Student Success Stories: Cayla C.
Cayla C.'s Academic Success Story
When transitioning from high school to college, the main change that was made to my studying was the time of day that I would study and do my homework. In high school, I would usually do my homework right when I get home from school each day and then work on bigger projects on the weekend. Once I got to college, and had a different schedule each day, with long breaks in between my classes and classes at different times, I had to study differently. Now I study before classes in the morning, on breaks from classes and at night. I've developed a new routine that is different each day. Just because you don't have class until 12 pm doesn't mean that you should stay in bed and not get anything done before your class. You really have to make sure that you use your time wisely, and that you develop a routine of studying or doing your homework that works for you.
Transitioning from general education classes to upper level classes also required changes. Many of my general education classes were easy, and I realized that I didn't have to spend that much time studying for them. Many of the classes didn't build on other classes so once the class was over you didn't necessarily need to remember all that you had learned in the class. Once I started taking classes that were in my major, not only did the classes build on each other, but I knew that I wanted to retain everything that I was learning in each class. It is really important that you don't just memorize the information, but that you actually learn it. The best way to do this is to study the information on a regular basis and review what you go over in class; don't just cram the night before a test.
My overall study method: I would describe my study method as proactive. I don't wait until I don't understand something or until I have a test to study. I stay on top of my work and start on projects soon after they are assigned. Each day I think about each of my classes and what is going on in them as far as what we are learning, what projects are in progress and when the next tests are. If I feel there is something I didn't understand from the day's lecture then I'll study it so that I don't get behind. You don't have to work on every class every day. Sometimes I divide things up and will spend one day doing work for one class and another day doing work for another.
My test study method: I would describe my method for studying for tests in the following three steps.
First, about a week before the test I look over the learning objectives (if a professor has given them out), or the main topics that we are being tested on and I look over my notes related to the topics at least once a day over the next few days. If there is anything I don't understand then I look in the book or ask the professor for clarification.
Second, as the test gets closer, I study my notes for about a half an hour to an hour each day, depending on the difficulty of the test. If the test is based more on information from the book, then I read the chapter and outline the chapter as I am reading it so that I have my own notes to study that are directly from the book. If there are math problems on the test, then I practice the different types of problems and make sure that I understand them
Third, the night before the test I look over everything once and make sure that I feel confident about each section that I am going to be tested on. If I am concerned about one area or section, then I review it again until I'm sure I understand it.
My time management secret: Stay on top of things! I always make sure I look ahead to see what is going on in the next week as far as work, homework, club activities, etc. in order to see what I need to be working on. That way I will have things done so that when there is something I want to do, I will be able to do it. Having a routine also helps. I try to get my schedule at work to be the same each week so that I always know when I have to work and am able to plan my homework and other responsibilities into the time I have. Don't just make a list of things that you need to do each day in your agenda, actually do them and then cross it off your list so that you can move onto something else.
How I study for multiple exams: I use an agenda to write down all the things I want to get done each day and then number them in order of importance and put a little box next to each item so that once completed I can mark it off my list. I prioritize assignments by when they are due and also how long I think they will take me to complete.
My overall study method: When studying for a test, I start early. If you start a few days before the test rather than the night before you can study for shorter periods of time and retain more of the information because you see it several days in a row. Another benefit from studying early is that if you find something in your notes or the book you don't understand you will still have time to ask the professor questions about it before the test.
On projects and assignments, I always start early and if necessary work on it over several days. By not procrastinating on assignments you know you have, you will be less stressed when you get an unexpected assignment that is due the next time class meets.
How I've overcome an initial bad grade: If I don't do as well as I had expected to on an assignment or test, then it motivates me to work even harder in the class. I'll study more and put more time and effort into my work for that class.
I also think that speaking with the professor helps, because that way they see that you are making an effort. Don't wait until the day before the next test or project is due to speak to your professor, go talk to them early. You will look better in their eyes if they see that you aren't waiting until the last minute and you will benefit from getting whatever advice they may give you earlier.
My strategies for written assignments: If you make an outline of information that you want to include in your paper and then do research on each topic and add it to your outline, it will make the paper writing process go much quicker.
