Your First Month in CEGEP as an Aspiring Overachiever

You wake up, knowing full well you’re late for class…again. You look at your calendar. Oops. It’s October and you’re already on your way to a 19 R-Score. As you sprint towards your bus stop in your desperate attempt to not miss it, you can’t help but wonder: when did it all go wrong? Maybe if you didn’t mess around during your first month, things would’ve been different.

Schedule, schedule, schedule

The priorities of a typical CEGEP student can be symbolized as a pyramid of Maslow.

If you’re ever going to attempt to manage all that, you will need a good schedule to balance it all. But while it’s easy to schedule work or extra-curricular activities, or randomly allocating time to socialize with your friends, it’s a bit harder to know exactly how much time you need to study.

If you ever opened the course outline teachers upload on Omnivox, you should notice that there’s a “Ponderation” line with three numbers separated by a slash. Those numbers represent the time each course should have you spend on theory/practice/homework every week. Therefore, you theoretically would have to follow the specified number of hours you spend outside of class doing “homework” every week. Of course, no one ever spends that much time, but as a general guideline, as long as you have something to do in that class (assignments, essays, studying, etc.), you should use those hours.

In order to prevent conveniently “forgetting” to do your homework or shamelessly telling yourself that you don’t care anymore, you should fit those recommended hours of work outside of class into your class schedule. Fill those empty mornings, those 5 hour breaks and those “i finish at 11am hihihi” with study time. You aren’t always going to use them: if you don’t have anything to do in that particular class at that particular time, then go have fun. But if you do have homework, this block of time is reserved for that.

There should also be a day during the weekend which you spend catching up on the previous week and preparing the small stuff for the next week, maybe even doing those chemistry pre-labs for once instead of copying them.

In general, it’s good practice to always start school at the same time everyday. If you have 8 am classes 3 times a week, you should consider starting the 2 other days earlier by catching up on assignments and essays. That way, you’ll wake up at the same time everyday and it’ll improve your sleeping habits.

Studying

Until two weeks before the start of evaluations, the only studying you have to do for science classes is just understanding what’s going on. It’s easy to get lost if you don’t grasp the basics, so if you ever feel uncomfortable with basic concepts, then read the textbook, watch Khan Academy and/or do additional exercises. If you still don’t understand, ask your teacher (or even other teachers) during office hours. While traditional advice places a lot of emphasis on long-term learning for all types of content, we personally don’t think there’s much use in trying to remember things that you will most likely forget in a few weeks, and it’s just not efficient to review things everyday. For example, there isn’t that much to understand in biology, so the bulk of your studying should be done a week or two before an evaluation.

The same general principle applies for general education classes, but an additional rule has to be added: start everything early. If the teacher gives you instructions a month before the date you’re supposed to give it in, aim to finish it at least a week before it’s due. That way, you can go see them in their office and have them give you comments on your work, squeezing out a few additional marks.

If you actually have time for it, you could make and start reviewing flashcards with Anki as soon as you see the material, especially for memorization-heavy classes like biology. However, it would arguably be better to spend that time doing enjoyable activities outside of school to improve your CV.

Clubs

Each school’s equivalent of Join a Club Day usually occurs in the first few weeks of school. On that day, you should join at least one of the legitimate clubs as you might want to consider getting an executive position in that club later on. As for the others, you’re free to take them as seriously as your time allows you to, emphasizing those in which you’re interested or which give out free food. Sports teams are also worth joining if you’re good in a certain sport. You might think that you won’t have time for practices or that it’ll affect your R-Score, but it’s definitely manageable.

Partying

Consider partying during your first month. Seriously. Get it out of your system while you can. Go to as many parties as you’ve been invited to or crash other college’s parties, because after the first month you’ll have to quit the party animal life. Every party takes out two productive days out of your life: the day you spend partying and the day you spend recovering. So, after that first month, say no to parties, go home and study like the good student you were meant to be.

Of course, you should always use your judgment. Don’t miss out on your best friend’s 18th birthday just because you have to do your assignment due two weeks from now. You can still go out every once in a while, it’s just not exactly recommended.

Do I actually need to do all of that?

Short answer: Not really.

Long answer: Most of the consultants on RScology didn’t do all of those things; rather, they are general guidelines for a student who would have extreme willpower and could resist any temptation. In essence, they represent the way that each of us have behaved at our best and when it mattered most. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t robots who only know how to optimize for performance, so it’s not so much about doing things by the book, but rather about finding what works best for you and getting as close to this “ideal self” as you can.

Most importantly, your first month should be about setting good habits early for the rest of your time in CEGEP, and understanding the importance of delaying small short-term “fun” for bigger long-term rewards. We do believe there is a case for a more traditional focus on hard work in the first semester, since it is impossible for students to know what exactly to expect. As time goes on, you will gain a better understanding of how much fun you can get away with while maintaining a level of performance which is sufficient to achieve your goals; conversely, you don’t want to be one of the people who, after a first semester, regret underestimating the effort which was required and think about how they could have done things differently.

What we haven’t covered

Due to their personalized nature, some key points related to this article would be best discussed in a one-on-one meeting with you. Those parts include:

  • Pinpointing the reasons for which you didn’t perform appropriately in a first wave of midterms or a first semester, and developing a plan to get you back on track;
  • Suggesting practice tests and additional academic resources to best simulate your first academic evaluations and thus minimize the harmful adjustment period for CEGEP;
  • Analyzing your weekly timetable, and seeing if your use of time is appropriate given your academic and professional goals.

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