How to Stay Motivated During the Final Stretch of the School Year
Summer is so close you can practically taste the ice cream dripping down your wrist. But before we hit the beaches, cottages, outdoor concerts and family trips, there’s just one pressing item on the docket: finishing the school year.
Sometimes, it’s a cruel by-product of circumstance that the last few weeks of a course are the hardest. You have massive final exams to study for, final assignments to turn in and heavily weighted group projects to execute. At the same time, you feel like you’re running on fumes.
In this article, let’s brainstorm ways to stay motivated during the final stretch of the school year. We’ll explore goal-setting practices, effective study habits, self-care and more – all in an attempt to help you finish strong.
If You Made Goals, Revive Them; If You Haven’t, Start Now
By now, you’ve probably heard it a hundred times – every supportive figure in your academic career touting the magical benefits of goal-setting. Unfortunately, you’ll have to read through the spiel one more time.
Goals really are fantastic for motivation! They help you define your desires, and – crucially – they hold you accountable to those desires. Without goals, you might have a hazy idea of what you want, but you’ll settle for less when things get difficult. With goals, you have a crystal-clear understanding of your ideal objectives. They’re written in permanent ink or bold font right where you can see them, spurring you never to give up – impelling you to reach deep down and find that last bit of gas in the tank you didn’t know you had.
If you made goals at the beginning of the school year, revisit them. Sticky them to the front of your laptop or center of the bathroom mirror. Remind yourself what’s at stake. And if you haven’t set goals yet, it’s not too late. Round out the year with clearly defined goals to motivate you.
Look Toward the Future to Define Your “Why”
Goals are all well and good, but without personal reasons supporting them, they can feel meaningless.
Here’s a good example. Have you ever fixated on some small, insignificant achievement, like throwing a crumpled sheet of paper across the room and sinking it in the trash bin? After about 25 attempts (and ten solid minutes of procrastination), you stop and think to yourself, “wait, why am I doing this? This is silly!” That’s an example of a “goal for goal’s sake.” And our motivation instantly evaporates when we realize that these goals are, ultimately, a meaningless way to while away the time.
Don’t let your studies follow the same trajectory. Attach tangible, personal meaning to your academic goals. To do this, we recommend looking toward the future and asking yourself some big questions.
What do you want to be when you grow up? What changes do you want to affect? What skills do you wish to master? What university experiences are you looking forward to? Heck, what car do you want to own? Then, you can relate those to your current studies to figure out why you’re setting such towering goals. “I’m doing it to cure cancer.” “I’m studying hard so I can master the written word.” “I’m aiming high in this course so I can break out of my shell in university.” “I want to start my own business and drive my own Lamborghini.” Defining your “why” should give you a fresh sense of motivation to close the school year.
Avoid the “Cram and Crash” Cycle
With your goals firmly established, you can turn your attention toward good academic habits. As any educator will tell you, time management matters greatly in your academic career. It’s the bedrock upon which you can enact your goals, meet your deadlines, structure your courses and – yes – even stay motivated.
Cramming – that is, the act of forcing an overstuffed study block into a short amount of time right before a deadline – can adversely affect your academic drive. Cramming is an inefficient and ineffectual study mode that often returns subpar results, which can knock down your confidence and sew discouragement into your studies. Moreover, the physical and mental tolls cramming takes on a student have ripple effects later in a course, as you eventually reach the “crash.”
A crash is a period of low energy after an intense study session. Cramming and crashing often follow one after the other, and if you aren’t careful, you can get caught in a near-constant cram/crash cycle that erodes your confidence and motivation.
Instead, read OES’s helpful guide on how to develop time management skills. At the link, you’ll learn best practices for preparation, organization, prioritization and optimizing productivity.
Find Personal Relevance in Your Coursework
Sometimes, our motivation wanes when we can’t see the purpose in our work. “Why am I learning about Shakespeare when the guy hasn’t written a word in 500 years?” It’s a natural question to ask, one that generations before you have pondered (and generations in the future will likely revisit).
It’s wise to find personal relevance in your coursework. Let’s take Shakespeare as an example. Hamlet might have been written 500 years ago, but its themes of grief, trauma, jealousy, misused power and appearance vs. reality remain exceedingly relevant today. Who hasn’t felt a twinge of grief at losing something special? Who hasn’t felt angry when someone misuses their power? Who hasn’t wished they could find a genuine connection with someone who keeps putting on appearances? When you frame the immortal bard this way, you start to see personal relevance – rather than a dusty old requirement.
You can apply personal relevance to any course. In your MHF4U Advanced Functions course, you can apply functions to the world around you – machines, economics, computer systems, political analyses and just about anything else you’re interested in. Try relating your coursework to your individual interests for a renewed jolt of motivation.
