Students are fast approaching the first big week of tests. Many college classes will have tests every four weeks. As a result every fourth week can be a stressful time for students.
It’s my experience that most of our students will approach studying for tests like they did in high school. If they do that, they will be really disappointed in the results they get. For some classes (like math and science), students need to start studying at least a week ahead and devote at least 10-15 hours of solid preparation. Few students will devote this amount of time for tests until they have seen what happens when they don’t study as much as required.
Here are some tips for students to do well in college.
- Make school a job. I suggest that students get up early and use their breaks between classes to study. If they do this, they should be done with most of their work by early evening.
- Learn in class. It’s surprising how students will just zone out in class. They end up having to teach themselves. Taking good notes can be a big help. I still have students coming to class with no paper and nothing to write with.
- Approach a test like a video game. Students are really good at thinking through a winning strategy in video games. Tests are really not that different. They just need to use the same approach to learning material in class that they used in mastering a game.
- Get a good night’s sleep before big tests. There is a lot of medical research that tells us that our mental functioning declines when we do not have proper sleep.
- Keep a planner to record assignments. Students are over reliant on their memories. It’s not uncommon for 25% of the freshman to forget to do the assigned homework.
- “Park down hill.” Many of us had a car that wouldn’t start very well. We had to park down hill to get the car started. The same is true about starting on homework. I suggest that students save some work to do that is easy or fun to do. This homework is a good place to start. Once they get started on homework, they get more motivated to continue.
- Turn off all of the digital devices while doing homework. Instant messages can easily make homework take 2 to 3 times longer to do. Cell phones are another major problem. I’m very observant when I teach. It’s amazing to see how many students are using a digital device during class. Obviously they aren’t learning anything at that time. Also, I see no need for a student to have a laptop computer in class.
- Reward yourself for good work. I suggest that students develop a way to reward themselves for a good test result or following a study plan. The reward can be something simple, but it should be something they don’t do unless they earned the reward.
- Have study dates. If your student is dating someone on campus, study dates are a great way to be together and to get the work done.
- Use on-line learning resources such as Khanacademy.org to supplement course instruction. In effect, this is a 24/7 tutor for math and science classes. I have had students really turn around their grades using this site.
I’ll conclude with stories of two students. The first was Adam. He did horribly his first year in college and was suspended. He sat out a year and when he came back I met with him often. That semester he had a 4.00. I asked Adam what made the difference. I’ll never forget his answer. He said: “It’s time”. What he was saying that he had the ability, now was the time to do it all.
I use this story in class. Now for the second story of Derec. I got to know Derec very well his freshman year. He was from Chicago. I first met him when he sent me a note that his best friend had been killed in a gun fight. He was very upset.
Derec was one of those students who just attracted trouble. He was constantly getting involved in situations that he should have stayed away from. We had long talks about this, but nothing seemed to sink in until Derec’s cousin was also killed. Derec found out that they wanted him as well. Obviously he couldn’t go home.
Derec’s grades weren’t very good, and he was suspended from the University. I lost track of Derec for a year until I received this email.
“Since I was suspended, I have enrolled at another university I am majoring in history education. I have gotten my GPA up from below 1 to a 2.7. I am more motivated to do my school work especially since I have a family. Everything has gotten better at home especially since I have stayed away from people who I tended to do things I probably shouldn’t have been doing. My future plans include joining the Army as a pilot. Like I had said I have also gotten engaged and have two children now, and partially because of them, my path is more narrow and the goals and how I have to achieve them are much more clear to me. I remember the lecture you had I believe where you had talked about a boy named Adam who had been suspended and when he came back had told you “It’s time”. I have definitely felt that revelation and it took until fairly recently for me to realize it.
I also want to say thank you for your help while I was there, and it has also helped me at my new school and in my personal life as well.
Students remember the stories long after they forget the content of a course. .