Think back to your college days. Whose advice about the “ins and outs” of life on campus did you most appreciate? In all likelihood, the insights you heard and received from your peers weighed fairly heavily in your decision-making process. After all, they’d already experienced many of the same challenges that you’d be facing, and therefore, their advice on such matters was tested and trustworthy.
Below, several participants in Cengage Learning’s Student Case Study Program pass along the successful study habits that they’d recommend to new college students as they prepare to enter college. Feel free to share the advice with your own students—and, if you have any advice you’d like to add, please do so in the comments!
The first tip I would (and have) given incoming freshmen is to utilize the free tutors available on campus when they first start to notice difficulty with materials. I was giving a campus tour to an incoming freshman just this past week and was able to impart that same advice to her. The student was relating to me the difficulties she had in high school, and how difficult it was for her to comprehend new materials. My campus offers free tutoring in a variety of subjects, and many students are unaware that all they have to do to access the services is go to the learning center on campus. Since I was giving her a personal tour of the campus, I was able to take her to the building and rooms that offered free tutoring. She was a bit overwhelmed to be coming onto a large campus after going to an incredibly small school for high school. I always try to encourage new students to utilize what we offer rather than letting intimidation curb their willingness to seek help.
As an older student returning to college after a number of years, I found that I had to dedicate a larger portion of time to my studies. In high school, I only had to read materials once or twice and I could make an easy A. At this point in my life, I have so many other obligations and responsibilities, my mind stays distracted. I find it necessary to schedule study time. Hours of study time, not minutes!! I have to read the materials, take notes, and rewrite those notes on index cards. I review my index cards whenever I have a spare moment. This is definitely a lengthier process than just reading a section a time or two. Making the time to seriously and sincerely study has helped to maintain a great grade point average. I do not see much of my family or friends before a major exam, but most times they are understanding of my process.
—Joy Springfield, Student, Trident Technical College
Since starting college, I would say that my preparation for tests changed drastically compared to high school. In high school, there would be tests every few weeks over a very small amount of material. This type of setting allowed cramming to be not only possible, but very easy to do and still do well on the test. College tests are notably different as there may be one or two tests throughout the course period with a final at the end of the course. Not only are there fewer tests, but the material covered in the same time period is exponentially larger. These facts made me break away from cramming for tests and start studying far in advance. If I know I have a midterm or final approaching, I will usually start studying five days in advance. While this may seem far in advance, I usually only spend one to two hours the first few days just reviewing the basic topics and getting them ingrained in my brain so they are second nature come test time. I make a calendar at the beginning of each quarter with the dates of all my tests and when my homework assignments are due so that I can plan this process out accordingly and not get stuck with too much work at one time.
Another strategy I use is talking to the professors and teaching assistants as much as possible. In entry level classes, there are typically anywhere from 200-300 students for one professor and three to five teaching assistants. With this large amount of people, it is very easy to skate by in the class without either the professor or teaching assistant even recognizing you let alone knowing your name. For some people, they enjoy this as they can skip class whenever they want and it will not affect their grade. The problem with this strategy is that teaching assistants are the ones who grade the problem sets and tests while the professor is the one who writes the test and ultimately decides the final grade. I try to visit the professor usually the week before the test during their open office hours to see if they have any helpful hints for the test. Most of the time they just give basic study tips but sometimes they appreciate the effort and might direct you to a certain topic they might focus the test on. Professors are assigned these office hours and many times no students show so they are very receptive to those who actually come. Many entry-level classes like this have very difficult exams in which the tests are arbitrarily curved to give a certain amount of each particular letter grade. If you put in the effort with the professor, they are more willing to bump you up to the next letter grade if they recognize your name rather than looking at a random name on the test.
—Zachary Kucera, Student, Northwestern University
Freshmen should take note that test taking will either be exactly the same as it was in high school or entirely different than in high school: so be prepared. It all depends on the class and subject of the test. Math and science courses will have tests primarily online and you will have access to the assignments passed online (providing that the professor grants access to them). Often these course require ebooks rather than textbooks, so it is also probable that you will be able to use them o the test as well. The kinds of classes are heading more to the digital realm, and the shift is even evident in test-taking. Humanities and social science courses however you will find to be much more “old school.” These are primarily essay and/or short answer tests and you will not have access to notes or material–unless of course, the professor is feeling generous and permits them, which you’ll come across every now and then. That’s always a nice treat! So, really it’s either exactly what you had in high school or is entirely different.
In order to prepare, all you can really do is study the best way you can, and as you always have. The most comfortable way you study is always the best way to go, and is of course always your best bet. My suggestion is to do the readings, do your homework, and make sure you study! Pay attention in class and make sure you are doing your best. Study hard, and good luck!
—Joy Hamilton, Student, University of Dayton
….When you are in college it is important to really devote your life to becoming a student. It becomes a full time job and at times can be very stressful, but the end result is entirely worth the work. When you accept the fact that you are a full-time student, the workload does not seem so overbearing, but instead regular. The mentality that a person has is half of the process to being successful in college. I know too many people who take up so much time worrying and complaining about their work that they waste more time being upset instead of just taking those moments to accomplish their tasks. I didn’t know this as a freshman. It is a shock when you go to school and it makes you scared when you see all of the work you have to do—so I get why students can get overwhelmed—but they may be able to prevent some of that.
I would also tell freshmen to buy their books and materials before class starts and to be prepared for the semester before it begins. I think that being stressed about your materials is unneeded anxiety and I believe that it is good to have some of your books before- sometimes it even allows for pre-class skimming. On the opposite side of this I would tell freshman to read and use their materials for class and that it is important to soak in as much information as possible from these materials. I think people take for granted what one can learn from these products that are extremely under used and appreciated. In high school I wouldn’t feel regret if I didn’t do the reading or put only half of my effort in, but now in college I feel lost if I don’t do an assignment the right away. College is serious so the things that you study and learn should be taken seriously as well. I think I would tell freshmean to be mindful of the different things you can learn about in one day and to embrace the differences in all courses, giving them all a chance to be your favorite course. Interestingly, I took an Anthropology course, which was fulfilling of a general education and it, ended up being one of the courses that I learned the most in and seriously enjoyed.
—Monica Rosenberg, Student, State University of New York at Oneonta