Bad Grades First Semester? How to Regain Your Academic Focus

For too many college freshmen returning home for the holidays, the first term of school did not go well. Transitioning to higher education can present many challenges on the academic front. Learn 10 strategies college students can use to breathe new life into their academic experience during the next term.

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By Douglas Fehlen

college tips homework help study guide

Go to class. Study for tests. Complete assignments on time. Stay organized. Manage your timeā€¦. You've probably heard these and other staid suggestions for college. They're tried-and-true guidelines for success, but a semester of academic struggles may have you looking for more specific advice to get your academic career back on track. Following are 10 suggestions that can help.

1. Assess what went wrong in your first semester.

This may be obvious. Perhaps you 'didn't' go to class. Maybe your social life took priority over homework. If you were negligent of your studies, be honest about that and resolve to take them seriously now. If there was another cause for your struggles, think about how you can prevent that situation from occurring again.

2. Be thoughtful in class selection.

After you've analyzed what went wrong your first semester, take a hard look at your course list for the second term. Is the level of difficulty appropriate given your understanding? Are you interested in the subject matter? Do all you can to avoid taking classes on topics you struggle with or have no interest in.

3. Focus on what's most important.

You can do your best to select appropriate classes, but you'll still have to complete general ed requirements you find challenging or boring. A good strategy in these classes is to know exactly what work you'll be graded on. Look at course syllabi to understand what activities you'll need to focus most on, whether that is exams, papers, labs or other assignments.

4. Connect with instructors.

Get insider information on course expectations by talking with professors and teaching assistants. Let them know you've struggled in the past and that you'd like insight on how you can succeed now. Use office hours to catch up on concepts and get performance updates. Ask for model papers and old tests to help you prepare for upcoming assignments and exams.

5. Take advantage of your learning style.

Some students retain material best when it is explained to them. Others process information more efficiently when it is presented visually. And some individuals are kinesthetic learners: They learn best when movement is a part of learning. Incorporate your preferred learning style into study habits for greater retention.

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6. Improve concentration.

Research shows that multitasking hurts performance. This holds true for studying, which for many students is interrupted by Facebook alerts and text messages. Shutting out these and other distractions can help you learn more in less time. Working in a quiet, comfortable space can also aid concentration.

7. Join a study group

Feel the urge to hang out but have a test tomorrow? Get in your socializing and preparation at the same time by joining a study group. People in these groups are typically engaged students who can bring you up to speed on concepts you struggle with. If group study isn't your thing, find a study buddy for each of your classes.

8. Don't ignore lifestyle factors.

Experts believe adequate sleep, frequent exercise, authentic relaxation and a balanced diet have as much to do with getting good grades as studying. This advice may not be new, but it's easy to overlook when commitments make a good night's sleep, jog, yoga session or meal out of reach. Take time to take care of yourself.

9. Establish priorities and goals.

Many college students get into trouble academically when their studies take a backseat to all of the other (more fun) things going on school. Make academics a priority to avoid another term of bad grades. Have goals and gauge your progress over the course of the term. Get help if you need it. (See the last tip.)

10. Access academic services.

Colleges want you to succeed, and they offer support for students who struggle with coursework. Talk with an academic counselor about services that are available at your school. Ask about tutoring. If you have a documented learning disability, learn about accommodations that may be available to you.

Ever considered dropping out? Learning about why college students drop out of school can help you avoid the same fate.

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