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Know What to Expect in College

Varying class sizes

Class sizes vary, depending on the college and the course.  While most classes have fewer than 30 students, college classes can have anywhere from 15 to 200 + students.

The need for critical thinking skills

 In college, you have great deal of reading to do, and you are expected to understand and remember what you read.  You are also expected to be able to draw conclusions, form opinions, and evaluate the ideas of others.

More emphasis on test and less busywork

While all instructors assign work to be done outside of class, homework grades often account for only a small portion of a student’s final gade.  In many cases, the midterm and the final exam will make up the majority of a student’s final grade.

The need for personal responsibility 

In college, you have a tremendous amount of freedom.  No one monitors your progress, no one checks to see if you are going to class, and no one knows whether or not you’re doing your assignments.  You are responsible for your own academic progress.

Consequences for low grades

All colleges have academic standards that students must meet in order to stay enrolled.  Students who let their grades fall below a certain point are generally put on academic probation.  Most colleges require that students on probation bring their grades up by the end of the following term, or they are withdrawn from school.

Less time in class and more emphasis on independent study

In college, you are expected to do most of your learning on your own.  For every hour you spend in class, you should plan to spend two hours out of class reading, studying, and completing assignments.

Attend every class

The importance of regular class attendance cannot be overemphasized.  When you miss classes, you miss lectures, notes, class discussions, homework explanations, and   assignments.  Without meaning to, you may also miss quizzes, and even tests.

Be organized

Use an Assignment Notebook or Planner.  Take your assignment notebook or planner to every class and record each assignment under the date it’s due.  When your given a large assignment, use your notebook to break the assignment down into smaller parts.  For example, if a research paper is assigned on Feb l and it’s due Feb. 21, give yourself deadlines like the ones listed below.  Writing these deadlines in your assignment notebook will help keep you on track.  It will also ensure that you do your big assignments over a period of time, not at the last minute.

Example:         Feb. 5 – Complete research

                         Feb. 9 – Finish outline

                         Feb. 15 – Have rough draft done

                         Feb. 21 – Turn in final draft

Many instructors hand out a course syllabus at the beginning of the term.  A syllabus will list all of the assignments for the course, along with their due dates.  Whenever you’re given a syllabus, immediately copy the assignments into your assignment notebook or planner.

Get phone numbers for classmates

Make sure that you have a phone number or e-mail address for at least one address for at least one person in each class.  If you have a question about an assignment or an upcoming test, or if you miss a class, you’ll then have someone that you can contact.

Maintain a neat and organized study space

Set up a desk or study area with everything you need.  In addition to paper, pens, and pencils, your study area should be equipped with a calculator, dictionary, and thesaurus.  Keep this area neat and organized so that materials can be easily located.

Before you go to bed each night, get out everything that you’ll need for the following day (books, papers, etc.), and put everything else back in its place.  If there’s something you need to remember to do in the morning, write yourself a note so that you don’t forget.

In college, you and you alone are responsible for planning your day and managing your time.  One of the biggest mistakes that students make is thinking that they have “lots of time” to get things done.  In college, you cannot wait until the last minute to do your assignments or to study for tests.  It just doesn’t work.

Don’t overextend yourself

The first step in time management is to look at your life to make sure that you’re not overextended.) A full-time student who’s working 25 hours a week is overextended.)  If you feel that you are doing more than you can handle, look for ways to make your life more manageable, and try to make some changes.

Be organized

Being organized is a tremendous time saver.  When you’re organized, you know what you have to do, and you have the information and the materials that you need.  To help you stay organized, use a planner to keep track of your daily assignments, and a large wall calendar to record major events, projects deadlines, vacations, etc.

Schedule 90-minute study sessions

Sit down and study for 90 minutes.  During that time, focus on your work, and don’t do anything else.  If you set a specific time to get started on your studying, you’ll be less likely to procrastinate, and if you can stay focused for 90 minutes, you’ll be able to get a lot accomplished.

