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Smart students’ to-do list for Thanksgiving break

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to eat great food, spend time with friends and family, and catch up on sleep. If you’re smart, it can also be a valuable opportunity to improve your grades and start preparing yourself for final exams in December.

Here are some things that would be great uses of time over the break:

1) Check your grades online, and assess how you’re doing in each of your classes so far this semester. Look for patterns in your performance — Do you see any areas where you could improve? For instance, if you have stellar grades on your homework but consistently lower test scores, brainstorm a list of ideas for how you could improve your exam grades (e.g. learn more effective study skills, attend extra help sessions, talk with your teacher about what you can do to improve, spend more time preparing for the next exam) and choose one or two to put into action!

2) Complete any missing or incomplete work. Since most teachers don’t give a lot of extra homework over Thanksgiving break, this is a great opportunity to catch up on anything you’ve missed. One zero can have a huge impact on your average grade, so even if you’ll have points taken off for handing assignments in late it’s far better to turn something in than nothing at all!

3) Create a summary sheet of notes for each of your classes. Review your notes from each class, and write down the most important facts, formulas, and concepts you’ve learned so far this semester on a single, blank piece of paper. Use your own words, and avoid writing complete sentences — instead, condense and summarize the information into keywords, pictures, arrows, abbreviations, and equations. This ‘summary sheet’ method is a great way to review the information you’ve learned, and will give you a head start when it’s time to study for exams.

4) Work on term projects and/or papers, and make sure you have a plan for how & when you will complete them. One of my favorite planning methods is to start with your end goal (e.g. Turn in the project), then write the action that you would need to take just before that (Print out the project and put it in my backpack), and so on, until you have reached the first possible action — which should be something you could do right now. Then, think about how long it will take to complete each of these steps and write down the date when you will complete each of them next to that step. Once you’ve completed your plan, write those steps down in your planner on the appropriate days, so you know what you need to do each each day in order to stay on track and complete your project on time. Then, see if you can complete the first few steps during your break. Once you’re back in class, it will be easier to continue a project you’ve already begun than it would be to start from scratch.

5) Create a study schedule for your final exams, and get a head start with your studying! If you have your finals in mid-December, you’re only going to have a few weeks after Thanksgiving before exams hit. So, this is a great chance to plan ahead for your final exams. Make a plan for when you will start studying for each exam, and write down the dates + times of your study periods in your planner to make sure you remember them. Get a head start on your studying by choosing one of the more challenging topics you’ve covered this semester and spend time reviewing the material, quizzing yourself, and doing practice problems to test your understanding. This way, when it’s time to study for your exams you will have less to learn.

6) For seniors applying regular decision, Thanksgiving break is also a wonderful time to make some progress on your college admission or scholarship essays, if you haven’t already completed them.

In addition to eating and relaxing with family & friends over this holiday break, consider choosing one or more of the items from this to-do list to complete as well…and get ready to add “good grades” and “a sense of accomplishment” to your list of things to be thankful for!

Dr. Maggie Wray is an academic coach who helps high school and college students develop the mindset, motivation, organization, time management, and study skills they need to be successful in school. She graduated with honors from Princeton University, has a Ph.D. in neurobiology and behavior from Cornell, and spent 4 years teaching undergraduates at Cornell before moving to Atlanta.

If you would like to learn more about Dr. Maggie and how she helps prepare students to succeed, please email her at or visit her website at

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