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.

3 Ways to Maintain Our Spiritual Health

Chainmail, Soldier, Spiritual Battle, Protection

No one likes their flaws exposed. We wrap ourselves in armor to protect our egos, but are we wrapping ourselves in the armor of God to protect our souls?

“You don’t want people seeing the chinks in your armor,” I wrote in a creative nonfiction class last year. “Chinks. What does that mean? A weak point, a place of vulnerability, an opening for an attack from the enemy. A minor flaw, so says the online dictionary, or weakness in a plate of armor. A detrimental flaw. A special flaw. There’s an interesting phrase. A special flaw. It’s a special point of weakness that directs the enemy where to attack an otherwise invulnerable person. Are you invulnerable?”

Vulnerability is something of which many of us afraid. After all, who welcomes an attack from the enemy with open arms? We don’t want to be vulnerable, but sometimes, we allow ourselves to become vulnerable when we do not take care of our spiritual well-being. One missing or weak link can be deadly.

In a history class on the Spanish Conquest in 2019, I held a coat of chainmail as my professor lectured on the weapons of the Conquest. It was a small section of a coat of chainmail—about a 12-inch square. Remembering my professor’s lecture, I later described in my essay for a creative nonfiction class how the Europeans manufactured the chainmail while they rested between battles: “A blacksmith would take thousands of tiny metal or steel rings and carefully interlink them by hand. A single coat of chainmail could take months to finish if a skilled blacksmith worked 10-hour days.” If the blacksmith didn’t do his job correctly, it could spell death for the unlucky soldier wearing the flawed coat of chainmail. I became so fascinated with the concept of the process of creating a coat of chainmail that I reflected on its significance—and spiritual parallels—even more in my own writing.

“You imagine the misery of knitting steel for a living in 90-degree weather with 60-percent humidity in the Yucatan Peninsula,” I wrote, “trying to get a piece of chainmail done for a hotshot conquistador so he’s a little more likely to survive the arrows or stabbing spears of the Mayans than the footman who came over for gold and glory with only a helmet and a crossbow….You imagine the fever of smallpox getting to you while linking those steel rings and skipping a section right where the coat will slip over the conquistador’s left shoulder. If the Maya or Aztec crossbowmen spot the opening, the glory-seeking conquistador won’t last long. One small missing chink in his armor, and the obsidian arrow blade will tear through the chainmail as though it were linen instead of steel. A special weakness.”

At this point, you may be wondering why I’m going on about the history of developing chainmail in the Spanish Conquest and including excerpts from my own writing. As a deeply private person, vulnerability has always been a relevant topic to me. Those of us who like to keep things close to the chest tend to guard ourselves with more caution. But there are times when we may all be guilty of caring more about preserving our pride than protecting ourselves from spiritual attacks.

When we’re not prepared and protected, we give the enemy an opportunity to attack. There are at least 3 things we can do to ensure our chainmail is not missing any links:

1.) Stay prayed up.
2.) Stay well-read.
3.) Stay clothed in the armor of God.

(11) “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
(12) For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
(13) Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
~Ephesians 6:11-13 (KJV)

Do we have on the helmet of salvation? Are we carrying the sword of the Spirit? How’s our daily Bible reading? Are we keeping up a daily prayer life?

The armor of God is necessary for our spiritual protection. We are warriors in the Lord’s army, and our battles are spiritual. Just as soldiers must keep their armor in its best condition to protect themselves from harm, so must we keep our armor in its best condition through daily prayer & Bible reading. This also requires frequent checkups of our armor to ensure we’re not missing a crucial piece.

If we aren’t maintaining our spiritual armor, then we are allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to the enemy’s attacks due to our own laziness or carelessness. Without a helmet on, we expose our minds to sinful thoughts. If our shield of faith is missing, then we expose ourselves to the enemy’s arrows.

Proper preparation and protection will help us repel the enemy’s attacks.

