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Friday, February 23, 2007

Listen to Your Instinct

Myth #10

"I don't have enough experience to trust myself."
"Hey, I'm only a kid."
"I just graduated from high school."
"I'm allowed to make a certain number of errors."
"In college, I'm supposed to experiment."
"Everybody is doing it."
"They'll think I am a jerk if I don't do it."
"If it doesn't hurt anyone else, what's wrong with it?"
"If I ask, I'll look stupid."

Reality #10

Listen to your instincts. Your instincts and judgment got you this far-to college. They can take you through college as well. There's a tremendous freedom that comes with leaving for college. The release from nagging (and loving) parents, getting to leave your dirty laundry on the floor for weeks at a time, eating what and when you want, and a raft of other new-found freedoms are exhilarating. That's the good news.

But the bad news is that you're now responsible for what you do. Remember, at age 18 you're now not just personally but legally responsible for your actions. This has great implications. You can vote, but you can also be arrested and tried as an adult. You can sign for credit cards, but you can be sued for non-payment. The lists of rights and responsibilities is enormous, and the choices are all yours to make.

In fact, the idea of independence is all about choices-both good and bad. I grew up in a poor neighborhood. Most of us had about the same amount of money (very little) and the same types of choices. Several kids in my old neighborhood went to jail. Others went on to be professionals and became quite successful. What made much of the difference were the choices people made.

Choice is a wide-open proposition, and it is a dilemma for most of us. I once heard a forensic psychiatrist talk about the criminally insane. As a psychiatrist at a major psychiatric hospital who had seen over 5,000 criminally insane patients in his career, he reached the conclusion that doing wrong is a conscious act. Based on thousands of patient interviews, he had unequivocally concluded that doing right or wrong was a choice. I'll never forget the force with which he delivered that point to a group of police officers, and his follow-up message was clear: Don't spend any time feeling sorry for those who make such choices when they get arrested.

College is full of choices-some good, some bad. The choices abound: To study or not; to drink and drive or not; to cheat or not. My message to you is a takeoff on what the psychiatrist said: Don't do something unless you're prepared for the consequences of your actions. Or as police officers say, "Don't do the crime, if you can't do the time."

Survival tips:

Figure out how you make your best decisions. Most people decide either with their heads or their hearts. "Head" types decide based on the logic and the arguments for and against doing something much like a lawyer might. They weigh both sides of an issue and even internally argue both sides of the issues. Whichever seems the stronger of the two arguments wins. Often the outcome is much like a court case: one side wins and the other loses. "Heart" types tend to use their gut as a basis to react to issues. They rely much more on their basic gut reactions to situations as a barometer. If things feel right, then this type of person can be assured that chances are good they're making the right decision. Both head and heart decision makers are very good at the process if they rely on their distinctive strengths.

Test your decision with those who think differently than you. When you're about to decide on an issue that's important to you, get some counterpoint views from people who don't think like you. It's always better to test your ideas among friends and relatives before you expose your decision to the scrutiny of the world. Much less painful; much more constructive.

Use the Red-Face test. When faced with the many types and sizes of decisions you'll likely have to make in college, I highly recommend the red-face technique. Ask yourself this one basic question: If I did this thing I'm about to do, and it was reported on the front page of my local newspaper or put on the evening news, would I be embarrassed? If the answer is yes…then don't just walk from the situation, run from it. You'll be glad you did.

Find a sounding board. Everyone needs someone to listen to them. I once heard that psychiatrists and psychologists get about a 50% cure rate but that people who have a good friend they can talk to are cured at a rate over 70%. My memory of those numbers might be off a couple of points, but the message that the report sent was clear: A good sounding board is vital to your mental health. Find one.

When you make a bad decision, learn from it. Notice that I said, "when," not "if" you make a bad decision. Bad decisions are as much a part of life as breathing. Most people would "revise" some decisions in their lives, given the opportunity. The key is not that you make a bad decision here or there, but that you learn from it. You should mature from the experience.


By now your eyes may be glazed over from all this advice. Make no mistake, I did not always follow my own advice, nor did most of your parents. So, if you toss this book in the trash can and need one piece of advice to live by, try this. Ask yourself what advice you'd give to younger sisters or brothers if they were in your place. Then listen to that voice…it's the voice of objective experience. Hopefully I was able to give some of that to you. Certainly, your parents have tried to do that as well.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Learn from Failure

Myth #9

"If you don't succeed, it's not for you."
"I can't do it."
"I got an F on the first test. That's it for me."
"I'm going to join the Army."
"I was not cut out for this."
"I'll never recover from the first semester grades."
"I'm ashamed. That's it. I quit."
"I knew I couldn't do it."
"I never was all that hot on college anyway."

Reality #9

Important lessons are learned from failures.

The most difficult semester for me was my freshman year, first semester. I had been an honor student in high school. Then came college and pre-med classes. I found myself on the lower half of the grade scale and decided to quit school and join the Marines. I even moved my clothes out during winter break to avoid embarrassing myself with my roommates. During the break, I met a US Marine who, to my surprise, discouraged me from joining up until I finished school. He probably was the best college counselor I ever had.

I didn't quit; I learned. I moved my stuff back into the dorm before my roommates returned, finished out the year, changed my major to English, graduated and later went into the US Marine Corps as an officer.

My story is not unique. Ask your parents or older friends who have gone to college, and you'll hear something similar. The message is simple. Hang in there and learn from the inevitable failures in college and in life. It's not the failure that's the big deal; it's how you respond and learn from it. If you keep making the same one over and over again, like the cartoon of the coyote chasing the roadrunner, then you need to think about a new planet to live on. Rather, if you learn and grow, that's the essence of this thing called life.

A conventional piece of wisdom says that most successful business people fail at least three times in their careers. That's because in order to be successful, you have to stretch, work outside your comfort zone, and take risks. Risks are scary but they also provide opportunities. So, if you're to be successful, you'll be taking risks. Some ventures will fail-the nature of the beast. Learn and for goodness sake, don't stop taking risks.

Survival Tips:

Learn, don't burn. When you fail, learn from it by asking yourself why it happened. Was it a scheduling problem or something more fundamental like your writing or reading skills? The worst thing to do is sit in your room stewing about the course, the professor, your roommate, or the stars. Often when faced with a failure, people blame virtually everybody and everything else rather than face up to the fact that they alone are responsible.

Don't be afraid to change your major. Don't do this lightly or without consulting people who care, but also don't be afraid to do it if you find a significant mismatch between you and your major. Remember how most majors are picked. It's Saturday night, you meet an attractive person and you ask about his or her major. The rapport is growing. The next day you're an anthropology major-although yesterday you did not know what it was, and you could not even spell it. Given this highly analytical selection process, don't be overly invested in that major. In this case, failure may just be an intelligent redirection.

Keep a sense of humor. Above all things in college, as in life, keep your sense of humor and start by laughing at yourself. You'll always have a good laugh and self-deprecation is great humor for others as well. Failure can make us all deadly serious, as if our actions would change the course of generations to come. Get over it. Look at a misstep with humor. Joke about it, as you learn from it. For your own health, learn to laugh. In fact, many studies over the years have conclusively demonstrated that laughter is the best medicine. Rent a bunch of comedies your freshman year. That's the best way I know to get a quick laugh when I'm not feeling great about a recent failure.

Great people fail. Great men and women fail. They lose elections, fall from grace. History is chock full of them. My uncle Joe is a great businessman who's had a bunch of successes and failures in his life. I think that's what makes him successful. In fact there's an old saying, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." I believe that to be true in my experience.

You can't please everyone. One sure formula for failure is trying to please everyone around you. You have to define life and success for yourself. For some who are physically challenged, success is getting up in the morning and being able to function independently. For great athletes it might mean running a four-minute mile. The definition of failure and success varies, and it's all relative. Keep yourself as the focus when drawing those boundaries.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Never Give Up

Myth #8

"It's better to drop a course rather than to risk a low grade."
"I just can't make it."
"No way I'm going to pass this class."
"This guy's the toughest professor I've ever had."
"She'll never give me a passing grade."
"I'm just not as smart as these brains."
"I don't have the background to survive in this course."
"This one's way over my head."

Reality #8

Never give up on a course.

Oftentimes you think you're being smart to cut your losses. But, if you've followed the other survival tips in this book, then I say never give up. Chances are better than even that if you've done your best, shown the professor you care, and all the rest-you will make it through. But I constantly hear of students wanting to drop courses for various reasons: Fear, self doubt, laziness, poor scheduling, and others.

The Chinese symbol for crisis has two characters: One means danger and the other opportunity. This is precisely where students who want to drop a class stand: on the horns of opposing solutions.

First, let's take danger. Despite your best efforts, you're in a course doing poorly. Things don't look good despite your best efforts. You're going to class, doing the work, but your performance in tests and papers is not meeting your expectations. Your professor is supportive, but no pushover. Looks like piles and piles of work to pull this one out. Danger with a capital "D" lurks about. So you think that maybe it's time to drop one.

