Student Success Stories: Jessica W.
Jessica W.'s Academic Success Story
I think my studying definitely changed from high school to college. In high school, teachers assign lots of "check up" assignments to make sure you understand the material -- through things like homework, quizzes, practice tests, etc. In college, professors expect you to do these things on your own, without being told to. I had to really figure out what worked and what didn't study-wise in college on my own, because I really didn't have a study method in high school. By the time the tests came around, I'd been working on the material so much that I pretty much didn't need to additionally prepare for it. When I got to college, I realized that after a professor was done talking about a subject, they moved on... no rehashing the subject, no check up assignments, nothing. That was your job!
My overall study method: My overall study method includes a combination of reading and creating consolidated notes. In most classes that have a strong textbook component and lots of key terms and concepts, I usually make an outline of each chapter, highlighting main points and chapter definitions. I make sure to also come up with examples for concepts, because most teachers like when you can explain a concept with definitions -- it shows that you're really grasping the material. I combine class notes in with these chapter outlines so that I can have one main thing to study -- I don't have to go back to other notes or the textbook unless absolutely necessary. It's important to also remember to do these outlines right after a chapter is discussed -- most classes won't test you on material until they've covered at least 3 or 4 chapters, and creating outlines at the last minute is very time-consuming, so it's always best to prepare for tests before you even know they're coming!
My test study method: When studying for tests, I always try to find a large space of time in my schedule. I feel like I don't retain an adequate amount of information unless I actually give myself the time to absorb and understand the material. If you rush yourself, you'll feel more pressure and panic -- and panic usually never results in good test scores. I can also only study when I'm fully comfortable -- so I always have to remember to eat before studying, and get other small projects out of the way, so I don't think about them while studying. I never really liked the library because I've never felt as comfortable there -- but I've also chosen roommates who have comparable study habits to mine, so studying in my room was never really a problem; I could always get my work done.
Studying definitely changes from subject to subject, and also for different test types. In some classes, you know that teachers are more application-oriented... this could be anything from explaining a concept with examples outside of the classroom to being able to create balance sheets from a company that you didn't cover in class. This means that when you study, you have to be able to relate the concepts to something bigger -- creating multiple scenarios for certain topics, or doing additional mathematical problems outside of the ones completed in class will help you be able to apply the concepts, because creating your own ways of defining and computing ideas will ensure that you know the material. If you know your professor is this kind of tester, however, you really need to prepare ahead of time, so if you don't know something, you have time to meet with your professor and work out the kinks in your way of understanding the concepts... because if you ask them right before the test, they probably won't like it, and it won't give you time to absorb this new way of thinking about a concept -- because it's more than just memorizing.
For classes that are more definition-oriented, of course it's never a bad thing to try to memorize, but watch out for how professors' tests are formatted. If you know the exact definition, you're good for matching, writing out the definition, or fill in the blank questions. However, be wary of multiple-choice tests and memorization. Just straight memorizing won't give you the adequate rationale to always pick the best answer. This is where application and definition collide; you need to really understand the words outside of their textbook definitions in order to know how to answer multiple-choice questions. Applications of definitions are very frequent on most teachers' tests -- so make sure you know more than just the definitions, by studying examples and creating your own!
My time management secret: Well, I am a very busy person -- I think that outside activities are just as important to succeed in college as studying and staying strong academically -- so time management has been a struggle for me. The most important thing to do is map out when tests are throughout the semester, and always have your planner on you when going to meetings. It's always important to volunteer for additional responsibilities and you always want to go to every event that your organization is hosting, but you have to try your hardest to have at least one big block of free time (at least 3-4 hours) before an exam. Most people are very understanding if you have exams or projects due, but they won't be if you sign up for something and cancel at the last minute. Stay organized, and make sure you have time to have fun, and to study!
How I deal with multiple projects/tests: This kind of goes along with time management. If major exam dates and project dates were announced ahead of time, this means that professors expect you to plan your work time accordingly. Make sure you record exam and project due dates right when they come, and look ahead to see potential road blocks -- other exams/projects due around the same time, and other major commitments. If you already see problems, communicate this with your professor ahead of time -- they'd rather work with someone who is planning ahead rather than just working on something at the last minute. Anticipate the multiple deadlines, and prioritize your time studying according to the amount of time you think it will take to complete each project or study, and when it's due. Leave yourself a few days of "wiggle room" before something is due so you can tweak it to perfection, or if things just pile up too much, you won't feel so pressed for time and end up doing a sub-par job.
My overall study method: I usually have a few massive study blocks. It's always easier for me to concentrate on the subject material when I have more time to dedicate to it -- that way, I don't feel rushed, and I feel like I can take a longer time focusing on certain topics that I don't grasp as easily.
How I've overcome an initial bad grade: I'd be lying if I ever said it didn't hurt -- it's very discouraging when you get low grades. Fortunately for me, though, is that every bad grade I've gotten on a test or paper has usually been directly correlated to how much time/effort I spent preparing for the test. Whether it's not spending enough time studying or staying up too late the night before, or even not eating before the test, I try to take low grades as a reason to do better on the next assignment. It's hard to not feel pressure to perform well on the next test, but you have to go into every test with a clean slate and feel like you are doing your personal best -- and for me, whenever I feel like I did my personal best, I've usually been happy with my results. Always remember, as well, if you do badly on something and don't know why, it's a really good idea to talk to the professor about ways they suggest you should prepare for the next assignment. Especially with projects, doing the bulk of them ahead of time and continually checking in with your professor to make sure you're doing it right will increase your chances of having a good result.
