Academic Pressure: 10 Tips for Handling Difficult Classes

Nov 10, 2010

We've all been there: It's the first day of class and you already feel lost. Maybe the subject matter is out of your comfort zone, or it's an exceptionally advanced class. Either way, the coursework is hard and you're going to need some tools to handle the pressure. Don't miss these tips for tackling difficult college classes.

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Academic Stress

Meeting the Challenge

It's not uncommon for students to drop difficult classes out of fear of damaging their GPAs. But some challenging classes are required for graduation, and others may be interesting enough to be worth the hard work. Here are some strategies you can use to overcome academic pressure and succeed in even the most advanced courses.

1. Know What Lies Ahead

You can reduce your stress significantly by knowing what you're up against ahead of time. Carefully review the syllabus and assignment guidelines so you're not surprised by any of the materials. One of the realities of hard classes is that they take extra effort, focus and time. Be prepared to spend more time on these classes than others - which could mean staying in on the weekends or turning down invitations to social events.

2. Plan Your Term

As you review the syllabus, start determining which topics will be the most challenging for you, then map out a study plan for the whole term. Set small daily and weekly goals, and give yourself extra time for the hardest readings and assignments. If you divide the work into doable chunks, you'll find that the parts aren't nearly as overwhelming as the whole.

3. Refine Your Study Habits

Maybe you haven't had a difficult course before, or you're a natural student who doesn't often struggle with schoolwork. Either way, many students cruise through their college careers with bad study habits. Now that you're confronting a hard class, it's time for you to whip your study strategies into shape. Get and use a daily planner. Set aside time for reading, writing and other coursework each day, and give yourself rewards. Did you meet your daily study goals before dinner? Go grab some sunshine and social time in the quad.

4. Go to Class

Missing class is not a good idea, but attendance is imperative for a class you find challenging. By not going to class you may miss out on notes and the lecture, both of which may include important information for exams. Attending each class is an important step for success in your most difficult courses.

Studying

5. Meet with Your Professor

Find out when your instructor has office hours, and make the effort to meet with him or her outside of class. Tell the professor what you find challenging about the course, and ask if he or she has any tips for helping you understand the more difficult material. Just knowing that there are students struggling with some of the material may help the professor adjust the pace of the course.

If you're having trouble understanding the professor in class, it may also help to specify which aspects of his or her teaching strategy aren't working for you. Be very polite, but don't be afraid to offer constructive criticism - you may find yourself helping the entire class by speaking up.

6. Form a Study Group

If you find a class exceptionally difficult, chances are other students do, too - but you can help each other. When you study with a group, you gain insights from students who understand some of your problem areas, and you can help others with the material you're comfortable with in return. Just be careful to always turn in your own work and avoid violating any course rules. Many professors allow students to study together but ask that you complete individual assignments on your own.

7. Visit Your Learning Center

All colleges offer learning or tutoring centers that provide students with additional academic support. Many even have separate centers or special hours for specific academic departments or disciplines, such as math or natural sciences. Find out when and where you can get help with your coursework, and make it a point to show up at least once a week. Even if you just sit there by yourself finishing your homework, you'll find that simply knowing there's help a few feet away will make things a lot less frustrating.

8. Seek Outside Help

Maybe you can't make your learning center hours, or there just isn't a tutor who can help with your work. For some college students, outside tutoring can be a lifesaver. Look on your college bulletin boards for professional services, or put out a request for help on your school's job listings - you never know who might be able to help. Just be aware that private tutoring can be expensive and isn't typically covered by financial aid.

9. Lighten Your Load

We all have moments in life where we've bitten off more than we can chew. Even if you can't drop your most difficult course, consider dropping another course that isn't required for graduation. Clearing up extra time in your class and homework schedules for challenging courses can make all the difference. And remember - dropping a course isn't always 'giving up.' Learning your limits and how to effectively manage your time is an invaluable skill for school and life.

10. Fight Stress

Sometimes we make things harder on ourselves simply by worrying about them. It's important to take some time for yourself to reduce your stress level and gain perspective on your workload. Make sure you're getting enough sleep, eating well and making time for social activities.

Need tips for reducing stress? Check out these high- and low-tech ways to chill out.

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