Second, let's look at opportunity. Most teachers reward those who persevere. They actually do give (though sometimes invisible) points for effort. Everyone likes the student who keeps plugging away. I once got a "C" in a college German class because the professor called me a hard worker and a morale booster-I was amusing. According to my calculations, I should have gotten a "D," but I studied hard, hung in there, and entertained the class and professor, especially with my imitations of both a deep southerner and a Yankee pronouncing classic German.

Professors almost always curve the grades at the end of the semester, though many will deny it. The fact is that most teachers can't afford to have two-thirds of the class do poorly. It doesn't reflect well on the professor's competence.

So, here's my simple advice: Hang in there. Do your best and follow the other advice in the book. If you do that, you'll survive any course and any professor.

Survival Tips:

Don't be afraid of the professor. Often upperclass students will tell wild tales about certain professors whose reputations become legendary, even mythical. Before entering into the classroom, students are many times so overwhelmed by this reputation that they convince themselves that they can't possibly score an "A." Despite the stereotypes, most professors are "been there, done that" types. They have all bombed classes, experimented with life and its various detractors, and been in exactly the same position you're in now. Talk to them. Get their advice about whether it's wise for you to drop or not. Mostly, from my experience, I think they'll tell you to hang in there. Listen to them

Believe in yourself. Most of life's successes depend on confidence. In college, you can underline that. If you think you can-you will. If you think you can't-you won't. The best way to develop self-confidence is to think of the many things you've accomplished in the past that you might have had doubts about when you first began. I've found that discussing with students about the toughest thing they've ever learned, and how they overcame the fear and doubt, works very well. They begin to see how even learning to drive a car was daunting at first, but with practice-even a few accidents-they began to believe in themselves.

Check your assumptions. Sometimes you think, "What's the use? I'm already flunking." Maybe, maybe not. Get to the professor as soon as possible and ask how well you're doing. You may be shocked to find out that you're doing about the same as others in the class even though you think you're about to be shot at dawn. Don't assume anything.

Benchmark with other students. Benchmarking is what corporations do all the time to tell how they're doing. They look at the other companies' products and services and compare their own. Sometimes they find that they're better, other times they find they're worse. In either case, it helps to know where you are. Do that with fellow students. You'll often find that you're doing better than you think. Somehow this kind of check always gave me courage to plow ahead.

Quitters never win, and winners never quit. I know this sounds like another bumper sticker, but I believe it. Hanging in there is one of life's great lessons. There are a lot of ventures that you'll begin in your life and will want to quit early on, thinking, "I'll never get through this one." Learn to face that self-doubt bogeyman now because he will not go away.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Develop a Positive Attitude

Myth #7

I don't have to like a course to do well."
"This course sucks."
"This professor stinks."
"I'm entitled to my opinion."
"I'd rather have a dental filling than go to this class."
"I'm not learning a damned thing in that class."
"This is THE worst class I have ever taken."
"Why me?"
"I'll write letters to friends to occupy my time in class."

Reality #7

Attitude, not ability, will determine your success in college.

Some people will mightily disagree with me on the notion that you must like something to do well. OK. That's your opinion, and you're entitled to it! But my experience in a classroom is that students who have an "attitude" (a negative disposition) toward either the subject or the teacher do not perform as well as they should.

I have watched this "attitude" phenomenon for years. In fact, it's so prominent in required courses that you cannot miss it. The school tells students that they must take English 101 or COMM 101, and students resent it. It's human nature to rebel when someone says you must do it. In contrast, I find that in elective courses students have more of an interest and the results are dramatically different. They participate more in class, read the assignments, turn in higher quality materials, talk to the teacher more, and generally are more fun.

Don't think that intelligence (ability) will substitute for a good attitude, because it will not. Underline NOT. Being bright is a gift that many people squander because of a bad attitude. The world is chock full of half-baked geniuses, potential Olympic athletes, and superstar talents that never made it. Why? Because attitude, not ability, will determine your success.

Think about your own experiences. How many great potential athletes, students, workers have you seen come down the pike brimming with the ability-the aptitude-but whose attitude was impoverished? The results are always the same: Excuses. "I would have, could have, should have." "That damned coach hates me." "That instructor doesn't like the way I dress." The list goes on. You've heard it over and over by those who fail to reach their altitude…usually because of their attitude.

Survival Tips:

Think like an advertiser. In advertising, the first thing the ad must do is tell the customers how the product or service will benefit them. Otherwise, it's nearly impossible to sell anything. Therefore, find the benefit to you by looking at the syllabus and discovering two or three issues that you find interesting. Focus on those for starters. Other benefits will follow.

Look for long-term, not short-term, benefits. As you begin to look for benefits, beware of shortsightedness. Students tend to look for instant gratification-what's in it for me…right this very second in my life. This will disappoint you because it's difficult to see how Columbus' rationale for exploration in 1492 has any direct, right-now impact on your life. Rather than this myopic stance, take the long view to learning. Ask yourself, "What can history teach me?" "Will understanding the why's help me understand the what's?" The answer is absolutely…YES. What you learn in college helps prepare you to think through important issues and apply them to your daily life.

Act like a baby-sitter. Pretend that you're counseling a younger brother or sister about a particular class and you sense a negative attitude. You want to tell them how important such a course is and why it should be taken seriously. What advice would you give ? I discovered this approach when I was about 12 years old and was baby-sitting for our neighbor's kids. One day I started lecturing the kids about picking up their clothes and putting toys away. As I did, I began to sound like my own parents. Horrors. When I got home, I immediately cleaned my own room. My mother nearly fainted. By giving someone else good, solid advice, you teach yourself.

Remember the Tortoise and the Hare. This is a corny story that you no doubt have heard since you were a child. But it is right on the money. The two, as you recall, were in a race. The hare should have won hands down, no sweat. But he took his talent (aptitude) for granted and underestimated a competitor with great attitude. Attitude beats aptitude every time.

Avoid making negative comments about the course or the professor. A philosopher once heard a man speaking poorly about another man in public. The philosopher stopped the speaker and admonished him not to say such damaging things about another. The speaker asked the philosopher if he was trying to protect the man who was subject of the negative comments. "No," said the philosopher calmly, "I was trying to protect you from yourself." Negative comments about people can become self-destructive. Take this to the bank. Making and repeating comments begins to program your thinking for good or bad. When you start down this negative path it's pretty hard to get back. I've seen students develop an "attitude" and then try to defend it long after everyone else has seen that it no longer makes sense. Keep your comments positive-they foster a positive attitude.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Ask for Help

Myth #6

"I don't need any help. "
"If I keep studying, I'll get it."
"I'm smart, I'll figure it out."
"Only dumb people have tutors."
"What will others think if they know I'm getting tutored?"
"I'm cheating if I get my own private teacher."
"Something must be very wrong if I need that kind of help."
"I never needed to ask for help in the past."

Reality #6

Asking for help is smart, not stupid.

Most people are hung up on the idea of asking for help. From the time we're born, we are told that the American ethic is self-reliance. Pull your own weight, row your own boat, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and a host of other similar sayings pervade our culture.

There's also a notion that if you reach out for help, you'll be labeled as abnormal, and we all know how important it is to be in the center of the bell curve. I've always been stunned by the irony of teenagers who strive for the absolute autonomy and individuality as they separate from their parents, only to dress, speak, and act precisely as their peers do. They often go to extraordinary measures not to color outside the careful lines drawn by their peers. In short, if no one else is being tutored…it's not cool.

I remember when my daughter took statistics in college. She's a bright young woman who graduated with honors. But statistics nearly drove her nuts. She began to have that typical self-doubt and her confidence slipped. This is quite normal, but what she did was not. After consulting with the teacher, she decided that she needed extra instruction; so, she hired a tutor. She met with him quite regularly and salvaged her grade through hard work and determination.

If you still have doubts about the normalcy of tutors, think about Olympic and professional athletes. Can you possibly imagine any high-caliber athlete not having a private coach, at least periodically? Most private coaches travel with their athletes to be close by when trouble arises.

What about the top level musicians? Could you imagine them not having private, ongoing tutoring or teaching? They must have help to keep them sharp in an increasingly competitive world.

So, if tutors (coaches and private instructors) are good enough for the very best competitors in our country, don't you think we all should give them a try, especially when we're faltering a bit? Besides, many schools even offer tutoring free of charge.

Survival Tips:

Talk to the professor early in the semester. You'll see this one come up over and over again because it's one of the best pieces of advice I can give. Don't wait until you're literally bailing out water from a sinking ship. Once you see some water seeping in, talk to the captain of the ship. Early is much better than later, but most students with problems wait too long to come in. And the first thing I or any other professor will say is, "Why'd you wait until now?" Many times, when students come in asking how they can salvage their grades, it's just too late.

Ask for recommendations from the professor. Often the professor will know who is a good tutor and who is not. Finding the right fit is vital, and often the professor can recommend the best graduate assistants and even undergrads who are most suited to help to you.

Go to the student counseling office. Most colleges have a counseling office that will help you find a tutor. Often they keep databases of tutors and their fees, and you can usually obtain a printout. Tutors' rates will vary depending upon their expertise, but at least you'll get an idea of prices. Most universities have standard fees that tutors should charge; so, even if you go off campus for a tutor, you'll know the ballpark figures.