Make efficient use of your time

Consciously make choices about how to use your time.  You could, for example, decide to limit yourself to one hour of TV or socializing on weeknights.

Look for ways to streamline and combine tasks.  Study while you’re doing your laundry.  Get your exercise by jogging to the library.

Look for “chunks of time” that are often wasted, and plan ahead so that you can use these times more efficiently.  If you have 45 minutes between classes, use that time to study, run an errand, or talk to an instructor.  If you need time to relax, that’s fine.  The important thing is that you plan ahead and decide how you want to use that time.

Learn to say no

In college there’s so much to do and so much going on that it’s easy to get “sidetracked”.  It’s also easy to tell yourself that you’ll have time to study later.  Know what you need to do, and don’t let anything get in the way of your schoolwork.

Make to-do lists and prioritize items

Write everything that you need to do down on a list.  Then rate each item as an A (must do today), B (should do today), or C (would like to do today, but can wait).  Then, take all the A’s and rank them in the order of importance (1, 2, 3, etc.). Do the same with the B’s and the C’s.  Now, rewrite your list with you’re A’s at the top (in order of importance), followed by the B’s and the C’s.

Prioritizing your tasks only takes a few minutes, and once it’s done, you can focus on the things you need to do, and not waste time worrying about how you’re going to get every-thing done.

When you accomplish a task, cross it off your list.  At the end of the day, take the tasks that didn’t get done, and put them on the next day’s list.

Be prepared for each class

You’ll get much more out of your classes if you have your assignments done before you go to class.  Lectures will be easier to follow, and you’ll be better able to understand class discussions.  As soon as each class begins, give your full attention to your instructor, and be ready to focus on the presentation or lecture.  Of course, to be physically and mentally alert, you need to eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep.

Sit in the front of the class whenever possible

Research shows that sitting in the front of the class is directly related to higher grades.  It’s easier to pay attention, easier to hear the instructor, and there are fewer distractions.  It’s also easier to ask questions and to see the board, television, overhead, etc.  If you can choose your seat, sit up front.  If you’ve been assigned a seat in the back of the classroom, ask your instructor if it would be possible for you to move to the front.

Be on time to each class

Whenever possible, arrive early for class.  You’ll be more relaxed, and you can use the time to look over your notes, talk to classmates, and /or speak with your instructor.  When you are late to a class, you miss announcements and introductory remarks.  Your tardiness also tells your instructor that being on time to his/her class is nor a priority for you.

During the last 5-10 minutes of class, instructors often summarize the lecture or discuss assignments.  It is, therefore, important not to leave class early.  If you’re in a small class and you must leave early, let your instructor know before the class begins.

Taking notes to help you pay attention

You can think much faster than anyone can talk.  This is one of the reasons that your mind sometimes wanders when you’re actively listening in class, you’re not just hearing the words the instructor is saying, you’re also thinking about and trying to understand the information that’s being presented.

Recognize important information

You can often hear a change in your instructor’s voice when he/she says something that’s important.  Instructors often speak louder, speak slower, or they give verbal cues like: the most significant outcome,” “the main point” “the most important reason,” “the three causes,” etc.

Anything that your instructor takes the time to write on the board or overhead should be considered very important.  In your notes, underline or put a star beside anything that’s important.  You’ll then know to give that information special attention when you are studying later.

Go over your notes as soon as possible

While the information is still fresh in your mind, take ten minutes to go over your notes.  Clarify anything that’s confusing, use a yellow marker to highlight important points, and make sure that all of your words are written in the left-hand margins.  Taking a few minutes to correct and edit your notes will make them easier to study from later.

Of course, while you’re going over your notes and editing them, you are also “fixing” this information in your memory.  Studies on memory show that without review, 47% of what a person learns is forgotten in the first 20 minutes.  Editing and reviewing are the most important parts of note taking!

Frender, G. (2004). Learning to learn. Nashville, TN: Incentive Publications

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