After months of grueling academic work, the school year is finally winding to a close. University students across the country have already finished their final exams, and, for those still in high school, the end of classes is in sight. At this point, you’re probably looking forward to some well-deserved rest and relaxation; the last thing on your mind is the start of a new term in September.

However, in the midst of those summertime adventures, looking ahead might be more valuable than you realize. A widely-studied phenomenon called ‘summer learning loss’ or ‘summer slide’ results in students losing knowledge they’ve gained over the school year when they suspend their studies for a few months of vacation. Students are forced to compensate in September by re-learning concepts they’d previously mastered, making the first weeks of school more stressful than they would otherwise be. Although research on this phenomenon typically focus on K-12 students, students at the post-secondary level certainly aren’t immune. If you’ve ever sat in class in September, frantically trying to recall mathematical processes or important definitions that were second nature just a few months ago, you know exactly what I mean.

It may seem like the only solution to summer slide is to spend your vacation studying, which is a miserable prospect to many students. Fortunately, there are strategies you can use to stay sharp while still enjoying an amazing summer break.

Learn a new skill with a connection to your course work. For example, if you’re studying a field related to computer science, try learning a programming language you’ve never tried before. If a lot of your schoolwork involves analyzing poetry, try your hand at writing some; tackling a difficult form like the sestina can make for a particularly enjoyable challenge. As long as the skill you choose has some connection to your classes, you’ll wind up reinforcing important academic concepts without even realizing it. On top of that, you’ll finish the summer with a new skill that could develop into an ongoing interest!

Keep reading and writing. Particularly for students in the Humanities, going from a term where you’re constantly analyzing texts and completing written assignments to a break where you do neither can cause difficulty when the intensive reading and writing suddenly starts up again. Fortunately, there’s a way to combat this academic whiplash that doesn’t involve reading ancient Greek texts on the beach or skipping family vacations to compose research papers. Instead, maintain your reading and long-form writing skills in fun recreational ways. Reading popular books or pulpy romance novels over the summer is valuable because it targets your ability to remain focused on texts and track storylines. Similarly, posting blog entries about your favourite movies or crafting entries to writing contests will keep your composition skills sharp. The most important thing is that you don’t stop reading or writing; that way, in September, you’ll just have to apply these skills to new academic subjects rather than practicing them for the first time in weeks.

Get a head start on new material. Fundamentally, the problem posed by summer learning loss is that you spend the first few classes of the new term scrambling to remember foundational concepts from the previous year rather than absorbing new material. This problem can be prevented by setting aside some time towards the end of summer to look up the first few concepts you’re likely to focus on in September. Not only will this advance preparation remind you what old material you need to review, it will ease the transition into your new classes because the fresh content will seem somewhat familiar. Studying during the summer might sound like a drag, but this look ahead doesn’t need to be an intense self-lecture. Resources like Minute School can expose you to new material in a clear, understandable way, and you can stop whenever you feel ready.

With these tips in mind, you should be able to remain academically engaged over the summer without feeling like school’s still in session. There’s nothing like a relaxing vacation followed by a smooth start to a new school year!

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