College Success Tips 1/15/20

Hints for Success by Richard Bleil

It’s that time of year again. Winter break has ended, and the brand-new term is starting at college. So, it seems appropriate to run over a few tips for success in college. I may have written similar posts in the past, but, hey, here it is again.

  • Make a study schedule. At this point, most students are at least somewhat experienced, and if you think back to previous semesters and years, you may have noticed that there are a lot of distractions that can come up. Clubs, jobs, friends all cut into study time. It might not seem like a bit deal at first because college course schedules tend to look very open but remember; the “Carnegie” definition of a credit hour includes at least two to three hours out of class for every hour in class. This is a standard definition used by most institutions in the US, so this is not specific to where I am teaching. It’s true everywhere. Some courses may require more time that this and some less depending on the subject and your personal strengths and weaknesses, but this is why twelve credit hours is typically considered to be full time. Add in homework, and it’s a time commitment equal to a forty hour a week job. So, make a schedule, an actual schedule, to include study time for each course. It will be easier to cut back hours that you don’t need from the schedule later on than to find the time to include them if you didn’t expect the need.

  • Create effective study groups. Some institutions (such as MIT) intentionally give homework assignments that cannot be completed by an individual because they know that studying in groups is more effective than alone. But a study group does not mean splitting up the work. If you have a group of four and are only doing a quarter of the work as a result, then you can expect exam scores to reflect doing a quarter of the assignments. Instead, each group member should try the entire assigned homework set independently, then get together and discuss the problems you had difficulty with. Brainstorming common problems or learning from those members of the group that didn’t struggle with the same problems that you did will be effective, but even then, don’t just copy their answers. Discuss the strategy to solve it and take notes. Later, try those problems on your own to practice and verify the strategy.

  • Get to know your professors. Yes, actually walk into their office and chat with them early on. If you create a rapport with them then it will be easier to go with questions later on. Don’t be a bother; if they’re busy, just introduce yourself and move on, but if they invite you to sit, or if you see them on campus, say hi. I make it a habit to eat lunch in the cafeteria. I won’t bother students eating there because I know it’s “not cool” to have a professor sit with you, but I’m there so students, if they should so desire, can sit with me, visit, and get to know me better. It’s just my way of trying to connect, but it’s up to them to make an effort as well.

  • Read the textbook. Too many students use textbooks merely as a compendium of homework problems, but the voice of the author is different from the professor. If you’re struggling with the approach to a problem you’ve learned in class, you might find the author’s approach easier and vice versa. Ideally, take notes in class, then, while the material is fresh in your memory, read those sections in the textbook and re-write you notes taking part of what you learned in class, and part of what is in the textbook. Remember, they’re your notes, so write down what you need to help you learn the material and understand it. If all you do is write down whatever the professor writes on the board (and don’t do this; also listen to what the professor is saying and take notes on that as well), then you have your professor’s notes, not your own.

  • Learn with different sensory inputs. Listening in lecture (actually listening), reading, and writing notes gives you three forms of sensory input. Highlighting is a fourth, creating flash cards is a fifth and so on. The more difficult a subject, the more you’ll want different formats of sensory input. When you re-write information, for example on flash cards, you’re reading, processing, and writing the same information. This is why it seems so much easier to go through the flash cards that you yourself create as opposed to cards your friends have made.

And most importantly, believe in yourself. The students who fail my class fail on the very first day. They fail because they EXPECT to fail. They believe the course will be too difficult and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This semester hit the ground running.

You got this!

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