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How to Tackle Your College Workload

How to pace your assignments and succeed in your first semester in college.

It is a common refrain among incoming college freshmen that their high schools did not prepare them for the workload of their first semester in college. Whether your workload was too light or not varied enough, it’s possible to be caught completely off guard when handed your first college class syllabus. How do you prepare for a midterm exam? How do you make sure that research paper is ready by the due date? How can you possibly do that for every class you’re taking? How do you rise to the challenge of your first semester? To paraphrase a saying: how do you eat an elephant-sized cake? 

The answer: one bite at a time. With “chunking,” we’ll handle coursework and large, metaphorical desserts at our own pace and accomplish everything we need to.

Chunking, because all at once is usually a bad idea

To put it simply, “chunking” schoolwork is a process of dividing a project into smaller, discrete assignments. You’ll look at your elephant-sized cake and divide it into sections. You can set aside pieces to eat over the course of a week or plan having a bite or two a day; the scope of each task and deadline is up to you. The important thing is to keep each assignment doable so you can keep pace with your effort. 

Chunking in practice

So, what does chunking look like when it comes to different kinds of assignments? Here are some common examples of larger projects and how you can approach them:

Research Papers

Writing 15 pages in one night is rough; writing 5 pages a night for 3 nights suddenly seems more manageable. And don’t forget to make time for the actual research! The more organized and intentional you are about your sources and data, the easier time you’ll have writing the different sections of your paper. 


Whether you’re prepping for a test on a specific topic, a broader midterm exam, or an all-encompassing final at the end of the semester, trying to cram all of the information that you need to review in one sitting is going to be unpleasant and likely ineffective. Instead, plan out your review over a week to make sure you review all of the content you need to.

Portfolio Assignments

Instead of papers, art and design classes might require you to present an entire portfolio or work at the end of the semester. Look at the different pieces you need to have and push yourself to prepare a couple of them a week for several weeks.

There’s plenty about your first semester at college that will be intimidating; your assignments don’t have to be. If you make your plan and take things one bite at a time, you’ll set yourself up for success. Looking for more support? Join our free Academic Success Series with Dr. Jed Applerouth or set up time to talk to an Applerouth Advisor about how our Executive Function Coaches can help make your fall semester easier.

Applerouth is a trusted test prep and tutoring resource. We combine the science of learning with a thoughtful, student-focused approach to help our clients succeed. Call or email us today at 202-558-5644 or