Tips for Academic Success
The days when teachers looked over your shoulder and nagged you about homework and tests are past. In many classes, especially at larger schools, you are just a face in a crowd of 300 – a “number,” as the expression goes. Teachers assume you are sufficiently responsible to keep up with your work without individual attention.
The structure of most college courses reflects this philosophy. Instead of daily graded assignments and monthly tests, most college professors evaluate students solely on the basis of a midterm and a final exam or a midterm and a term project. Homework, more often than not, is optional while reading assignments are longer and less structured. For example, instead of saying, “Read these 10 pages for tomorrow,” the professor will remark, “read this book before the next midterm.” Just as often, the professor will not say anything about assignments but rely on the syllabus given to each student the first day of class. This item-the syllabus-is invaluable; keep it in a safe place!
With class work structured in this way, falling behind tends to haunt anyone with the slightest lazy streak. Needless to say, time management plays a large role in any successful college career.
Does this sound familiar:
“I can afford to skip a class or two.”
“I’ll get a friend to take notes for me.”
“I never get anything out of class when I do go.”
“I came to school with a 4.0 GPA and thought that college would be a breeze, just like high school. The first few weeks I went to class religiously and then the party invites started coming. It seemed like the weekend started on a Wednesday and ended on Tuesday. I was usually too tired to go to my early morning classes and didn’t feel like putting much effort into the other ones. It wasn’t until the report cards came out that I realized my GPA had plummeted to a 2.5 and I lost my scholarship that I realized I had to do something about it.”
-senior, Northern Michigan University
Deciding whether to go to class or not is the hardest choice you’ll face in your college career- that and whether or not to borrow clean underwear from your roommate. The choice to go or not to go is yours, but with every choice comes consequences. In this case, the consequence could be missing a pop quiz with no make-up offered or missing material that will likely be the key to the next exam. From time to time you will find yourself unable to make it to class. It happens. Just make sure that you can at least do the following to cover yourself:
- Some professors will award credit just for attending class. Make sure to find out your professor’ attendance policy. Ask your professor or teaching assistant if the information is not in your syllabus. Also, find out if there have been any additions or changes in the syllabus, such as an exam date change or extra credit that was added.
- Get notes from a friend in you class. The only catch is that you need to actually go to class so that you can make a friend who can share notes with you.
- If you should get sick or miss classes because of reasons beyond your control, you have options. You can drop a class before it counts against you. Talk to your professors and your academic advisor-but be sure to do something. A dropped class doesn’t typically count against your GPA. An F can and will hurt you.
- If you find that you’re consistently missing class because you’re nursing a hangover, or that you’re still partying in the morning while your class is in session, there’s a pretty good change that you need some professional treatment. That’s not normal.
Bottom Line: Attending Class
Missing a class is the equivalent to paying hundreds of dollars for a ticket to a show and then not going. Unfortunately, you can’t scalp tickets to English 101. Besides price, your grades will suffer.
How to Get an A (or almost an A)
There are more students than ever before coming into college with A averages. This means getting an A won’t be as easy as it was in high school. But, it’s possible if you want it badly enough. Here are some tips that could help you get an A:
- Go to classes.
- Make sure your professor knows who you are. Introduce yourself to your professor either in class, during office hours, or around campus.
- Do readings ahead of time. If you’re familiar with the readings, you will naturally absorb so much more of the lecture content in class and retain it.
- Study your notes the night after you take them. Again, the material will stick with you this way.
- Ask questions in class. Better to ask up front than have a big surprise down the line…at your expense. Ask if there is a late penalty, how important documentation is, and similar questions. Teachers would rather you ask than assume. If the class is huge and you’re a bit embarrassed, then schedule time for office hours and have your questions ready to go.
- Getting help. If you’re having trouble in a class, don’t go for help the day before the final. Go as soon as the trouble starts.
- Go to office hours. Every professor has office hours set aside for students to come in and get extra help. It’s like a free tutoring session. If you have something that conflicts with the professor’s office hours, contact your professor to try and meet at a different time.
- Form study groups. Find people in class who can challenge you, share notes, and pool resources to help everyone master the material.
- Ask about extra credit. If you’re not making the grade, ask to do extra work.
- Question exams when you get them back. Many professors will change your score if you care enough to bring up a confusing question on a graded exam. It’s worth trying.
- Avoid cramming. You’ll retain information longer if you study way ahead of the exam. Cramming might help you pass, but you need to retain information for final exams.
- Go to exam reviews. Before exams, many professors or teaching assistants will offer reviews. These are priceless run downs of the material typically on the exam.
