Back to school guide

Back to school guide

As you stoically stare at the enormous pile of brand new books and stationery on your desk, ask yourself: “How am I going to survive this academic year?” Our school guide advises you on how to survive this school or university term without a single scratch or trauma.

Here it is. Another year of waking up early, losing your friend’s notes, living off coffee, watching the printer break down in the middle of printing your assignment and missing the bus because the alarm clock didn’t ring. If you’re not at university yet, you’re probably also facing the horrors of school uniform shopping. So let’s turn the ‘panic’ into ‘pretty delightful and about time, really’…

Prepare yourself for school

Getting ready for the months ahead is extremely important, especially if this is going to be your first year at a new school, college or university. If you’re well prepared, the transfer from lazy summer holidays to hectic school year will be smooth and painless.

Get your brain back in gear. Everybody’s tired when summer holidays begin, especially those who worked their arses off because of GSCEs or A levels. That’s why the main purpose of holidays is to give students a chance to relax and recharge our batteries. Sometimes a long break makes the brain feel a little numb. This is quite logical if you think about it – the poor brain is used to calculus, French irregular verbs and remembering lots of information. Then all of a sudden it’s just music magazines and blue sky. Towards the end of summer holidays many people realise that they actually want to study because their brain feels empty.

When you start getting the urge to do some heavier brain activity (reading in a foreign language, doing maths exercises, learning complicated new words, then using them to come up with a complicated new idea…), you’re ready to go back to school. Your brain relaxed for a few weeks but now it’s buzzing with excitement. A good way to get the most out of this is by going over last year’s notes, flicking through new books, reading some old essays and doing a few grammar exercises (if a foreign language is one of the subjects you’re taking, that is). All this will not only make your brain busy, it’ll prepare you for hardcore studying ahead.

Give your body a boost.

During the academic year, your body often finds itself in a bit of a pickle due to lack of sleep, not enough physical exercise, bad food and all sorts of virii you can get in autumn and winter. Before school starts you have sunny days at your disposal, so try to spend a lot of time outdoors even if that means just air guitaring in your friend’s garden. What matters is that you’re jumping around and breathing in some fresh air.

Try going back to your usual sleep routine slowly. Partying all night before waking up at six on the first day of school will make you feel exhausted before anything serious (ie. projects, tests, exams, homework) even begins. For example, if your summer routine was “wake up at noon, go to sleep at about 3 am” and you have to go back to “wake up at 6:30, go to sleep at 11”, start off a few days before you have to get up early and set your alarm clock to ring at 10. Try to go to bed earlier than usual and set the alarm clock to ring at 8:30 the next day. This way, your body won’t be too shocked and you won’t feel tired.

Relax. Re-invent if the mood takes you.

I know some people who get very worked up about the beginning of a new academic year. If you’re feeling a bit anxious, have a nice hot bath before the first day of school. Enjoy yourself and relax. There’s absolutely no point in being all stressed before you even enter the school building.

Customise your school stuff. This is a great way to get excited about going back to school. Decorate your notebooks or binder with stickers, photos, poems, glitter and drawings. If you’re feeling very creative, try to think of a theme for this year and decorate all your stationery accordingly. Avoid anything that could get you in trouble (explicit lyrics, for example). Tackle your checklist.

The checklist.

It’s very easy to forget some really important things so here’s a handy checklist to help you make sure you have everything you need.

  • Stationery. Double-check if you have enough notebooks and paper. Stationery shops can get very crowded in the beginning of the academic year and queuing just because you need one more notebook it’s really frustrating.
  • Uniform. Make sure you have enough clean shirts for the first week of school and scan your tights or stockings for any sneaky holes. Don’t forget to prepare your PE kit. Lay out your uniform the night before school starts. This will help you save time in the morning and remembering something’s missing the last minute before you leave. Ties are remarkably good at disappearing.
  • School rules. Have a quick look at the school rules while you still have time to dye your hair a more natural colour, take out a piercing and remove make up or nail varnish. Just in case. There’s nothing more embarrassing than being remembered amongst your new classmates as the girl who was told to take off her make up on the first day of school.
  • Transport. If you go to school/uni by train, check if your railcard is still valid. Same goes for bus tickets and Tube Oyster cards.
  • Accomodation. If you’re at uni, keep all important documents regarding student accomodation in a handy folder. Don’t panic if you’ve forgotten something at home, you can always go back at weekends or – even better – persuade your parents to visit you and bring things that you’ve forgotten.

Survive the whole school year – better than last year

Okay, you’re back at school now, completely weighed down by homework and exams. Don’t fret, there are ways to manage schoolwork easily while still squeezing in some free time.

Organise your life. Planning a few weeks in advance is very useful, especially during those agonising weeks of exams. Organising study sessions, free time and other activities makes you feel less stressed because you know that you’ve got everything under control. Invest in a handy pocket planner and mark all exam dates and important deadlines. If you dedicate fifteen minutes every Sunday to creating a study plan for the next week, you’ll avoid stressful studying one day before the exam.

Study smart. Although six hours of studying might sound useful, you’ll probably lose your ability to concentrate during the first hour and spend the rest of the time staring at the books without remembering anything at all. Break down study sessions into shorter chunks. Spend half an hour studying, eat some fruit or play the guitar for a while, then spend another half an hour studying. When you feel like you’re going to start procrastinating, take a break.

Try to make your study sessions fun. Use coloured flash cards and charts, read aloud, draw associations, make up a silly song that will help you remember information… Studying with friends can be a fantastic way to prepare for exams. However, if you think you’re going to end up messing around instead of getting the work done, save your friends’ company for later and study alone. You’ll enjoy their company more knowing it’s a reward rather than a procrastination.

Stay hydrated. The brain needs to be hydrated in order to function properly. If you feel tired, if you often have a headache, if you have trouble concentrating and generally feel like sh*t, you’re probably not drinking enough water. Ideally you should never feel thirsty – thirst is an indicator of dehydration. Getting your 5 portions of fruit every day also helps to make you feel happy and perky. Drinking a smoothie every morning is a great way to get your daily dose of fruit, especially if you’re ultra busy.

Don’t rely on your computer. Technology is supposed to make things easier but it’s also capable of making your life hell by breaking down in a crucial moment. That’s why it’s clever to take precautions. The mantra of most computer geeks is “Backup, backup, backup!”. Backing up all important projects, dissertations and essays is something people start doing after they’ve lost their data because of a virus. Chances are you’ll never need the backup but it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially if your final year dissertation is at stake.

When printing essays, don’t wait for the night before the deadline; print your essay earlier. Even better, print two copies and put them in two different folders just to make sure you’ll find at least one copy when you have to hand it in.

When you’re preparing a PowerPoint presentation, send it to yourself in an email. If you lose your memory stick, you’ll still be able to get your presentation.

Have fun!

The golden rule is: Don’t panic. Even if you fail an exam, you can resit it. If you get a bad mark, don’t worry. In a few years’ time you won’t even remember that you got an E at Biology. You don’t have to excel at every single subject. Don’t forget that you’re studying for your future, not for your parents’ pleasure or a higher allowance.

What really matters are lovely small adventures that happen at school, and feeling that you’re doing a good job of ploughing your own course, not being top of the class.