By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
This blog post shares 10 tips for taking crash courses in high school and college. Hard classes offer a healthy challenge, the chance to grow (and get smarter!), and often a pathway to cooler things. In other words, you should taking difficult classes at school; otherwise, you’ll just…drift. And it’s boring.
What counts as a hard class?
Everyone’s idea of what counts as a hard class is different. I’m not saying that all high school students should take AP physics courses and all students should take advanced organic chemistry courses. I didn’t take any of those classes and I did fine.
Instead, I’m talking about courses that seem difficult to You, based on your personal skill level, strengths and interests. My tips for taking crash courses apply to any course You thinking is hard, no matter how real.
A lesson is difficult if:
- You have to hear the material explained several times to understand it
- The teacher’s explanation of the material is not enough and you have to reinforce most concepts with YouTube or Google
- You should meet with the teacher more than once a week to review the material
- Despite your honest best efforts, your grade is C or less
10 tips for taking crash courses
You may need to use the 10 tips from the list below. Or maybe you just need a few. This choice is up to you and depends on your difficulties in your difficult courses.
1. Stay exceptionally organized
All classes become monumentally more difficult if you’re disorganized. From the start of your course, you should commit to a system to keep your notes, files, papers and homework deadlines about.
In this article, I share my 100 best organization tips for college students. Read it, for real.
2. Prepare for class
Thanks to a cool learning phenomenon called priming, we have an easier time understanding the material if we are exposed to it beforehand. That is why preparing for difficult courses is essential advice for survivor tough classes.
Here are my top 3 tips for preparing for class. Yes, I know you’re probably thinking, “But Katie! I don’t have time to prepare lessons! Hear me out: The more you prepare for a crash course, the more concepts you’ll understand, which means the less time you’ll spend doing homework and studying for tests.
3. Spot Gaps and Blurs
This is one of the most important tips for taking crash courses. And despite my weird phrasing of this tip, it’s essential. A key to taking and succeeding in difficult courses is being able to identify Exactly which is confusing just when it gets blurry. If you don’t stop to identify when things get confusing, then All will be confusing.
Here are some tips for spotting gaps and fuzziness in your understanding:
- When reading a difficult text, stop when you get away. Go back and reread from the point where you lost focus. Google things if you need to.
- When you’re in class and the teacher says something confusingraise your hand and ask for clarification.
- If you’re taking notes on a lecture or a reading, put a question mark in your notes when something doesn’t make sense to you. Then make a plan to find the answer.
4. Take notes
Always take notes in difficult lessons. The more difficult the lesson, the more important it is to take notes. When you take notes, you encourage your brain to play with and reflect on the material. This is how we make sense of things. Plus, you’re more likely to walk away from difficult lessons, so taking notes increases your chances of staying focused.
Here are my most important note-taking tutorials:
5. Give yourself more time for homework
Difficult things often take longer to do. The sooner you design your days and weeks around this truth, the better. If reading a chapter in an easy course takes you 40 minutes, allow 60 minutes for the difficult courses. If doing 10 problems in an easy class takes you 30 minutes, give yourself 50 minutes to solve 10 problems in hard classes.
Expect difficult tasks to take longer and plan your schedule accordingly. If you’re not yet using Google Calendar to track your time, start here Google Calendar tutorial for school.
6. Start studying earlier than you want
You might find this advice boring. But, you are reading this post because you want to make things better, right? Studying for tests in difficult subjects takes longer because you often have to learn some of the content yourself along the way.
For most tests you will need at least 5 days to study. here is my 5 day study plan where I show you exactly what to do each day.
7. Study in groups
Studying in a group is definitely not for everyone, and that’s okay. But for particularly difficult courses, it may be a good idea to schedule at least one group study session before the big tests. When you study in a group, you hear people your own age talking and explaining the concepts you struggle with. You have conversations on the hardware, and you’re not just being talked to by a professional. It helps you work through complicated information that you find difficult to process on your own.
If you are planning a group study session, please promise that you follow these tips for group study sessions first.
8. Get extra help
If you are taking a difficult course and have tried (really tried) to learn the content on your own, but are still struggling, then you need to seek additional help. You might not want to, but that’s not really what matters here.
Can you schedule a consistent weekly review meeting with your teacher, before or after school? Can you hire an outside tutor just to help you through this tough class? Does your school offer peer tutoring programs? I bet the answer to at least one of these questions is Yes.
9. Ask questions
You don’t get answers if you don’t ask questions. I know it might sound weird to raise your hand every class, but do it anyway. As a former high school teacher, I can tell you that teachers love having students ask questions! Seriously. The worst thing you can do when you’re taking tough classes is not ask questions and sit silently in painful confusion.
Here are some types of questions you can ask when you are confused:
- Clarifying questions: Could you please explain this again, or maybe in a different way?
- Sample questions: Could you please give us another example?
- Repeat questions: Could you please repeat that? I missed it the first time.
- Explanation Questions: Could you please explain this a bit more?
10. Be resourceful
The further you are in school, the more you are expected to figure things out on your own. When you get stuck on something, you are expected to be resourceful and find a solution. This also applies to difficult courses: if you are at university and the content is difficult, the professor is certainly there to help you, but he will expect you to first try to solve the problem in a way independent.
Here are some examples of ingenuity:
- Googling what you don’t know
- Watch YouTube videos to clarify confusing concepts
- Ask for help from peers
- Answer manual questions even when you have not been assigned to
- Also, here are my best strategies for figuring things outespecially when these “things” are really difficult.
Three Final Tips for Taking Difficult Classes
In addition to the 10 tips above, here are some additional points to consider:
- If all of your classes are extremely difficult, it may be quantity. In other words, are you taking too many difficult courses, making ALL of them difficult?
- If you’re doing your best to succeed in a class, but you’re still not succeeding, you might consider going down a level. There’s no shame in going down a level when your sanity is at stake.
- Always consider the timing of difficult lessons. If you practice a fall sport, perhaps book your intensive course until the spring semester. If you have a spring job, take your first semester crash course. One of the things that can make classes harder than they are is other things we have happening in our lives outside of the course itself.