Start your semester right + create a plan to finish assignments early and get the grades you want.
With the new year, hopefully, you are working on your semester plan for an awesome year. A successful semester for online courses begins on day one. It’s about taking your syllabus and merging it with systems to do the hard work for you: a calendar and to-do list.
We won’t go in-depth here about either system, but if you aren’t already utilizing both a calendar and to-do list, read more about how to Never Forget an Assignment or Exam Again by using a calendar and Are you using a to-do list for college the right way?
In this post, we are going to break down your entire semester starting on day one for a plan to be successful the entire semester.
Think of your course syllabus as a map. Your professors (or online course material) have shown you exactly what you will be covering in the course and when. There are key dates marked, but you have to be in charge of tracking those dates and working on assignments ahead of time.
Start with your Online Syllabus
First, map out your major milestones. This includes your exams, papers, assignments, and everything with a date attached. Your semester has done the hard work for you by planning your semester for each individual course.
Put these dates on your calendar.
Then you need to create an action plan for each assignment. Start by looking at all of the assignments for the next 30 days. If you try to create plans for every assignment in every course all at once, it is going to take a few hours, and you may give up half-way through. Begin your semester plan first with just 30 days. It is less overwhelming, and when you start small you will see it work, and use your success to keep your momentum going.
Each assignment or exam needs to have an action plan created to guarantee success. In this plan, you will detail all of the small steps needed to reach a larger goal. You want to create a plan that guarantees success. If you are working for an A, what does A-level work look like?
Let’s say I need to write a research paper. Actions I need to take would include:
- Choose a topic
- Get topic approved
- Write a thesis statement
- Get thesis statement approved
- Draft an outline
- Do research on topic 1
- Write topic 1
- Do research on topic 2
- Write topic 2
- Do research on topic 3
- Write topic 3
- Write the introduction
- Write the conclusion
- Proofread the entire paper
- Submit it for grading
Many people don’t like to semester plan in this much detail all at once because it can feel overwhelming. If you wait until the week a paper is due to begin, it is overwhelming! When you plan ahead at least 30 days, you only have to do a small piece of this each day to get everything done on time.
You can do this!
Repeat this project for each of the major assignments in the upcoming 30 days.
Online students: don’t forget about the five key skills to be successful as an online student.
Estimate Time (but don’t go overboard)
With your action plans listed out, we need to do something with them. The first thing you want to do with each item is to give yourself some realistic estimates of how long it will take to complete. Think in terms of hours, and be as close as you can. If you’re not sure, overestimate a little bit, just be careful not to overestimate too much. If you give yourself 5 hours to choose a topic, you will spend 5 hours on it, which is not efficient. If you aren’t sure, start with one hour. As you practice this, you will get better at estimation.
Using my previous action plan, here are some time estimates:
- Research and choose a topic – 1 hour
- Get topic approved – 1 hour
- Write a thesis statement – 1 hour
- Get thesis statement approved – 1 hour
- Draft an outline – 1 hour
- Do research on topic 1 – 3 hours
- Write topic 1 – 3 hours
- Do research on topic 2 – 3 hours
- Write topic 2 – 3 hours
- Do research on topic 3 – 3 hours
- Write topic 3 – 3 hours
- Write the introduction – 1 hour
- Write the conclusion – 1 hour
- Proofread the entire paper – 1 hour
- Submit it for grading – 1 hour
Turn your Action Plans into a semester plan
With this level of detail, you are ready to start mapping things out on the calendar. Start with the last action item and due date. Then work backward on your semester plan.
The last thing on my action plan was “Submit for grading – 1 hour”. If the paper is due on the 21st of the month, I place the task on that day. Then I move up the list to proofread the paper and assign it a day or two prior to the 21st. Maybe the 19th.
At this point, I like to set my tasks on a specific date, make note of my time estimate, but don’t commit to a specific time during the day. It is hard for me to know exactly what y day will look like in 3 weeks, so I leave it open for now, and we’ll get more specific with the planning later on. The week in which I need to do something I will decide upon a specific time during the day to knock the task out.
- Don’t forget to also schedule daily study time for regular review of your readings and lecture notes because this type of review helps prepare for final exams. If you don’t have a daily study schedule in place, start here for tips and a free study planner. If you’re struggling with this, try small tweaks to help those that hate to study.
- Set your personal due dates ahead by a couple of days. This creates a buffer for when unexpected life events happen. If a paper is due on the 21st, I will aim to be completely finished by the 19th.
- As you set due dates for yourself, think about what else you have going on. Give yourself time off occasionally.
- When you implement your study plan, always work in small blocks of time 30-45 minutes in one sitting. Take a break and then start again. Much like the Pomodoro technique, this allows your mind to rest and keeps your focus going.
- Take awesome notes as you study. Get started with my best tips for note-taking.
What other strategies do you use to ensure you complete your online course assignments on time without feeling overwhelmed?
Try It Yourself: 20-minute Challenge
- Choose one assignment due in the next 30 days.
- Create an action plan to guarantees success. What steps do you need to take to earn the grade you want?
- Assign each step in the plan a time estimate.
- Starting with the due date for the assignment, map out your action plan on a calendar, and set personal due dates for each step in the process.
- Put your plan in motion and start marking off steps!