- Find out the grades you get on exams. If for some reason your professor doesn’t hand them out in class or doesn’t let you keep them, go to their office hours to see your exam. Also, go over it with your professor or TA so that you understand what you did wrong. This can only benefit you, but also let you know what grade you are receiving in the class, instead of finding out on your report card.
Bottom Line: How to Get an A
The bad news: Not everyone can get an A. The good news: most people don’t want to do the work it takes to get an A. You can.
- If you find that you’re falling behind, don’t panic. Get help immediately. Talk to your professors, a teaching assistant, and veterans of the class. You don’t always have to read every page of every single book.
- If you have to work a job, start with fewer hours and then build from there. You can always add more once you figure out how much time you need to dedicate to your classes. Sometimes when you have a job and a full schedule, it’s easier to study because you know when you have to get it done. Being busy can actually help.
- Get some kind of planner or organizer. Get it out of your head. Figure out your week before staring every week. College doesn’t offer as much structure as your time. Write it down and stick to it.
- If you’re having a hard time managing your schedule, find out if there is help on campus. Contact the Counseling or Women’s Center and ask. Many colleges offer time management resources for new students.
Bottom Line: Time Management
Save time and have the best time by asking for help every time you need it. If you can take the time to get help, you’ll find the best of times.
- Study difficult (or “boring”) subjects first. We tend to study what we like first; the courses we find most difficult often require the most creative energy. Save the subjects you enjoy for later.
- Be aware of your best time of day. For example, many people learn best in daylight hours. If this is true for you schedule study time for your most difficult subjects when the sun is up.
- Use waiting time. Five minutes waiting for a bus, 20 minutes between classes-waiting time adds up fast. Have short study tasks ready to do during these times. For example, carry 3x5 cards with facts, formulas, or definitions and pull them out anywhere.
- Use a regular study area. Our body and mind know where we are. When you use the same place to study, day after day, they become trained. When you arrive at that particular place, you can focus your attention more quickly.
- Study where you’ll be alert. Don’t study where you sleep because your body signals that it is time to sleep not to study. Put yourself into a situation that supports the message that it is time to study.
- Use a library. Libraries are designed for learning because of perfect lighting, low noise levels, and readily available material.
Improving your memory, like improving any other skill, is hard work. These tips and techniques will not necessarily make remembering easier, but they will make you more efficient.
- Realize you can’t and don’t need to remember everything. Trying to remember every detail you read and hear is probably impossible. Therefore, your ability to identify important ideas and details in the study/learning process is critical to effective recall of information-remember what you want or need to remember.
- Once you identified important information, there are several techniques that can help you organize and recall it. There is not, however one best method for remembering everything.
- Associate. Relate new information to something you already know. An isolated idea or fact is hard to remember, if you associate it with information that already makes sense to you, it will be more meaningful and thus easier to organize and remember.
- Visualize. Organize information into a vivid, clear mental picture. For example, to remember the necessary elements of a novel, form a picture with all the important characters and dress in the style of the period, doing something representative of the character.
- Mnemonic Aids. For information that defies association or visualization, adapt a memory technique. Some mnemonic devices include:
- Acronyms-form a word from the first letter of each word in a series. For example, “HOMES” for recalling the Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior.
- Acrostics-make nonsense phrases so that the first letter of each word is the information. For example, “Every good boy does fine” for the E,G, B, D, F line of treble music staff.
- Word-Part Clues-remember whether the denotative or connotative meaning of a word is the dictionary meaning by denotative and dictionary both beginning with “d”.
- Poems & rhymes-make up short, catchy sayings that include the essential information. For example, “In, 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
Regular review and use of information will significantly improve retention and recall, so plan frequent short study sessions. Always include a review of previously learned information as well as learning new information.
There are several ways people learn new information. Although most students have a preferred modality using a combination can be helpful in the learning process.
- Learners tend to learn best when they:
- Hear verbal instructions.
- Obtain information that is presented on an audiotape.
- Participate in a lecture or a class discussion instead of merely reading a textbook.
- Vocalize what they had read.
- Learners can:
- Use a tape recorder to record and review information.
- Select an oral assignment when options are available.
- Study in a group where there is a verbal exchange of information.
- Teach other students information through a verbal description
- Learners tend to learn best when they:
- Are physically involved in a learning experience such as a lab, exercise or an activity that requires hands-on involvement.
- Can take a theory and demonstrate it via an experiment or project.
- Can use several senses simultaneously to maximize their interaction to acquire new information (i.e. computer note-taking)
- Can touch objects or experience events they are learning about.
