-Don't go into class worried about what you don't know. If they let you enroll, then you are in good company. Accept yourself where you are, and don't be afraid to ask questions. The professors want to impart knowledge, but they can't as long as your goal is to show them what you already know (or keep them from finding out what you don't know!). Take the opportunity to learn all you can. Ask questions in class … lots of them. If you need clarification on something, chances are someone else does, too. While making too many comments in class can become annoying to others, usually questions are appreciated. Again, the goal is to learn … not to show how much you already know!
-Don't be limited by the syllabus. Your teacher is not responsible to fill your head with all you need to know on a particular subject. It's your job to pull it in. Rather than shooting for the minimum, do whatever it takes to learn what you need to know. Don't be afraid to ask the professor if you can customize the syllabus to fit your interests. Every school has their own "mood" about these kind of appeals. Some are not friendly towards proposed changes. Others are warmly welcoming. At Gordon-Conwell I was able to choose particular research topics that fit my interests in 13 of the 20 courses. I had 6 courses waived so that I could choose more advanced courses, and in 8 of the 20 that I took I requested a change in the syllabus. Three of the 20 were transferred from other institutions. That only leaves 3 courses that I did not customize in some way!
-Do choose classes and paper topics that interest you and will contribute to future study projects or ministry opportunities. I remember choosing to write a paper on miscarriages when I was first married. My mom had had two, and I knew that even if I didn't experience miscarriage it would be helpful in ministry to others. Not only did I end up needing what I learned for my own journey through miscarriage, but I have used it countless times with others. On the academic side of things, choosing a topic that relates to a research interest can create a sense of momentum between classes. As it turned out, my thesis, writing sample, exegesis paper, and dissertation topics were all interconnected, which has given me a great head start on my doctoral research.
-Do plan ahead. Procrastination is the enemy of quality academic work. If you're writing your paper up until the very last minute, then there is no room left to edit your work. I find that if I can finish a paper a week ahead of time and then revisit it a few days before it's due, I see problem spots that I missed the first time through. Sit where you are less likely to be distracted in the library (or wherever you study). Close email and Facebook so that you can focus. Block off regular times to keep chipping away at your assignments long before they are due. When I have a lot of reading to do, I count the number of days in the semester that I will likely be able to read and then divide the number of pages by the number of days to give myself a target. Perhaps you work well under pressure, and so you are tempted to wait until later when the pressure is building. My advice is to create your own pressure by making self-imposed deadlines earlier in the semester. With my reading schedule, the pressure starts building as soon as I'm more than a day behind because I know it will be tricky to find time to make it up later!
Now I'm going to follow my own advice and get back to studying, but just in case you're worried about my German exam this Friday, you might like to know that I wrote this post in June and saved it until now.
Have a great semester!