Look at tutors as an investment, not an expense. Don't get hung up on money. Tutors are among the best dollar-for-dollar investments you can make. Like private coaches, they speed up your recovery from problems and can provide stress relief. They may cost several hundreds of dollars, but the relief is worth thousands. However, let me say again: Many schools will offer free tutoring.

Don't be afraid to change if things don't work out. Remember that tutors are people who have individual personalities and quirks that you might find annoying and whose teaching style is not productive for you. If so, move on to another tutor. Tutors provide a service and when the service is a liability, cut your losses. If you find this awkward to handle face to face, do it by e-mail or letter. Often an e-mail or letter with a follow-up phone call, at most, takes care of a tough situation. But don't continue to pay for a bad product or service.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Establish Study Habits

Myth #5

"I'll study when I get the assignment."
"I'll look like a real nerd if I start studying before we even get assignments."
"Lighten up. This is a long run."
"Chill out. I'll go out and unwind."
"Get serious, I have no idea what the Professor is going to cover."
"Why waste time second guessing?"
"This is the perfect time to get to know everyone-before the workload picks up."
"College isn't just about studying; the social part may be more important."

Reality #5

Establish regular study habits from the start.

The first semester at any university is one of the most exciting and potentially one of the most dangerous times in your academic career, for several reasons.

You're away from home, in many cases, for the first time. Free at last to make your own decisions. That's both the good and bad news. Good news: You can do anything you want, whenever you want. Bad news: You can do anything you want, whenever you want. Granted, there are no nagging parental questions: "Did you get your homework done?" or even worse, "Let me see it." But while the nagging's gone, so is the pressure and help of oversight.

There's a ton of pressure to get to know everyone, right away. Many roommates, suitemates, and classmates succumb to this pressure. Eventually, most recognize that this will not work unless they have nothing else to do.

You may not have anything specific that's due right away. You don't have a paper or research due for a month or two. So, it's tempting to sit back and enjoy the extended summer.

Fall is about the nicest season of the year. Cool evenings and warm days-perfect for picnics, football, or just about anything you can think of. Studying does not rank up there with the coolest things to do on a beautiful autumn day.

In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a single thing about the early part of your first semester freshman year that makes studying attractive. But the Reality is that not starting early may mean failing later. Stuff just has a way of piling up on you. Here's a typical scenario: You let a few reading assignments slide and then you put a short paper or two on hold. Multiply the procrastination by five or six other "minor" assignments you also let slide and you're talking some serious pileup problems. And it all sneaks up on you very innocently.

Survival Tips:

Find the time of day you learn best-AM or PM. Most people are either morning or night people. Determine which one you are and use that time to do the most important job you have while in school…surviving. To test whether you're a day or night person, ask yourself these questions: "Do I like waking up early and getting a start on the day?" If you answer this "yes," you're likely a morning person. So, set an hour or two every day to hit the books in the AM. Schedule it ahead of time. Pay the study master first. If you answer "yes" to the question "Do I get going later in the afternoon or evening?" then you're most likely a night person; so set aside time in the evening to study. This gives information the best shot at sticking to your brain.

Let your friends know that your study time is sacred. While you may get some grief early on from people, as soon as they know you're serious, you'll get few, if any, invasions of your study time. People will actually respect that you say what you mean and mean what you say.

Find a place to study. Dormitories, especially freshman dorms, are notoriously bad places to study. Understand that and deal with it. Places like unused classrooms, library carousels, coffee shops, the back of an auditorium, a car-anywhere away from friends will do. They may hassle you to see a movie, party, or just hang out. You can do that later. Hit the books first.

Give yourself a break. Just as scheduling regular study time contributes to success, so does taking a 5-10 minute break every hour. Rest your eyes, wash your face…turn off the brain for a few minutes. Then get back to it. If you find yourself dozing off, stop where you are. Allow yourself to doze off-sitting up, not lying down. You'll find this "sitting doze" a form of meditation that increases alertness and concentration.

Just do it. The Nike commercial says: "Just Do It." I say we should adapt that to academic studies: "Just study it." Establishing the habit right away is key. The first day you have classes, find a place to study, and keep going there at your best study time, even when you think you're wasting your time. The routine of having a regular time and place to review your notes and read the required material will be more beneficial than you can imagine.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Form Study Groups

Myth #4

"I can do it myself. "
"Self-reliance. That's essential."
"I'll go it alone."
"If you want anything done right, do it yourself."
"If I get any help, it's like cheating."
"Me, I can trust. Others, I'm not so sure."
"If I do it, I know I can depend on it."
"Independence is a virtue."
"I'll pull myself up by my own bootstraps."

Reality #4

Form study groups to survive.

To illustrate to my classes how groups almost always outperform individuals, I ask one student to randomly choose a letter of the alphabet. Let's say the letter chosen is "S." Then I ask three people to leave the room and work together to come up with names of singers whose last names begin with "S." The rest of the class works independently. I predict that the group of three outside the room will outperform anyone left in the class. Guess what? I always win because, in fact, the small group outperforms any individual in the class by almost 3 to 1.

There has been a significant amount of communications research done on small group performance. Small groups consist of 3-5 people convened to focus on an issue. Groups of two, dyads, lack the power of groups of three or more. On the other hand, groups of 5 or more become unwieldy.

Small groups out-perform individuals because:

  • Small Groups generate more options while brainstorming. This process fosters many ideas to be generated as quickly as possible.
  • Small Groups can better evaluate ideas. Groups correct misinformation, bias, erroneous assumptions, and the like.
  • Group decisions enhance harmony. They are essential where there is buy-in required after the session, such as choosing a correct solution that all must live with after the decision is made.
  • Small groups will almost always win. However, in an emergency where you need a quick decision, you're probably better off making a decision yourself. In that case, groups might slow the process down to the point that the decision is too late. Also, in cases where expertise counts and you have an expert, then often the expert will out-perform the group.

But if you're studying a subject and need encouragement, support, feedback, clarification, and help, you can't beat the power of a small, dedicated group focused on mastering the task.

Survival Tips:

Form study groups after the first few classes. Wait and see who the reliable students are before you join a group. Jumping in too soon might mean ending up with a less productive group. Be particularly observant about who does the homework, knows the answers, and seems to have a genuine interest in the class before you decide to form a study group.

Keep the group number to a handful and make it diverse. A group of 3-5 people is ideal. Two people are better than one, but 3-5 are much better than two. Groups of more than five make it too difficult to get together or make decisions. Also, vary the group by both gender and race because the diversity will make for a richer decision-making process.

Vary personality types and include the professor's type. What you want to avoid is having everyone in the group with the same personality type. If possible, try to have a person or two in the group with a personality similar to that of the professor. By having different personality styles in it, the small group becomes a more diverse critical test audience to use before launching new ideas.

Meet at a regular time and place. Setting both a time and place will ensure, above all else, that people will have something ready for the meeting. It's much like telling someone you'll go for a walk or meet them for lunch. You'll tend to do it if you've agreed on a time and place. Putting a study group in your schedule is the best way to make certain that you'll study. Block out your schedule and set your priorities.

Be persistent. Don't give up on the group. If at first you don't succeed-try, try again. Groups need to get comfortable with themselves. They need to establish trust and confidence. That comes only with time. Don't give up at the first sign of problems. Work through them with candor and caring for every member in the group. And always keep the objective in mind: To understand, to learn, and to help each other through the course.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Study the Professor

Myth #3

"Only the subject material matters."
"The subject is the only lesson I have to learn."
"Teachers are all alike."
"Keep focused on the objectives and the rest will fall into place."
"Who gives a damn what she thinks."
"Screw him. I do my work and that's all that counts."
"She's not my boss; she's just a teacher."
"I'll do what I want, when I want."
"It's a free country."

Reality #3

Study the professor as well as the subject.

Let's begin with two simple, but important truths: First, people are different; and, second, professors are people. Try never to forget these two truths as you go through your first year of college.

Take the first truth: People are different. You know intuitively that this is accurate if you've ever had a family, friends, or more to the point, roommates. I'll use roommates as an example. In August prior to the start of your first year, seemingly normal people suddenly invade your life and turn into monsters within a month, a week, and in some cases, a day.

Let's examine just a few ways that people are different. Some people are shy and quiet. They like being alone or only with one or two good friends. They enjoy, even revel, in their privacy. They actually recharge their personal energy when alone. On the other hand, other people are gregarious and enjoy being with people. They hate quiet and dislike being alone. Being around people recharges their energy level, and the more people the better. But, put a gregarious sort with a privacy lover as roommates, and sparks may fly.

Next, let me talk about people who are what I call get-it-done-now people. They love making to-do lists and scratching things off them. They were born to organize the world. While you're out at the library, they rearrange the room. They're human alarm clocks and must be early by an hour for everything. On the other hand, there is the hey-what's-the-rush people. Time is for them a relative measure. They use a sundial for a watch if they even own a watch. They don't mind being late as long as they're having fun. Surprise, fun, chill-out are their favorite words-words that can drive the more workaholic get-it-done crowd bananas.

