Chapter 6: Acing Academics
Your success with your college courses could impact your ability to pursue an even higher level of education or to get a high-paying job after graduation. You understandably want to ace your courses with flying colors, but college courses can be much more challenging than anything that you may have experienced in the past. With the right strategy and tactics, you can improve your chances for success with each course that you take in college.
Passing a College Class
All college students want to pass their college classes on the first attempt, but you also may have a strong desire to ace the class with a high grade. There are many steps that you can take to potentially earn a higher grade.
- Attend Class Regularly. In order to earn a high grade in a class, you need to be present and alert each day. Your professor may go over valuable information that may be tested at a later date.
- Engage With Your Materials. It is not enough to simply read a book or watch videos. If you want to ace your classes, you need to fully immerse yourself in your studies so that you absorb the information that is being presented.
- Talk to Your Classmates. Your peers can keep you updated if you do need to miss a class, and you could also form study groups with them.
- Talk to Your Professors. Professors hold office hours throughout the week, and they are another great resource for you to turn to when you need extra help.
- Use College Resources. If you struggle in any area, use on-campus resources. This may include tutoring, writing centers or other resources.
- Manage Your Time. You cannot expect to excel in your classes if you do not have time available to study regularly.
- Keep Up With the Syllabus. Always keep up with your assignments and homework outlined in the syllabus.
- Form Study Groups. Study groups are a great resource for you to use when you are taking truly challenging classes.
- Ask for Help. When you need help, be confident enough to reach out to your peers, professors or others for assistance.
Many high school students pass through their entire high school career without actually learning how to study. When these individuals arrive at college, they struggle because they never learned proper studying techniques and strategies. These tips can help you refine your studying habits and techniques.
Identifying Your Study Habits
Before you can improve your study habits, you must understand how you currently study.
Do you simply read a book and expect to absorb the concepts immediately? Do you read the core concepts of each chapter before starting to read the content? Pay attention to how many times you need to see a concept before you understand it or remember it.
It may also be beneficial to focus on which time of day is best for you to study. Some people enjoy studying during the morning hours before the stresses of the day have impacted them, and others prefer the silence of nighttime to study.
Another important factor to consider is the type of learner that you are. Some people learn best by simply seeing the concept on paper. Others need to discuss it or have a lecture to fully understand it.
When you understand how you learn best, you can set up studying sessions based on your specific learning needs.
Finding a Good Place to Study
Where you study is just as important as how you study. Determine if you focus best in a quiet place, such as a library, or you prefer to have some background noise. Choose a regular place to study that provides the ideal ambiance for you.
While you want to be comfortable when studying, avoid laying in your bed. When you are too comfortable, you may lose focus or even fall asleep.
Employing a Note-Taking Strategy
Taking notes is an important aspect of studying. It requires you to write concepts down, and it gives you a convenient way to review concepts before a quiz or test.
- You should have a dedicated place to keep all of your notes, such as a notebook with pockets in it. The pockets are for handouts that you may receive in class.
- Always ensure that you have backup writing utensils in case your primary pen or pencil fails in some way.
- Some people even prefer to keep notes on a laptop. If you type faster than you write and if you enjoy reviewing notes on a computer rather than in a notebook, bringing a laptop to class is a great idea.
- In each of your classes, sit toward the front of the room to hear the professor clearly and to see the board.
- Handwrite your notes legibly so that you can read the notes later, and consider using different colored pencils or pens for easier understanding later.
- Anything that the professor writes on the board should be transcribed in your notes, and you can also write down your own notes in the margins based on things the professor says but does not write.
- Some people even record the audio of a lecture to review later.
Some people review notes only before a quiz or a test. However, if you want to keep up with concepts and avoid falling behind, it is wise to review the notes several times before each class.
Using Margin Notes
Some students prefer to make margin notes in their textbooks to draw their attention to key points or concepts. If you intend to study in this fashion, use pencil so that you can erase the comments before selling your books. You can also use small sticky notes in different colors to easily identify important concepts in the reading material.
For classes that require you to remember a significant number of terms or concepts, flashcards can be useful. You can benefit by simply writing information down on flashcards. Then, you can shuffle your deck of cards so that you do not simply memorize answers in a specific order. Each time you go through the deck, shuffle the cards again. You can even save the cards so that you can more easily study for a midterm or final, and you can bring them to your study group to share with your peers.
