How to Make the Best Out of Your Semester

Most students worry about making the best out of their semester which is usually gauge by the lessons you have learned throughout. But a more important thing is – how?

Organization This is usually self-explanatory for college students who have a hard time coping with time management and even studying. But here are some practical things you can follow –

•Take notes – “A dull pencil is better than a sharp mind.” This is usually one of the greatest adages that you can follow about studying and learning. There are things that your sharp mind tends to miss later on but when you write everything down on your notebook or post-it papers you enhance your chance at remember it later on.

•Agenda list – It is important that you make a regular weekly list of itinerary. Your agenda should give you sense of direction and purpose making everything better every day.

•Real time inbox – This is a figurative term which simply refers to a permanent place in your room or apartment where you study. This is where you will place all your notes, books and assignment papers.

•Get to know your professors – Search engines usually give you short biography on your teachers. Alternatively and more accurately, you can search about them in your school library. Learn about their research interests and knowledge.

•Study partner/mentor – The secret to success is not about being alone but being able to find someone who can understand your habits and study style.

How to Survive a Pop Quiz

Some professors like to torment their students with surprise quizzes and in-class assignments to see if they’re paying attention and keeping up with homework. If you haven’t been paying attention and you aren’t a good test taker, you may fail the assignment. Here are some tips to give you a chance at passing a test you’re not prepared for.

Multiple Choice

  • If two answers are extremely similar, it’s usually one of these two
  • Correct answers will almost never spelling or grammatical errors
  • For numbers, you’re safest choosing a number in the middle
  • Watch out for absolute answers, such as “always” and “never”
  • More often than not, “all of the above” or “none of the above” is correct

True or False

Some professors like hiding trick questions in true or false exams, so be extra careful when reading the questions. You only have two choices, which mean that you have 50% chance of getting the correct answer.

  • Lookout for small contradictions or inaccuracies. If one detail is false, the question is false.
  • Take note of qualifiers in the sentence like most, all, sometimes, never or rarely. They sometimes drive the question false depending on the question presented.
  • Watch out for absolutes – things usually aren’t “always” or “never” (see how I always use most of the time)

How do you handle a surprise exam that you have never prepared for?

I just registered for college…now what?

College is the turning point in the life of most students. But, achieving academic success in college is also a struggle for most. How do other students manage to achieve their goals?

Selecting the Best Place to Study

The most convenient way to study is the dorm room if you are living in one but it is usually a very poor place to learn anything. It is a haven of temptations and distractions from television to friends going about the hall to your bed. Studying in your dorm room is bad enough and lying down on your bed while studying is even worst. Before long, you will realize it’s already morning and you still have not gone further than page 1 paragraph 1 of the book you were holding.

Therefore, the first thing that you need to do is to find yourself a study place. It should be a place that will promote learning, productivity, efficiency and concentration. It should be the place where you spend your time working on your academics.

You can try to experiment on what works for you. Make a set of criteria like the level of noise, availability, cleanliness and accessibility.

Developing Study Skills

Once you have found the perfect place to study, you need to get started on developing your study skills.

  • Break subject matters into manageable chunks
  • Use your free time during daytime to study
  • Spend more time on difficult classes
  • Review notes, ask questions and discuss things with peers

All of these are the basic skills you need to work on. You will achieve academic success in no time if you follow them religiously.

Tips to improve your study habits

If you polled 1000 college students asking their reasons for studying, none of them would say because it’s fun. Studying is one of those things like cleaning the gutters; you do it because you benefit even though you’d rather be doing anything else. Here are some ways to improve your study skills.

When studying, the easiest way that you can hurdle formulas, definitions and other concepts that need to be memorized is through mnemonics. It is the most common study skill among college students.

It is stressful to read out one whole chapter from a book. Making an outline of what you are supposed to study will help you study quickly. The main advantage of reading and writing is you will memorize the key concepts quicker.

There are test exercises or mock quiz from books or better yet you could make one for yourself. The idea here is so that you can gauge how much you have already studied.

Some people say too much and too little of something is bad. This is the importance of taking breaks in order to allow your body to recuperate and your brain to digest the information you have studied. Have you heard of saturation? This happens when no matter how hard you try to retain the information you are studying you can’t. You need to take a short break in between study period to allow memory retention.