So far we have not even talked about all the other variables like ethnic backgrounds, multicultural differences, socio-economics, you name it…. Actually, it's a wonder that any two people get along. In fact, the people we like the best are people who think and act like us. I call this falling in love with the mirror. This is not healthy because you close yourself off from a wide world of options and limit your ability to understand others and effectively operate in our diverse world. Treating people as if they were all the same, by ignoring their differences and approaching life and school based on only your preferences, can lead to real personality clashes, and ultimately disaster.

In short, people are different. Respect it and deal with it.

The second truth: Professors are people. When I was in college, I had no idea where my professors lived or if they had families or lives outside of school. For all I knew, they were all locked in a vault each evening and then unleashed on Monday to feed on us poor students during the day. Not so.

They too have personalities as well as ethnic, social, economic and political differences-just like you. Some are shy, others gregarious; some are serious, others more fun-loving; some are old, others young. The list is very long.

Your task is to adjust to them - not for them to adjust to you. This is not easy. You are responsible for learning their styles and accommodating to them, not the reverse.

Above all, remember that people are different and that professors are people.

Survival Tips:

Find out your own personality. Sit down and take an inventory of yourself. You may not have ever done this before. Figure out your preferences: Things you like. By inference, the opposite of what you like will likely give you fits. Consciously knowing your likes and dislikes is a strong start in getting to know and understand others. Remember that you will tend to like people almost immediately who share your preferences and values-people just like you. Be careful that you don't ignore the rest of the world in the process.

Read the syllabus closely for hints. See if there are any significant hints like: "strong class participation is a must" or "10 points off per day for a late paper" or "all work must be accompanied by an outline." Each instruction gives you insight into the person. For example, "strong participation" indicates a gregarious teacher who values strong social interaction. The teacher who takes off 10 points per day for late work is likely a get-it-done-now person.

Talk to other students who have had the professor before. Nothing beats experience. Interview former students and ask them about the professors, their likes and dislikes. Become a bit of a researcher. See if their answers are consistent. For example, if they all tell you the teacher likes documentation in term papers to be exact, then you know where to place emphasis when you prepare a paper. If you get consistent information, it's likely to be true.

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.

Assume all professors are human. It may seem ridiculous and redundant to have to say this, but so many students see professors as aloof and not of this world. Like you, they have families, likes, dislikes, good and bad days. They too pay rent, buy groceries and lose loved ones. In short, they have the same daily pressures and issues going on in their lives as you do. Don't expect that they won't act and react like humans.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Attend All Classes

Myth #2

"I can afford to skip a class or two."
"I'll get a friend to take notes for me."
"If I leave early, I'll get a jump on the weekend."
"I never get anything out of class when I do go."
"I need the extra sleep much more than the class."
"That jerk doesn't deserve my attendance."
"I'll reward myself for my birthday."

Reality #2

You must attend all classes.

Woody Allen once said, "Showing up is 88% of life." Let me adapt that for college: Attendance is 95% of college academic life. If you skip class for one of a hundred excuses you may fabricate, you lose…every time. Recently a student came to me with a partial assignment saying that he did not know about the additional requirement that had been announced in class for the past two weeks straight. My response was, "Whose fault is that?" No more discussion. You simply cannot get the information or assignments straight if you're off playing touch football, catching a movie, or just sleeping in.

What happens when you miss a class? Several things:

You miss assignments and amendments to assignments. Teachers must amend projects by the very nature of academics: Information changes, equipment is not available, or stuff happens. In any case, you have to be there to get the scoop.

You get behind. Even if someone takes notes for you, you fall behind. It's tough enough to understand your own notes two or three days after you've taken them-unless you review them soon after you take them. After a while you slowly but surely slip so far behind that you'll never catch up. It's a slippery slope and it's hard to climb back up once you've slid down.

You project an I-don't-give-a-damn attitude to the professor. Trust me. Professors notice the no-shows and give no breaks to students who skip class. NONE. Think about it. Professors take their subjects seriously. They spend years preparing and researching to qualify to teach. And then students skip class with no more excuse than it was a great day to sleep in or to get an early start on the weekend. Professors notice the no-shows.

Just the opposite message comes through when you do make it to class. You show that you're concerned, dedicated, and ready to learn. In fact, it has been my experience that if a student makes the attempt by being there for every class, turning in all the assignments, and by calling or stopping by for extra help-I will go the extra mile or two to help. Most teachers I know are in the profession to help people. But we can only help those who are available and willing to meet us halfway.

Survival Tips:

Set a 100/100% show-up goal. Make it your goal to show up to 100% of your classes 100% of the time. Start off with that fixed in your mind. Put everything else in second place, right from the first day on campus. School is your primary job. If you were to miss work every time you thought it was a nice day or whenever you had a headache, or-you fill in the excuse-think about how long it would take your boss to fire you. Go for perfect attendance. It sounds like an elementary school concept, but believe me it's critical.

Communicate with the Professor. Call, e-mail, or send a note with a friend if you're sick. Sounds kind of goofy? Maybe, but it makes an impression. Again, it sends an important message: "I care enough to let you know I am on the injured list, but I'm still on the team." Again, use e-mail, phone, fax or personal note, but make sure you try.

Ask two people for their notes. This may sound like overkill to you, but it's not. As I mentioned before, it's hard enough interpreting your own notes, let alone someone else's. By getting copies from two classmates, you're more likely to piece together what actually happened.

Double check about assignments or handouts. Be absolutely sure that you check with two classmates or the professor about any handouts given out in the class you missed. Also, check on whether any new assignments were given, or if modifications/clarifications were made. I have found that this is one area where students constantly fumble. While they get the notes, they often forget to ask for handouts or special instructions given. Usually, the result is that you may turn in a project only partially completed and receive a poor grade.

Audio tape, if permitted. To get 100% recall of a class you missed, audio taping is the best way. Asking a friend to tape a class you'll miss is a bit burdensome, but very useful. You (or your friend) must check with the instructor first. Don't tape without the professor's permission. Some teachers do not like being taped. Most will not care. By the way, I have found that taping classes even when you are there, especially for those classes where you're having trouble, is a great idea. My daughter did that in college and found that taping supplemented her notes and helped her studying tremendously. But remember: Always ask permission first.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Train Early

Myth #1

"I'll get started studying when school starts."
"Hey, I just finished 4 years of high school, and I need a rest."
"I went to a good school. I'm ready for college."
" Summer is for fun, not school."
"I got A's and B's in my college prep courses."
"September is for school, not July."
"Enough already with the studying."
"I need a break or my head will explode."

Reality #1

Start training now, like an athlete.

Can you imagine an athlete who wanted to qualify for the Olympics but absolutely refused to train for three months before the Olympic trials?


No one would take such an athlete seriously. However, that's what most students who graduate from high school do to prepare for the biggest academic event of their lives thus far: College. They work very hard for four years: Study, take tests, take PSAT's, take SAT's, even expensive preparation courses. They take gifted and talented and AP courses, visit and apply to a number of universities, sweat out the acceptance process, get accepted, and graduate from high school. Then they promptly quit training for three or four months. Some students have been known to quit studying when they get accepted to a college. They take on the I'm-on-board attitude, the I-don't-have-to-sweat-it-now attitude. Wrong.

Getting in shape and staying in shape is as vital to your academic fitness as it is to your physical fitness. You can't just turn it off and on like a switch. A slow and steady pace wins this race.

This is about the toughest suggestion to self impose. It requires the most personal discipline, and frankly, not all students can or will do this. But I will guarantee that those who have the fortitude to do so will succeed.

Survival Tips:

Set up regular study hours. By now you may be saying to yourself, "This guy is nuts if he thinks I'm studying regularly in the summer, when I didn't even do that during the year." OK. But if you would take even as little as 1 hour a day and devote it to keeping the blade sharpened, it would yield great results. In fact, this is a great idea to remember: Small changes can result in big wins. Look at pro golfers and pro athletes in general. The person who loses a tournament is not dramatically worse, just a small fraction, but that makes a huge difference.

Read-choose anything, but read something. There's an ad that occasionally shows on TV that says, "Reading is fundamental." Remember that ad and act accordingly. Your reading will determine much of your success or failure in college. Many students don't enjoy reading; so, they do less and less of it. Learn to enjoy it, and you'll read more and increase your reading effectiveness. It's a simple but inevitable, progressive process. Start by reading whatever you like. I don't care if it's soup labels, comic books, short stories or cowboy novels: Read. As you read more, your interests will broaden; the progressive process will happen naturally-trust me.

Start keeping a daily calendar. Poor time management causes some of the worst problems students have in college. During class discussions my students always stress this one. Here's the problem: In college you'll have what seems like loads of time. You may only average 3 or 4 hours of class a day. So it seems like there's time to burn. Also, it's unstructured time-the type that slips through your fingers like sand. However, the projects and homework assigned in college are much more substantial than those in high school, with virtually no oversight by teachers or parents. The combination of unstructured time and larger projects proves disastrous for the first-year students who don't keep a calendar and schedule their work. This problem is not limited to students in college. In fact, one of the hottest professions in the workforce is project management. Buy yourself a monthly calendar. Monthly ones work best because you can "see" one month ahead. Weekly calendars are too short-sighted. I suggest you practice setting up milestones and timelines for simple projects this summer. Write them on the calendar. Just get used to using it before you're in the middle of the first semester wondering how in the world you'll ever survive.

