Are you a “fast starter” but “slow finisher” when it comes to attending and preparing for your classes each semester? In other words, do you start the term like a ball of fire and then fade after a few weeks? While this is not uncommon, there are some fundamental strategies that can maximize your chances of getting the most from each class and increase your “academic endurance.”
Success Strategy #1
Imagine for a minute that you were asked to run a race without a finish line. You are probably saying, “That’s ridiculous!” You’re right! And trying to accomplish anything in college or in life is just as difficult if you don’t have goals to work toward. Goals can be academic (i.e., grades), personal (i.e., fitness) and other forms of self-improvement. It is important to have both short-term and long-term goals, keeping in mind the following:
– Establish goals that are specific, realistic, and measurable.
– Goals should be written down, not just in your mind.
– Keep goals posted somewhere so you’ll see them daily.
– Reevaluate your goals periodically.
– Reward yourself for accomplishment of your goals.
Success Strategy #2
Manage your time wisely
Good time management is critical for success in both college and career. A daily “to-do” list and weekly or monthly planner help you stay on track. Identify your greatest time-wasters and begin to examine ways to reduce them. Some basic time-scheduling principles include the following:
– Avoid marathon study sessions. Study in blocks of one hour with ten-minute breaks.
– Utilize daytime hours for tasks that require great concentration.
– Evaluate the time needed for each course you’re taking. A general rule of thumb is this: 2 hours outside class for every 1 hour in class (for example 3 credit hour class = 6 hours outside class per week).
– Schedule time immediately after class to edit and review notes.
– Schedule time just before class to review notes and assigned readings.
– Schedule continual review of previously learned material, not just new material.
Good time management begins with proper scheduling but also includes the following principles:
– Learn to say “no” to those activities and people that prevent you from achieving your goals.
– Don’t try to do everything yourself. Delegate responsibilities to others.
– Schedule time for yourself everyday, and don’t feel guilty.
– Take breaks to improve your overall productivity.
– Eat well-balanced meals, and get plenty of rest and exercise.
– Double your time estimates for assignments, and start well in advance of due dates.
Success Strategy #3
Attend class regularly
Regular class attendance is essential since your textbook is a “supplement” to your classroom lecture material, not a “substitute.” In addition, researchers have shown that many students learn best through active participation in class discussions. Even if your class is a large lecture format, you can keep mentally alert by listening for answers to potential test questions such as those provided in this guide as well as asking questions for clarification of points that are not completely understood.
Success Strategy #4
Determine your learning style
There are numerous theories about learning, but the most important thing is to determine how you learn best and to adapt your study regime to enhance your preferred style. Ask yourself the following questions:
– Do I learn best by getting involved in class discussions?
– Do I learn best by sitting and listening?
– Do I learn best by understanding the broad concepts and then filling in the details?
– Do I learn best by figuring things out myself through laboratory experiences?
Once you have analyzed the way you learn best, consider changing your approach to classroom behavior and studying outside the classroom. For example, if you know that you learn best by active involvement, ask relevant questions in class, get to know your instructor, and form discussion groups with other class members.
Success Strategy #5
Take systematic lecture notes
Take lecture notes in a systematic manner that will make exam review easier. The following principles should be kept in mind:
– Date and identify each set of notes.
– Do not try to take “word-for-word” notes.
– Use your own words except for scientific vocabulary, formulas, etc.
– Copy diagrams, examples.
– Record instructor’s emphasized points.
– Leave space in notes for later clarification.
– Use a modified outline form.
– Develop your own shorthand only if recognizable later!
– Review and edit notes immediately after class.
While you may already have a system of note-taking which works well, consider a system that was developed at Cornell University and has been used successfully by college students for over 40 years1. The Cornell System of taking notes not only provides a systematic method but also provides a “built-in” study system for examination review. The only special equipment needed is the following:
– a 3-ring binder
– loose-leaf notebook paper with a vertical line drawn down the left-hand side of the page approximately 2 or 2 1/2 inches over and a horizontal line drawn approximately 2 inches across at the bottom of the page
Using the basic note-taking principles listed above; record your notes as follows using only one side of the paper.
– Record your notes in the right-hand column.
– Reduce the notes to key words, phrases or questions to use as recall devices when studying. Record these in the left-hand column.
– As you study, cover-up the right-hand column of your notes, and recall the information from the lecture notes.
– Check for accuracy.
