|Doing Well in College|
Doing Well in College (back to top)
If you asked a cross section of students why they are in college,
probably get a wide range of responses. People go to college to
enrich themselves, to prepare for a specific career, to please their
or family, and for a number of other reasons. Whatever the reasons,
everyone hopes college will be a positive, worthwhile experience.
Many students, however, face obstacles to making the most of their
college. Such students come to feel that they can't do
required. But often their real problem is they don't know
do the work. Making use of the following studying tips and advice
you to take the fullest possible advantage of all that college has to
Having the Right Attitude
Your attitude must say, "I will do the work." As the
you must attend classes and complete assignments. When you hit crunch
you must do the plain, hard work that college demands. Some people
take on the
work and persist even when they hit snags and problems; others
on the work or don't persist when things get rough. This inner
to getting the work done is probably the single most important factor
for success in college.
Doing the Work Despite Difficulties
Some people joke that college orientationthe day or so before
of the first semesterlasts a year or more for many students.
is all too often true. You may find that the first year of college is
of unsettling change and adjustment. You may start questioning
personal values. You might begin thinking about career goals. You are
in a new
environment and must learn to form new relationships. If you have
from school for several years, or were never a serious student in
you may have to spend a good deal of time developing effective study
In addition, you may find that existing financial, personal, or
create even more stress during this already anxious period in your
Invariably, the students who succeed, in spite of their
determined to do the work. You too, despite the worries and demands
experience during a semester, must resolve to get the work done.
will lose valuable opportunities that may not come your way
Rather than trying to do the work, you may decide to drop a course
out of college for a semester. Your decision may be exactly the right
to do, but before taking such an important step, be sure to talk to
about your plans. At school you will find people to talk
advisers, teachers, and otherswho can help you get a
perspective on your
situation. From time to time, all of us need the insights into
we cannot possibly get alone, but that others can offer us.
Are You Avoiding the Work?
As the semester progresses and the work pressure builds, you must
make a choice.
You have two alternatives. One is to do the work: to leave the game
off the stereo or television, turn down the invitation to go out, and
alone to get your work done. The other alternative is to avoid the
as we all know, there are countless ways to do this.
Some of the tactics students use to avoid studying are described
you find yourself using these excuses or falling into these traps
you should do some serious thinking about whether now is the right
you to be in college. If you are unsure of your commitment,
along, trying to ignore the situation. Instead, make an appointment
with a counselor,
your academic adviser, or some other interested person. That way you
your problem and begin to deal with it.
"I Can't Do It"
Many students adopt a defeatist attitude from the very start.
cannot do the work, they don't even try. However, the only way
find out whether or not you can do something is by tryinggiving
best shot. Most colleges will give determined students plenty of help
available such services as tutoring programs and reading, writing,
"I'm Too Busy"
Some students make themselves too busy, taking on a job that is not
necessary or working more hours on a job than they need to. Others
in social activities on and off campus. Still others make personal or
problems so tangled and pressing that they cannot concentrate on
There are real cases in which people become so busy or troubled that
do their work. But there are many cases in which students
conflicts to have an excuse for not doing what they know they
"I'll Do It Later"
Everyone tends at times to procrastinateto put things off.
however, constantly postpone doing assignments and setting aside
hours. Time and time again they put off what needs to be done so they
TV, talk to a friend, go to the movies, or do any one of a hundred
Beware of convincing yourself that you work best under pressure.
may seem that you have your most interesting ideas the night before a
is due, or know best the material you study between midnight and two
for a nine
a.m. exam, you will almost certainly benefit from advance
preparation. One of
the truisms of psychological literature is that we learn things
are able to recall them longer, when we study material in small
several study sessions, rather than massing our study into one
This implies that all-night studying just before a test is going to
effectiveand a lot more tiringthan employing a series of
regular study sessions.
