(adapted courtesy of Dr. V. Marcina & I.E. Naesse)
Many people make the mistake of confusing good grades with having a high I.Q. Good grades have very little to do with your innate intelligence. Rather, good grades are a function of your will. You must decide that you will do well in school, and then adopt a strong work ethic to help you achieve your goal. The following tips are designed for students who are serious about developing such an ethic and reaping its rewards: academic success.
These words or advice are tailored for students who are enrolled in my geography courses, but I believe you will find that most of what you read here will help you succeed in your other courses as well.
What to expect…
My course closely follows the syllabus, which is a very important document. It is akin to a contract between my students and me. It not only describes the course, but our objective: lessons, readings, assignments, grades and deadlines. Your first order of business is to carefully read the syllabus. If you object to any portion of the syllabus, you should ask yourself whether you want to remain in the class. One of the wonderful things about college is that you can choose your professors. Find the ones that will be most beneficial to you.
Once you have read the syllabus, prepare yourself for the lecture, discussion, reading and writing involved in a college level course. Community college is not easy college, its cheap college. I expect my students to perform at the college level.
Class attendance is imperative. It is the first step in being a successful student. In fact, study after study shows that class attendance is highly correlated with good grades. If you are not doing well in my course, or in any of your courses, you should first examine your absenteeism. If you have excessive absences (more than two), then you may find your grade will suffer. Some studies show that the difference between students with strong attendance and students with poorer attendance is an entire letter grade.
Taking good notes while you are in class is equally imperative. If you come to class and take naps, daydream, or doodle in your notebook, then you are not an active participant in your learning experience. Unfortunately, it’s easy to consider the class time as a passive learning experience, especially while your professors are lecturing. To avoid this problem, become an active listener. Here are some tips:
- Sit in the front of the classroom where you are less likely to snooze or daydream because your professor is so close. Avoid sitting in the back with your friends.
- Scan the text material to be covered before class. This will help you to recognize concepts and aid when you go back and read the text later.
- Take coherent lecture notes. The Cornell Note Taking system is considered one of the best. Look it up online and try using it yourself. However, there are numerous methods of note taking. Find the one that suits you and your needs. Also, rewriting and reviewing your notes as soon as possible will help you fill in blanks because the lecture is still fresh in your mind.
- If your professor writes it down, you should write it down, by your notes should include more than what is written by your professor.
- Notice the sequence of the course material during class. Note the major ideas and concepts. Note the examples used to illustrate the major ideas and concepts.
- Ask questions during lecture. Questions are not a sign of ignorance; they are a sign of intellectual curiosity. If you are unclear or confused by any of the course material, ask your professor to go over it again. Chances are you are not the only person who needs clarification.
- Make a friend in class so you can share notes with each other. This is especially useful not only if you have to miss class, but if you are learning how to take good notes. Two minds are better than one.
Discussions are an important part of learning. Students talk with their professor, their fellow classmates, and in the process they verbalize the course material in their own words and take ownership of their own learning. It is likely that over the course of the semester, sensitive topics will arise. Please remember that reasonable, intelligent people disagree. We may disagree with one another. We may debate one another. However we may never act in an uncivil fashion. Inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated in the classroom. So please come prepared to participate in discussions, listen to others’ views, and present your own in a respectful environment.
Reading suffers from the same problem that lectures do: we tend to think of it as a passive activity. Reading is not passive, it’s active! Becoming an active reader is an extremely valuable asset. Studies show that few Americans are functionally illiterate (24%), but that most Americans (though literate) cannot synthesize an author’s argument (80%). To synthesize an argument is to break it down and reorganize it. You have to decide which group you will belong to.
Active reading involves several steps. Answer these questions for yourself:
- Am I making predictions about the reading based on the titles, headings and topic sentences?
- Am I asking questions (and writing it them down) as I’m reading?
- Am I clearing up any confusion by rereading unclear passages?
- Am I summarizing the author’s main points?
If you answered no to any of these questions, you probably read in a passive way, which means you’re more likely to skim the readings, daydream or simply not get anything out of it. You’re professors don’t assign the textbook simply to line the publisher’s pockets. The authors of your textbooks are your alternative professors.
Here are some helpful tips to develop college-level reading skills:
- Read the material before you come to class. You’re more likely to take good notes, ask questions and participate in discussions if you already know something about the material before you come to class.
- Read the material in a timely fashion. Putting off the reading until the night before the exams will not help you do well in any of your courses. You’ll be much better off if you spend the days before the exam reviewing the material rather than learning it for the first time.
- Take notes on your reading. Write down difficult concepts. Write down questions. Bring these notes with you to class. Ask your professor for help.
- Geography is a very visual subject. Take time to review the figures and maps in your text as you read. Read the captions and make sure that you see what the maps are trying to illustrate.
- Do the chapter quizzes on-line at your textbook website to gauge your comprehension of the chapter topics. It’s better for you to discover your weaknesses by taking these quizzes than to wait until the exam to learn that you didn’t understand an important theory, concept or idea.
Attending class, taking good notes, and reading each help you to prepare for the exams. Keep in mind that it is much easier for you to prepare for the exam if you have already learned the material and studying means reviewing. I provide study guides to my students at least one week before the exam. Students who pay attention during lecture should be able to figure out what topics will be emphasized on the exam. Study guides are not substitutes for attending class, taking good notes, and reading your textbook. They are designed to help you focus your reviews once you have completed the above. If you do not have good lecture notes, the study guides will not be of much assistance.
Learning how to write will is a skill that will benefit you for the rest of your life. College-level writing means knowing how to construct an argument, articulating your argument on paper, citing relevant sources, and preparing a bibliography. Doing this will takes practice. Each of my classes has a final project that requires writing. Here are some tips to help you succeed on these assignments.
- If your writing skills are poor, enroll in English Composition or go to the Tutorial Center for assistance.
- Give yourself time to proofread your papers before you turn them in. Have a friend proofread your paper. Have me look over your paper. Once you have edited your paper, read it to yourself aloud to make sure your sentences and paragraphs are coherent.
- Cite your sources and provide a bibliography. If you do not know how to do this important task, then consult a style manual. The most common styles are APA, Chicago and MLA. The OCC Library has information for you on citations.
How can your professor help?
Your professors are not merely teaching because of their expertise, they also enjoy helping their students succeed. Most teachers teach for this very reason. Remember that we have been where you are today, and know what skills you will need to achieve academic success. Please feel free to come by my office hours to ask question, have me review your work or to discuss concepts from class. Feel free to email me with any of your questions. I am here to help.
Becoming a successful student is similar to becoming a successful athlete or musician. You have to make time to practice everyday to develop these skills.
Want more information on how to be a top student?
Try these books:
What Smart Students Know by Adam Robinson
Becoming a Master Student by David Ellis