The Basics

These are some tips which may seem pretty basic, but believe it or not (and you know who you are) many students don't have a clue about how to act in college. More students fail for one or more of these things than for anything else even remotely academic. They aren't really study skills, more like pre-study skills, even more like good etiquette. Anyway,here they are:

Sort out your priorities right away.
You're in school now. Treat it like a job, ..a really good job that you want to keep. You're an adult; you could be out working, making money, and living life. Don't waste everyone's time, especially your own if you're not ready to attend the 48 hours of class, do the 16 hours of lab work and do another 10 or more hours of written work outside of class. If your priorities aren't there now, then come back when they are. If your priorities are in the right place then its not likely that you need to be told these things:

Don't casually miss class.
Class is important. No one will excuse you from needing to know the information that you missed while you're gone. No one is responsible for the material except yourself. There's no substitute for being there, so that you can hear people's questions and the teacher's responses. There are often things brought up that are not in the handouts and texts. It may be boring; it may be tough. Too bad. That's what school is about. Part of the learning process is sticking it out.

Don't come late or leave early.
It's rude to the instructor and the other students and it distracts the class. It's better that you don't come at all than for you to interrupt the lecture with your late arrival. You're entitled to a few emergency lates, but don't press your luck.

Don't distract the class with your noisy talking.
The adults in the class want to hear what the teacher has to say. Focus on the class and pay attention. Listen to what is said so that you don't need to bother the people around you with stupid questions. It's also rude to have your cell phone or beeper on in class. Whatever it is, it can wait.

Get your books and other supplies by the second class meeting.
No one is going to wait while you find the time to get your textbook. Show your commitment to the class by getting the books immediately. See your counselor about emergency financial aid for books if you need it.

Get all your schoolwork assignments done on time.
This is a no-brainer. Turn in your work. Just do it. Most instructors give you the list of assignments and due dates at the very beginning. It's tough giving a student a passing grade when he fails to turn in assignments. There is no way to "make up" days of work not done. It's not that hard; just keep up with it each week and you'll get it all done.

Set up a quiet place and time to study each day.
You ultimately only teach yourself. Instructors will help facilitate the process, but they can't make you learn. You've got to be serious about giving yourself the quiet time needed to just sit and read and study and finish assignments.

If you're ready to be a student, then read on:

The Basics, Part II
If you are like most students, you never really developed a system for studying. You have what is called an unconscious study method. This means that you muddle through courses somehow, taking too many or not enough notes, preparing for tests by reading and re-reading texts, rushing to finish assignments at the last moment-and somehow managing to be surprised by items you find on the final test.

Get out of the rut. Adopt a "conscious" method. In an "unconscious" method, you are always a victim. Take charge of your education with a consciously planned method. Follow these steps:

Manage Your Time
Business executives do it; doctors do it; you should too. When you were in high school, there were scores of people available to nag you into getting down to business and studying. One of the first things a person discovers in college is that these people drop away and you are now stuck with the problem of forcing yourself to hit the books. Assignments given at the beginning of the semester seem easy until the final weeks of the class when everything is becoming due. Lab work, which should have been done a little at a time over the weeks, suddenly piles up into a mountain which is threatening to collapse on you. Some people drop all their classes at this point, feeling overworked and devastated by the threatening assignments. What a waste! Avoid all of this by scheduling your time carefully during the semester. Make a plan and reward yourself when you stick to it. If you fail to plan, then you are planning to fail.

Find a Distraction-Free Place
Let's face it, almost anything is more interesting than studying. Your mind, rebelling like an undisciplined child, suddenly is fascinated by the bug crawling up the wall next to your desk. For the hundredth time, you gaze out the library window trying to spot that woman in your history class. You count the number of slats in the heating vent at your feet.

Don't cheat yourself. Get away from all the distractions. Establish a place that becomes your "territory" away from windows, noises, passing attractive people, and telephones. Make it a regular spot because if you study at the same place and at the same time each day, you "settle in" faster to the job of studying. You "condition" yourself to get down to business when you go there and the normal environmental distractions (bugs on walls, heating vents, etc.) lose their appeal. Be absolutely unavailable to visitors and phone calls during your study time and don't study in front of the television.

Light, Air, Temperature and Food
Some other problems should be taken into account also. How is the lighting? Too much bright light reflecting off of white pages will fatigue your eyes, give you a headache and cut your concentration. Not enough light can have the same effect. Do you study in a dark room with just a small intensity light over your work? Don't. The contrast between the dark room and the white pages is bad for your eyes. Is it too hot or too cold in the room? lf it's too warm, you might fall asleep. Extreme cold inhibits memory, but it's best to keep the room on the cool side. Slight discomfort seems to help the mind concentrate. Is there enough fresh air in the room. Your poor brain is starved for oxygen in a stuffy room. You may not think you need air when you study, but have you ever felt "hung over" after a session of study? Not having enough air will dull your mind and put you to sleep.
Your mind is lodged in a body which must be considered in the study program. Sufficient light, heat and fresh air are all necessary. How about the way you sit? Remember that if your body is relaxed and too comfortable, your mind dulls and sleep will likely result. So don't slouch at your desk; sit up straight. Avoid easy chairs. Somehow, a little discomfort seems just right for keeping the mind alert. Never read in bed. When a person gets into bed, the purpose usually is to go to sleep. Reading in,bed and periodically falling asleep over a book will often condition a person to fall asleep whenever he is handling a book. Get your work done, then go to bed.

Let your physical needs help you get your work done. For example, if you are hungry for a snack in the middle of a chapter, make a deal with yourself that you won't get the snack until you've finished the chapter. Make up little rewards for yourself for finishing assignments. Promise yourself a soft drink for successfully finishing your lab work. Put off calling your friend until you've reviewed your French. Having a tangible reward helps you to focus your attention on the subject and the quiet gnawing desire for the reward encourages you to go faster.

Are You Organized?
Have everything you need in one place. This includes pens, pencils, reference books, paper, notes and the textbook. You'll break concentration if you keep jumping up to find the things you need. Also, keep your notes legible and organized. You don't get any points for having the neatest notebook around, but their no good if you can't read them either.

When reading an assignment for class, don't just passively read over the pages and assume that you'll retain the information. Forgetting begins immediately after you close the book. Reading actively takes so little time yet pays big dividends in retention.

Make the Effort
Above all, make the effort to concentrate. We are all bombarded with a tremendous amount of information during the day and we have become adept at filtering out most of it. We are so skilled at this filtering process that many of us have a serious problem just paying attention. So make the effort to concentrate in class; make the effort to remember as you read your text; make the effort to take notes and study them. Make the effort the first time through and you will find that you are getting more out of your classes and actually need less time cramming before the final test. You are your own teacher. Take responsibility for your own education.

If you are bored, you only have yourself to blame for it. Boring people will be bored. It's not the professor's job to entertain you. Bored people are not taking responsibility for their own education. Even if the presentation is dry, find some area of the subject that you can explore intelligently. Most professors give you a lot of options about the subject area of the term paper. Find something about the subject that enthralls you and go with it.

Back to Start.