3 College Tips for Finishing the Semester Strong

Missouri State University
The trees in front of Meyer Library at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri, with Strong Hall in the background.
Photo taken May 2020.

It’s that time again when I share tips from my years in college that helped me get through it with good grades and my sanity intact.

The last few weeks of a semester are always busy and stressful. I remember it well—prepping for finals, freaking out when you see how much material the exams cover, calculating what your overall grade might be based off the lowest score you could possibly get, skimming through piles of books and resources you’ve read throughout the semester, stressing over how many papers you have to write at once, planning classes for the next semester. Just bringing it all to memory now makes me a little anxious and weirdly energized.

Every semester, I was convinced my GPA would drop or that I would barely pass an exam or finish a paper on time, but somehow God carried me through it all. Below are three tips that helped me make it through the roughest moments during the end of a semester and prepare for the next one.

1. Don’t forsake the importance of note-taking!

Now, not every student is a note-taker. There were some classes during which I didn’t see the need or simply failed to take notes. As I advanced through college, however, I realized that note-taking was essential to my success. If a professor spent several minutes discussing an important term or event, I jotted down as many details as I could. Taking notes during classes helped me highlight important terms and information for upcoming tests and papers.

If your professor moves too quickly for you to take a lot of notes, consider recording your lectures. Toward the end of a semester, I recorded many lectures in my history and English classes to catch important details about what might be on the exam and how the exam would be structured. This method is especially helpful in preparing for finals because you can always go back to the recorded lecture and write down more in-depth notes!

2. Talk with your professors regularly.

Don’t be afraid to ask your professor every single question or bring up every single concern you have about the exam or final assignments. Really. Ask questions like, “Will such and such material be on the exam? How long of an essay response do you expect? Can we use notes on the exam?” Ask about the paper’s length, referencing style, and amount of sources. It may seem like you are bombarding your professor, but more often than not, your professor will want to help ease your concerns about the exam and give you guidance for how you should prepare for it and your papers.

It also lets your professor know how determined you are to succeed, which always factors into how they perceive you as a student and into your overall success in class. Constant communication with my professors always helped me determine how prepared I needed to be for finals and final assignments, how difficult the exam would be, and what my professors expected in the paper.

3. Prepare for the next semester.

Before registration for the next semester opened, I spent time looking up desired classes and schedules so that once registration day came, I would already know exactly what kind of schedule I wanted and register for it immediately. Classes usually fill up quickly, so don’t hesitate until the last minute or even a week or two after registration opens to plan the next semester.

Once, because I wasn’t at home when registration opened, I had my father do it for me as I coached him on the phone. Get others involved if you need help!

When you schedule classes, here are 3 things to consider: 1) the professor, 2) the time between classes, and 3) the distance between classes. You can use websites like ratemyprofessors.com to look up professors from your university and find out what to expect from each professor—how they grade, what kind of workload they give to students, and even how friendly they are. If you keep the same professors in classes of the same subjects, you’ll be able to develop a good working relationship with your professors, which will help you do better in classes in the long run!

Pay attention to what time each class you’re scheduling takes place and where they are located. During the fall semester of 2019, I had a scheduling issue after the semester began and quickly had to enroll in another class that took place only 15 minutes after my first class…at the OPPOSITE end of the campus! Needless to say, I was always rushing across campus to get to class in time, making my blood sugar drop constantly! If you schedule your classes in advance, aim for at least 30 minutes between classes that are in different buildings (15 minutes for classes that are close to each other), and try to schedule at least an hour break between a couple of classes if you are on campus all day.

Bonus tip: Do all the extra credit you can! This will help you keep your grade up in the class and keep your GPA stable should you not do as well on a final exam as you has hoped.

Siceluff Hall at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri. Photo taken August 2018.

Preparation and scheduling are the two most important factors to alleviate stress at the end of a semester. If you take notes, communicate with your professor, and prepare for both the finals and the next semester, you will be able to maintain good grades and be successful in college. As you look back in each semester, you may even find that preparation and a proper schedule has boosted your confidence for the next one.

And don’t forget what is perhaps the most important piece of advice regarding finishing each semester strong: when it’s all over, treat yourself to some cupcakes or cookies and take a well-earned nap to celebrate!

Just breathe, pray, and repeat.

