Syllabus Strategies for a Successful Semester

In Academics by adminmark

The first week of seminary is a fantastic gift.  By the beginning of each class, if not before, they provide a syllabus, which contains all the assignments you’ll need to complete this semester and their due dates.

The class syllabus is a time management bonanza. If you take a few moments to plan well, it can make the semester much easier for you.

Here’s what you need to do:

Calendar Everything

  1. Get your calendar. You should have only one calendar, because you have only one life. (Be sure you coordinate well with your spouse and kids.)
  2. Note all the dates of your papers and exams.
  3. To the best of your ability, block out study and writing time in the week before each exam, and two weeks before each paper is due.
  4. Schedule recovery time. Be sure to schedule some down time right after mid-terms, and after big assignments are due. Plan to relax a bit. If you schedule a day trip, a date, or some fun activity just after the crunch, it will give you something to look forward to after the big project.
  5. Make a note of when the worst crunch times are, like midterms and finals. If you’re married, discuss it with your spouse. If your job allows for any scheduling leeway, let your boss know early. If you’re a valuable employee, she just might work with you.

Following these suggestions will save you time and frustration all semester long.

Start Reading Now

Seminary involves a LOT of reading. At the beginning of the semester, you typically have more open time. Seize it! Use it to read ahead now, and then when the first wave of papers is due, you won’t be so rushed.

There may be some classes you can read ahead in more easily.

Look over your assigned reading, and decide which reading will be more challenging and which is more accessible. You may want to wade through the difficult stuff early, or breeze through the easy stuff first. Either way, get a jump on it.

One friend of mine who is in seminary now reads ahead an entire semester.  He gets the syllabi for the coming semester, and does all his reading before the semester starts. Then during the current semester, he reads for the following semester.

Even if you can only get an extra six hours or so of reading in during the first few weeks, that will give you six hours you can use later when it’s crunch time.

Craft a Writing Plan for Every Major Paper

Writing papers on the scale that seminary requires can be daunting if you haven’t done it before. Ten to fifteen page papers are common; so are twenty-five to thirty page papers. Most undergraduate work doesn’t require writing of this length.

It will help to create a writing plan for each major paper. Here’s how.

First, Break It Down.

To create a writing plan, begin by breaking down the project into manageable tasks. Make a list of everything you’ll need to do:

  • Assess topic choices
  • Choose a topic
  • Get topic approved by your professor
  • Find sources
  • Research your sources and take notes on them
  • Formulate a thesis
  • Create an outline
  • Write first draft
  • Revise, and write final draft
  • Format the paper
  • Proofread
  • Make final corrections and submit

The level of detail you choose is partly a function of how you think about the project, and how big the assignment is.

Second, Estimate the Time

Second, estimate how much actual clock time will be needed for each task in the breakdown, and write it down. For instance,

  • Assess topic choices (10 minutes)
  • Choose a topic (1 minute)
  • Get topic approved by your professor (5 minutes)
  • Find sources (3 hours)
  • Research your sources and take notes on them. (6 hours)
  • Formulate a thesis (10 minutes)
  • Create an outline (20 minutes)
  • Write first draft (4-6 hours)
  • Revise, and write final draft. (3 hours)
  • (30 minutes)

Your time estimates will vary depending on the size of each project and the pace at which you work. Pay attention to your time estimates; they will often be way off. Make note of how long each step actually takes, so you’ll be able to make more precise plans for future projects.

Third, Reserve the Time Now

Finally–this is important–block off time in your calendar for each task, beginning anywhere from one to four weeks before the due date. I’d suggest that you plan to finish at least a couple of days before the due date to give you some leeway if you fall behind schedule.

If possible, start the paper early. In some classes, you have to cover a certain amount of material before you’re prepared to write some papers, but not always.

Make A Study Plan for Each Major Exam

Similar to creating a writing plan for papers, you should block out dedicated study time for major exams.

If you do this now, at the beginning of the semester (and stick to your schedule), then you won’t be pinched to find time to study.

It’s pretty simple:

  • Reserve study blocks beginning about a week before the exam.
  • Plan for multiple, short study times rather than longer blocks. Four 30-minute blocks will probably make for better retention than a single two-hour marathon review.
  • Reserve this time now, and plan around it.

Also consider these study ideas:

  • Swap class notes with someone and read over your friend’s notes. This will help refresh your memory of lectures and pick up things you might have missed.
  • If you’ve underlined and/or highlighted your class reading well, it should be relatively easy to review what you’ve read.
  • Get a friend to quiz you on points you’ll be tested on. Iron sharpens iron, and it’s a good excuse to get coffee.

This is a draft chapter from The Complete Seminary Survival Guide, forthcoming Fall 2017, by Mark Warnock and Tyler Wright.