By Mina Todosijevic

Finishing a semester can be a bittersweet feeling. On one hand, being done with stress, responsibilities and midterms for a month can lift the weight of the world off your shoulders. When the semester doesn’t go well, final exams go from exhausting ordeals to feeling like the final nails being hammered into your coffin.

Having a rough semester can be heartbreaking. Putting in so much effort and not seeing any sort of positive results is demoralizing and upsetting. It’s especially common with first- and second-year students, who are still transitioning into university life and academic expectations.

However, it is not the end of the world. Although it may seem that you may never be able to pull up your grades, or that these grades will haunt you forever (especially if you’re considering post-graduate studies), there are always ways to reorganize yourself and pull yourself back up in the second semester.

So take a deep breath and relax.

Students burning their schoolwork over a fire

Photo by Alex Gaylon

Make a commitment to do better next term. I don’t mean this lightly, in the “New Year’s Resolution” spirit of studying harder and tackling all your work on time. Decide what you want from school and establish your priorities. If you really want to get better grades, you need to make a conscious effort to make school the most important thing in your life. That may involve skipping lunch with friends, cutting back on hours at work or Friday nights at the bar so that you can get enough sleep and wake up early to study Saturday morning. Whatever it may be, making a decision to rearrange your life goals is essential to digging yourself out of the rut of a bad semester.

Figure out what you did wrong. Chances are you have some vague understanding of what your weaknesses were during the semester. Did you have a hard time with the material? Was essay writing an impossible task? Did the prospect of a multiple-choice exam make your knees shake? Assess the strengths and weaknesses of the next semester to understand what you have to build on.

Start early. Planning out your study/reading schedule as soon as you get the syllabus helps prevent the material from becoming overwhelming. Give yourself achievable goals and break big assignments/units into smaller sections, giving you ample time to finish it. Even if you procrastinate a little, it feels much better than pulling all-nighters for an assignment. You’ll feel calmer and more composed, and also get a better sense of what level your work is really at.

Use the resources at your disposal. While many people swear by the Writing Centre, I find that going to professors’ or TAs’ office hours is life-altering. Even if you don’t manage to bring a first draft or outline, they will help you re-direct your vague ideas and re-define exactly what they want from an assignment and how you can use your topic and interests to write it. If you have a draft, the Writing Centre can make sure your paragraphs and sentences are strong, and that your essays flows in a clear and concise way. The Academic Success Centre can help you re-arrange your priorities and your direction in school.

Don’t panic. All is not lost. What’s happened has happened and there’s no reason to let it upset the rest of your holidays. One semester is not everything. As long as you stay calm and organized, there’s no reason why you can’t achieve what you set out to do next year.

I wish you all the best for the holidays and for the New Year!

Joke of the week: I might study something at a university that someone once told me about–there is a degree of ambiguity there.