Student Success Stories: Jill S.
Jill S.'s Academic Success Story
One of the fundamental things I discovered -- to my shock and amazement -- is that I was never taught to study. I guess my [high school] teachers just assumed it would come naturally or something. And I guess it kind of did as I always got good grades in school until I hit college. Luckily, I was taught a study system in one of my freshman classes, and that kind of opened my eyes to what I needed to be doing. I don't really even remember the name of the system anymore. I kind of do my own system now, partly because I have to study in different ways for different classes.
I think one of the most important things to do during the first week of classes is to read -- and I mean really read -- the syllabus from each course you're taking. What I do is highlight the most important stuff about papers, projects, and stuff. Then, I go to the calendar section and transfer all the important due dates to my personal planner. That way, at any time, I can look at my planner and know what assignments are coming due in all of my classes.
My overall study method: I typically study or work on projects for a few hours each day -- usually between or after classes. I like doing it during the day, partly because my brain is a little fresher then, but also because it then frees up my evening for fun stuff -- social gatherings or just hanging out. I also do most of my reading for classes on the weekend, partly because those are days with no classes and big blocks of time, and partly so I can start the week having read all the material -- and then just spend the days of the week reviewing my notes and such.
My test study method: I have a couple of rituals I go through before big exams. I don't know if they really help or not, but ever since I started doing these things, I have done really well on my exams. So, I have a special set of songs on my iPod that I listen to the night before -- in between doing some last minute studying. They're just silly songs really, but they pump me up and get my blood going. Then, in the morning, before I head to breakfast, I watch a clip from one of my favorite movies -- it's just totally inspiring and sends me off with a great attitude and a smile. I also bring my iPod with me in case I get to class too early and people are talking about the test. Rather than getting caught up in all that, I just tune it out... literally.
I used to dread taking essay tests for a couple of reasons. Partly I just never liked having to know the material so deeply as you do for essay questions -- I mean, part of it was the courses themselves. But the other part was just not being confident in my writing, so I never wanted to have to rely on it for a good grade. Looking back, I kind of wish I had taken more writing classes because I have certainly come to use it quite a bit as a junior and senior.
Here's something that is almost guaranteed to help you with tests. Go to all review sessions! I have a professor who goes out of her way to schedule one -- sometimes two -- review sessions to help students prepare for her tests. And her tests are brutal! Not only do you benefit by gaining some further insights into the topics, and if you've studied some and have questions, have the ability to ask them, but just by showing up to the review session shows the professor you care about the class. One other thing that's helpful is that sometimes other students ask questions that you never thought about -- and it's a great way of thinking and learning about the material in a different way.
English, math, foreign language tips: I was absolutely terrified of math. In fact, the first time I took it, the professor gave a test on the first day. I was so freaked out, I never went back to the class and eventually dropped it. Only later did I learn that the professors does a pre-test on the first day to get a feel for everyone's skills level so he can tailor some of the early lessons. When I took it the second time, I was a little more confident because I knew more of what to expect -- plus I got to know the professor and he often gave me extra homework problems.
I thought I was a pretty good writer when I was in high school, but my freshman composition class was an eye-opening experience for me. At first, I hated it because I felt the professor devalued my writing. But as the semester went on, and I began to use the writing handbook and writing center, I learned that my writing skills were pretty mediocre. By changing my attitude, I was able to become a much better writer -- and it has served me extremely well in later essay exams, papers, and projects.
How I stay motivated: I struggled for a bit in college with some personal demons -- most of the time just wallowing in the self-pity I found as a safe haven from all the stress. While I did have some tough time academically, one of my biggest stressors -- and this sounds so petty now -- was how I looked, how I was perceived by people. I put on the "freshman 15" and then some, and even after I lost the weight, controlling my eating and looks became a big thing for me -- too big. I wish I had sought help from the counseling center and maybe made most of college a lot easier for me.
Stay motivated! Whenever I'm feeling a little down about school -- maybe it's a lower grade than I expected or dealing with a massive project that is just taking too long to complete -- I splurge on myself. It might be a dinner out with the girls or an afternoon of pampering getting a pedicure and manicure. Getting both physically and mentally away from school kind of recharges my batteries and I'm again good to go for a while.
Here are my final words of wisdom for students who want to get better grades in college: Here's a cool thing I discovered -- a little late in the game for me -- but something that can help other students. If you listen -- really listen -- to your professors when they are lecturing, they will almost always give some strong hints on which material is the most important -- and even how it might be asked about on the next test! One professor of mine would say something like, "this is one of the top 10 concepts we're learning this semester." Of course, I swear he used that line more than 10 times, but those concepts he mentioned were always focal points on his tests.
Return to more Student Success Stories.