Write constantly. Runners know that to make it through a race, they have to develop their wind. Simply put, they have to practice running to be ready for the race. So it is with writing. If you don't write regularly, you lose the edge, the confidence, the fluency. Start by keeping a daily journal. Buy yourself a spiral notebook or my personal favorite, one of those black-and-white marble covered composition books you used in elementary school. But begin writing. Start with your random thoughts. What you think about what's going on around you: Your hopes, fears, and dreams. Like reading, it does not matter what you write but that you do write regularly. Like reading, writing is a fundamental of college life. You'll get far more writing assigned in college than you did in high school. The other effect of keeping a journal is that if you read what you've written, you'll find it a great way to sort out where you're headed. Your writing will reveal what's going on inside your head. Writing can be sounding board, like a friend who listens to your innermost thoughts. The journal is the best way I know to build up your writing wind.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

University Life Tips

"For many first-year students, the University may be their first experience living away from home for an extended period of time. It is a definite break from home. The individual's usual sources of support are no longer present to facilitate adjustment to the unfamiliar environment. Here are tips for students which may provide realistic expectations concerning living arrangements and social life on campus. In addition, students may benefit from information concerning resources available to them at the Counseling Center.

  • The first few weeks on campus can be a lonely period. There may be concerns about forming friendships. When new students look around, it may seem that everyone else is self-confident and socially successful. The reality is that everyone is having the same concerns.
  • If they allow sufficient time, students usually find peers in the university to provide structure and a valuable support system in the new environment. The important thing for the student to remember in meeting new people is to be oneself.
  • Meaningful, new relationships should not be expected to develop overnight. It took a great deal of time to develop intimacy in high school friendships; the same will be true of intimacy in university friendships.
  • Increased personal freedom can feel both wonderful and frightening. Students can come and go as they choose with no one to "hassle" them. At the same time, things are no longer predictable. The strange environment with new kinds of procedures and new people can create the sense of being on an emotional roller-coaster. This is normal and to be expected.
  • Living with roommates can present special, sometimes intense, problems. Negotiating respect of personal property, personal space, sleep, and relaxation needs can be a complex task. The complexity increases when roommates are of different ethnic/cultural backgrounds with very different values. Communicating one's legitimate needs calmly, listening with respect to a roommate's concerns, and being willing to compromise to meet each other's most important needs can promote resolution of issues.
  • It is unrealistic to expect that roommates will be best friends. Roommates may work out mutually satisfying living arrangements, but the reality is that each may tend to have his or her own circle of friends.
  • University classes are a great deal more difficult than high school classes. There are more reading assignments, and the exams and papers cover a greater amount of material. Instructors expect students to do more work outside the classroom. In order to survive, the student must take responsibility for his or her actions. This means the student needs to follow the course outlines and keep up with the readings. The student must do the initiating. If a class is missed, it is up to the student to borrow lecture notes from someone who was present. If the student is having difficulty with course work, he or she needs to ask for help--ask to do extra work, request an appointment with an academic advisor, or sign up for tutoring or other academic-skills training at the University Learning Center.

Monday, February 12, 2007

How to Answer Essay Questions?

Preparing for an Essay Exam
  • Get a sense for the type of essay exam the professor generally gives; e.g., short vs. long thought questions.
  • Try to get some idea of the general area that will be covered; i.e., concepts, issues, theories, etc.
  • Carefully review lecture notes to ascertain which broad areas have constituted central discussion topics.
  • Carefully review text(s). Link and/or supplement major areas here with those in your notes.
  • Mentally test yourself: What major concepts and relationships were covered? Now, what details support these?
  • Be able to write a concise outline, covering the material.
  • Remember: Present a sound generalization then prove it with appropriate detail.
  • Be familiar with the terminology used in the course. Be able to understand concepts and use appropriate terms.

Taking the Exam

  • Listen for any oral directions, if any.
  • Read the questions carefully. What are they asking?
  • Be sure you understand the question. What is the controlling idea? What are the key words? Underline them.
  • How is the answer to be given? Is the question asking for fact? Opinion? Explanation? Comparison?
  • If the question seems ambiguous:

    a. Seek clarification from the professor;

    b. if still not clear, state your interpretation of the question before attempting to answer it. Remember, essay questions are aimed at concepts and the emphasis in the course; so you must be able to conceptualize, succinctly respond, and support your generalization with sufficient details.
  • Define any vague terms; for example, some terms may have ambiguous implications if not clearly defined.
  • Think through your answer. Then go back and reread the question to make sure that you are answering what is asked.

Writing the Answers

  • Remember to take time to think, make notes, and prepare a rough outline before you begin to write the essay:

    a. Develop the summary statement.

    b. Support the statement with details.
  • Once you have your summary in outline form, expand upon it and write it in written form, tactfully and clearly.
  • Budget your time so that you are not forced to rush through your final essay because you spend too much time on the earlier one(s).
  • Allow a little time to proofread for grammar, spelling errors, omissions, etc.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Reading and Highlighting Tips

Pre-Reading Ideas
"Have you ever sat down to read a chapter and realized you either can't follow the chapter's ideas or can't remember what you've read previously? Set yourself up for success by following a few simple pre-reading tips. First, preview the chapter. Skim the text by reading the chapter introductory remarks, subtitles, italicized print, summary and questions. Second, from your preview ask yourself two very important questions:

What is the chapter about?
What do I already know about the subject of the chapter?

Third, jot down any ideas that you remember from your preview and questioning. These could be words, phrases, or sentences. In the five to ten minutes it takes to pre-read a chapter you've familiarized yourself with the text, made an information connection with what you already know about the subject, and set yourself up for success in comprehending a difficult subject."
- By Mary Jo Campbell

Learning Styles and Reading
"During my years of teaching, I have found that students who incorporate the use of multiple senses in their study habits have better retention of course material. When you read the assignment in the textbook you see the material -- stimulating the visual sense. Along with this, it is important to recognize your particular learning style. Some students concentrate best in a quiet environment. Others function better with background music. Attending class and listening to a lecture stimulates the hearing sense. Note taking, another important activity in lecture based courses, reinforces what is heard during the lecture. Daily review and even rewriting notes helps clarify ideas. If you are taking a clinical or laboratory course, actually performing a procedure or activity will clarify the mental image of the procedure and also help you develop skill in the performance area. This stimulates the tactile sense. Remember, the more senses you use in the learning process, the better your retention of course material."
- By Janice Giltinan

Understanding Jargon in Text
"One study problem I hear students talk about is feeling overwhelmed by the professional jargon in a text. Students give up trying to understand the material and read it passively "just to get it finished." It can be helpful to change your attitude and approach to reading difficult material by viewing yourself as a translator of the material, with your job being to translate the text into your own language. There are many different ways to translate. For example, you can stop after reading every page and in the margin of the text write down your own example or define the terms in your own words. Continue to ask yourself, "How could I express this in everyday language?" If you are unsure, take an educated guess and ask for feedback in class. Getting feedback is important in helping you refine your understanding of the material. Also, viewing your job as a translator instead of a passive reader acknowledges the experiences and strengths you bring to learning the material. In this way new learning is building upon old learning."
- By Sharon Hamilton

Underlining Key Phrases
"Some people love to use their pink or yellow markers to underline everything in their text. I want to suggest to you this is a bad thing. When reading, underline only a keyword or a small phrase. Perhaps one or two items per page. Better yet, don't underline but keep a list of names and ideas you want to remember. Make a note of the page number the idea is on, then when studying you won't be faced with page after page of underlined material that you can't possibly read before the test. A few days before the quiz or test look at your list. Spend an hour or two each night for several nights. When you find something you don't know, which you can't recall, look it up on the page you cited. Study what you don't know. Combined with what you know and remember from a lecture, you should be the most knowledgeable person in the class. This technique is of no value if you're seeing the material for the first time the night before an exam."
- By Don Hoffman

Active Reading Suggestions
"One of the most frequent things I say to my students is be an active reader not a passive one. Reading isn't like watching TV. You just can't stare at a page and expect to remember much. Read an assigned chapter quickly -- first for a general overview -- then go back and seek out the details. Keep a pen or a pencil, not a highlighter, in your hand. Underline important passages. Write notes, questions and reactions in the margins. When you read you should be having a conversation with the text. Don't let it do all the talking -- react to it. Your response helps you formulate the meaning of the text. Mark up your book like crazy. I always tell my classes, the more you decrease the resale value of a book, the more you're probably getting out of it. So remember, read actively."
- By Roger Solberg

Novel Reading vs. Textbook Reading
"I am always surprised by the fact that many students read their textbook the same way they would read a novel, starting on page one and reading straight through to the end. Try reading your textbooks more like you would read a newspaper or magazine. Start by skimming through a section, reading the subject headings and any definitions that appear in boldface print. Study the pictures and figures carefully -- these are chosen to illustrate and highlight the essential points of the text. Next, read the introduction and summary and finally go back and read the text itself. Start with the material that most interests you, but be careful not to skip a section. Keep some scratch paper handy for jotting down important terms and working out problems. Leave your highlighter pens in the drawer. Most importantly, don't try to digest too much information at once. Read in 30 to 45 minute blocks of time with frequent breaks. This will help you to stay alert and focused."
- By Brian Zimmerman

