Even if your not a college freshman, worried about freshman year, looking for college freshman tips and trying to survive once you get to college, you’ll still find five very helpful study tips for anyone going to accredited colleges to complete an associates or bachelors degree.
• You Have Excellent Study Skills. Use Them. College is difficult. If it were easy, everybody would do it. College is not, however, some great mystery. Your professors freely and frankly tell you what success in their courses demands, including online courses or regular classes. Then, they leave you, in the poet Milton’s phrase, “sufficient to stand , yet free to fall.” You choose your outcome. The important stuff is hidden in obvious places. It’s the “free to fall” part that kills. By the fourth week of class, barely half of your classmates regularly show-up for class unless the professor gives pop-quizzes or religiously takes attendance. College affords the privilege and luxury of no-fault ditching, but your failure to fill the seat comes with nasty consequences. “Every student has the inalienable right to fail,” quips Nicholas Genovese, a classics professor. “We spread the tools for success before our students in every class session, but no one can force a student to pick-up a tool and use it.” Genovese also discloses a cardinal principal of higher education: “Most professors take relatively simple ideas and dress ‘em up in really big words. The students who find the simple ideas inside the big expressions walk away with A’s.” Then, Genovese echoes his colleagues’ advice:
• Go to class. Read the whole book. Do the work. Of course, every lecture delivers valuable information, but mostly it tells you what your professor considers important and therefore will put on the test. If your professor writes it on the chalkboard or shows it in a PowerPoint, for sure it will appear on the midterm or final. Of course, if you’re not there to see the stuff, you cannot know. In addition, especially if your professor wrote your textbook, make sure you read the whole book, all the time remembering that everything in bold print easily translates to a test question. Similarly, every homework assignment stages a dress rehearsal for the midterm or final exam.
• Read the professor as skillfully as you read the book. Overwhelmingly smart, professors nevertheless are seldom subtle. They have “tells” that give-away test questions and good answers. If a professor asks a question during a lecture, he will ask it again on a test. If a professor shakes his index finger as he makes a statement, he signals that he just gave you a thesis statement. When a teacher turns-up the volume or drops his voice an octave, he is delivering the substance of your research paper. Read your professors’ tells and support your intuitions with stuff from the book.
• Every study session is practice for the test. If you have played sports, your coaches inevitably have repeated, “The way you practice is the way you play!” The same principle absolutely applies to study. Actively engage in your study sessions, practicing hard and building stamina for your tests and papers. Reading your textbooks, set a purpose for your reading and test yourself at the end of each section or chapter. Reading scholarly articles and other “supplements,” quiz yourself on their main ideas and significant details, and then coordinate information from the articles with bigger concepts in your class.
• Visit your professor during office hours. The more your professors intimidate you, the more you must visit them during their office hours. Prepare a few questions about key concepts and facts you know will come-up on the tests, and listen very carefully to the answers. Yes, you may—and you should—take notes. Then, ask follow-up questions, engaging your professor in a genuine conversation about his favorite subject. At the end of the semester, when benefit of the doubt may determine the difference between a B-plus and an A-minus, your relationship with your professor will tip the balance in your favor.
Gabriel Adona, award-winning academic adviser at San Diego Mesa College, strongly emphasizes, “Nine of the top ten causes of freshman flunk-out have absolutely nothing to do with students’ intelligence, academic preparation or basic skills; instead, they derive from fear, alienation, and failure to handle all the freedom college allows.” Adona therefore recommends, “Accept the fact that a full course-load represents more than a full-time job. Pull-on the big-boy pants, sharpen-up the number two pencils,” he smiles, “and get busy doing the work.”