How to Overcome Doubt with Determination

Overcoming doubt with determination by studying the Word.

Ever feel like bad things always happen to you, or like you just aren’t as lucky as those other people on social media who are living the dream and have it all together?

Ever doubt that things will work out because it seems they never do?

Sometimes, we make things harder for ourselves when all we focus on is the negative. It interferes with our ability to trust God and give Him our cares. Doubt can be crippling.

As someone who’s teetered between pessimism and optimism, I know the back-and-forth can make you emotionally and physically exhausted.

“God, I just want something good to happen in my life for once!” I’ve said before.

Our doubt blinds us from seeing how God is working, and it keeps us from moving forward with determination.

Doubt damages our determination.

After all, why bother embracing the future when you can’t see what’s ahead or when it seems bleak and uncomfortable? Why trust that things will work out when it seems nothing good ever happens?

You know, we often get stuck on patterns. If there’s a pattern of negative events in our lives, we come to expect negative things, and negativity becomes the lens through which we see life. As humans, we like patterns because they’re predictable. They give us a feeling of control. If we can predict what might happen, then we can prepare for the worst.

But God does not operate according to the predictions of man. His ways are higher.

When we learn to trust that God always has a plan for our lives, then we can turn our doubt into determination—the kind of determination that says, “I will trust in God no matter what happens.”

God's ways are higher than ours.

We say Thomas doubted that Jesus really had risen from the dead with a kind of disdain for Thomas’ attitude, but I’ve always found Thomas relatable here.

Think about it: Jesus Christ, whom the disciples had hoped would help them overthrow the government, was crucified three days prior. Their movement seemed hopeless and crushed. Bad things kept happening. And all of a sudden, a man stood in front of Thomas claiming to be the resurrected Christ. Perhaps many of us, if we had been Thomas in that moment, would feel it was too good to be true. After tragedy and disappointment, we might have responded to Jesus’ resurrection with hesitation and doubt.

Have you ever asked God for a sign if something really was Him?

God, if this is You moving, send me a sign!

Thomas declared that he would not believe until he had seen the scars in Jesus’ hands and touched His spear-pierced side. How did Jesus respond?

“Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.”

John 20:27-28 (KJV)

If we are to see Jesus, we must reach out and touch Him.

If we are to overcome our own doubt and pessimism, we must get closer to Him and believe.

Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God!

(See Romans 10:17.)

When we study His Word, we begin to hear His voice. When we hear Him, our faith in Him grows. As our faith grows, so does our trust and our confidence in Him.

The more we seek Jesus in determination, the more our doubt will diminish.

How to Live for Jesus in a Sin-Sick World

Walking with Jesus.

How can you be in the world and not of the world?

How do you live in the world and not love the world?

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed more and more young people I’ve seen grow up in the church or come into church as teenagers proceed to turn away from church once they reach the young adult years. As Christ’s return quickly approaches, it is disheartening to see these young people leave their love for the Lord and righteousness and give into worldly lusts. Yes, the world has many temptations, and it can be hard to resist the things our friends or society tell us are popular or fun. But if one loves God and attends church, how it is possible that he or she might end up choosing the world instead? How does one manage to live right in a sin-sick world and not fall into darkness?

After all, there are temptations and spirits of darkness everywhere, trying to pull us away from the Lord.

Well, it all boils down to one thing: your personal commitment to and relationship with Jesus Christ.

In order to stand firm in your beliefs and live for Jesus rather than the world, you must develop within yourself a love of righteousness, holiness, and the Lord and His Word.

Here are 3 ways you can resist the world and live for Jesus:

1. Don’t let yourself develop an appetite for worldly things.

The things we consume will influence our appetite and priorities.

Is that show or movie you’re watching coming between you and your relationship with God? Is the music you’re listening to causing you to speak or think more about worldly appetites than wholesome thoughts? Are you more enthusiastic about a tv show than talking with your friends about Jesus? Are you more exuberant in your praise at a football stadium than at the altar in a worship service? If you don’t let yourself love the things of the world more than the things of God, you’ll be able to be in the world and still stand for righteousness and holiness. Understand where those worldly things & behaviors lead you.

