By Josh, a Peer Tutor
No matter how many times I’ve fallen behind in a course, whether due to sickness or just not understanding the content, I’ve never managed to completely get rid of the stress that comes with the situation. Luckily, as a math major, many of my classes have textbooks, which helps. I’m also able to easily find things on the internet that help me study. But sometimes, I’m left without any resources to use to catch up. For example, I’m currently in a class with no textbook and the class notes are not posted anywhere.
With time, I have gotten better at preparing for situations like this. I now know how to manage them when they happen. Here is how things went the last time I had to catch up:
During the beginning of this semester, I came down with an illness and missed an entire week of classes. Although this was one of the better weeks to miss, it still completely threw off my routine. It created a pile of homework and class material that I needed to make up.
Step 1: Communicate
Once I started feeling better, the first thing that I did was communicate with my professors about my situation. I sent emails to all of my instructors and asked them about the best way to catch up. All of them replied that I should just try to keep up with the assignments and get notes from classmates. This is exactly why making friends in classes is so important.
I struggle with this, so I try to make at least one friend in each class. I do this by introducing myself to someone as soon as I sit down. For introverts like me, it helps to have a set of questions to ask someone to get to know them. I always like to ask about a person’s major, year, and where they are from. Usually the conversation will keep going from there, and soon enough, you’ve got a friend in class!
Step 2: Gather
The next thing that I needed to do was gather all of my resources for the material that I missed. This included asking my classmates for notes, doing some Googling, reading textbooks, and checking class websites for resources. When asking classmates for notes, I try to be as general as possible, asking for everything I missed at once. This way, I don’t have to go back later and ask them again. Depending on the class, they’ll send either a picture of handwritten notes or typed notes. If I anticipate struggling with the material later, I’ll make sure to copy the notes to help me remember them.
Step 3: Organize
After collecting my resources, the next step was to get organized. I’m a very avid list user. I created a list of the concepts I needed to study and assignments that I needed to complete. I include their due dates too. Then, I’ll make a separate part of the list where I write down my most pressing tasks.
Some of my professors gave me extensions on my assignments. Keeping track of all the changing dates made it way easier for me to plan out my workload. I usually start with the most pressing assignments first, then move onto work where I have more leniency.
Step 4: Learn
Then came the hardest part: digging into the work and getting myself caught back up. Although my first instinct was to start with my assignments, I quickly discovered that this would be futile. After all, I hadn’t actually learned the content yet. Upon speaking with my friends about this, it turned out that many of them often did the same thing. They rushed through assignments rather than taking the time to learn the material first.
This is the allure of temporary relief. Rushing through assignments provides a brief satisfaction by improving homework grades. It makes me feel like I’ve caught up. But this practice hurts me in the long run when the class builds on content that I never learned. Only once I took the time to study and learn the content was I able to complete the assignment. This ensured that I would transition back into the class smoothly when I returned.
Step 5: Communicate Again
Finally, after completing my assignments and preparing to return to class, I again communicated with my professors about my situation. I let them know that I had completed my assignments and would be present for the next lecture. I actually ended up establishing a relationship with a few of my professors by doing this: a huge added bonus!
Bonus Step: Self-Care
Catch-up situations often require me to work long hours and take few breaks. No matter how well I follow these steps, there is going to be some residual stress. To combat this, I try to plan wellness activities and breaks in the middle of my work. I like to take walks, go for a short run, or make a meal that I enjoy. After I fully catch up, I like to celebrate by doing something fun with friends and family.
Getting behind in a class can be very stressful no matter how or when it happens. Having an established process to catch back up has made my life a whole lot easier as a busy student. Next time I get sick or otherwise have trouble with class concepts, I can rest assured knowing that I’m no longer powerless to the onslaught of work and material coming from my classes.