The start of a new school year or semester can be exciting and something to dread at the same time. There’s no doubt about it - doing well in school requires a lot of study, practice, and work. What you may not know is that it is much harder to catch up than it is to stay ahead, just like it’s easier to coast downhill than to pedal uphill on a bike. If you can get a good running start you’ll be able to coast through the rest of the year. This guide will tell you how to get up to speed.
Work is a Four Letter Word
Everyone wants to get as much juice for as little squeeze as possible. People will tell you to work smart, instead of working hard, and by following the tips in this guide you’ll definitely be working smarter, but you’ll still have to study, do homework, write papers, and take tests. No one else can do that for you.
There’s no real shortcut to mastering your classes. You’ll still have to do the work. What this guide will show you is how to get ahead in your work, stay ahead, and get good grades without having to cram or be frazzled because you’ve slacked off for weeks.
How to Get Ahead (and Stay Ahead) in School
Get a Running Start
The hardest part of starting any new project is overcoming inertia. If you have to move a car, it takes a lot of pushing to get it moving and to build up momentum, but once it’s moving it takes much less effort to keep it rolling. Schoolwork is like that too. If you do a little extra work in the beginning of the school year or semester, it is much easier to keep it up throughout the rest of the year.
Push Hard for Two Weeks
You can get your running start by working hard for only two weeks. That’s all it takes to stay ahead on your work and not let anything slip by. If you’re already far behind, it may take a little longer to catch up, but once you do, you’ll still want to try the Two Week Push, because you don’t want to fall behind again.
Stay One Chapter Ahead
Most classes will use a textbook or handouts that you’ll have to read at home. The great thing is, most teachers will likely give you a syllabus - an outline that tells you what you’ll have to know or do (papers, tests, etc.) and when! There is usually no mystery about what the course will entail or what work you’ll have to do, and often teachers will give you a copy of the syllabus on the very first day. So you should never be in the dark about what you have to do next, and you can use the info in the syllabus to help plan ahead. It almost isn’t fair.
Since you’ll know what you need to read or what homework you’ll need to hand in over the next two weeks (and if you don’t, your instructor will likely be happy to tell you what you’ll need to cover over the next fortnight), the Two Week Push is the time to not only keep up with your assignments, but to gain ground by being ahead in your work. This not only keeps you on top of your current work, but gives you a cushion should you need to take a day off from your schoolwork due to illness, vacation, or some other unforeseen circumstance.
If you’re assigned some reading, read a chapter ahead. If you have math problems or a project due, get it done at least two weeks early.
You’ll work harder during the Two Week Push than you probably ever have in school before, but two weeks is a short amount of time. It’s fourteen days. The average school year is 180 days. That means you’ll be coasting and having a much easier time of your schoolwork for 166 days, or the bulk of your school year or semester.
Take Every Advantage
Here’s a dirty little secret about people in the education business: teachers, librarians, tutors, and pretty much all other school staff love to help students with their schoolwork. It actually brings them joy when someone asks them questions or shows interest in their field of study. Your teachers will go out of their way to help you, but you have to ask them for it. Never again in your life will people work harder to make sure you succeed. They’re not going to do the work for you, but they’ll likely put in a lot of time and effort to help you succeed if you’re doing your part to study and work on your assignments.
If your school offers tutors, check in with them as soon as possible to go over your syllabus, what you have to do in each of your classes, and get to know the tutor. If tutors aren’t an option, ask your teacher or professor if you could talk with them for a few minutes after class, after school, or during their office hours to go over your syllabus, see if they have any other ideas for how you can stay ahead in your work, and ask them about any questions you may have about the work or the course in general. They will admire your gumption, and it’ll be good for you if you differentiate yourself from your classmates by showing a little initiative about your studies.
If a teacher offers extra credit for a little bit of extra work, do it. You can never have too many points, and the extra credit will give you a little breathing room in case you don’t get an A on every test.
Keep Your Lead
Once you’re ahead the trick is to stay ahead. After the Two Week Push you should be a chapter or two ahead of your classmates. From then on out, all you have to do is read or do whatever assignments are next - and you’ll always be ahead. You’ll get the added benefit that everything taught in class will simply be a review for you, and you’ll have a chance then to ask questions about something that is unclear to you.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions in class. No one will think you are stupid for asking the question, and in most cases there will be others in the class who want to know the same thing but are too timid to ask. It’s easy to say “Don’t worry about being cool” because I know that the social pressures of school are real, and important. However, I doubt anyone will think less of you for doing well in school. If you’re worried about that, face the fact that you probably aren’t cool if your peers’ opinions mean that much to you, and besides, your good grades can be your little secret. They don’t have to know.
At times you may feel overwhelmed with schoolwork, especially if you have other activities or jobs that you have to do in addition to studying and doing homework. During those busy times, you’ll be glad that you have that two week cushion of work already done, but remember that if you let your lead slip you’ll have to make it up again. It’s like taking a loan from yourself. You’ll have to pay it back by pushing ahead again for a week or two. Heck, it’s still easier than trying to catch up after you’ve fallen behind.
Never Give Up
The most important thing is that you never give up, even if you slip a little and don’t keep two weeks ahead of your classes. Don’t beat yourself up if you are only a week ahead and no matter how much time you spend you can’t keep a full two weeks banked. Just keep going, and again, if something seems particularly difficult or you just can’t quite get something, be sure to meet with your teachers or tutors and go over the material until you understand it. There’s really no amount of cramming or memorization that can compare with fully understanding something. If you know it down cold, you won’t need to cram. It’ll be as automatic to you as tying your shoelaces or falling off of a bicycle.
By following the principle of the Two Week Push you’ll be able to get ahead and stay ahead in your schoolwork, excel without struggling, and will get good grades. Go get ’em.
About the Author
Jough Dempsey is a poet & critic and the webmaster of Poetry X, an online poetry resource for those who kick ass and chew bubblegum. In his spare time he enjoys being all out of bubblegum.