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How to get a jump start on the semester with a quick Google search: The Big Picture Download

The smell of a new fall semester is in the air.

And that means…

A new set of courses.

A new class schedule.

Maybe a new roommate or two.


You know what I’m talking about.

You get to the lecture hall, settle in, and your new prof. spends 25 minutes passing out the syllabus, and reading verbatim through the grading rubric (seriously??? pretty sure we covered our bases here back in 1st grade), assignments, lecture schedule, and academic honesty policy.

(Photo: quickmeme)


Then he or she goes on to talk about their research interests, their whole work history, and maybe throws up a few powerpoint slides about how linear algebra is “changing the world.”

Or maybe they just say “F**k it! That’s enough hard work for today…” a mere 15 minutes into the class period.

All of this makes for easy sailing your first week in, but we all know deep down that something else brewing, and what we’re experiencing is just the calm before the storm.

Like I talked about in the Ultimate Guide to Kicking Ass Next Semester, summer and the excitement surrounding the start of a new semester can lull us into a false sense of security… slacking off during the first few weeks of the new fall semester, only to find ourselves behind and scrambling by the time the leaves start to turn.

So what to do?

Put up our defenses and prepare for the worst?

Get the textbook a month early and go to town trying to get ahead? (NERD ALERT!!)

Well it turns out that there is something useful we can do during that first week or two of a fresh new semester, and it fits nicely into the relaxed, haven’t-yet-felt-the-pressure-of-exams, vibe.

Like Kalid and I talked about during our most recent Google Hangout, a big part of building and maintaining motivation for learning, and optimizing the learning process, is having a rough framework (a CONTEXT) for what you’re going to be encountering in your courses throughout the semester.

And one way to do that is to do what I call a Big Picture Download, which is just a quick Google search at the beginning of the semester to explore and generate curiosity around the topics that will show up during the course of the semester.

An easy-going jump start on the semester…


The Big Picture Download


It’s a similar idea to the 10-Question Jump-Start that I talked about in The Engineering School Survival Guide, priming you for a better learning experience during your scheduled class time. We want to “set the context” for what we’re about to learn in order to get the most (and most effective) learning possible out of our subsequent class time and study sessions, so that we can develop our understanding without wasting time trying to figure out what the hell is going on.

So here’s what you do:

Step 1: Get your syllabus and flip to the lecture schedule portion.

If your prof. didn’t include this in the syllabus, don’t worry – either ask (being pro-active is never frowned upon), or just do a general search on what the course is probably going to be about.

(Oh yeaaa… Freshman chemistry baby…)


Step 2: Google around!

Start with super simple stuff like “What is college chemistry about?


And just poke around. This should be very free-flowing. Follow your curiosity, and keep it very broad.

(From about.com)


And then move into Googling actual stuff on the syllabus itself. Don’t take notes unless you really want to (and if you do, make them very very general). Don’t worry about remembering any of it. Just let you curiosity take you. We’re just trying to get a really really rough big picture “take” on what the course is all about.


Don’t spend more than 30 minutes on this for each class.

Step 3: Keep tabs on this big picture perspective throughout the semester.

Think of each week as “filling in the details” rather than encountering something for the first time.

It can be very dis-orienting and de-motivating sitting in class, copying down stuff on the board about the chemical notation for acids and bases in buffer solutions (kill me), unless you know where it’s all headed – in this case, how different stuff dissolves in water and the effects it can have (hmm, not so bad).

So in a sense, this informal “poking around” process has now provided you a roadmap of sorts.

A mental framework that you can use to guide you throughout the semester… so that you know (at least generally) what’s coming, where all of the material you’re learning is headed, and what the point of it all is.

And that’s much more motivating than just slogging yourself to lecture and back each day to take extensive notes on who knows what, that you’re going to have to spend hours later going back to figure out what it all means.

So don’t worry, by doing these quick 30-minute Google sessions, you can still keep your first week or two nice and “loosey-goosey,” free of problem sets and hardcore study sessions…

…while at the same time setting yourself up for a much more cohesive, efficient, and enjoyable learning experience.

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