Are You Reading Your Textbook?
"Read your text book. Now for many students this is stating the obvious, but for some students that is a novel idea. Reading your text should be just that--reading. Sometimes students get so carried away with highlighting that it seems their activity resembles coloring more than reading. Read your text before the professor lectures on the material. You'll find it easier to take lecture notes and ask reasonable questions. You'll be a better prepared student and in turn more successful."
- By Cindy Legin-Bucell

Successful Textbook Reading Techniques
"Most college professors select a text as required reading for their courses. These textbooks aren't always laden with interesting information presented in a fascinating manner. But, they do contain important information that will help you succeed in each of your courses. To get the most out of your textbook reading consider the following steps. Before you begin to actually read the assigned chapter, preview it. Read the chapter title, the major headings and the subheadings throughout the chapter. Then read the chapter introduction and the summary. Third, take note of any guiding questions which the author might have included in the beginning of the chapter, as well as any vocabulary words presened before the chapter. Then sit back and read the entire chapter's contents. While reading, pause to refer to illustrations, figures, and graphs which the textbook authors have included in the chapter. Reread the summary again after reading the entire chapter. Once you have completed the detailed reading, review the guiding questions presented at the beginning of the chapter and actively answer them, preferably in writing, but at least orally. This technique requires little practice, will reduce the time you need to spend reading your course assignments, and produces greater understanding of your textbook. Easy to use with maximum results . . . a college student's dream."
- By Dawn Snodgrass

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Note Taking Techniques

Note Taking Techniques
"The most comprehensive note taking systems require attention on your part. You must be alert enough in class to take legible, meaningful notes. You can't rely on "writing everything down" because a lot of information in a given lecture won't help you actually learn the material. If you have problems determining the specific relevant points in a particular class, you can always ask the professor to clarify them for you.

The 2-6 Method: The 2-6 refers to the way you divide the space on your notepaper. Make two columns, using the red line on the left of the page as your border. Then, when you take notes in class, use the 6 column for the notes and the smaller 2 column on the left as a highlighting system. Write main headings and important points on the left, including material you think you will be tested on. When you're finished, you should have a comprehensive page of information that you can quickly scan for important points. Finally If you have any questions or need more help, stop by and talk to one of our counselors. Studying is 99% perspiration; if you give it a real, concentrated effort over the course of a semester you will see an improvement. Your academic success is entirely up to you."
- By George Mason University

Split Page Method
"Class lectures and your textbook--they're the primary sources of course content and you need to learn both. So combine them with the split page method of taking notes. Just divide your notebook page in half lengthwise. Draw a line down the middle of the page. Take class notes on one side of the page and outline the text on the other side. When you study you'll have both. Class notes and text together, integrated. Some students find it helpful to add a third column for questions they need to ask the professor."
- By Sherry Reynolds

Using Group Notes
"Are you tired of struggling to keep up with a lecture while copying page after page of notes in class? My advice? Don't take the notes -- at least not every day. Instead, form a group with some of your classmates and take turns taking good class notes. When it's not your day to be the note-taker, really concentrate on what is being said in class. You might want to jot down a few particularly important points, but mostly try to participate in class. Ask questions when you can't understand the point your teacher is trying to get across, and score points by answering questions your teacher asks. After class you can either photocopy the notes from your classmate, or better yet, copy them over by hand while reviewing in your mind what happened in class."
- By Fred Weening

Secrets to Taking Better Notes
"As a writer for Edinboro University and its Alumni News magazine, I spend a lot of time interviewing people. A key interviewing skill is taking good notes--a skill that is just as valuable in the classroom. There is no magic to taking good notes, just common sense. It's simply a matter of being thorough and accurate. Now, not many people can write fast enough to capture everything their professor says in class, so it is a good idea to also use a tape recorder. That way you won't miss something while you write, and you can double-check the tape for accuracy. Whether you use a recorder or not, it's important to transcribe your notes as soon as possible while the subject is still fresh in your mind. By re-writing or re-typing your notes, you become more familiar with the material. You mentally reinforce what was said in class. And you get practice writing the information, making it easier to write the material a second time whether it be for a test or a term paper."
- By Brian Pitzer

Noteworthy Notes
"Are your grades as good as you want them to be? Are your notes worth reviewing? Notes are phrases and abbreviations that we hurriedly jot down while trying to follow a lecture. Later, when we go back to review our notes, there are times when we can't seem to understand or remember what those key words and phrases meant; sometimes we can't even read our own handwriting. Here is a note-taking study tip that has proven to be effective. After you have finished class, immediately rush to the nearest computer lab and retype your notes. You need to rewrite those phrases as complete thoughts and sentences; dot your I's, cross your T's and use "cut and paste" to put your notes into some type of a logical sequence. While retyping your notes you are using several modalities: you review as you read your notes aloud, you use your hand to type, and you reread again as you proof read what you have typed. Research indicates tht 80% of new material can be recalled if you review notes within the first 24 hours of presentation. Also, clean typed notes are easier to read and highlight as you study. If you retype your notes daily, you will keep the task from becoming overwhelming, you will learn good study habits that aid in memory retention and, at the same time, improve your grades."
- By Janet Jenkins

Attend Class
"The most important advice I can give to you is to make sure you attend your classes. Attendance in class enhances the chance you'll get a passing grade in a course. In addition to attending class, it is important to brush up on your note-taking skills to really achieve optimum success. Some general recommendations for improving note-taking skills are to:

Read all textbook material relevant to the topic being covered prior to attending class.

Make sure you take notes in class. If you fail to take notes, much of what you learn from the lecture will be forgotten in a few days. If you have something written down on paper, you can always refer to the material later.

Ask professors who lecture too fast if you can tape record their lecture. You'll generally find that many professors are willing to assist you in your efforts to gain as much from their lecture as possible.

By attending class and utilizing the note-taking techniques just described, your chances for success in college will increase significantly."
- By Kiran Misra

Prepare for the lecture
The greatest advantage is that

1. you are familiar with the subject
2. you know what to ask
3. you are not going to waste time by writing down stuff that is already there in your study material. Rather, you know what to write, where to pick links and to clear your concepts.

By the time the lecture is over, you are in a much clearer state of mind. This way, taking down notes becomes more meaningful and worth the time you spent doing it.
- By Ms. Sreelatha Anand

Friday, February 9, 2007

Tips for Foreign Language Learners

Write in Your Own Words
"I have a tip that has always worked for me and I think it will work for you. When you're studying, don't just "look over" the material. Instead, turn your mental activity into a motor activity and write, write, write. If you're trying to learn ideas or concepts, paraphrase what you're reading and then write it in your own words. And, if you're trying to learn dates, formulas, verb conjugations, or vocabulary words, write them down as you study them. Then give yourself a little test by covering the original material and writing it from memory. You'll find it much easier to remember factual and conceptual information because, most of the time, what you write is what you know."
- By Judith Gramley

Copying and Reading
"When learning a foreign language, write out as much in the language as you can. Copying out the foreign words often helps to learn them. Try reading aloud or to yourself all individual words and exercises, again in the target language. Use the language lab and listen to native speakers on tape, and film. Have tapes copied and play these at home or while driving your car. Think about a particular foreign language assignment before going to bed. Materials gone over three to five minutes before falling asleep will be absorbed by the subconscious mind during sleep and more easily learned. Get a pen pal and force yourself to write letters, however simply, initially in the foreign language. If you really want to take a step toward better global understanding, learn a second language."
- By Dr. Tom Hajewski

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Improving Listening Skills

Becoming a More Effective Listener
"Effective listening begins with recognizing how poor we really are at listening, and with developing a determination to work hard to improve our listening skills. We need to develop an attitude that says, "I'm going to get something out of this lecture that I can use no matter what it takes." Here are a few suggestions that will help you improve your listening skills. First, work hard to keep your focus on the message and make a determined effort to return to focus when your mind begins to wonder. To help in maintaining focus, make mental summaries of the speaker's main ideas. Second, try to predict the speaker's next main idea. These two hints will help to keep you actively involved in what the speaker is saying. Listening is a very difficult and an active process. Listening is just plain hard work."
- By Dr. Bert Miller

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

How to Think Critically

Making Wise Choices
"Was wondering how you might react to a student who would say to you, "The test questions in that class are taken right from the book. You're wasting your time by going to class." Often advice from your peers might be popular advice but not proper advice. It's very important that you be a thinking, self-directed person--an individual. As an individual, you must develop your own response to other people or their ideas. Don't carelessly accept the suggestions of others. Learn to be a critical thinker. That doesn't mean that you can never think like your friends. As long as you make wise choices, it doesn't matter how popular they are. Too often students make judgments based on first impressions, gut reactions, or the influence of their friends. Remember your actions have consequences. You could fail a class, have financial difficulty or even health problems associated with stress. Thinking students will practice restraint and control their feelings rather than being controlled by them. So my advice to you is, "think before you act"."
- By Jo Ann Holtz

Critically Thinking While Writing a Paper
"You have a paper due in which you are to analyze an issue and explain your view. This requires critical thinking skills. Here are four steps from Becoming a Master Student that can help:

1. Decide what you think and why you think it. Writing out your initial ideas will clarify your thoughts.
2. Seek other views and more evidence. Make sure you examine all sides especially those that are contrary to your ideas. Talk to people who have expertise in the topic.
3. Evaluate the various views. Construct a chart with points that are in agreement and disagreement. Then compare this with your initial view.
4. Construct the most reasonable view. Your challenge is to develop a response you consider the most reasonable. Often times this will be a combination of the information you have researched and your initial ideas."

