8 Things to Try Out This School Year

The new school year is starting, and often it’s a time of resolving to work harder, pull your socks up, and generally do better.

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But that approach can be a little depressing. It may be that there are study habits you’ve tried a dozen times to change and failed, or it may be that some of the techniques you’re advised to try simply don’t work for you. Either way, starting the school year feeling bad about your previous work is unlikely to inspire you to feel optimistic about the year to come.
Our alternative back-to-school suggestion is instead of vowing to kick old habits altogether, you can try out new things this school year. They might work for you, or they might not, but you’ll never know if you don’t try – and it might be that you learn something really valuable. Here are eight things in a variety of different areas that you could try out this coming school year.

1. A new essay style

Have you hit on an essay formula that really seems to work for you? Perhaps it’s a clever way of approaching the question, or a paragraph structure that leaves you feeling like you’ve addressed all of your points thoroughly. Or perhaps it’s not that you feel great about the essay style you use, but it does seem to get you the grades you want, so you’ve been sticking with it. It’s probably time to shake it up.

Returning with fresh eyes after the summer can do wonders for you essay technique.
Returning with fresh eyes after the summer can do wonders for your essay technique.

You’ve probably gone through several revisions of your essay style to date – there might have been the point when you started secondary school, when you went from writing essays that were essentially a fleshed out list of descriptive bullet points to writing essays that actually had some semblance of structure. Then there might have been another stage more recently, when you were told that a balanced list of pros and cons wasn’t quite enough to cut it either. But there are more changes in essay style to adjust to in the future – at university, for instance, you’ll be expected to write differently again.
That’s why it’s a good idea to look again at the way you write essays, and see if there’s room for experimentation. If you normally write very balanced essays, is it time to be more strident? If your approach is normally to go through your points in ascending or descending order of importance, could you look at the topic more thematically? It may be that it’s a complete disaster, in which case you’ve learned something (namely: don’t write essays like that again) but it may well be that you improve on the grades you usually get. If there’s an opportunity to write an essay that doesn’t count towards your grade for the year, it makes sense to use it to experiment.

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2. A new homework routine

Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean a more virtuous homework routine. You could try out getting all of your homework done between the hours of 6am and 7am, before going for your daily 5-mile run, but if you can manage that more than once or twice then you probably don’t need any additional study advice.

You may find that taking more regular breaks actually makes you more productive.
You may find that taking regular breaks actually makes you more productive.

For more normal students, it could be worth trying out different homework routines even if they don’t seem better or worse; simply different. It might be that the first-thing-in-the-morning option feels impossible until you’ve actually tried it; it may be that doing some work at that time helps you wake up, and you’ll end up appreciating the time it frees up in the evenings. Or it may be that taking more breaks works better for you, or that work that you hate and so space out over several evenings would be easier if you grit your teeth and do it all in one go.
It’s possible that you already have an ideal homework routine in your head that you don’t quite manage to achieve, in which case it’s worth asking why you don’t achieve it. Chances are, whether it’s external distractions or simply your own motivation that’s at fault, you’re never going to achieve that ideal. That’s where trying something new is handy, because it might be an improvement even if it’s not perfect. For example, if you try and fail to do all your homework on the night that you get it, you could switch to at least making a start at each item on the night you get it – even if it’s just writing a title or a brief plan – so that you’ve not got a blank page to deal with when you return to it a day or two later.

3. A new morning routine

Be careful not to dismiss those valuable hours before school.
Be careful not to dismiss those valuable hours before school.

You can end up settling on a morning routine by accident, and then being stuck with it for years. It might be because there are a limited number of buses so you have to plan around the timetable, or because you want to get in the shower before your siblings do. Possibly you think it doesn’t really matter, because it’s half-asleep wasted time anyway. As long as you get to school reasonably fully dressed and with most of the things you need, what does it matter?
But the new school year is a great time to mix it up and see if you can find a morning routine that suits you better. That might mean finally getting the bike out of the shed and travelling to school in a more eco-friendly way that nets you some exercise as well. It might mean looking at a bit more variety in your breakfast choices. It might mean getting up ten minutes earlier and spending your morning being less rushed, or it might mean getting more things ready the night before and allowing yourself slightly longer in bed. Changing it up could leave you feeling much more refreshed and better ready for the day ahead.

4. A new hobby

This is a great opportunity to try something new.
This is a great opportunity to try something new.