- Learners Can:
- Use computers to record or review notes
- Participate in laboratory exercise or volunteer to perform concrete projects that will demonstrate textbook information.
- Study facts in combination with a physical activity (i.e. reading note cards while working out on a stair climber.)
- Write information on flashcards and review the cards while walking around.
- Learners tend to learn best when they:
- See information through reading, videotapes, movies, or overhead visuals.
- Observe photographs or other graphics that represent theoretical information.
- Visualize information through use of different colors, symbols, or drawings.
- Learners Can:
- Use a variety of visual aids such as different colored pens, highlighters, diagrams, drawings, graphs, etc, for effective note taking.
- Review the textbook before class.
- Scan notes periodically since many visual learners actually remember whether information was on the left or right side of their notebook or textbook.
- Draw special symbols that will serve as memory joggers.
General Tips for Preparing for Tests
1. Familiarize yourself with the test. Ask the professor how long it will be and what kind of questions will be on it. Ask your instructor which concepts are most important, which chapters to focus on, and what you will have to do on the test. Also ask for some sample test questions, and whether there is a copy of a similar test on file in a library. Look over the tests you have already taken in the course to predict what you will need to prepare for. Your aim is to determine both the content of the questions and the type of memory and intellectual skills you will be asked to use. Examples of these skills include:
- Remembering specific facts, details, terms and definitions.
- Comparing. contrasting, and otherwise interpreting meaning in the information studies.
- Applying principles and theories to solve problems (that may not have been covered explicitly in the course.)
- Predicting possible outcomes given a set of variables.
- Evaluating the usefulness of certain ideas, concepts, or methods for a given situation.
2. Overview all the work to be done and schedule time to do it. On the basis of your familiarity with the test, make a list of all the tasks you must complete to prepare for it. Assign priorities to your study tasks according to the topics you expect to be most important on the test. In scheduling your test preparation, try to stick to your own routines.
3. Avoid the "escape syndrome." If you find yourself fretting or talking about your work rather than studying, relax for a few minutes and rethink what you are doing‚ reappraise your priorities and if necessary rethink your study plan to address your worries and then start working!
4. When faced with unread material keep in mind your study plan, how much time you have, and what you need to get out of the reading. Divide the material into parts, looking for the organizational scheme, and decide what can be omitted, what can skimmed, and what needs to be read. Set time limits for reading each part and stick to them. The following techniques might help you get through your reading:
- Skim all of the material first (except the parts you have decided to omit) so you will have at least looked at everything before the test. Take notes on what you skim.
- Emphasize key sentences, and concentrate on understanding the ideas. Ask yourself the questions who, what ,where, when and how.
- Recite the material to yourself immediately. (Self-testing at the end of each part can enhance recall even without later review.)
5. Review actively. Integrate notes, text, and other information onto summary sheets by diagramming, charting, outlining, categorizing in tables, or simply writing summaries. Try to create a summary sheet for each study session, or for each main idea, or for each concept. Use all your senses as well as your sense of humor when writing your summary sheets to make them meaningful.
6. Practice doing what you will be doing on the test. Answer unassigned problems and questions in the text or anticipate test questions by asking, "If I were making up this test I would probably ask ...," and then answer your question. Remember, the best way to prepare for any test is to practice doing what you will have to do on the test.
7. Study with other well-prepared students and attend any review sessions. Such sessions are to clarify the material; don't expect them to repeat lectures or give additional information.
Analyzing Returned Tests
- If you receive your test back to keep, rework your errors to find out why the correct answer was correct.
- If you do not receive your test back, visit your instructor's office to take a look at your answer sheet and the questions you missed.
- Look for the origin of each question - text, notes, labs, supplementary reading, etc.
- Identify the reason you missed questions. Did you fail to read it correctly? Did you fail to prepare for it? Was the test at a more difficult level than you prepared for? Did you run out of time?
- Check the level of detail and skill of the test. Were most of the questions over precise details and facts or were they over main ideas and principles? Did the questions come straight from the text or did the test-maker expect you to make sophisticated transformations and analyses?
- Did you have any problems with anxiety or blocking during the test?
Departmental Websites. Visit the website of your department on campus. Often you can find out about new classes being offered, updated procedures, and protocols. Visit regularly.
Free and Private Tutoring. Ask you professor, advisors, or TA’s where and when it’s available. When writing papers, there is also usually totally free help for students in a writing center.
Extra office hours. If you can’t make the regular hours, most professors will try to be flexible.
The information in this packet was compiled from:
- The Naked Roommate by Harlan Cohen
- Updated: November 26, 2013