How to set yourself up for a successful semester

These five tips will alleviate some of the stress that comes with starting your term

Procrastinating? Not anymore. ILLUSTRATION: Tia Young / The Peak

by Maya Beninteso, SFU student

Tip #1: Ease into a regular sleep routine

I’m sure you have all heard some variation of this tip before, and remote learning does not lend itself to a perfect sleep schedule. However, it would be a good idea to start training your body to sleep earlier and earlier as the semester goes on. According to Statistics Canada, adults aged 18–64 require 7–9 hours of sleep each night. 

It is likely that some of you have not been receiving that amount of sleep, especially when it comes close to finals season. Although, a major culprit (and I hate to admit it) is our digital devices. Trust me, I am not immune to the allure of technological devices. I have often fallen victim to the common lie: “I am only going to scroll for another 10 minutes” — only to be on my phone for hours. Make it a point to try and stay off your devices as soon as you begin preparing for bed, or even better, an hour or so prior. Too much all at once? Try weening off your phone by starting with 10 minutes of device-free time and gradually increasing the time as the week goes on.


Tip #2: Do not overlook the syllabus

Syllabus week, by far, is the most overlooked week in the semester. Who wants to shift back into studying after a relaxing break? Nonetheless, this week is pivotal in determining your semester success. As soon as you acquire this sacred document, download it and note the key dates. If your professor has been kind enough to detail major assignments/test weeks, write. them. down. Whether that be on a physical calendar, a digital calendar, or both, just make sure you have it noted somewhere. Some other key elements of the syllabus to note are office hours, late policies, and grade weighting.

Another expert tip: if on the first week of classes you are not overly busy, try and get ahead. This will lessen your load as the semester progresses and will naturally give you more time to relax. Since the first week is mostly syllabus revision, what else is there to do? 


Tip #3: Schedule EVERYTHING

I know what you are thinking and, yes, this is extremely tedious. While it may seem over the top, scheduling: studying time, food/mind breaks, exercise, and time with friends will make the semester all the more bearable. For those who prefer a physical copy of their schedule, invest in a day planner. Conversely, for those who prefer a digital space to organize your day, utilize Google Calendars or other calendar/planning-oriented applications. 



10:00 a.m.–11:00 a.m. Exercise (gym, running, biking, hiking, etc.)

11:30 a.m.–1:50 a.m. Snack

12:00 p.m.–1:00 p.m. Review Course #1 

1:00p.m.–1:30 p.m. Lunch

1:30 p.m.–2:30 p.m. Review Course #2

2:30 p.m. –2:50 p.m. Break

2:50 p.m.–3:50 p.m. Review Course #3

3:50 p.m.–4:10 p.m. Break

4:10 p.m.–5:10 p.m. Review Course #4

5:10 p.m.–6:30 p.m. Free Time 


Sound intimidating? Try scheduling the biggest things first and then getting more specific from there. Your planner should be there to help you organize your life, not stress you out even more.


Tip #4: Review cumulative course material once every two to three weeks

This tip is crucial in reducing cramming in the weeks (or, let’s be honest, days) leading up to finals season. Constantly reviewing cumulative course material allows your brain to retain the information, encoding it into your long-term memory for later retrieval instead of just your short-term memory. This may even include creative techniques, such as making a catchy TikTok video about your course content. Try and have fun with your studying strategies; it may make it a bit more enjoyable. 

About three weeks before finals, start to review weekly or once every few days. This will ensure that you are sufficiently prepared for the final exam. The same rule applies for any papers you have to write; reviewing and planning well in advance sets you up for success. Following this tip will consequently reduce stress and eliminate all-nighters spent cramming. 

Still think cramming is effective? Read this informative BBC article. You may still opt to cram, but reviewing material in manageable chunks will serve you better in the long run. 


Tip #5: Prioritize your mental and physical well-being

The reality is, post-secondary can be mentally and physically draining; and the pandemic has not made it any easier. While I have received numerous emails from various professors detailing the respective supports offered by SFU, they are simply not enough. Your mental health is the basis of your overall health and once your mental well-being begins to deteriorate, your physical wellness will soon follow. In fact, the Canadian Mental Health Association asserts that physical and mental health go hand-in-hand. They state poor mental health places you at risk for chronic physical conditions, and vice-versa. With that said, ensuring you are exercising and getting outside (safely) is equally beneficial to your mental health as it is for your physical health. Exercising is even known to alleviate some symptoms of depression. A good way to get some physical activity is to go for a walk around your neighbourhood.

Take extra special care of yourself during your exam period. Students tend to neglect eating, or really anything other than studying during this time. Make sure you are setting yourself up to succeed in your exams. That includes taking time to rest and nourish your body. Another way to take care of your mental well-being is accessing counselling. While SFU’s Health & Counselling Department offers free counselling, there are external alternatives. Foundry BC has free virtual counselling for youth ages 12–24 and various mental health-related resources available online.

At the end of the day, everyone learns differently and has their own studying techniques. So use these tips and modify them in a way that best helps you. And of course, be sure to prioritize yourself and your own mental/physical health. Take breaks and do the things you enjoy. You’re going to school during a pandemic. Cut yourself some slack.