Though God is always with us to win the victory, we cannot use His protection as an excuse to be careless with the upkeep of our spiritual well-being.

We may labor under harsh conditions as the blacksmith labored in the Spanish Conquest to develop a flawless coat of chainmail, but our labor is not in vain when we approach our work with purpose and dedication.

We labor in the Kingdom, we pray, and we study the Word so that we can withstand the attack of the enemy, so that there are no chinks in our spiritual armor, so that there are no missing links in our coat of chainmail.

One missing link can be deadly.

So, examine yourself each day and ask this question:

Are you vulnerable?

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.

*****

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.

Be Prepared

This is the story of how I almost contracted pneumonia after a treacherous journey in a torrential rainstorm during the fall semester of 2019.

It was around five o’clock in the evening, and I had only fifteen minutes to race from one side of my university campus to the other side and make it to my history class in time. When I chose my classes that semester, I knew a moment might come when I would regret the back-to-back scheduling of classes on opposite sides of the campus, but I could never predict how or why that might happen.

I was not prepared for the rain. Sure, I had checked my weather app that morning and knew there was a slight chance of rain, but it was only slight, and I didn’t want to carry around an umbrella all day, so I brushed it aside. A foolish decision, really, for the rain was not light, and I had no tool at my disposal to protect me.

It was a cold October evening, if memory serves me correctly, and I had to rush from my English to my history building while carrying my bag full of books and my purse as the rain poured. It soaked my thick, chenille-knit sweater and flattened my curls against my scalp. Of course, I tried to shield my head from the rain by holding my notebook over my head, but then I realized that I couldn’t let my class notes become soaked and, thereby, unreadable, and so I quickly stuffed the notebook back in my bookbag and sloshed forward as the rain beat on. By the time I reached my history building, I was nearly thoroughly wet.

And, of course, my history building was cool and breezy, and so I sat in the front row of my history class on the Spanish Conquest for nearly three hours in the evening in a wet sweater and damp hair.

I could get pneumonia, I thought. I could have a terrible cold. I might freeze to death in this classroom, wearing my adorable but uncomfortably wet chenille-knit sweater. I should have known.

Yes, I should have known to bring my umbrella and perhaps even my rain jacket that day, and when my father picked me up from class that night, he cranked up the heat in his truck for me and wisely informed me I should make sure to bring my umbrella next time. That week, he brought me a poncho to keep on me “just in case.”

Spoiler alert: I did not die, and neither did I contract pneumonia or come down with a cold or even the sniffles and a light cough. But the uncomfortable experience of sitting in a cool room in damp clothes and wet hair for three hours gave me plenty of reason to always be prepared for the next time it might be raining during the walk between my classes. If I had been prepared, I could have saved myself all that discomfort.

But don’t we often ignore our better judgment and find ourselves ill-prepared for life sometimes?

There were times in college when I failed to start my morning with a proper prayer session, and the rest of my day was awful. I was extra irritable and extra stressed and generally in a bad mood, and I remember thinking each time that if only I had prepared myself for the day in prayer, then perhaps I wouldn’t have been so miserable.

Prayer is not only our time to commune with God, but it’s how we prepare for each day and each situation so that we begin each day and situation prayed up and spiritually balanced.

I’ve prayed before every test I’ve taken, paper or assignment I’ve submitted, and important decision I’ve made. If I fail to do so, it is the same for me as failing to give God full control of every situation. Failing to put my life and work in His hands is the same as attempting to keep my life and work under the control of my incapable and ill-equipped hands.

I need Jesus to get through each day and each situation.

I need Him when I’m taking a test.

I need Him when I’m choosing which career decision to make.

I need Him when I’m walking through the literal or metaphorical rainstorm.

If we’re going to be prepared for whatever comes our way in life, we can’t ignore our responsibility to seek Him in prayer first. During prayer, God equips us with the ability and strength we need to get through each day, for He is the only One Who knows what each day will hold.

Prayer is preparation, and our preparation must begin with Jesus.