The Ultimate Guide to a Successful School Year

The Ultimate Guide to a Successful School Year - student project

It’s another school year. You’re excited but also dreading it. You remember that C you got in math class last year and how you were cramming before every test because you waited until the last minute to study. You wonder “How can I make this school year better. How can I be successful?” We’ve all been there but here is your answer! This guide contains everything you need to be successful in school.

Make Studying A Priority


  • Make a schedule and stick to it. Set exact times for studying, how long you want to study, and what subject. Schedule small breaks for yourself during your study time. Studies show that small breaks increase productivity and retention. Positive study break ideas include:  
    • A short walk to get some fresh air. Get your blood moving with an easy exercise.
    • Do a small project around the house or run some errands. This will change up your pace and give you a rest from studying and you will also complete some things on your to-do list giving you a feeling of accomplishment.
    • Stretching.  You’re likely stiff from sitting in the same position. Take some time to stretch your muscles.

           Avoid sedentary breaks that are likely to distract you too long from your studies or cause other negative side effects such as:      

    • Checking social media
    • Watching a movie or just one episode of your favorite TV show or Netflix series (we all know this is impossible)
    • Snacking on junk food
    • Playing a video game


  • Remove all distractions. If you don’t need your phone to study, turn it off. If you do, put it on airplane mode to stop notifications. Turn off the TV. If you need your computer, do not open social media tabs and turn off all notifications.


  • Stop procrastinating. This is a hard one but not impossible to learn.
    • Remember how you feel when your tasks are finished and you have free time vs. when you take free time and still have a list of thing that need doing. It’ll give you some motivation.
    • Implement the 2-minute rule: if it takes less than 2 minutes, do it now. Check out this article for more on the 2-minute rule.


  • Use a planner to help you keep track of lessons and study time that you have scheduled. Google has a great one online here or you can purchase one for a great price here


  • Find a quiet place to do your studies such as a library. A park on a sunny day can provide inspiration for certain subjects.

Study Smart



  • Use active recall to study and do problems sets. Active recall is a way of learning that stimulates your memory during learning thus depositing the answers into your long-term memory. [1] Below are the steps to implement active recall into your studying:
    • Start with the question. Think about it, work it out. Do not check your notes or answers. Once you have come up with an answer, check your work. Be thorough. If you got the answer wrong find your mistakes and fix them. Work the problem again. Do this again next study session.
    • Use memory cards. Make them yourself with index cards. Using brightly colored pencils to write you cards can help you remember them easier. A cool online site for flashcards and other active recall study tools is Quizlet.


  • Join a study group. Each person can share their views and understanding of a topic. Different people have different perspectives and can bring up ideas and explore a topic to a further extent than you could on your own. Study groups are a good way to stay motivated and enjoy your studying.

Get Organized


  • Use color coding to organize your subjects for easy reference. Label and organize binders and notebooks.


  • Archive old assignments for easy referral later in the school year.


  • Set yourself a sleep schedule and make sure you are getting an adequate amount of sleep. Lack of sleep limits your ability to learn.
    • Don’t study all night. Students who pull “all nighters” are shown to have lower grades. [2]
    • Keep your sleep schedule the same even on weekends during the school year. Go to sleep and wake up around the same time.
    • Check out this chart from the National Sleep Foundation for how many hours are ideal for you.


  • Learn how to manage your time properly. Refer to your schedule often and don’t over commit.


Participate in Class


  • Do not hesitate to ask questions. Asking questions helps to better understand a concept, clear up doubt, and gain confidence. Often people fear they will look dumb if they do not know the answer to something or how to do something when, in fact, the opposite is true. As is shown in a recent Harvard study: “This fear, however, is misplaced.  We demonstrate that individuals perceive those who seek advice as more competent than those who do not seek advice.” [3]


  • Take notes. Taking notes promotes active learning, improves focus and attention to detail, and provides you with comprehensive study material. There are three common methods of note taking:
    • Use bullet points, numbers, or arrows. All major topics will be put furthest to the left. Subtopics will be indented to the right and each supporting fact will be further to the right as in the example below.
    • Cornell Method.
          • Split your paper into 4 sections. A place for the course name and date, about 70% of the main body for actual notes, the other 30% for questions and keywords, and a section on the bottom for a summary. Below is an example.  

            • Take your notes during class in the column on the right. Use abbreviations, short sentences and symbols (such as “&” instead of the word) Write clearly.
            • After class, review your notes and pull out the key points and questions to help you remember facts and write them in the left column.
            • Write a summary of your notes in your own words at the bottom. [4]

              • Freeform. Freeform note taking is just as it sounds: taking notes however you like without a format. This system, though less efficient, is also useful.

              Now that you have finished this guide, I hope you feel more confident and ready to take on the school year. Put to practice all these tips and you will not only find yourself more successful but also less stressed when it comes time for exams. A good routine and solid plan always help reduce anxiety and the fact that you will feel more ready than ever for those exams is just a bonus.

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