Freshmen: get a head start, define study habits

CBy Harlan S. Hansen

college entrance brings new experiences: more free time, less parental control, new friends, a great variety in choices of things to do, roommate adjustments and financial decisions. These provide new challenges and opportunities for growth. But the amount of time needed for those activities competes with those that are needed to establish a strong academic record. The following are some hints to make sure your academic program stays in focus.

Realize that college is different from high school. Time management is one major difference to which you must adjust. Faculty members who know you year-to-year are no longer present. Strong peer groups that provided identification and support are replaced with strange faces and a greater need to solve problems alone. It’s a whole new scene -accept it, begin to understand it, learn from it and be ready to adapt as needed.

Get a good start to ensure a successful four-year academic record. While the experiences listed above offer prospects for exciting growth and can consume a lot of time, the main reason for going to college is to receive an education. There are several reasons why getting a good start is so important. First, study skills mastered early make later study more enjoyable and successful. Second, you should declare a major within one year of school. A strong grade point average will assure entrance to majors of your choice. Finally, beyond graduation there are graduate programs that use the undergraduate GPA as a major criterion for entrance.

Attend class sessions regularly. Go to class every session to keep up-to-date on the material. That goal might be challenged in a course that has poor instruction. After a late night out, it may be tempting to sleep in, thinking you can get notes from others or catch up through the readings. Friends who want companionship for nonacademic outings might exert pressure to skip class. Remember that the main purpose of being there is to receive an education. Making regular attendance in class a habit is the first positive start toward that goal.

Keep up-to-date on course readings. Completing readings that correlate with class lectures is one of the most efficient forms of learning. In courses other than science and math, it is too easy to think that studying the days before midsemester and final tests is sufficient. It occasionally works in the short run but rarely in the long run. Keeping up-to-date on readings makes periodic quizzes easier to ace.

Understand the “two-for-one” study principle. The “two-for-one” study principle suggests that you devote two hours of study outside of class for every one hour spent in class. Set aside specific study time for each course and stick to that schedule. Read the material once and then go over it again. There may be interruptions in this plan, but it is easier to deviate from and go back to an existing plan than to establish time blocks along the way.

Find a study buddy, especially in science and math courses where learning is sequential. Success builds upon mastering each step and getting help is a smart move. Make arrangements with your study buddy to meet before each class. Compare answers. Then meet briefly after classes to make sure you both understand the upcoming assignment. These regular collaborative experiences are almost like having a private tutor. Therefore, pick people who are serious about their studies and change study buddies when it’s a one-way process.

Organize a study group just prior to midsemester and final exams. In courses that put a heavy emphasis on midsemester and final exams, invite a group of classmates to form a study team. Schedule several times to get together prior to each exam. One method for reviewing the materials is to have each person take leadership in asking questions from alternating chapters. When no one knows an answer, classmates look into the book or their notes until someone uncovers it. Have the group try to determine what questions might be asked on the test and then answer them.

Participate in class discussions. Instructors appreciate students who show an interest in their classes. Ask questions. Share an example that relates to the subject. Let the instructor know that you are intellectually involved in the course, not simply in attendance. Because so few students participate, the ones who do stand out.

Make term papers a work of art. Term papers are a major part of many college classes. Put your best effort into them. First, start work on term papers early. This provides opportunities to refine parts of the paper before handing it in. Second, outline your ideas so all of your efforts are targeted to that end. Third, find some unique resources. Become familiar with the libraries and the services they have to offer in uncovering information from a variety of references. Fourth, edit your paper, and when you are finished, ask someone to proof the paper for typos, spelling, grammar mistakes and clarification of ideas. Make your paper stand out from the others and be a positive reflection of your ability to interpret and expand course material. Because there will be many term papers to come, doing them well and early in your education makes them that much easier later on.

See the instructor if you’re having trouble with a course. Even with the best study habits, there may be a time when a course appears difficult. Often this awareness comes after the first major exam. Some students decide at that time to drop the course and take it at another time. Don’t do that. You’ve already invested a lot of time in it. Make an appointment with the instructor to talk things over. Keep this in mind: when an instructor is grading work and sees a low score, he or she has no explanation of the reason for it. Make it known that you care about the course. That’s why it is necessary to make an appointment right away. You might not understand the content. You might be inexperienced in taking certain kinds of tests. You might have a personal problem that temporarily got in the way. Explain this to the instructor and solicit help. It is the instructor’s responsibility to provide you with direction and assistance.

Know that there is help available. The University and its colleges have many services available to students who are having problems. There are study skills laboratories for academic assistance. There are student counseling services to help with adjustment problems. There is special help in dealing with family matters that interrupt studies. There are offices that provide help with matching students to majors when interests change. Ask for assistance in identifying your individual learning style so you can make needed adjustments. These services are already paid for by tuition, so take advantage of them.

Get to know your adviser and get a new adviser when you are not receiving appropriate assistance. Advisers vary in their approaches to advising and their availability to students. Meet with your adviser regularly, not just when a registration signature is needed. Keep your adviser abreast of your progress. From time to time, you might need an exception to the program, a substitute course or need help in solving a unique academic problem. In those situations, an adviser signature might be necessary. Don’t come to those situations as a stranger. Most advisers do wonderful jobs. If your adviser is distant or unavailable, ask other students to recommend names of advisers who care. Select one you feel comfortable with and ask if he or she will be your adviser. Remember that it is your education and you deserve a cooperative and helpful adviser. Take whatever steps you need to assure that your best interests are being attended to.

Keep your parents regularly informed of your progress. Share with them the excitement of an outstanding test score or paper. Let them know that their financial sacrifices in providing all or some of your education costs are paying off. Let them share your pride in your accomplishments.

Embarking on a college education is a privilege that can lead to a satisfying career and a fulfilling life. Start now by establishing positive study habits that will last throughout the experience and carry over to become positive work and leisure habits. Show yourself and your instructors you have the ability to organize your time, master learning and produce quality thinking. With a strong academic start, those other college adjustments take their rightful place.