- By Naomi Johnson

Religion and Wisdom
"In my day, students used to complain about everything. But, I never heard a student complain that we devote too much time at the University to the study of Christianity and Judaism; even though those beliefs are the foundations of our Western culture.

Education at the University however, cannot ignore all religion. At the very least, we have to learn about pagan religion; i.e. the myths and figures of religion not connected to Abraham and Jesus. We have to learn about pagan religion in order to understand our own literature. Even today's writers use pagan religious images and symbols.

The pagan gods will always be with us. They take on new forms and new names, but they don't go away. Something about us will not let them go. We seem to need to exalt ourselves along with our stupidities. That's what the pagan gods do.

Why are we more interested in pagan gods than in God: more interested in paganism than in Christianity and Judaism? Because we see ourselves in the pagan gods. They are like us. That's not true of God.

The pagan gods like us are weak and bull-headed. Like us they are slaves of desire. They are destructive and vengeful, capricious and silly. And sometimes they are capable of greatness.

We need some form of religious education because we have some sense that we are more than dirt. Religion suggests that all will not be lost; that something of us will remain. It suggests that there is wisdom that needs to be learned in order to live life, instead of dying young.

The big question of course is: what level of wisdom? Our culture seems more interested in Hollywood gossip than in the more substantial wisdom enshrined in either pagan or Judeo-Christian religion. We seem more interested in entertainment than in real wisdom.

It seems a shame that even after making all the effort and bearing all the expense of a university education, some students come out not a bit more wise than when they started.

While you're being educated, don't forget about religion and wisdom."
- By Jim Drane

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Establishing Good Study Habits

Efficient Use of Time
"I'm here to tell you what I think is a key to academic survival and success. The first and most important thing I feel, at least to survival and success in the classroom, is efficient use of your time outside the classroom. Remember, there are 24 hours in a day. Set aside two to three hours each day for studying. This will leave you with five to six hours -- after we subtract time for our classes, meals, and a good night's sleep -- to do those things that we like to do much more than studying. The next thing that I feel contributes to survival and success in the classroom is periodic review of your lecture notes and the appropriate chapters in your textbooks. Periodic review and beginning to study for your exams early will save you time in the long run and it will prevent cramming. That way you can be well rested and more motivated and less anxious on test day. The last thing you can do to help get good grades is take advantage of all the academic resources at your university. It can only help you."
- By Dante Battles

The Power of Cooperation
"Education often looks like competition. We compete for interest in school, for grades when we're in school, and for jobs when we leave school. In such a climate it is easy to overlook the power of cooperation that is developed through study support groups. Study support groups feed you energy. People are social animals and we draw strength from groups. Aside from the comradery, the fellowship and the fun, support groups can assist you by elevating your spirit. There will be days when you just don't want to work on your education. Other members of the study group, however, can support you and encourage you. In addition to drawing strength from the group when you're down, you can give support to others yourself as they need it. A study support group is also a good place to build rewarding relationships with people. So remember your friends and classmates when you study."
- By Mike Brown

Mixing Studies with Social Activities
"The most successful students balance social activities with good study habits. A diversion from studies will alleviate stress and help prevent you from becoming fatigued. So make sure you take a break for an hour after studies to meet with friends, to play some cards, work out at the gym, or to gab with a new acquaintance. You'll find your concentration sharpen when you do study, if you plan a social activity afterwards. To develop a healthy social life, develop routine study habits. After supper, lug your books and homework to the library, find a comfortable and quiet niche, and study for two or three hours, taking intermittent 10 minute breaks every 45 minutes or so. Make a friend with whom you share similar study habits, and share a table or a study space with them. Remember, after you've completed your work for the evening, take time for a social activity before retiring for the evening. You'll wake up feeling refreshed and prepared for another day."
- By Mark Crilly

Setting a Comfortable Pace
"Are you frustrated at not performing at a level equal to your potential in your courses? This tip is to help maximize your academic efforts. A good grade in a course is almost never the result of luck. The key is to set yourself at a comfortable pace for studying. What is your comfortable pace? Once you determine this, consistency is the secret. Setting aside time for focused study every day will probably result in a higher grade point average. Make falling behind a thing of the past! Also, for each course you have, rate your interest level and the type of course, list the course requirements, set a goal for the grade you wish to earn, and establish a study schedule. A study schedule will guarantee better grades and may actually reduce the study time you spend now. Be sure to incorporate some review time each study period. Your study schedule must be convenient and you must adhere to it. Increased study time with consistency will spell success. I have seen it work for students."
- By Jean Fera

Changing Your Habits
"How are you? I'm Dr. John Feldmeier with an Academic Survival Tip. But first, I want you to find a pencil or pen so you can write down what I'm about to say. Ready, please write this down. The past does not equal the future. Once again, the past does not equal the future. Next, I want you to take what you have written down and place it where you will see it each and every day. Okay, what does it mean? It means those poor study habits such as not completing assignments, missing classes, and staying up too late before your next class do not have to be repeated in the future. Who can make these changes? Yes, you're correct. You, and only you, can change the future to achieve more success and productivity. Remember, don't let the past be your future. Make these changes for a better life."
- By John Feldmeier

Personal Maintenance
"We all know the importance of maintaining a car. We can push it to the limit, but sooner or later it starts to run poorly. By setting aside some time for a little maintenance, we can keep it running smoothly and efficiently. Unfortunately, we tend to forget these simple truths when they're applied to college life. We push ourselves to keep up with demands and ignore warning signs such as decreased productivity and a negative attitude. We fail to recognize that some time spent on rest and relaxation may actually save time in the long run. People often notice that their mood improves and they work more effectively after taking a break. Personal maintenance may include very simple and inexpensive activities such as taking a walk in the snow, having dinner with a friend, or listening to some favorite music. So take a little time out today to do something fun and relaxing -- your system just might run a little smoother tomorrow."
- By Gary LaBine

Immediate Review of Class Notes
"The study suggestion that I recommend is the one that I am still working on applying in my last semester of graduate school -- that is, to go home and review as soon as possible what you have heard and learned in class. Otherwise, 80% of what was learned will be forgotten. So, as soon as you can after class, review the class notes or the related chapter text. When you do this type of review, you may have the satisfying experience of ideas relating, making sense, and fitting together for you. At times, you may also experience a very interesting phenomena. Sometimes it feels like light bulbs are going on in your brain when these connections are made. And that's the good side. The other side is that this requires self-discipline and requires planned effort. Yes, I mean a planned study schedule. But it is a rewarding learning experience and I recommend it to you. This may also be done in reverse and this may also be easier. Immediately prior to a class, read the chapter text material that will be covered in the lecture that day. You will be one of the few students who will understand the lecture, be able to answer questions, ask questions and thus participate. And you will feel "real" knowledgeable. This has an instant positive feedback effect and will also enable you to retain more information. So, schedule daily study time and schedule one or the other of these techniques into your planned study time."
- By Nina Maddalon-Perino

Staying Awake
"There are times when, no matter how interesting a subject might be, it's still very difficult to stay awake when studying. Say you have several chapters to read for the next class. You have the time to do it, but you're having trouble keeping those "baby blues" open and focused. Try this. First, buy an egg timer, one of those little white ones that clicks off the seconds quietly. Set the timer for ten minute intervals. Read until the timer goes off. Then get up and move around for a couple minutes -- maybe sip some fruit juice. Then set the timer and repeat the process. If the moving around and sipping isn't enough, try some deep knee bends, sit ups, or muscle-stretching activities. The idea is to keep the blood moving through the brain. You'll be surprised at the amount of information you cover in a short period of time."
- By Donna Patterson

Put Academics First Life
"As a Department Chair, I have the opportunity to talk with many second semester freshmen in my area; unfortunately, some of them are on academic probation or have lower Q.P.A.'s than they want. And the reason I hear most often is, "Well, I goofed off the first semester and didn't really study that hard." That statement causes me to advise students to do two things:

Put academics first and really mean it. This might include studying in a quiet place, reading assignments more than once, taking copious notes, and starting on your papers at least a week before they're due.

Get enough sleep and eat well. Don't stay up late night after late night talking with your friends; try getting up for breakfast and studying before class. This means, my friends, that you can socialize only on weekends and still not much in the beginning until you see where you're going to stand grade-wise.