Setting Time Blocks
A great way to ensure that you tackle all of your studying tasks is to create time blocks for each separate course that you need to study for or each concept that you need to review. Approximately every 20 minutes, review what you have just gone over so that you can ensure that you understand it. Take breaks periodically to avoid burnout. If you find that you have more things to study than you have time available, consider listening to your recorded lectures at an accelerated speed.
Some college students struggle to get through their courses on their own, and they miss out on the benefit of study groups. Study groups are a great way for you to make friends, but more than that, you can learn new studying techniques and hopefully earn a better grade in the class.
Benefits of Joining a Study Group
In addition to potentially scoring better on tests, quizzes and more, study groups may also help you in other ways.
- You can improve your note-taking abilities by seeing how other people take notes.
- You can also set aside a specific amount of time to study, and this can help you to avoid procrastinating or getting distracted.
- Some study groups may pair you with those who are less knowledgeable, and you may be required to explain concepts to others. This can help you learn the material.
- You can get answers to your own questions.
- When a large assignment is given, your study group may divvy up the assignment into smaller sections so that you can save time completing the project.
Developing an Effective Study Group
Some study groups are more effective than others. If you want to create an effective study group that benefits all participants, focus your attention on these factors:
- The Participants. The ideal group size is four to six students. Choose participants who are not overly chatty and who are as dedicated as you are. Ensure that each person may contribute to the group rather evenly. In a larger group, you may find that socialization or laziness with some group members becomes problematic.
- Place and Time. When you are developing a study group, you need to find a place and time that works well for all group members. This can be a difficult. It is ideal to study in a quiet area, such as in a library study room or in an empty classroom on campus. The best
study session time is two to three hours. If necessary to meet several times per week, but try to avoid studying more than three hours at a time together in order to stay productive and focused.
- Structure. It may be helpful if you designate one person as the leader. This group leader can coordinate study group sessions and can outline what each session will be about. In some cases, leaders will designate which members are responsible for becoming experts in certain areas so that they can share their findings with the group. Remember that each person in the group has their strengths and weaknesses. The most productive groups will take advantage of individual strengths.
Your ability to study effectively requires you to manage your time well. Create a scheduling system that works best for you. Some people mark important dates for the entire upcoming month on a large calendar, while others create daily to-do lists. Time management skills learned in college may be useful later when you have a busy career.
- Organize Your Schedule. One of the most critical aspects of time management is organization. You must find a balance between classes, studying and work. Allocate enough time in your schedule for each of these important items as well as for personal or down time.
- Set Study Goals. Rather than simply sitting down to study at your allocated study time, have a list of goals that you want to achieve.
- Learn to Prioritize. There may be numerous to-do items that require your attention, but some are more critical. For example, studying for a test tomorrow is more important than working on a paper that is due in two weeks.
- Plan Ahead. The last thing you want is for due dates to creep up on you and force you to cram. Always review your syllabus for the next week or two, and create a plan to get everything done.
- Avoid Procrastination. Procrastinating can kill your time management efforts. It inevitably forces you to turn assignments in late, or to be unprepared for tests.
- Be Flexible. While you can create a schedule to guide your activities, be flexible. Your schedule is a guideline, not a strict structure for your week.
- Scale Down Your Big Tasks. If you have a major test to study for or a big assignment to do, consider breaking the task down into smaller and more manageable mini-tasks.
- Avoid Over-Committing Yourself. Some college students try to take too many classes while also interning, being involved in campus clubs and more. Understand your limits, and know when to say no.
- Stay Healthy. You cannot expect to perform well in school or to absorb concepts when studying if you are fatigued, poorly nourished or sick. Monitor your health, and always make smart decisions to care for your body.
Deciding on Your Major
A critical component of managing your course schedule each semester is to choose a major that is interesting to you. Select your major carefully. If you are thinking about changing your major, adding a double major or adding a minor, understand how this can affect the rest of your collect career. These are some of the things to consider when you select a major or minor:
- Your Favorite Classes. You should be interested in the major that you select. Avoid selecting a major based entirely on the income that you expect to earn.
- Your Interests and Strengths. Your major should be aligned with your values and interests. Ideally, you will also be passionate about the topic.
- Your Job Prospects and Earning Potential. Research job opportunities that may be available with your degree and what your earning potential will be. The degree should support the lifestyle that you desire.
Acing your college courses is possible, but it will take a considerable amount of work and the right studying strategies. Each semester, apply these tips to put yourself on the path to success. In the next chapter, we’ll deal with forming different kinds of relationships in college.