My strategies for written assignments: Always, always try to do it ahead of time! I can't tell you I do that every time, but I've never been completely happy with finished products that are completed the night before/the day the assignment is due. There's no way to really fit everything you want to say in unless you prepare. What helps for me is usually making lists of things I want to include in each paragraph. I do research on each of those main points, and eliminate or add to the lists based on my findings. Then, I take my main paragraphs and write them out. By writing out the main paragraphs, I have a good idea of what the main point of my paper's going to be (for the introduction paragraph) and what conclusions I want to make at the very end. I cannot stress this enough though -- it's never ever a good idea to start a paper from scratch at the last minute! It'll only stress yourself out more in the end, and stress is not something you should equate with any type of assignment -- the more stress you put on yourself, the more you'll develop anxiety right before it's due and the more you'll let your body be affected -- mentally and physically.
How I succeed in team projects: It's always a good idea to have open, honest communication from the beginning with your teammates, especially on their work ethic on projects, how they usually do on them, and what their strong and weak points are. If you keep open, honest communication, you'll know exactly what to expect from each person. It's also important when working in a group to develop a work timeline and smaller team due dates aside from due dates assigned in class. This will keep everyone on the same track, and if someone starts to slack, it'll be easier to identify when they don't make the first deadline versus when the project actually has to be turned in. Also, if multiple deadlines are used in your group, designate someone who is really good with editing and organizing to put the project together and continuously work on shaping the final product. If this person works on that throughout the time they have to work on it, there won't be a last minute rush the night before to compile everything and make sure nothing's missing -- if someone's constantly editing and checking to make sure everything's included, if something isn't, they have more time to delegate someone else in the group to get that information rather than scrambling for it at the last minute.
I would have to say one of my biggest successes was last semester, in my Ethical Issues in Health Care class. I went in with a strong interest, which always helps when motivating you to do work, but I did not realize how much work would actually be involved until I got in the class. We had lots of chapters to read every week, and she always let the possibility of a pop quiz on the material hang over our heads. Usually that's a pretty strong motivator, but I strove to do more. I read every assignment, remembered to take notes on every topic, and kept all of my notes in a binder, making them easy to reference when having class discussions. I was always able to contribute to class, so my professor and I had a very positive relationship. My notes especially helped when it came time for the end of the semester exam -- it was a take home final, where we had to apply every concept we studied over the semester and answer all these very broad questions. It didn't take me nearly as long to finish it as everyone else because I worked so hard on understanding every concept and making notes over the semester, and my final product was a solid A in the course.
English, math, foreign language tips:
English: Always remember to work ahead of time -- and utilize writing centers! They will help edit your papers, so if you finish papers in enough time, they'll be more than happy to work with you and give you constructive criticism so you can get an A on every paper! If you don't give yourself that time to go over your work, you'll never learn from how you did on past papers -- you'll keep making the same errors in your writing.
Math: Do more problems than assigned! Continuous practice on applications of equations will get you more familiar with concepts, and tests that have questions you've never seen before won't be as scary.
Foreign language: Practice communication with friends! Straight memorization never works with foreign languages, because it's all in the applications of the words and grammar. Study with friends, have dialogs in that language, and figure out ways together on how to remember certain words.
How I stay motivated: I really think the best way to stay motivated is to find SOMETHING you connect with in the class. If a subject material bores you, try to relate it to something else that excites you. If you find something interesting about the subject matter, it will be much easier to retain information.
When you're struggling in a class, of course going to your professor is the first thing you should do. Your professor may be better able to identify what you're struggling with... whether it's writing style, inability to answer multiple choice questions, or studying techniques... and the professor will be able to give you tips based on what they have personally experienced, and what he or she has seen students do in the past. Another way to stay motivated, particularly in a situation where you're struggling or just lack motivation in general is to find motivation through friends. If my friends and I have big projects or tests in a week or two week span, we'll celebrate at the end of the week by going to dinner or the mall. You can go a step further also and say that you won't do these activities unless you achieve a certain grade. Something I usually do to justify doing some "retail therapy" is that I won't buy something really nice for myself, like a nice dress or something, unless I achieve a certain grade on a project or test. I try to limit those kind of purchases to whenever I have a reason to celebrate, so it gets me in the mindset that if I did well on something, I'll get something nice in return.
Grades and chances of getting into good graduate schools are usually pretty good motivators, but sometimes you just need an extra little push.
Here are my final words of wisdom for students who want to get better grades in college: Buy a planner! It'll be the best way for you to manage your time -- and the best way to get good grades is to learn how to manage your time. Also, try different ways of studying and completing projects your freshman year -- one method won't ever work for everyone, so you have to find what you feel comfortable with and the methods that help you retain the most information. There's no right or wrong way to learn information, you just have to find the way that's right for you, and stick with it!
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