Remember, you don't flunk out if you miss parties; you flunk out when you miss classes and don't commit to doing your best work."
- By Marilyn Sheerer

More About Time Management
"Are you having trouble remembering information when you take a test? Do you feel overwhelmed with the amount of material you need to learn? Information stored in short-term memory can begin to decay within a short time unless effort is made to place the material in long term memory. Research indicates that unless you review within 24 hours, 80% of the material can be forgotten. By reviewing information as soon as possible you will not only increase the amount of material you will remember, but you will also decrease the hours of study needed before an exam. You can build review sessions into your daily schedule by following a few simple steps. First, avoid scheduling back to back classes. Use the time in between your classes to review your notes. Dot your "i's", cross your "t's" and write out abbreviations. This will only take you two or three minutes and will aid in retention of the material. Second, use small amounts of time to review. Try to avoid marathon study sessions, since they tend to be overwhelming and cause students to procrastinate even more. Third, time wasted in line at the bookstore or waiting at the laundromat can be used to review and organize notes. The key is time management. Learning to budget your time will give you more time for frequent reviewing so that less time is spent cramming."
- By Kate Strosser

Don't Panic
"You know, it's really easy, especially during this time of the semester, to look at all the things you have to do, and -- well -- panic. Some people even go into withdrawal because they don't know what to do -- they are overcome, and do nothing at all, and of course the worst happens. The solution to this problem sounds flip, but it really isn't. Don't look at the whole picture. Keep your attention focussed only on each individual step. Focus on your math assignment -- don't also worry about your English paper and communications project. Or, write that first draft now, and worry about the final format later. But, above all, do it now. If you keep up with each step, the whole will take care of itself automatically. You don't have to worry, and who knows, you might even get some sleep."
- By Peter van den Honert

Studying Can Be Fun
"I run across countless students who view studying as arduous, if not painful. I would like to share a few tips that might help you approach studying in an agreeable and productive fashion. First, schedule a block of time each day that is created specifically for studying. Choosing the right time is crucial. Some of us study most effectively in the morning; some in the evening. The key is setting a study time that fits you personally, i.e. when you are at your sharpest. If your difficulty is finding time to study, chances are good that you're in the habit of doing something else that takes away from your studies. Second, choose your studying place and be faithful to it. This includes choosing a place that is nearby, quiet, and one lacking distractions. It is also important that you find a place that is only associated with studying. Many students often with good intentions make the mistake of choosing their bed as their special studying place. Unfortunately, these students find that what was going to be their study time turned into their nap time. Third, create a pleasing atmosphere in which to study. Put on your favorite slippers or make yourself a hot cup of tea or hot chocolate. Make your time special. The trick is to change your feelings about studying. If you can do this, your studying time can be more pleasurable and productive."
- By Chris Mazzarella

Why Fail When You Can Succeed?
"When I was the Dean of Students at Philander Smith College in 1965, I did a research project to determine why students fail. What I found to be true in that survey of study habits more than 30 years ago still rings true today--students fail because they don't know how to study or they don't know what it means to study. The best advice I can give you to enable the achievement of academic excellence is to develop sound study skills. First, make sure you have a good study environment, a good desk, a sturdy chair, good light, comfortable room temperature and a quiet atmosphere. That means you should eliminate all external and internal distractions. Second, get a good overview of your assignment before you start your work. Know what skills, facts and ideas you are expected to master and the ground you are expected to cover. Start with your most difficult subject first, while your mind is freshest and most receptive. Develop a study schedule and stick to it. Schedule your study time when you know you are at your best. Successful students agree that a weekly schedule works best and provides the flexibility necessary to make adjustments according to assignments. Finally, study your professors as well as the subject matter. Ask faculty for study tips specific to the subject at hand. The faculty in the Department of Academic Support Services can provide additional assistance to you in developing good study habits."
- By Frank Pogue

Preparing to Participate in Class
"I have a very active schedule and couldn't accomplish the goals I've set for myself if I didn't take time for preparation. Preparation can aid you as well. You'll find that going to class is much more enjoyable if you're prepared to participate. Not only will a professor take notice that you are ready for class, but you'll find that you are also able to assist your classmates by engaging them in discussions of that day's material. It's up to you to decide if you want just a college degree or if you truly want a college education. Prepare in advance so you don't find yourself behind the "eight ball" when it is time to study for that all-important class or test. As a recent non-traditional student at Edinboro University, I know what I'm talking about when I say preparation is the key."
- By Kip Allen

Monday, February 5, 2007

Developing Good Writing Skills

How Reading Can Help You Write
"If you want to write well. . . read, read, and then read some more. Read good writing. Read bad writing. Learn to know the difference. Note for simplicity of style: noun, verb, object; noun, verb, object. It worked for Hemingway, who often said that his ultimate goal was to create the perfect sentence. Read some Hemingway, and not just his novels, but some of his early newspaper writing. There's never been better news and feature writing, ever. When you read the works of these and other fine writers, notice the simplicity of their language and how they vary their sentence structure and length. Some sentences number two or three words; others run an entire paragraph. There are countless tips on writing well, but I leave you with this one: read first, then write."
- By Bill Reed

Learn to Write Well
"Writing can be a drag . . . especially if you don't think you're very good at it. It's a skill, however, that you need to develop in order to be competitive in today's society. While you're a student, take the time to learn to write well. Take more than the required English and writing courses. I'd be willing to bet you'll find these classes to be quite valuable when you try to find and keep a job after graduation. And don't worry if you end up having trouble in these classes. You can always enlist the help of the good folks at the Writing Center. And one more thing . . . a good way to practice your writing without the stress of a grade hanging over your head, is to take part in extra-curricular activities that involve writing."
- By Emily Sinsabaugh

Writing a Paper or Researching an Assignment? Start Early
"Let's face it. We are all afraid of writing papers. We procrastinate until the night before that essay or reserach assignment is due. We then write as the night passes in the hope that some sort of last-minute inspiration will light down from the heavens, the clouds will dissipate and the sun will poke its head above the horizon, and the rivers will gush forth those wonderfully profound ideas that have hidden themselves in the darkness. Beautifully as all this sounds, it does not happen without a great deal of advance preparation.

What does happen is that we ofen compose into the wee hours of the morning, and as the clock ticks on, we get progressively tired--so tired that we do a sloppy job. We forget to proofread, or when we do we are so tired of the paper that we cannot see convoluted ideas, faulty reasoning, and missing commas. We submit the paper with a prayer and hope for the best. And when we get that unsatisfactory grade, we vow that we will NEVER again put things off until the last minute. How do we accomplish this? I have several suggestions:

1. Get started on the paper the day that it is assigned. This doesn't mean that one actually start writing the paper but rather it means that you at least think about the topic. Take a small pad of paper so that you can jot down ideas. Keep a journal that you can draw upon for that interesting perspective toward the topic.

2. Start writing the rough draft at least a week before the assignment is due. In this way, you leave yourself plenty of time to walk away from the paper when the going gets tough. Often, a short break--a trip to the snackshop, or a game of PacMan--will clear your mind so that you can begin to write again.

3. Go the Center for Writing. It is often important that we talk our ideas out before we can get them clearly on paper. Important to this process is a basic knowledge of those who will read your paper.

What do they already know?
What do they need to know?
What terms or concepts do you need to explain?
What connections do you need to make?

A conference with a writing tutor in your Writing Center can often help you to clarify those issues. If you cannot get ideas down on paper, bring your notes and talk your ideas out with the tutors so that you can get concepts down clearly on the page. If you can't tell a comma from a semicolon, have the tutor help you sort out those tricky rules of grammar. The Center for Writing can help you out at any point in the research and writing process.

Writing need not be a terrible agonizing process, and you need not write papers the night before. Hopefully, thinking about the paper right away, getting a draft written at least before, and getting help in the Center for Writing will get you that good grade next time you have to write a paper."
- By Bob Holderer

The Rest of the Story
"I used to think that successful writers must be naturally gifted creatures who always managed to get everything right the first time. That's why I'd lie to friends in college when they asked me how much time I'd spend on a paper. "An hour or so,?" I'd shrug--when really it was more like ten. It wasn't until years later that I learned even geniuses like Virginia Woolf and Ernest Hemingway spent incredible amounts of time writing and rewriting and polishing their work. So take a tip from geniuses and non-geniuses alike. When you know you've got a writing project due, start early. Don't think of your trash can as an enemy, but as a hungry pet that likes to be fed regularly. Then take what's left--the good stuff--polish it up like a genie's lamp, and sit back and hope for what all writers hope for: a magical connection with your reader."
- By Russell Chamberlain

Hip Hop to the Writing Lab
"The writing lab is where you go for success. Success equals "A's" and I'm alright with that. The writing lab is where I go to succeed. Develop papers that will meet the teachers need. They will critique and help you form a thesis that is sweet. Develop structure in your paper. Bring your skills to peak, so don't procrastinate. Don't debate. Just go to the lab to correct your mistakes on the grammatical tip their crew is tight. So don't worry about failure, because that's no where in sight. So use the facilities and you'll be a writing skill master just wait and see."
- By Richard Snow

Writing Skills
"Read choose anything, but read something. Keeping a focus on the way others conform words in a sentence. Start keeping a daily calender so you don't forget the assignments' due and other events that could be an issue if not reviewing your material. Write constantly, in doing this you keep your skills in writing on top shape. An exercise for the mind and vocabulary skills intact."
- Andrea Michelle Jones