"I'm Bored with the Subject"
Students sometimes suggest that they are doing poorly in a course
instructor or the subject matter is boring. These students want
be high-pitch entertainmentan unrealistic expectation. On the
courses and instructors balance out: some will be boring, some will
many will be somewhere in between. If a course is not interesting to
should be all the more motivated to do the work so you can leave the
behind once and for all.
"I'm Here and That's What Counts"
Some people spend a good part of college lost in a dangerous
feel, "Everything will be fine. I'm here in college. I have
I.D. card and a backpack full of textbooks. All this proves I am a
I've made it." Such students have succumbed to a fantasy we
in at times: the belief that we will get something for nothing. Most
learns from experience, however, that such a hope is false. Life
us something for nothing, and college won't either. To become
want to be, you must be prepared to make a solid effort. By making
such a decision
and acting on it, you assume control of your life.
Getting Off to a Strong Start
Making a good schedule is one way to start out well in college. Many
require that all students have a fixed schedule their first semester.
if you have some choice about what courses to take, make sure you
college catalog closely. It may describe the content and objectives
courses and indicate prerequisitesother courses or experiences
have before enrolling. If you don't have the stated
prerequisites, do not
sign up for a course.
Before making up your schedule, it's a good idea to speak to
people who can help you select interesting and appropriate courses.
advisers, counselors, or upper- level students can give you sound
Try to plan your classes so you don't schedule on any day an
series of lectures or labs. Such a routine can be fatiguing and
from doing your best work.
Don't schedule more than the recommended number of courses your
semester. You don't want to end up with a heavy schedule and an
Learning the Ground Rules for Each Course
Another way to make a good start is to learn the ground rules for
each of your
courses. Many instructors explain course requirements in the first
be sure you're there and take notes. Your instructors may also
a syllabus or course description. Look at the syllabus carefully. It
where the instructor's office is, lists the instructor's
and presents information about attendance, quizzes and exams,
and so on. If such information is not covered in the syllabus or by
be sure to ask your instructor about these matters.
The first week or so of a new semester is generally hectic. If there
in your schedule and you can't make it to the first or second
the instructor know that you haven't dropped the course and that
to attend class regularly. Also, don't forget to get the course
and check with the instructornot other studentsabout any
during the classes you missed.
Keeping Up With Your Courses
If you have problems understanding the material in a course,
time complaining about the subject or the instructor. And don't
calmly and assume that everything will work out. Make sure you get
from another student or from your instructor. Many students are
go to their instructors for help, but that is why teachers have
Take advantage of these set-aside times.
Whenever you are absent, you should ask the instructor, not other
about missed assignments. It's wise not to rely on other
students for this
information because they may not have understood the assignment or
may not explain
it to you clearly. Your work will invariably reflect this confusion.
to your instructor, you will not only get the information firsthand,
also demonstrate your commitment to your work.
ACTIVITY #1: Evaluate your commitment to serious study. Print
and keep track of how often you use each of the avoidance tactics
|"I'm too busy."||Often||Sometimes||Rarely||Never|
|"I'll do it later."||Often||Sometimes||Rarely||Never|
|"I'm bored with the subject."||Often||Sometimes||Rarely||Never|
|"I'm here and that's what counts."||Often||Sometimes||Rarely||Never|
Making the Most of Your Time
All of us need free time, hours without demands and obligations, so
just relax and do what we please. However, it is easy to lose track
and discover suddenly that there aren't enough hours to do what
be done. No skill is more basic to survival in college than time
you do not use your time well, your college careerand the life
depend on how well you do in collegewill slip through your
following three methods will help you gain control of your time: you
how to use a large monthly calendar, a weekly study schedule, and a
weekly "To Do" list.
A Large Monthly Calendar
You should buy or make a large monthly calendar. Such a calendar is
method of time control, because it allows you, in one quick glance,
to get a
clear picture of what you need to do in the weeks to come. Be sure
calendar has a good-sized block of white space for each date. Then,
as you learn about exam dates and paper deadlines, enter them in the
spot on the calendar. Hang the calendar in a place where you will see
day, perhaps above your desk or on your bedroom wall.
