Ask a Professor: How to Survive and Succeed in Early Morning College Classes

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  • Early morning classes can be brutal for many students, especially night owls.
  • You can improve your performance by planning ahead and thinking strategically.
  • Creating a routine, planning to participate, and doing classwork at other times all help.
  • When early classes are unavoidable, take these steps to survive and succeed.

Here's a secret that many students don't know: Professors dread 8 a.m. classes almost as much as students. And it's not only the early hour — it's the fact that students stumble in half awake and often with very little to contribute to discussions.

I've never faced a more silent classroom than at 8 a.m. after asking a question about the reading. Are 8 a.m. classes bad? They can be, especially if you sleep through class. But there are also some benefits to taking morning classes in college.

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Ready to Start Your Journey?

Consider the following tips to go beyond surviving those early classes and actually succeeding.

6 Tips for Surviving Your Morning Classes

When was the last time college students had to get out of bed before 8 a.m. for class? For some undergrads, their last early morning classes were in high school — still, only 42% of high schools start before 8 a.m. That means many college students have never experienced the joys of pre-dawn classes.

It is possible to survive your morning classes — with some planning ahead.

1. Show Up

It's not surprising that early morning classes tend to have low attendance rates. Simply showing up to class will put you ahead of the game.

Even if your professor does not count attendance as part of your grade, showing up improves your academic performance. A 2017 research paper published in PLoS One found that "early and consistent class attendance strongly correlates with academic performance."

Simply showing up will also give you a major advantage in understanding the material and a chance to participate.

2. Prepare for Class

Too many students show up to class without preparing. And the problem is magnified in morning classes. It's understandable. No one wants to get up even earlier to review lecture notes or look over the assigned reading one last time.

In an early class, schedule time the night before to study and prepare. Make sure you've done the assigned reading and prepped your notes for the class discussion. If you're attending in person, consider packing your bag the night before to make the morning smoother.

3. Plan to Participate

Participation is an important way to engage with classmates and connect with course material. But in my experience, participation rates are noticeably lower in early morning classes.

That might sound like a problem, but it's actually an opportunity. Students who participate in 8 a.m. classes stand out much more than those who raise their hand in afternoon classes. Your professor might even be so grateful that someone participated that they throw some extra participation credit your way.

So make a plan to participate. That might mean writing down reflections or responses to the reading the night before. Or you can prepare questions and thoughts on upcoming lecture topics.

4. Get Creative With Note-Taking

It's a good idea to take notes during lectures. And writing notes by hand can even wake you up during an early class. But what if you simply can't keep up with the professor's jaunty pace at 8 a.m.?

Think outside the box. Consider typing your notes instead of writing them by hand. Or ask your professor if you can record the lectures to replay them later. That will help you make sure you don't miss anything critical.

5. Create a Routine

It's easier to wake up early if you consistently set the alarm for the same time. And that usually means going to bed earlier. While that might sound like a fate worse than death, a routine can help you academically.

If you're struggling to make it to class on time, create some positive incentives — stop at the campus cafe for some caffeine and a pastry on your way to class.

After class, take advantage of your early start by enjoying a quiet campus. You can get a surprising amount of work done if you start early, leaving more time to relax and have fun later in the day.

6. Maximize Your Productive Hours

Very few college students consider themselves morning people. According to a survey from the National Survey of Student Engagement, only 12% of college students describe themselves as morning people.

If early morning isn't your best time of day, take advantage of when you're mentally sharp. Attend office hours in the afternoon or ask your professor for a meeting in the late morning. Schedule study time and knock out required readings when you're alert.

Keep in mind that colleges estimate you should spend 2-3 hours studying for every hour in class. By scheduling your outside-of-class work during your best times, you can make up for some less alert moments in class.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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