How I succeed in team projects: If you are able to choose your group, pick people that you know you will work well with, who will do a good job and come to meetings at the time your group chooses to meet. Since most of the time you don't get to choose the people you work with on group projects, you have to learn to make the best of the situation. I've had both horrible and great group project experiences. If everyone is involved and interested in the topic than the project will go much more smoothly then if you have to spend time hunting down group members and breaking up fights within the group. Listen to everyone's ideas and use constructive criticism when discussing why to choose one way rather than the other. I also think its easier if you can divide the work up amongst your group and then when you meet you can spend time making sure that everyone is on the same track.
If possible, try to meet with your group right after the class that you have together so that they can't "forget" about the meeting and not show up. Also, always make sure that you meet with them and see how their part of the project is before the day it is due! That way if someone in your group did a less than wonderful job on their part, there is still time to try to make it better before it has to be turned in. Also, it gives you a chance to practice if there is a presentation involved.
My greatest academic success happened when I had a mid-term that was 50% of my grade in a class in which I had heard the test was very hard. I studied and studied and was so nervous that after I took the test I thought I had failed. When I got it back, I had gotten a 97%, the highest in the class, and ended up with an A+ in the course. My studying for the test paid off, and people who didn't study didn't do well at all.
English, math, foreign language tips:
In math classes, even though your professor probably doesn't collect the homework, still do it! A great way to prepare for the tests are to go back a few days before the test and start redoing all the problems from homework assignments, in class examples, and any other problems you can find in the book. This shows you the types of problems that you will have the most trouble with and where you should spend the most time practicing. I also used a spiral notebook for my math classes. I took notes in the front and did my homework problems and test review in the back half. It helped me keep organized and made it easier when I was looking for set of notes or a homework assignment.
In foreign language classes I found that making flashcards for vocabulary words and carrying them around in my bag worked best because I could always pull them out to review whenever I had a few free minutes.
How I stay motivated: To avoid getting burned out, I make sure that I make time for things that I enjoy doing so that I do not end up spending all my time doing homework. For example one semester I took a dance class which was a nice way to break up my day of classes and was something that I thought was fun. I also try to set smaller goals for myself when working on long assignments. For example, if I have a huge project due I'll break it down into sections and set a goal each day to get one of the sections done. When I'm working for hours at a time, I'll take a break and play with my dog for a few minutes so that I'll feel more focused when I get back to work.
Sometimes you'll have classes that you don't find interesting and the homework assignments will seem pointless. To motivate myself in these situations I try to focus on the end result, my final grade in the course. Even though I may not like the class it will still affect my grades so knowing that motivates me to do well. Also, I motivate myself to do the boring assignments by telling myself that as soon as I get it over with I can go do something I want to do and I will not have to worry about the assignment any longer.
My note-taking strategies: When I'm taking notes in a class that is mostly lecture, I write down the topic we are on and then make bullet points underneath. I just write down the main points, if you try to write down everything that the professor is saying then you are certain to miss something important that is being said while you are trying to write. For these types of classes I usually go back through my notes shortly after class and fill in other points that I remember while the lecture is still fresh in my mind. You can also go to the book and make extra notes on the topics that you feel you need to. Also, when I'm confused about something that the professor is talking about, but they move on too quickly for me to ask a question, I put a question mark next to the item in my notes. This tells me later when I am reviewing my notes that I need to either ask the professor or look it up in the book for clarification.
When the professor uses an example to explain something then I put "ex: (keyword that will remind me of the example)" in my notes. This way I don't have to write down the entire example but instead just have a keyword that will trigger my memory.
In classes that post PowerPoint slides before the class, I like to print them out in notes view and take them to class with me. This way I already have the main points written down and I can really listen to the professor and take additional notes as needed next to the slides.
Here are my final words of wisdom for students who want to get better grades in college: Don't procrastinate! Use your time wisely and make sure the work you need to do is done before you go do something with your friends. Don't forget that the main reason you are in college is to get an education and better yourself, so make that your top priority.
Attending a small school, I benefited from having professors that were very accessible outside of class. Even if you are at a huge school with 100s of people in your classes you should make an effort to get to know your professors, either by stopping by their office during their office hours or maybe staying after class a few minutes to ask them a question or discuss something with them that you found interesting in their lecture. Most of them have been teaching for years and will be able to offer you invaluable advice that you will not be able to get anywhere else. They can also help with what classes to take next, how to deal with certain professors, and other general questions that you may have about the school you are attending.
If you seek help from a professor for a class that you may be having problems in, it lets them know that you are making an effort to improve and if they see this they will be much more willing to help you in the future.
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