Tips for succeeding and doing better in school

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Graphic by Alan Li

I wish that I was one of those people who had the natural motivation to keep up with my classes, readings and assignments, on top of work, extracurriculars and a thriving social life.

As someone who has always struggled to keep those priorities in focus, it has been one of the hardest things about university that I’ve had to adjust to.

I can picture the encouraging Instagram posts already – if you lack motivation, you need to make up for it with discipline, then you won’t need to worry! Motivation wanes, but discipline is forever! But that doesn’t exactly help when you don’t possess much of that either.

In my case, my various anxieties have helped propel me through my troubles. Now, I’m all for conquering fears, but in this case, I’ve found a way to use it to my advantage.

Fear is a powerful motivator. Half of the reason why I miss so few classes is because I’ve developed a paranoia that my professors will take notice and secretly shame me in my absence.

Because I try to make myself known to them as soon as possible in the semester, it sets the precedent in my mind that I’ve already established a reputation with them that I don’t want to ruin.

Furthermore, because attending class is something that is so fundamental for learning, you need to convince yourself — like I have — that missing class is death. Worse than death, it’s like paying back your student loans.

Once you have that in your head, no matter how boring it is, how much you hate the professor or how badly you’d rather have that extra hour of sleep — thank you 8:30 a.m. classes — that fear is often what will shoot me awake in the morning before my alarm even goes off.

But staying motivated for school doesn’t have to all be based on fear.
   There are a lot of other techniques I like to use. One of the most important aspects of school that I’ve always had trouble with has been answering questions in class and speaking up in general.

No one wants to seem like a know-it-all tool who thinks he’s God’s gift to the classroom but being completely silent isn’t the answer either.

Sometimes, you can use that fear to propel you forward, but you need to be willing to recognize that ultimately it will hold you back if you don’t try to push past it and get help for it.

While I realize it may be the most uncomfortable thing in the world to do sometimes, especially if you’re not sure of yourself, being engaged in the class is vital to getting those dreaded participation marks.

Professors recognize when you’re trying and appreciate it. Even if you aren’t always right, it will get you more comfortable with the idea of using your voice in an academic environment, which is crucial if you want to succeed.

My anxiety related standards have also helped tremendously. You don’t have to be ridiculously harsh on yourself — that just leads to self-deprecation and isn’t conductive to improvement.

But understanding the kind of student you are, striving to get better and then not allowing yourself to fall below that level, is the foundation of getting through those especially tough classes.

When all else fails, sometimes you need to suck up a bit of your pride and email your professors when you aren’t fully grasping something or need clarification.

It may sound contrived and overdone, but the perception you’re given of university professors isn’t always accurate. They’re people too, so doing things like adding a little humour to an essay title can go a long way.

At the end of the day, they want you to understand the material that you are paying money to be taught and they want you to be as successful as you can be, because it means they are as equally successful at their job.

It is up to you to make sure you are doing everything to flourish, especially if it makes you nervous.

The unfortunate thing about anxiety and nerves in general, is that a lot of the time they keep you from growing into the best version of yourself.

Sometimes, you can use that fear to propel you forward, but you need to be willing to recognize that ultimately it will hold you back if you don’t try to push past it and get help for it.

It doesn’t have to be grand leaps and bounds if you start out with hops and skips, but you need to make sure you can take the little steps confidently so that other things don’t seem so overwhelming.


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