2. Develop an appetite for the things of God.

In order to do this, you can begin by replacing unhealthy habits with righteous ones. For example, instead of listening to worldly music on the way to church, listen to music that brings you closer to God. Instead of looking at Bible studying as a chore, find ways to make it more enjoyable by using study guides, Bible journals, and other interactive Bible study tools. As you read the Word more and apply it to your life, you’ll begin to see how His Word & Spirit will change you, and you’ll find yourself no longer wanting the things of the world but the things of God.

3. Surround yourself with God-first people.

My church school gang at a reunion.

One of my lifelong spiritual leaders has always said this phrase:

“If you can’t change your friends, change your friends.”

This doesn’t mean we can’t associate with and witness to people of the world. Of course, we absolutely should! But if those people with whom we’re spending most of our time are beginning to have a negative influence on us and are taking us further from the Lord, then it’s time to step away from those relationships. This doesn’t mean that we’re shutting them out and turning up our nose at them in a self-righteous attitude. It does mean recognizing that for our own salvation, we may need to distance ourselves from negative influences while still praying for those friends and their salvation.

You will become like the people with whom you surround yourself.

If you surround yourself with people who mock righteousness and holiness and resist the things of God, then you’ll drift further away from Him. If you surround yourself with Godly, God-first, and God-only people, then you’ll be able to grow in your relationship with God, loving and longing only for the things that please Him.

The world is intoxicated and diseased with sin. It’s dying, and it’s pulling so many lost souls into eternal suffering.

But when we live for Jesus and resist the world, we tell people that there is so much more to life than worldly pleasures and living for ourselves.

Temporal pleasures are, of course, fleeting. They don’t last. But the love of Jesus within us gives us lasting joy, contagious joy that spreads and overcomes the allure of this world.

When we live boldly for Jesus in this world and love Him more than the things of the world, we’re sending His message of hope to the lost that sin and death no longer have power over us when we surrender to Jesus Christ.

3 College Tips for Newbies & Pantsers: Midterm Edition

Strong Hall
Missouri State University
College
Strong Hall on a rainy day at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri.
Picture taken May 2020.

If you’re newer to this blog, you might not be aware that at certain points during the semester, I post some tips for those who are new to college or who tend to fly by the seat of their pants and put things off until the last minute. I believe it is essential that we try our best in every aspect of our work to reflect a godly character and strive toward excellency in all we do. Many of these tips are also applicable to those in high school, and we can even apply the lessons these tips explore to our lives beyond college.

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Midterms are almost here, and so are many big exams and paper due dates. Here are 3 tips I found helpful in preparing for exams and papers throughout my 5-year college experience:

1) Highlight key points & terms in textbooks or sources where you can.

For example, one history professor I had always provided us with a master list of terms we would need to know before each exam to properly define and describe them in paragraph form. Of course, we had no way of knowing which terms she would choose, and the list included some 60 terms out of which she would choose only a handful. Now, I felt she was pulling a Satan move on us, but after freaking out, I was determined to do well on the exam.

I searched through every document and page of every source we’d read thus far, highlighted each term, and wrote everything down about each term that I could find. The areas I focused on were the following: who, what, where, why, when, and how. Then, I wrote down the significance of each term. Doing so helped me prepare and pass my professor’s rigorous exams.

As you read your sources, any term or definition you come across is always worth highlighting and remembering just in case it comes up again later.

2) Plan your essays.

Do it. Even if you tend to be a pantser. A brief outline that simply states your essay’s topic and supporting points will go a long way in helping you create an organized paper that may earn you a good grade.

Brainstorm your ideas. Do some freewriting. Write down ideas for your essay’s intro paragraph and support for your main points. Write down the sources you’ll use to support each main point. Write down ideas for the significance of your essay’s topic that you will reflect on in the conclusion.

If you plan your research and an outline at least seven days before your paper’s due date, then you’ll have at least five to six days to write a page or two each day and finish just in time.

Pro tip: if you prepare two weeks in advance, you’ll have time to send your draft to your professor to get his or her tips on what you should change before the due date.

3) Take time every day to relax.

My ethics professor once explained how he never allowed himself to study so much in college that he couldn’t make time for his social life or to relax throughout the week. This was one of the best pieces of advice any professor had ever given me. I found that through applying his advice, I managed to enjoy my life even when I was juggling several papers and exams due at the same time.

College is stressful. You should be responsible and do your work on time. However, you should also take the time to be around your family and friends and (most importantly) spend time with God. If you study well and prepare for your papers, you’ll find you have more time during the week to relax for an hour or two each evening.

