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4 tips for taking intensive summer courses

By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.

The following blog post contains four tips for taking intensive summer courses. Most summer courses are intensive by nature, as there is a lot of curriculum to cover in a limited amount of time. With less time to cover the same amount of material, you’ll need to approach things a little differently than you do during the regular school year. 

4 tips for taking intensive summer courses

The strategies below will help you manage your time, stay organized, study efficiently, and complete your assignments without getting overwhelmed during intensive summer courses. The tips are for students of all grades taking summer classes: high school, college, and graduate school.

Additionally, the tips will be helpful whether you’re taking intensive summer courses online or in person. When you’re done here, check out my additional 4 tips for taking summer classes in college.

1. Identify and use a study location near your class location.

Intensive summer courses are usually several hours long, or perhaps even full days. This means you don’t have a ton of free time outside of class to complete your readings and homework assignments before the class meets again, likely on the following day. To be more efficient with your study time, it can be helpful to identify and use a study location somewhere near the location where your class meets. (See note below if your course is online.)

The benefit of having a study location that’s near your class is that you can use the tried-and-true productivity strategy called batching. Batching is when you group similar tasks together and complete them in the same block of time. In the case of taking intensive summer courses, if you find a study location nearby, you can attend class and complete your assignments in one block of time. (For more on batching, this is a helpful article.)

Let’s look at an example:

Let’s say you have a two-week-long intensive summer course that runs from 8:00 AM – 3:00 PM Monday through Friday. If you find a good study spot that’s less than 10 minutes from the school, you could head directly there after class to get your work done until, say, 4:30 PM. So now, you’re batching your class time and your homework time, and you’re all done with everything at 4:30.

Part of what makes this approach time-efficient is that although you’ll be tired after your long class, the information will be fresh in your mind and you’ll be better able to complete your homework assignments. Additionally, you won’t be sidetracked by a commute home, after-class plans that pop up, or other evening things that could distract you if you were to go home directly after class.

If your intensive summer course is being held at a school, the school library is an excellent option for a study location. Or, you could find a coffee shop down the road.

Note for online courses: If you’re taking online courses this summer, then obviously you’ll tweak this tip a bit. Here’s what I suggest: Log into your course somewhere other than where you live. Pick a library, a cafe, or a home office of someone cool enough to let you borrow their space – and then stay there to complete your homework when class is over. 

2. Stay organized from day one.

Summer intensive courses tend to come with a lot of class materials, including both digital materials and paper handouts. The more materials you have, the easier it is to become disorganized. Disorganization can wreck you in more ways than you think.

Tips for organizing course papers:

  • Use one folder and one notebook for each class. The folder should have internal pockets (do not use a folder without pockets). 
  • If your teacher hands out a ton of hole-punched materials, consider using a three-ring binder and putting the notebook inside the binder (get a notebook with 3 holes in it).
  • Put papers away in your folder or binder immediately after using them; don’t cram them in your bag on the way out the door.
  • Date and title all class notes that you write.

Tips for organizing digital course materials:

  • Create a Google Drive folder specifically for your summer course. Name the folder the name of the course and the year. For example: [Shakespearre summer 2023].
  • Name every document clearly. I suggest using a naming convention that includes the name of the class and a description of the assignment. For example: [Shakespearre King Lear final essay]
  • Rename all class downloads (pdfs, course slides, etc.) to match your naming convention. Sometimes when you download pdfs or other files, they have a funky name with weird symbols, or they have a name your professor likes but that’s confusing to you. Rename these files.

Want more? Here are my top 100 best organization tips for college students.

3. Don’t ignore the syllabus.

Because intensive summer courses condense a lot of material in a short amount of time, your professor will unlikely stray from the syllabus at all. Use this to your advantage. Look ahead at the syllabus and get a sense of what assignments are due when, and make a plan for when you’ll do them.

It might be the case that your professor doesn’t assign daily homework, but instead, there’s a larger assignment, like an essay or a presentation, due on the last day of class. If this is the case, it’s up to you to plan time to work on the final assignment a little bit each day.

Another way to use the syllabus to your advantage is to make a plan for busy days. There might be a day or two when you’re enrolled in your summer course that you have an obligation after class (work, social event, etc.). Or maybe there’s a day you can’t attend class (make sure you tell your professor about any planned absences on the first day of class). In these scenarios, use the syllabus to find out what’s due, and work ahead to complete any assignments so you can still submit them on time.

For example, if you know that after class on Wednesday, you’re flying out of class to get to your summer job, and you won’t have time to complete work that’s due in class on Thursday, you need to complete that work early. If you’re going to be absent from class, don’t assume that means you get an extra day to submit your work; instead, complete it earlier so you can still digitally submit it on time. 

4. Build your study materials from day one.

Again, intensive summer courses cover a lot of material in a short amount of time. This means that you won’t have much time to study for a final exam because exams are usually given during the last class. (Unlike classes you take during the academic school year when the teacher or professor often gives you at least a week’s notice before tests.)

Here’s the tip: Start building your study materials from the very first day of class, and add to them as you learn new content each day. For example, if you like to study with flashcards, you would write out flashcards for newly learned content and add those to your stack at the end of each day. When it’s time to study, you can jump right into studying the deck you made. Of course, at this point, you know that if you’re not using active recall as your primary study method, you’re not actually studying.

Final notes about taking intensive summer courses

Taking summer intensive courses doesn’t have to be a pain, and they don’t have to “ruin” your summer. In fact, the vibe of summer courses is so different from school-year courses that they can actually be … dare I say it … fun. As long you manage your time with batching, keep your materials organized, use the syllabus to your advantage, and build your study materials as you go, you’ll be fine.

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