Student Success Stories: James B.
James B.'s Academic Success Story
The most important thing that you need to keep in mind when going to college is the fact that YOU ARE NOT IN HIGH SCHOOL ANYMORE. Hours needed for studying will be longer, assignments will be more difficult and time consuming, and professors will expect a greater level of professionalism in reports and presentations.
That shouldn't be surprising to you, but what is surprising is how many students I have seen that haven't realized college and high school are truly different until their sophomore year. This may be due to the fact that some students are able to be successful in some of the "101" level courses with the same study habits as in high school: stay up late the night before the test and cram, wake up early, skip breakfast, cram some more, take the test, get an A, forget everything. In college, this strategy will only work for so long. If your goal of success is not only to get the grade but actually learn the material, those same habits aren't going to fly.
So, what can you do to help you get out of those high school habits? Well, I've come up with a mnemonic device to help remember four habits that lead to academic success using the word ROAD which stands for:
Read the Material Ahead of Time;
Organize Your Time and Thoughts;
Apply What You Learn Whenever Possible;
Develop and Discuss Your Ideas with Your Colleagues.
Read the Material Ahead of Time
Instead of cramming at the last minute, keep up with readings as listed on the syllabus, which is usually given at the beginning of the semester. If there's no syllabus, the professor will tell you at the end of class what material to have read before the next class. By reading ahead of time you have something intelligent to say if the material is discussed in class. Also, the material in the discussion or lecture won't sound like news to you, but instead will reinforce your understanding of the material you read. Or, if there was a part of the reading you don't understand, you'll have the opportunity to ask a question to specifically address your problem. On that note, joining in discussion in or out of class does not make you a nerd, brown-nose, suck-up, etc., but I'll touch on that later. You'll be surprised how much you'll remember when you sit down for a test just by having read the material before class discussions or professor lectures.
Organize Your Time and Thoughts
You probably hear a lot of people telling you to manage your time wisely, but what exactly does that mean? Well, first let me say this, I am not really an organized person, by any definition of the word. Keeping my time and thoughts organized takes some work for me and it may for you as well. For me, keeping my time and thoughts organized means writing down and keeping track of assignments in a calendar as I get them. I also try to keep a nice balance of things I enjoy doing and things I have to do; in other words, balancing work and play. That doesn't just mean separate times for work and play but also separate places. Separate places allow for different mindsets and better focus on your work. You should also remember to do things besides school work to keep your mind from "frying" and to experience new ideas and activities that will also make a part of who you are. In the words of Mark Twain, "Never let your schooling interfere with your education."
This is very important, though; don't do your homework, read class materials, or write papers in the same place where you sleep, play video games, watch movies, etc. Colleges have computer labs and libraries for a reason. You may be comfortable in your dorm room but being in the same atmosphere where you are used to having your fun could distract you from getting the most out of the time you spend doing school work. Just as you wouldn't go to the library to play XBOX, don't sit in your room to study for an exam. For the most part your thoughts will get distracted and you will waste the time you've set aside for school work.
Apply What You Learn Whenever Possible
I remember the second semester of my junior year when I was taking a class on consumer behavior. There were countless times that I would be out doing my normal shopping and couldn't help but notice other shoppers and stop and observe the way they behaved with certain advertisements or the ways in which they chose the products they buy. There were even times I would tell friends the reason they chose a particular product over another was due to their nostalgic attachment to the brand name. Then as they stared at me with a who-are-you-and-what-did-you-do-with-my-friend? look on their face, I'd stop, think about it, and say to myself, "Whoa, that was scary. I'm really learning this stuff." Applying what you learn in class to everyday life helps to reinforce the concepts and put it into terms which are easier to understand and recognize.
Develop and Discuss Your Ideas with Your Colleagues
I said I would touch on class discussion again and here it is: do it whenever you can! Just remember this, for most people high school was free; in college it's the opposite. Getting your money's worth out of class and being good at the primary reason to come to college, to learn, does not make you a brown-nose, suck up, etc.
During my freshman and sophomore years, I was the type of person who understood the readings but never wanted to speak up in class because, as Hollywood tells us, smart does not usually equal cool. THAT I regret because I simply did not learn the material as well as I could which meant I had to relearn material at the start of each semester.
If you read the material and come into class prepared to thoroughly discuss the content, you not only better learn the topic but also leave a lasting impression on the professor, which in some cases could make the difference between a C+ and a B- or B+ and an A-. Oh, and remember that unspoken rule in high school about class discussions? Come to class, contribute one comment to the discussion and then zone out for the rest of class. That doesn't work in college.
And discussion with your colleagues doesn't just mean in-class discussion nor does it mean discussion with only students. You will likely find, especially in your junior and senior years, that you will develop a relationship with professors, sometimes on a first-name basis. I am lucky being at a school like Stetson with such small class sizes that I am able to get to know my professors and frequently interact with them. However, even at big schools, where classes can sometimes have 500 or more students, you can still be able talk to someone more knowledgeable on the topic than you, whether it is the professor or their assistant, just by setting up an appointment. As long as you act professionally, professors usually will treat you as a colleague.
Take the fullest advantage of this relationship. If you don't have anywhere to go right after class and you have questions, stick around after class and talk to the professor about it. Again, not only will it give you a better understanding of the material but will also make a positive impression on the professor and help to create a good reputation that will be carried over into other classes.
Now, maybe this seems like a lot of information, or maybe it just seems like common sense. Either way, we all tend to forget it from time to time, so, just remember ROAD. These four topics certainly aren't all you need to be the best that you can during your college experience, but if you're just starting off, they are a good way to get you started on the road to success.
Finally, what typically what keeps me motivated is having something else that I love to do to distract myself at times. For me that thing is making music. Probably the most effective thing for me when I'm having a really rough and busy week is setting a fun and important event at the end of the week. I guess it's like creating my own light at the end of the dark tunnel of work.
Also, I try to reflect on the good things I have already and how I can only make that better and try to downplay in my mind the importance of the grade. Then of course there is the always helpful to do list which just feels so good when you check thing off as finished.
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