Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Academic Success Strategies

Now that you are several weeks into the semester, you probably have a better feel for things.  You've gotten to know your roommate, found all of your classes and are finally becoming accustomed to showering in flip flops.  But how confident do you feel academically?  Your first few tests are rapidly approaching so its time to talk about hitting the books!

How much should I be studying?

The general recommendation is that a college student should be hitting the books 2-3 hours a week for every hour spent in class.  That means, if you are carrying 15 credits, you should be spending 30-45 hours a week on work outside the classroom!  This time doesn't only need to be spent in studying.  It can also be reading before class, reviewing lecture notes, writing papers and working on projects.  The important part is that you put the time in!  For many students at the University of Scranton, this recommendation feels unrealistic at first.  A lot of freshmen never truly had to study in high school.  However, college tests WILL BE DIFFERENT!  It's better to invest too much time during the first couple weeks and realize that you can afford to study less than it is to put in a minimal effort and have to spend the rest of the semester trying to improve your grades.

How do I find the time?

Time management can be difficult your first semester.  It's hard to juggle all of your responsibilities and also spend 30-45 hours a week on work.  You must realize that what makes your time so valuable is that you have a very finite amount of it.  Recognize this value and invest it wisely.  There are a number of approaches that students find helpful:

  • Buy a Planner!  (or a large calendar)  If you haven't bought a planner yet, the time is now.  It's not realistic to think you can maintain your schedule in your head.  Once you have a planner, sit down with all your syllabi and record the dates for all major assignments and quizzes.  If you can't afford a planner, you can always print out a free calendar at places like this website!  
  • Make a Fixed Commitment Calendar!  On a fixed commitment calendar you plan for all of your fixed, or unchanging commitments such as the time you spend at work, in class or watching your favorite TV show.  Next you will plan out all of your meal times and study times as well as your recreation. Hang it somewhere visible so you can make more informed decisions regarding the way you use your time.
  • Plan for Large Assignments in Advance!  When you record all of your assignments in a planner or on a calendar, you will be able to determine if you have particularly hectic times ahead this semester.  Plan ahead for weeks with multiple tests.  Also, break down large assignments into smaller components with mini due dates to minimize procrastination.  There are a number of websites available to help you do just that if you aren't sure how to start on your own.  Here is just one example!
How do I study smarter not harder?

Location, Location, Location--where you study can be just as important as how much!  Find an area as clear of distractions as possible.  Your room is usually not a very good choice--there are too many temptations--the TV, friends across the hall, video games and your computer.  Also, planning to study on your bed is akin to planning a nap.  Remove yourself from most distractions either by going to the library or a study area in one of the buildings on campus.  You will finish your work faster and will be able to enjoy those other things guilt free.

Take Breaks--research shows that the average person can only concentrate fully for a maximum of 45 minutes at a time.  Try to avoid committing to a three hour cram session.  Set a timer for yourself and try to get up and take a short walk or move around a little at least once every 45 minutes to optimize your focus.  

Read and Review!  If your professor has listed chapters for reading, make sure you are reading them prior to class.  This will help you understand the lecture better and it will enable you to ask questions and be more actively involved in class.  The expectation is typically not that you will understand everything you read before class.  As soon after class as possible, it is wise to review your course notes.  Consider adopting a note taking system such as Cornell to optimize your interaction with your course notes.   

What about PowerPoints?   If your professor uses PowerPoints for notes, print them out and bring them to class to make additional notes.  

What if I'm struggling?
If you are struggling, don't try to go it alone.  There are a number of resources at the University of Scranton that can help ensure your success.  If you are struggling consider all of these options:
  • Talk to your instructor.  He or she is accustomed to answering questions about the material and will be able to help you decide how to focus your efforts.  If you are performing poorly but seeking help, that is generally regarded more favorably than if you are struggling and doing nothing about it.
  • Talk to your advisor!  We can help you discuss options and plan your next step!
  • Seek a tutor.  You don't have to wait until you are experiencing academic difficulty to seek a tutor.  Do it at the first sign of a problem.  The Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence offers one on one tutors as well as group tutoring opportunities.  Go here for more more information.  
Finding out More
If you want to discuss any of these concepts in greater detail, come to the Advising Center today! 

Katherine Robinson
CAS Academic Advisor