As final exams end, and the academic year draws to a close, students around the city are looking forward to a couple solid months of completely non-academic activity. Others, however, are gearing up for a month of intensive study in July or August.

For the previous generation, “summer school” may conjure up images of students chained to chairs in stuffy classrooms – while their friends frolic in the sunshine. But times have changed. The summer session is no longer a hellish punishment for students who have failed a course during the regular school year. In fact, most students who take a course in July or August do so because they want to get ahead, not because they’ve fallen behind. Today’s summer school students are often high achievers, and they usually get good marks in their summer credits.

Still, summer school will always have both its particular benefits and its unique challenges. For students who want to succeed, here’s a list of pros and cons to help you understand what you’re in for.

Challenges (the cons)

Absences. In the regular school year, it’s not a big deal for a student to miss a day or two here and there, but summer students should keep in mind that a six-hour class in summer school might cover as much as a week’s worth of material from the regular school year. Appointments etc. should be scheduled outside of class hours if at all possible.

Reading time. Students who are taking Engish courses should keep in mind that they will have to do a lot of reading in a short span of time. It might be a good idea to obtain the reading list ahead of time and read through one or two of the works, especially the novels, before the course starts. During the course, too, students should choose a comfortable spot in the house and be prepared to spend at least an hour in the evenings curled up with a book.

Motivation. Students sometimes feel they are “giving up” their summer by taking a summer credit, and they may need some extra incentive to stay focussed. While we can’t condone bribery, there could be a special treat earned by the end of the course if the student does well.

Evening activities. During the summer, when friends may be on vacation, it can be more tempting than ever to stay up late. But zombies aren’t good students. Don’t be a zombie: even though it’s summer, it’s best to save your late-night social activities for the weekend.

It’s not all bad, though. Here are some benefits of summer study.

Benefits (the pros)

Good grades. Students often do well academically in the summer. With just one course to focus on, there are fewer distractions. Also, the fast pace of a full course condensed into a single month often clarifies the connections between various units. Students generally perform at or above their usual achievement levels under these intensive conditions.

Staying sharp. Every teacher knows that students can be expected to be a bit sluggish in September. Studies show that longer summer vacations exacerbate “summer learning loss,” especially in factual and procedural areas, like math and spelling. Students who study in the summer, however, start September with an advantage over classmates who spent their summers less academically.

Sense of achievement. Summer courses give a sense of accomplishment to the summer. The summer will go by quickly either way, but at least if you take a summer school course in July or August, you can feel proud that you’ve spent your summer profitably. One more course is out of the way, which lightens your load the following fall or gives you new options.

Structure and routine. Summer is a time when many teenagers slip into bad sleep habits – staying up late and sleeping in till afternoon. Summer school students, on the other hand, benefit from a routine that gives their days more structure. When you finish class at 3:00 pm, you might not have been up much before then, had you not been in school. After passing a productive morning and afternoon, you can still look forward to the same social evening as friends who aren’t in school – as long as you don’t stay up too late.