A Weekly Study Schedule
A weekly study schedule will make you aware of how much time you
each week, and will help you use that time effectively.
Look over the master weekly schedule (Fig. 1.1) which one student,
to gain control of his time. Then read the points that follow; all
in planning an effective weekly schedule.
Rich's Weekly Schedule
Phy Ed =Physical Education
Important Points about a Weekly Study Schedule:
- Plan, at first, at least one hour of study time for each hour
time. Depending on the course, the grade you want, and your own
efficiency, you may have to schedule more time later. A difficult
for example, may require three hours or more of study time for each
hour. Remember that learning is what counts, not the time it takes
learn. Be prepared to schedule as much time as you need to gain
- Schedule regular study time. To succeed in your college
need to establish definite study hours. If you do not set aside and
to such hours on a daily or almost daily basis, you are probably
lose control of your time.
There are many values to setting aside regular study hours. First,
make studying a habit. Study times will be as automatically
your daily schedule as, say, watching a favorite television
program. You will
not have to remind yourself to study, nor will you waste large
time and energy trying to avoid studying; you will simply do it.
of regular study time is that you will be better able to stay up to
work in your courses. You are not likely to find yourself several
a test with three textbook chapters to read or five weeks of
to organize and study. Finally, as mentioned before, regular study
of the proven fact that a series of study sessions is more
effective for learning
material than a single long "cram" session.
- Plan at least one-hour blocks of study time. If you
than one hour, your study period may be over just when you are
up and working hard.
- Reward yourself for using study time effectively. As the
on operant conditioning in the chapter on learning in your
explains, positively reinforcing a certain behavior will likely
lead to an
increase in the probability of its occurrence. In other words, if
period of efficient study, you allow yourself to watch an hour of
or to telephone a friend (positive reinforcement), you will be more
to use your study time effectively in the future. Remember that
system won't work if you cheat! If you reward yourself with
and phone conversations with friends after not studying,
be just as likely to repeat the negative behavior (not using your
wisely) as the positive behavior (studying effectively).
- Try to schedule study periods before and after classes.
you should read a textbook chapter before a teacher covers it; what
in class will then be a "second exposure," and so the
likely to be a good deal more meaningful to you. You should also
your notes from the preceding class in case the teacher discusses
further. Similarly, if you take a few minutes to review your notes
after class as possible, you will be able to organize and clarify
while it is still fresh in your mind.
- Work on your most difficult subjects when you are most
routine work for times you are most likely to be tired. You might,
study a new and difficult psychology chapter at 8 p.m. if you are
alert then, and review vocabulary words for Spanish class at 11
you may be a little tired.
- Balance your activities. Allow free time for family,
television, and so on in your schedule. Note that there is a good
free time (empty space) in Rich's schedule (Fig. 1.1), even
classes, work, and study hours.
- Keep your schedule flexible. When unexpected events occur,
times on your weekly timetable. Do not simply do away with study
you find that your schedule requires constant adjustments, revise
two or three revisions, you will have a realistic, practical weekly
that you can follow honestly.
A Daily or Weekly "To Do" List
Many successful people make the "to do" list a habit,
it an essential step in making the most efficient use of their time
A "to do" list, made up daily or weekly, may be one of the
single study habits you will ever acquire. A weekly list should be
on a Sunday for the week ahead; a daily list should be prepared the
before a new day or first thing on the morning of that day.
Carry the list with you throughout the day. Decide priorities.
Making the best
use of your time means focusing on top-priority items rather than
completing low-priority activities. Place an asterisk (*) or an
in front of the high-priority items on the list.
Cross out items as you finish them. Doing this will give you a sense
as well as help you see easily what you still have left to do.
