Student Resources
5 min read

How to stay on top of your assignments in college

EHL Insights
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Consider for a moment that a full 47 percent of college students reportedly believe that their high schools did not do an adequate job of preparing them with organizational skills. Similarly, more than half believe that better organization would help them improve their grades. Clearly, the ability of a student to keep track of their classes and assignments plays an important role in college success and the confidence students have in their capabilities.

Learning to stay on top of your assignments plays an important role in your academic outcome. College students often find themselves facing a number of different outside factors that make focus challenging, with multiple classes that have intensive schedules, external commitments, and interpersonal relationships. As many as a quarter of college students also become chronic procrastinators, which can greatly impact their ability to complete their assignments and successfully obtain their degrees.

Fortunately, with proper planning, you can learn to improve your ability to stay on top of your assignments and assessments, improving your performance and setting you on the path towards success.

Write all of your deadlines in a calendar or planner

Once you get your syllabus, go slowly through it, week by week, and record all assignments, assessments, and other important dates on your calendar or planner. Many students will take several different classes, in addition to outside responsibilities such as jobs or internships. Using a common calendar or planner will make it significantly easier for you to keep track of all the different competing dates.

You will see weeks beforehand, for example, if you have multiple assignments due the same week or more than one exam on the same day. Knowing this information far in advance makes it easier to plan ahead and make the necessary preparations to help you succeed in each class.

Split large projects up into manageable sections, setting your own deadlines

In your classes at university, you will likely have a number of larger projects throughout the semester. Multi-page papers and research projects, as well as cumulative exams, should be expected.

However, with these types of assignments, students cannot count on their ability to cram all of their studies into a day or two right before they are due. This is particularly true when more than one large assignment must be turned in within a few days. Instead, successful students will begin these assignments weeks ahead of time. They work slowly on the project over time so that right before the project is due, they have nothing to worry about aside from finishing touches.

At a university level, however, you cannot count on professors to help you organize the progression of the assignments. They will not likely give you smaller deadlines to complete project outlines, organize research, or complete first drafts. Instead, you must create these deadlines yourself if you want to complete the assignment to the best of your ability.

Therefore, when looking at your syllabus, note any larger projects and their due dates. Think about the parts of the assignment that you will need to complete, such as an outline and compiling your research. Then, create your own deadlines that will allow you to break up these projects into more manageable chunks. Use these deadlines to keep your project on track, leaving time to draft and edit, so that they do not become overwhelming.

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Create daily to-do lists and routines

Throughout your university career, to help you stay on track with your assignments, you will want to create a regular routine. A routine that includes times of study, attending classes, and periods for relaxation will help you remain on track with your assignments.

When people start to feel overwhelmed and do not know when they will have the chance to unwind with friends, it can actually make it harder to concentrate and be successful. Instead, you want to have a schedule that provides enough regular time to meet your daily goals and time built in to relax.

Similarly, creating daily to-do lists will help you prioritize your daily tasks. Knowing the tasks that should be addressed first will help you create that feeling of accomplishment, providing additional motivation to keep moving through the schedule.

Determine the times that work best for you to study

As you build your study calendar, remember also that everyone has a study time that works best for them. For example, some students might find that they are more of a night owl. In other words, after dinner they get their best work done with the light on and working hard even after others have gone to bed. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some people will work most productively when they can get their assignments done first thing in the morning.

Consider which time of day fits best with your personality and established habits. It may require some experimenting, particularly when you first begin college-level classes, until you find the times of the day that work best for you. Once you begin to understand your own study habits, build these insights into your calendar and your daily to-do list.

Create a study space that encourages focus

Effectively getting your work completed also depends on you working effectively. You want to consider the environment that helps you to function best, and then create a workspace that will nurture your studies. For example, as you carve out a study space in your home, a desk or table along with some shelves where you can keep your books and materials organized can be very helpful.

When designing your study space, think about the type of environment most conducive to studying for you. Some people may work best when they have complete quiet, and so space away from the main living areas and others who live in the home may benefit them most. On the other hand, some students may find that they need a little background noise and community interaction, which means that space closer to the kitchen or living room, as well as a radio, may help them create the perfect study space for them to complete their assignments.

Find a professor or mentor that can help you stay focused on your long-term goals

As you progress through your classes, it can be a challenge to stay focused on your end goal of earning your degree. You entered your program because you want to begin working in a particular field, but when you find yourself stressed in the midst of classes, it can sometimes be challenging to keep moving forward.

A professor or mentor who has experience in the area can provide you with tremendous benefits. They can offer you advice as you begin progressing through your classes. They can help you understand how your different classes will help you thrive in the field and provide guidance if you end up struggling in a class. They provide outside motivation to encourage you to remain focused on your assignments so that you can do your best work.

As you prepare for graduation, these professionals can help offer some advice and wisdom about entering the field. They can serve as references as you begin to apply for jobs and otherwise help you prepare for your exciting career.

Engage with study groups

Study groups also will provide you with a great way to stay on track with your assignments. Connecting with other people in your program will help you build relationships that will benefit you academically and professionally. Making yourself accountable to others in your program by meeting regularly for study groups will also provide you with an excellent source of motivation. You will find yourself with an increased drive to complete your assignments and prepare your study materials ahead of time so that you will not disappoint the other members of your group.

These connections with other students in your program can also provide you with assistance if you find a particular course or subject challenging. Studying together can help you answer your own questions while building and cementing your own insight on the subject. This will help you improve your own performance on your assignments and help you feel more confident in your studies.

Throughout your time at college or university, staying on top of assignments can be one of the biggest struggles that students face. Even the strongest students may find themselves feeling a bit overwhelmed as they try to learn how to juggle the syllabi and expectations of a number of different classes at once. Yet, studies have shown a relationship between academic performance and the ability of students to stay on task. Learning how to organize yourself and stay on top of your assignments can help you lower your stress levels and improve your grades.

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