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How to Start Your Semester Strong

A person holding a mug with a yellow flower in it that says, "I am the hero of my own life."



There’s a reason we all prize getting off on the right foot—it’s a lot easier to jump higher when starting from a solid stance. So let’s get you that solid stance. Let’s figure out how to really highlight your best attributes and leave the toxic stuff in the dump (or recycling) where it belongs. 

Before we get to the empowering quotes and fun strategizing on how to conquer the upcoming semester, though, we need to review last semester.

First, Evaluate How You Did

Grades aren’t everything, but they can help you figure out how you’re trending academically. Did your grades improve, stay the same, or drop? 

Improving your grades isn’t always easy and even the minutest decimal change deserves congratulations, so make sure to acknowledge the fruits of your labor.

If they stayed the same, then you’re consistently maintaining a certain grade average — which can be a great thing. The big question is about whether that’s the grade point average that will help you achieve your goals. 

If they dropped, we have to do a not-fun thing and answer the question of why. It’s really something only you can do, but we’ll go through a few of the top reasons that grades sometimes drop.

  • Was it a very difficult class that you’re continuing to struggle with?

  • Were you struggling with a personal issue?

  • Were you focusing on friends?

  • Is an after school activity taking up a lot of time?

Alright — we’ve chatted about your trending academic performance. We know where you were, so now let’s talk about where you want to go. There are a number of ways you can improve or maintain those grades, whichever is your goal, and most of them are super simple.

1. Keep a Planner

It sounds like such a boring thing, but there are so many studies that prove that the simple act of writing things down with pen and paper improves memory and increases life organization. This is true both for taking notes in class and jotting down schedules, due dates, and more. 

Gif of student outlining the word "weekend" on their weekly schedule.

While there's a benefit to putting pen to paper using a regular notebook, you shouldn't shy away from whatever works best for you. There are tons of options out there! 

Ideal planners give an entire page or section for each calendar day so you have plenty of room to mark down your homework assignments in each class, dates for tests, extracurriculars, and even time for hanging with friends. 

One of the largest benefits is that you’ll quickly see where you’re overloaded with stuff to do. You can space things out and (hopefully) get eight hours every night. #goals


2. Take Notes in Class

Whether you prefer to have different notebooks for each class or like to write all of your notes in the same spiral, it’s a good habit to get into. Not only will it help you in high school, but you’ll be off to a good start for college, too. 

There are a lot of note-taking “methods,” but you shouldn’t ever feel pigeon-holed into using one over another. The “best” method is the one that works for you. Many students will be familiar with the Cornell Method—simple and organized, it has been effective for many students. 

However, many is not all. If you’re more of a visual learner, you may prefer the Mapping Method, which connects topics, subtopics, and key details in bubbles and boxes. If you’re the sort that just needs a few key words to jog your memory to study later, the Outlining Method may work best for you. 

Play around — try several different types of note-taking, create your own shorthand, whatever it takes, but there’s one sure thing no matter how you decide to go about it: the act of simply putting pen to paper and jotting down a lecture will improve your memory. 

3. Ask for Help

If you’re struggling despite trying everything to bring up your grade, never be afraid to ask for help. Talk to your teacher to identify which area of the subject is giving you the most trouble and see if they can assist you. 

If they can’t, or if your school doesn’t have a tutoring program, there are a number of online options to look at, including Learn to Be and Khan Academy, both of which are free. For tests, even standardized ones such as the ACT and SAT, take a look at Mometrix Academy.

Youtube can be an invaluable resource to tap into, so don’t forget to check out educational channels that can supplement topics you’re learning in class. For videos on math, check out Numberphile, while those wanting a bit more context on historical events can hop over to WonderWhy. For help in a variety of subjects, check out Brightstorm, which covers all subjects and test prep!  

If you can afford to pay for online tutoring, The Princeton Review offers expert homework help or resources like can pair you with in-person tutors that live right near you. 

What you should really take from all of this is that help is out there—you just have to know where to look. As always, try your hardest not to wait until the last second because cramming isn’t the best way to absorb (and retain) information. 

In the famous words of J.K. Rowling through Albus Dumbledore, “Help will always be given [at Hogwarts] to those who ask for it.”

4. Set Yourself Up for Success

Totally obvious advice, but we all need reminders of the simple things now and again. Find a backpack that functions — not just looks nice. Buy folders or a folio and label them to stay organized. Eat breakfast. Sleep eight hours. 

You don’t expect your car to run without gas or your phone to stay powered on all day if it hasn’t been properly charged. Take care of yourself so that you’re prepared to take the day head-on. Most people are surprised to find how much of a role sleeping, eating, and exercising habits play in information retention and attention span.

Creating these good habits in high school will put you in an excellent position to get the most out of higher education. It’ll also help you become a life-long learner and keep your brain sharp. Start your semester—and the rest of your life—strong by adopting these habits and finding out what works best for you along the way! 

Happy learning!


*We have no affiliation with any of the aforementioned products or companies, nor do we gain any profit from recommending them. 

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