Getting back in the swing: Taking positive first steps into the new semester

January can be a somewhat polarising month. For some, it’s a period of promise, with new health regimes, positive habits and a fresh outlook for the new year. For others, January is a drudge to endure while the days become lighter. But it is still possible to find moments of small joy amongst in this most murky of months such as the first snowdrops peeping through the sodden ground or the catkins appearing on hazel trees that signal the first signs of spring.

January also marks a milestone in the academic year, with many students experiencing a period of assessment prior to the start of a new round of modules and assignments whilst others might be just getting started on their course in January. As such, the start of a new semester is comparable to the start of the calendar year, albeit in an academic context, and can bring about similar responses. We might set high expectations of ourselves which can induce feelings of anxiety or we might be weighed down by a sense of inertia brought about by a post-holiday lull; a little lethargic and lacking in motivation.

Moreover, there are some students who won’t have had chance to enjoy much of a break, particularly those who are practitioners or need to work alongside their studies and may well have had assignments to complete over the Christmas holiday, leaving little downtime before the cycle begins anew. The prospect of launching straight into another semester might even feel overwhelming. Whatever your own circumstances, understand that a January slump in your study mojo is a common experience amongst students.

If you find yourself experiencing a dip in mood, forcing yourself to sit down for 7 hours of study might be too much of an ask just now. You might be left feeling frustrated if you don’t accomplish much which can lead to further anxiety. The trick to reigniting your spark for study is to ease in gently, go slow and steady. If you’re a cold water swimmer, you don’t have to take the plunge but instead, you can make small movements into the water to adjust to the change in temperature before you fully immerse yourself. Similarly, you can edge into study by completing some small but impactful tasks. For instance, you could try the following:

  • Reflect on last semester

Make a list of 5 things you enjoyed about last semester. Were there any particular topics you found fascinating and piqued your interest in learning more? Were there any personal tutorials that you felt gave you a boost? Maybe the group presentation turned out to be something you enjoyed sharing with your peers? Drawing on positive experiences from your last semester can help you reframe your thinking about how you feel as you start a new round of modules.

  • Check your new module Blackboard sites

Once your modules for the new semester are released, spend some time getting to know them. Familiarise yourself with the learning objectives, cast your eye over the module schedule to get a feel for the topics that’ll be covered and (if you can handle it!) take a look at the assessment tab for details about the kind of assignment you’ll be working towards.

  • Ready your reading

Each module has an accompanying reading list of essential and recommended reading. Give yourself a leg up by browsing some of the ebooks listed or visit the library to take out some books relevant to the topics you’ll be covering.

  • Create a new timetable

Use our template or an app such as Class Timetable to plot your schedule for the weeks ahead. As well as marking in lectures and taught sessions, add slots for independent study and personal commitments such as work shifts or social events.

Sign up to the Skills@Cumbria webinar on Maintaining Momentum on Friday 28th January 1-2pm to learn strategies for organising your time effectively and ensuring your study periods are productive.  Alternatively, take a look at our Tackling your Time Management portfolio which contains advice and activities to help you get organised for the upcoming semester.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay  

Take this time to keep your studies simmering on a low heat and know the intense work may still be a little time away. The first couple of weeks of a semester are about orientating yourself to new topic areas and timetables. So pace yourself: balance regular short study periods with rejuvenating time out spent on hobbies, outdoor walks, catch up brews and chats with friends and family to help revive your wellbeing. For more ideas on how to nurture your mental health, take a look at our post on the 5 Ways to Wellbeing

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