In her first semester as a Virginia Tech freshman, Alyssa Tsui was her own worst enemy. Just thinking about the 20-page lab reports she was supposed to be writing, “I’d get really overwhelmed,” she remembers, “so I’d just completely avoid it until the night before.” Her procrastination skills were on point — and they were making her miserable.

With the start of the shiny new spring semester, Tsui had to rethink her strategies. “I really reevaluated my habits when it came to getting schoolwork done,” she said. “Going into the new semester with a fresh mindset, fresh grades, all of that, I realized that the best thing for me to do is to break up the lab report bit by bit.” By writing a little each day, Tsui made the report more manageable, earned better grades, and stressed less. 

A new semester, like a new year, has great clean-slate energy. It’s a powerful time for students to reset how they approach school. But first, they have to look back. 

Continuous improvement requires consistent reflection, explains Christina Fabrey, director of Virginia Tech’s Student Success Center. “The more that [students] learn about who they are and the way that they learn best, the more efficient and effective they become at learning.” 

Fabrey recommends asking these seven questions to reflect on how things went last year — the good, the bad, and the ugly — and identify small improvements that will help you learn smarter, not harder, this spring.

  1. How did you grow last semester?
  2. What conditions led to that growth?
  3. What about last semester makes you most proud?
  4. What makes you least proud?
  5. What do you want to keep doing?
  6. What do you want to do differently?
  7. What resources can you take better advantage of this semester?
Undergraduate Peer Academic Coaches pose on stairs.
The members of the 2021–22 Peer Academic Coaching Team offer free one-on-one sessions with students.

Even after an iffy semester, it’s possible to make changes moving forward. As one of 15 peer academic coaches (PACs) with the Student Success Center, Tsui, a junior double-majoring in psychology and cognitive and behavioral neuroscience, regularly coaches students on how to get past self-sabotaging behaviors like poor time management, muddled organization, shaky self-discipline, and her personal favorite, procrastination.

Unlike tutors or academic advisers, PACs focus on strategies to maximize your personal and academic performance. They work one on one with students to figure out the root of the problem, identify a goal, and help tailor a plan to their needs. “It's never just saying, ‘Oh, in order to succeed, you need to do this,’ because each student is different,” says Tsui. “We always kind of brainstorm and problem solve together about what works best for them.” 

Any Virginia Tech student can make a free appointment with a peer academic coach through Navigate, Virginia Tech’s advising platform. Coaching may be particularly helpful for students who need accountability for their semester reset, or students with executive function challenges like ADHD. A PAC can guide you through a last-semester reflection process so you identify goals that tap into your strengths — perhaps switching to a paper calendar, or committing to showing up for a professor’s weekly office hours.

“It’s about making small and realistic changes in order to be more efficient and effective in our learning, so that it actually maximizes our time, and we can utilize the remainder of our time in other ways,” says Fabrey. “You are building a lifelong skill that you'll use in every single part of your life moving forward to have a little bit more fun and freedom.”

Written by Melody Warnick

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