By the time you’re at secondary school, starting a new hobby normally requires some kind of external push. That might be changing schools and wanting a way of meeting new people, or making a new friend who persuades you to join in with their hobby. Or it might be more prosaic, like needing something to do for the ‘skills’ section of your Duke of Edinburgh award. But once you’ve figured out your preferred hobbies (which might also include your choice of musical instrument and your choice of sport), it’s rare you’ll take up something new spontaneously.
And that’s a great pity, because new hobbies are excellent. You might discover a talent you never knew you had, or simply a new way to relax and enjoy yourself (or challenge yourself, of course). Aside from the fact that many hobbies look good on your CV and, if relevant, university applications, they’re also an opportunity to try new things and make new friends. So it’s worth actively deciding to look at new hobbies this year – it’s rewarding, and you’re unlikely to do it spontaneously.

5. A hobby you’ve neglected

Prioritise pleasure over pressure when it comes to your hobbies.
Prioritise pleasure over pressure when it comes to your hobbies.

You used to enjoy it – or be pressured into doing it. And now you’ve given it up. Whether it’s watercolour painting, playing the guitar, knitting or whatever else, could this be the year when you revive a hobby that you’ve neglected? This isn’t just a list about the value of trying new things; it is also worth returning to the old things. After all, there was presumably something that led you to enjoy the hobbies you’ve abandoned when you first took them up. It may be that you’ve now outgrown them, but it’s worth giving them another shot to see if that might not be the case.
If there are any hobbies that you quit not because you didn’t enjoy them, but because you weren’t good enough at them, they are particularly worth revisiting. It could be that you quit the violin because you realised you’d never get to play a solo in the school orchestra, let alone the London Philharmonic, but you might still enjoy the instrument – possibly more than you did previously if you’re no longer putting yourself under pressure to succeed. There are some hobbies where the consensus seems to be that if you’re not amazing at them, there’s no point – writing fiction or playing a musical instrument, for example. But no one expects that you need to be a brilliant hiker to enjoy hiking, or an award-winning knitter to enjoy making yourself a scarf. Have a go at hobbies without the pressure, and see if you enjoy them more.

6. A book from an expert

If you’re the kind of person who reads academic texts in your favourite subjects all the time, feel free to skip this point.

Take your studies to the next level and gain an edge in University applications.
Take your studies to the next level and gain an edge in University applications.

For everyone else, it’s rare that you’ll read an academic book, written by an expert in your field, while you’re at school. You might read the textbook that they wrote, or an article or two on Google Scholar. If you’re being really adventurous you might use their work as a reference book, looking up what you need in the index. But reading a whole text cover-to-cover? That’s not usually something anyone bothers with until they reach university.
So this year, get down to the less-trafficked section of your local bookshop and buy yourself a book from someone whose name starts with Dr about a field that interests you. It’s a great way to figure out if the field really does interest you, as opposed to you having a good teacher, or a better-written curriculum than your other subjects. It’s also good preparation for getting to grips with that kind of text later in your studies. And hopefully you’ll learn something interesting from it about the subject as well.

7. A visit to a city you’d like to live in

Take a weekend out to explore your dream city.
Take a weekend out to explore your dream city.

If you’re nearing the end of your time at school – or you like to make your plans comfortably in advance – one thing you’ll be thinking about is where you’re going to live in future. Unless there’s a great university on your doorstep, you’re probably going to be moving in order to study. But many students make plans for their dream universities without visiting the cities they’re in until they’re a year or less away from moving there. That’s not great if you have your heart set on the University of Cambridge until you visit for the first time and realise that the humidity and flatness of the Fens doesn’t appeal to you at all (try Oxford instead!).
Even a day spent in a city can give you a better feel for the place and help you figure out if you’d like to live there for three years or more. A weekend is even better. It might not be university studies that you’re thinking of – it could be that you dream of working for a tech startup in the San Francisco Bay area, or for a consultancy company in the City of London. Either way, it’s worth visiting now, so that if you don’t like it as much as you hoped, you can think about whether you can achieve your goals elsewhere.

8. A different worldview

Why not venture outside your comfort zone this year?
Why not venture outside your comfort zone this year?

It’s been argued that people are increasingly spending time in bubbles where they’re only exposed to views similar to their own. For instance, social media can be an echo chamber where algorithms promote posts it seems likely that we’ll like – and those tend to be the posts that reflect our own views. Whether these arguments are accurate or not, it can be valuable to spend more time considering perspectives other than your own.
So the final thing to try out this school year is a different worldview. That might be by spending time in communities different from your own (perhaps you could try volunteering at a homeless shelter, or taking part in a foreign exchange programme to experience school life in a different country), or it could be something simpler, like trying to read a newspaper or news site once a week that writes from a political perspective other than your own. It may not change your mind about anything, but you might gain a better understanding of different perspectives all the same.

What do you want to try doing this school year? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Image credits: notebook; pencils; girl typing; tea and cake; stretching in front of window; ice skates; ‘cello; book; punting; cat in box


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