– Continue to review and recite periodically throughout the term to combat forgetting.
– Use the space at the bottom of the page for summarizing your notes to be sure you understand the material and aren’t just memorizing information.
Success Strategy #6
Read to understand
Textbook reading is more that starting on page one and reading until you reach the end of the chapter. Just as you usually “preview” a movie before you decide to go and see it, textbook reading should begin by previewing the chapter.
– Read the introduction; look at chapter headings and key words.
– Examine the learning objectives provided, and then, as you read, you are reading with a purpose–to achieve these objectives.
– Do not “highlight” as you read. Read a section and then go back and highlight after you’ve identified the main ideas.
– After reading each chapter, state or recite (out loud) in your own words the important points to ensure a good understanding, not just memorization.
– Finally, test yourself on the chapter using the sample questions provided in this guide.
Success Strategy #7
Exam preparation begins on the first day of class
While exam preparation is really the culmination of everything we’ve been discussing (time management, class attendance, good note taking, textbook reading), when it is time to formally prepare for the exam there are certain things to think about.
First, are you preparing for an objective (multiple choice, matching, fill-in-the-blank, short answer) or an essay exam? An objective exam consisting of mostly multiple-choice questions requires recognition of correct answers whereas an essay exam requires recall of detailed information, organization, and drawing conclusions.
At least one week before the exam, consolidate lecture notes and textbook notes, handouts, quizzes etc. You are accomplishing several things as you complete this consolidation process:
1) beginning the review process,
2) categorizing information to assist in retrieving from your memory, and
3) preparing a condensed set of notes that you can use as a refresher immediately prior to the exam. Make 3 x 5 cards to carry around with you. Utilize study groups. Give yourself a timed exam using some of the questions in this guide with the approximate number of questions you’ll have on the exam.
Success Strategy #8
Regard test taking as an opportunity, not an obstacle
Do any of the following statements sound familiar?
– I knew the material, but the instructor asked “trick” questions.
– I studied all the “wrong” things.
– I’ve learned the “most” from the classes in which I’ve gotten the worst grades.
Unfortunately, exams do provoke a certain amount of stress and do not always accurately reflect what you’ve learned. But, the following principles kept in mind on exam day should increase your chances of a test becoming an opportunity, not an obstacle.
– First and foremost, be prepared.
– Read all instructions carefully.
– Assess the amount of time you should allow for each question.
– Don’t spend too much time on any one question.
– Put a check mark by questions that can’t be quickly answered and return if time allows.
– Try to stay calm, but regard a certain amount of anxiety as normal.
With regard to objective exam questions:
– Treat multiple-choice questions as a series of T/F statements.
– Use the process of elimination with multiple-choice questions.
– Eliminate distracters such as unfamiliar terms or phrases, jokes, extremely low or high numbers.
– Watch out for negative wording such as “not” and “unlikely” which may make a statement incorrect. (For example, if a statement says something is “not unlikely,” this actually means “is likely” since two negatives equal a positive.)
– Be cautious about absolute wording. (For example, “always” and “never” are absolute words which tend to be in false statements, whereas qualifying words such as “sometimes” and “seldom” tend to be in correct statements.)
– Remember all parts of a statement must be true for the statement to be true. Reasons that often begin with “because” or “since” can make a correct statement false because of the reason given.
– With multiple-choice questions, there may be more than one correct answer, so look for the best answer or “all of the above” answer.
– Watch out for changing answers unless you are certain.
With regard to essay exam questions:
– Identify key words that will determine how you answer the question. (For example, if the question asks you to “compare and contrast”, you are being asked to tell how two things are alike and different.)
– Before you start writing, make a brief outline to ensure that your thoughts are organized and complete.
– Remember: Reasoning ability is just as important as factual accuracy when answering an essay question.
After the first examination in your class, if you did not perform as well as you would have liked, analyze the exam. Did most of the questions come from the text or the lectures? Where were your greatest sources of error (carelessness, lack of time, lack of understanding, uncertainty of directions, test anxiety)? How can you change your study strategies and test-taking skills to perform better on the next exam? In addition to your instructor and teaching assistants, there are numerous resources available on your campus to help you with study skills in general (i.e., learning centers, study skills classes and counseling for test anxiety).
Hopefully the strategies included in this section and the following chapter-by-chapter learning objectives and sample exam questions will increase your enjoyment and success in college.