Read a book. Chat with your family. Spend more time in prayer. Take a nap.

Just breathe, pray, repeat, and relax, and you will get through it.

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The above are tips that apply to far more than just college experiences. Preparing for important projects in the workforce and adult world is essential for success. Taking the time out to enjoy your life with family and friends is essential for your mental and emotional health. Prioritizing your time with God is essential for your spiritual health.

We must never let ourselves become too lazy or too stressed or too busy that we don’t approach our work and relationships wisely and seriously.

If you know someone in college or even high school who’s struggling, share these tips with them as an encouragement. College is not forever, but the lessons one learns in college will help them get through the rest of life.

Setting the Right Goals in 2021

2021 is finally here, and many are already starting on those special resolutions they’ve set for themselves, but before you start on your new resolutions, here’s something you might consider:

Don’t.

Seriously, don’t make any resolutions. Instead, make goals, and instead of making goals that are glorified resolutions, strive to set goals for yourself that are practical and have a real purpose to them.

For example, I once set a goal at the beginning of a new year to exercise to a specific workout video every day. I did it for about a week, and then I began skipping a few days here and there. Those few days turned into an entire week, and before January was over, I’d completely abandoned my new year challenge.

“Well, that’s just you,” you might say.

Maybe that is just me. Maybe I have a deeper passion for delicious food than taking up running marathons, but maybe many of us have the habit of setting goals for ourselves out of flimsy desires that are simply unrealistic.

But I learned some time ago to choose a specific goal for which I had a passion and burden, and I developed a few steps to achieving success in completing said goal.

1. Start small.

Last year, I decided to study the Word more, so rather than commit right away to analyzing Isaiah or Revelations in depth, I chose one of my favorite shorter books—Esther. I knew it would be a book that I could easily commit to studying due to its short length (only 10 chapters), and I chose to read a few verses each day and study those verses only.

2. Set time aside each day.

I made a schedule to read Esther over the course of several weeks and estimated the time I would spend each day reading the verses and then set time aside to study each verse individually, taking notes and using Bible study tools to help me.

At the same time, I’d made a goal to pray more, so I set a realistic time to pray each morning. The set time sometimes changed, depending on the day of the week, but I knew that specifically writing down my goals and the time I would set aside for them would help me achieve them.

3. Gradually increase time allotted each day and effort necessary to complete the goal.

After about a week, I gradually began to increase how much time I spent in prayer. Sometimes, it was by five minutes or by ten minutes or by fifteen minutes, but the more I prayed and focused on prayer, the easier I found it was to increase my prayer time.

4. Approach with firm resolve and understanding—don’t quit.

I didn’t always pray as long as I needed to or study for as long as I could have, but I didn’t give up. Why? Why didn’t I give up the same way I gave up exercising to that new exercise video after a couple of weeks? Because I didn’t set a goal that was only linked to fleeting desires or insecurities. Instead, I made sure to set a goal linked to my own identity and lifestyle. I am a child of God, an Apostolic Pentecostal, and as such, I seek a stronger relationship with God through prayer and studying His Word. I understood the value of the goal I set.

When I failed one day to meet my goal, I began again the next day with a resolve to try harder and do better. By the end of the year, I’d managed to read through and study more of the Word, such as the book of Genesis and themes like comfort. Because I didn’t give up or revert to doing the “same-ole-same-ole,” I was able to reach a breakthrough in my prayers and spend more time in His Presence, getting closer to Him than I’d been before.

Don’t underestimate the importance of writing down your goals and setting schedules.

I’m a visual person, anyway, so putting down my goals and plans on paper helps solidify them in my mind and helps me take those goals seriously.

Your goals don’t have to be big, but your passion does.

If you don’t truly, really, deeply care for achieving your goals deep, deep down, then chances are you’ll give up on them.

After 2020 let down many people, I believe it’s acceptable to set small, realistic goals for 2021—something simple like spending more quality time with loved ones or taking a short vacation (or even staycation) that was cancelled last year due to lockdowns.

2021 will certainly be better than 2020 if we set that as a goal for ourselves and charge forward in faith and with purpose. We have an entire year ahead of us, and we can’t control what happens outside of ourselves. But we can control our determination.

Let’s do this, 2021!