The monthly calendar, master study schedule, and "To Do"
with your own determination to apply them, can reduce the disorder of
life. Through time planning, you can achieve the consistency in your
is vital for success in school. You will probably get more done than
- If possible, study in a well-lighted place where you can sit
and be quiet and alone. If your roommates don't keep the
as you and are socializing or relaxing during your optimal study
to go the library or student center. Many dormitories have study
well. If you have one particular spot where you usually do most of
you will almost automatically shift into gear and begin studying
go to that place.
- Stay in good physical condition. You do not want to be
prey to quick
fatigue or frequent bouts of sickness. Eat nourishing meals; you
master a difficult psychology chapter more easily if you have had a
breakfast than if you had only a cup of coffee. Try to get an
average of eight
hours of sleep a night unless your system can manage with less.
to exercise on a regular basis. A short workout in the morning will
your energy flow during the day.
- Use outside study help when needed. Studying with other
be beneficial if everyone in the group is committed to doing work
helping each other to learn the material. Someone else may be able
concepts that you don't quite understand, and the camaraderie
just what you need to keep you going. Some students, however, use
in groups to procrastinate further. You may end up wasting hours
things that have nothing to do with your studies, or simply
how much you don't want to study. If you become part of a
force yourself to ensure that the group stays on track and is
helpful to you.
Also, find out if your school or individual departments have a
If so, do not hesitate to use the service to get help on a
or subjects. Determine if your school, like many, has a learning
you may work on developing writing, reading, study, and math
learn the office hours of your professors and plan to see them if
ACTIVITY #2: Evaluate your time control skills and study
out the following schedule and put an x in the appropriate column for
the following study habits.
|Study Habit||Presently Practice||Need to Plan|
|Use a large monthly calendar.|
|Use a weekly study schedule.|
|Use a daily or weekly "To Do" list.|
|Schedule as many hours as needed for a particular course.|
|Have rewards for using study time effectively.|
|Work on difficult subjects at times when most alert.|
|Reschedule study times when regular study hours are
|Study in a well-lighted, comfortable, quiet place.|
|Stay in good physical condition.|
|Use outside study help when needed.|
ACTIVITY #3: Now try your hand at putting together a weekly
using Figure 1.2.
Your Weekly Schedule
Studying Strategies (back to top)
Although you are expected to study and ultimately learn a wide range
you are rarely taught any systematic strategies allowing you to study
However, psychologists have devised several excellent (and proven)
for improving study skills, two of which are described below. By
of these proceduresknown by the initials "SQ3R" and
can increase your ability to learn and retain information and to
not just in psychology classes but in all academic subjects.
The SQ3R method includes a series of five steps, designated by the
S-Q-R-R-R. The first step is to survey the material by reading
of the chapter that give you an overview of the topics covered. Some
contain, for example, chapter outlines, chapter summaries, lists of
objectives, prologues and epilogues, or some combination of these
others. The next stepthe "Q" in SQ3Ris to
Formulate questionseither aloud or in writingbefore
a section of the material. Some textbooks contain critical thinking
that are a good source of questions. However, do not rely on them
Making up your own questions is crucial. You may want to write them
in the margins
of your book. This process helps you to focus on the key points of
while at the same time putting you in an inquisitive frame of
It is now time for the next, and most important, step: to
read the material.
Read carefully and, even more importantly, read actively and
instance, while you are reading, answer the questions you have asked
You may find yourself coming up with new questions as you read along;
fine, since it shows you are reading inquisitively and paying
attention to the
material. Critically evaluate material by considering the
implications of what
you are reading, thinking about possible exceptions and
examining the assumptions that lie behind the assertions made by the
The next stepthe second "R" is the most unusual.
stands for recite, meaning that you look up from the book and
and explain to yourself, or a study partner, the material you have
and answer the questions you posed earlier. Do it aloud; this is one
talking to yourself is nothing to be embarrassed about. The
helps you to clearly identify your degree of understanding of the
have just read. Moreover, psychological research has shown that
material to others, or reciting it aloud to yourself, assists you in
it in a differentand a deeperway than material that you
do not intend
to communicate. Hence, your recitation of the material is a crucial
the studying process.
