

First off, mark down the commitments that don't allow any flexibility. These include class meetings, work hours, appointments, etc. Capturing the "fixed" parts of your schedule can help you see where there are blocks of time that can be used for other activities.

Kai's Schedule

Kai is taking four classes: Spanish 101, US History, College Algebra, and Introduction to Psychology. He also has a fixed work schedule—he works 27 hours a week.

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
8:00 AM
9:00 AM Spanish 101 Spanish 101 Spanish 101 Spanish 101 Spanish 101
10:00 AM US History I US History I US History I Work
11:00 AM College Algebra Intro to Psychology (ends at 12:30) College Algebra Intro to Psychology (ends at 12:30) College Algebra
12:00 PM
1:00 PM Work (start 12:30 end 4:30) Work (start 12:30 end 4:30) Work (start 12:30 end 4:30)
2:00 PM Work Work
3:00 PM
4:00 PM
5:00 PM
6:00 PM
7:00 PM
8:00 PM

Consider Your Studying and Homework Habits

When are you most productive? Are you a morning person or a night owl? Block out your study times accordingly. You'll also want to factor in any resources you might need. For instance, if you prefer to study very early or late in the day, and you're working on a research paper, you might want to check the library hours to make sure it's open when you need it.

Kai's Schedule

Since Kai's Spanish class starts his schedule at 9:00 every day, Kai decides to use that as the base for his schedule. He doesn't usually have trouble waking up in the mornings (except for on the weekends), so he decides that he can do a bit of studying before class. His Spanish practice is often something he can do while eating or traveling, so this gives him a bit of leniency with his schedule.

Kai's marked work in grey, classes in green, and dedicated study time in yellow:

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
7:00 AM
8:00 AM Spanish 101 Spanish 101 Spanish 101 Spanish 101 Spanish 101
9:00 AM Spanish 101 Spanish 101 Spanish 101 Spanish 101 Spanish 101
10:00 AM US History I Spanish 101 US History I Spanish 101 US History I Work
11:00 AM College Algebra Intro to Psychology (ends at 12:30) College Algebra Intro to Psychology (ends at 12:30) College Algebra
12:00 PM Spanish 101 Spanish 101 Spanish 101
1:00 PM Spanish 101 Work (start 12:30 end 4:30) Work (start 12:30 end 4:30) Work (start 12:30 end 4:30) Spanish 101
2:00 PM US History I Work Work Intro to Psych
3:00 PM
4:00 PM
5:00 PM College Algebra College Algebra College Algebra
6:00 PM
7:00 PM
8:00 PM Intro to Psych Intro to Psych
9:00 PM US History I US History I
10:00 PM

Plan Ahead

Even if you prefer weekly over monthly schedules, write reminders for yourself and keep track of any upcoming projects, papers, or exams. You will also want to prepare for these assignments in advance. Most students eventually discover (the hard way) that cramming for exams the night before and waiting till the last minute to start on a term paper is a poor strategy. Procrastination creates a lot of unnecessary stress, and the resulting final product—whether an exam, lab report, or paper—is rarely your best work. Try simple things to break down large tasks, such as setting aside an hour or so each day to work on them during the weeks leading up to the deadline. If you get stuck, get help from your instructor early, rather than waiting until the day before an assignment is due.

Consider Leisure Time

It might seem impossible to leave room in your schedule for fun activities, but every student needs and deserves to socialize and relax on a regular basis. Try to make this time something you look forward to and count on, and use it as a reward for getting things done. You might reserve every Friday or Saturday evening for going out with friends, for example. Or, if a club you're interested in meets on Thursdays during a time you've reserved for studying, try to reschedule your study time so you can do both.Feet propped up in a hammock

Kai's Schedule

When you look at Kai's schedule, you can see that he's left open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings. While he plans on using Sundays to complete larger assignments when he needs to, he's left his Friday and Saturday evenings open for leisure.

Now that you have considered ways to create a schedule, you can practice making one that will help you succeed academically. The California Community College’s Online Education site has a free source for populating a study schedule based on your individual course load.

Check Your Understanding

Answer the question(s) below to see how well you understand the topics covered in the previous section. This short quiz does not count toward your grade in the class, and you can retake it an unlimited number of times.

Use this quiz to check your understanding and decide whether to (1) study the previous section further or (2) move on to the next section.

  1. "Sleepy "Students Emphasize Studies, Social Activity to Detriment of Health, According to UA Study.\" UA News. 20 Aug 2014. Web. 10 Feb 2016."
  2. "College "Students: Coping with Stress and Anxiety on Campus.\" American Psychiatric Association Blogs. 27 Aug 2015. Web. 10 Feb 2016."
  3. "Sleepy "Students Emphasize Studies, Social Activity to Detriment of Health, According to UA Study.\" UA News. 20 Aug 2014. Web. 10 Feb 2016."
  4. "College "Students: Coping with Stress and Anxiety on Campus.\" American Psychiatric Association Blogs. 27 Aug 2015. Web. 10 Feb 2016."

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