Make Education Communal
Your online education doesn’t have to end when you close the browser. While OES is proud to offer several opportunities in our courses for collaborative learning, we understand that sometimes students crave community beyond our digital walls.
Consider putting together a study group with some peers – whether they’re OES students or not. Research shows that collaborative learning (in study groups) “promotes both academic achievement and collaborative abilities,” and can help incentivize students to learn more. Establishing a study group yourself also shows initiative, which may boost your motivation from the get-go!
Essentially, some students feel more comfortable approaching their peers with problems: concepts they don’t get, assignments they’re finding troublesome, etc. Working through these issues as a collaborative peer community can help ensure that everyone remains motivated, regardless of whether it’s the first week of class or the last.
Establish a System of Positive Reinforcement
It happens to the best of us: we get into cycles of negative reinforcement, criticizing ourselves when we don’t live up to expectations, and hoping that our criticism suffices as motivation to do better in the future. This might work for a time. But as a long-term motivational strategy, it lacks effectiveness – and it also lacks personal empathy.
A better strategy is to establish a system of positive reinforcement – rewarding yourself for a job well done. You don’t have to wait for exam results or assignment grades to reward yourself; consider rewarding yourself for the small stuff, like putting in a full day’s study for your courses or making serious headway on an upcoming essay.
How you reward yourself is entirely up to you. For some students, nothing says “positive reinforcement” quite like cuddling up to a TV show. Others prefer to compensate themselves by gaming. And some students just need to take a day off for some much-needed R&R. Where applicable, run your reward system by your parents or guardians to ensure it’s aligned with the household rules.
Take Care of Yourself – Like, Really Take Care
We tend to think of motivation as stemming from the brain. “It’s all in your head,” some might say. But recently, researchers have discovered that the mind-body connection is far more sophisticated than we once thought. Our brains and bodies form a kind of living symbiosis; the health of the former affects the functionality of the latter, and vice versa.
That’s a circuitous way of saying the obvious: Take care of yourself. It’s difficult to summon the motivation you require to tackle end-of-year exams when you can barely get out of bed. And it’s hard to drum up inspiration for that last essay when all you can think of is how hungry you are.
We’ve said it before on this blog, but it bears repeating. Get consistent, sufficient sleep by going to bed at the same hour each night. Structure your meals around healthy foods like vegetables, whole grains and good fats. Get your blood pumping with some physical activity like yoga, team sports or biking. And be proactive about your mental health with routine self-evaluation, open dialogues with trustworthy loved ones, and professional assistance, as the case may be.
Redefine Obstacles as Learning Opportunities…
Obstacles are perhaps the most significant threat to a student’s motivation. When we say obstacles, we mean those big or small challenges you face as a normal part of taking a high school course. An obstacle might be a particularly complex math concept. It could be a lacklustre grade on a history project, or the “writer’s block” that sometimes accompanies written assignments. Whatever the obstacle, it’s up to you to determine how to frame it.
Too often, we equate obstacles with something bad. Why is that? Why not view life’s challenges and setbacks as learning opportunities? If you don’t understand a math concept, it’s an opportunity to expand your thinking and learn a formidable new skill. If you received an unsatisfactory grade on a history assignment, it’s an opportunity to revisit the topic with fresh eyes to determine where you went astray. And that writer’s block? It can be a bold opportunity to put your written assignment aside for a day or two, live your best life, and await a fresh gust of inspiration.
…And Never Hesitate to Ask for Help
You don’t need to tackle those obstacles alone, either. As a leading accredited online school, OES prides itself on robust support structures for students. Your course instructor is available to field your questions and concerns, helping you navigate the tricky aspects of an online course. We’ve selected intelligent, compassionate and eminently skilled teachers here at OES; you might as well capitalize on their knowledge!
And your motivation shouldn’t take a knock just because it’s a weird hour. If you have a burning question at 11 pm on a Saturday, you can always use OES’s 24/7 online tutoring services. We offer round-the-clock tutoring because we want to see each and every OES student succeed.
Leave Room for Non-School-Related Activities and Excitement
Your online high school courses are just one patch in the rich tapestry that is your teenage life. Friends, hobbies, family time, vacations, team sports, leisure activities, relationships, beginning to prepare for post-secondary school, etc. – those are all valid ways to spend your time. Moreover, developing a healthy school-life balance that includes space for these meaningful opportunities can be a net positive for your academic motivation.
If you spend your entire waking life worrying about academics, you’re likely to burn out eventually. But if you satisfy your basic human desires for communication, community and self-led interests, you can summon the motivation you need to excel in your education. Even as you stare down at the pike of a long school year’s end, leave wiggle room in your schedule for non-school-related activities and excitement.
The weather is just starting to show signs of warming here in Ontario. And it’s tempting to stare out the window, daydreaming of the summer ahead, and lose a little motivation along the way. But resist that temptation. Stay motivated during the final stretch of the school year with these straightforward tips.