The final "R" refers to review. As the chapter in your
memory points out, reviewing is a prerequisite to fully learning and
material you have studied. Look over the information, reread the
your textbook that provide you with an overview of the chapter, be
that you can answer any critical thinking questions, review
questions, and questions
you posed for yourself. Reviewing should be an active process, in
consider how different pieces of information fit together and develop
of the overall picture.
The MURDER system, although not altogether dissimilar to SQ3R,
alternative approach to studying (Dansereau, 1978).
In MURDER, the first step is to establish an appropriate mood
by setting goals for a study session and choosing a time and place so
will not be distracted. As mentioned previously, it is best if you
regular blocks of study time and select one place that you reserve
for studying. Next comes reading for understanding, paying
to the meaning of the material being studied. Recall is an
attempt to recall the material from memory, without referring to the
the material comes next; you should correct any recall errors, and
organize and store newly learned material in memory.
You should work next on expanding (analyzing and evaluating)
trying to apply it to situations that go beyond the applications
the text. By incorporating what you have learned into a larger
in memory, you will be able to recall it more easily in the future.
the last step is to review. Just as with the SQ3R system,
that systematic review of material is a necessary condition for
There are some principles of exam performance known only to
students. Millman (1966) defined test-wiseness as the ability to use
of the characteristics of tests and the testing process to improve
performance. Studies show that test-wise students do better in exams
& Bateson, 1994; Towns & Robinson, 1993). Here are the basic
- Know your stuff. The single most important point is to
have a good,
solid knowledge and understanding of the material being tested.
tips for doing well in college and managing your time, as well as
strategies described above, can help you to achieve this kind of
- Schedule your time. Look the test over and calculate the
can afford to spend on each item.
- Read completely. Be sure to read the entire item. If the
multiple choice, try to answer it before looking at the
alternatives so that
you will know which is correct.
- Eliminate options. If you don't immediately know the
eliminate unlikely options quickly, then choose among the
score may well be higher (Kim & Goetz, 1993).
- Look to other items. It is common for information in one
provide an answer or partial answer to another.
- Don't think too much. If you don't know an
down your best guess and come back later if time permits. Mark
are most uncertain of so that you can return to them later.
- Don't leave items blank. Despite rumors to the
is to your advantage to guess unless the professor will deduct
credit for guessing (Budescu & Bar-Hillel, 1993).
- Ask questions. Ask the professor or TA to clarify an item
- Review your answers. Time permitting, go back over the
before turning it in. If you are short on time, concentrate on the
items you marked.
- Change your answers! We emphasize this one because the idea that
you should never change an answer is so widespread among students and faculty
alike. It is a myth (Schwarz et al., 1991). Studies show that students change
answers from right to wrong about 20 percent of the time, but change them
from wrong to right 58 percent of the time (Benjamin et al., 1984). Other
work shows that 3 points are gained for every 1 lost by changing answers (Geiger,
References (back to top)
Benjamin, L.T., Cavell, T.A., & Shallenberger, W.R. (1984).
initial answers on objective tests: Is it a myth? Teaching of
Budescu, D., & Bar-Hillel, M. (1993). To guess or not to guess:
view of formula scoring. Journal of Educational Measurement,
Geiger, M.A. (1991). Changing multiple-choice answers: A validation
College Student Journal, 25(2), 181-186.
Kim, Y.H., & Goetz, E.T. (1993). Strategic processing of test
The test marking responses of college students. Learning and
Rogers, W.T., & Bateson, D.J. (1994). Verification of a model of
behavior of high school seniors. [Special issue: Cognition and
Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 40(2), 195-211.
Schwarz, S.P., McMorris, R.F., & Demers, L.P. (1991). Reasons
answers: An evaluation using personal interviews. Journal of
Measurement, 28(2), 163-171.
Towns, M.H., & Robinson, W.R. (1993). Student use of
in solving multiple-choice chemistry examinations. Journal of
Science Teaching, 30(7), 709- 722.