Cramming 101

Cramming has different views, some say it’s great, others disagree. Personally, I always cram at the last minute, especially for classes I don’t feel are pertinent to life or my career (classes like history or biology). Yes, it’s nice to know that stuff, but it’s not important enough for me to spend hours learning it all. So, I’ve devised a nice, easy way to fit as much info into my brain in a short amount of time long enough to be good for a test.

1. Figure out what you need to know.

This is the most important step. Don’t try to force feed your brain information that isn’t important. If you have a hard time figuring out what your professor will test over, ask someone or go through the book. Most chapters have key facts, a summary, etc. that outlines the most important things.

2. Timing: Give yourself enough.

It’s best not to start at 2 am the night before a 9 am test. Cramming works best the night before, but with a good amount of sleep. A foggy brain doesn’t recall well. Make sure you have enough time to cram, depending on the material, at least a few hours, and enough time to get a decent sleep.

3. Mood: Be in a good one.

If you’re upset, distracted, pissed, whatever, it’s going to affect your cram session. Try to relax, forget about the outside world. Do whatever you need to, even if that means *gasp* going to the library to find yourself a nice, quiet place. Personally, I hate the library. Something about the incredible quiet bothers me. Plus, it always smells like an old lady.

4. Make a plan.

Know how you’re going to go about this. Do you mostly need to learn vocab? Do you need to learn theories? Do you need to know formulas?

For classes where you need to regurgitate definitions, try creating a matching test at Easy Test Maker. It’s free and is easier and cheaper than flashcards. There’s also flashcard software available if you’d rather do that. Either way, this is a great way to memorize.

Multiple Choice
Most professors have two very possible, one could-be and one completely off choices on multiple choice. By the time you’re in college, you should be very familiar with this format and very good at taking them. So, study important facts, but focus on details. Anything bolded or reiterated in lecture and anything that might be related. Multiple choice is when you’ll be asked who passed the Emancipation Proclamation.

If your professor provides possible essay prompts, definitely take advantage and at least get all the information you’ll need. I don’t recommend actually writing the essay out, just write it in shorthand, get all the info out and how you’re going to answer the question. Read over this a few times afterward and then once again before the test and you should be set.

If you’re not lucky enough to be given the question ahead of time, you’re in for a little more work. Learn the big picture and a few things to fill in the lines. Once you have that down, bullshit is your best friend. Don’t make things up, just surround your facts with fluff.

Commonly confused words

The English language is very complicated and there are many sets of similar words that people have trouble with. Are you one of the many that confuse these words?

accept – to receive: “She would not accept my proposal.”
except – all but: “Everyone went except John.”

access – admittance, a way of approach: “No one had access to the room.”
excess – amount larger than needed: “He had an excess of paper.”

accent – particular way of speaking: “She had a New York accent.”
ascent – upward climb: “The mountain has a long ascent.”
assent – to agree: “The teacher assented to accepting a late assignment.”

advice – recommendation: “His advice was to study.”
advise – to make recommendations: “He advised me to study.”

affect (verb) – to influence: “Her actions will affect the rest of us.”
affect (noun) – an emotional response: “Even when his dog died, he showed little affect.”
effect – result: The effect of his good grades helped him get a scholarship.”

alter – to change: “She had to alter her plans.”
altar – platform in a church: “The priest stands at the altar.”

capital – 1) city/town that holds government seat: “Austin is the capital of Texas.”
2) supply of wealth: “You need capital to start a business.”
capitol – 1) U.S. Congress building in Washington D.C.: “You can tour the capitol.”
2) a building where a legislature meets: “You can go to Austin to see the capitol.”

conscience – sense of right or wrong: “Some people seem to have no conscience.”
conscious – aware of: “He made a conscious decision to help us.”

eminent – well known: “He is eminent in the field of psychology.”
imminent – about to happen: “The storm was imminent.”

stationary – unable to move: “I rode the stationary bike.”
stationery – paper for letter writing: “I bought new stationery.”

8 ways to aid your memory

It is easier to forget something than to remember so to help yourself remember something, apply as many of the following techniques as possible.

1. Be flexible. Experiment with what helps you remember, whether it’s a mnemonic or simply adding color.

2. Overlearn. Practice and reorganize what you intend to remember in as many ways as possible. Use it while speaking and writing, even act it out. The more time you spend, the more it’s ingrained.

3. Imitate. Schedule study time to reflect the time of day when you’ll be using the material (make study time the same as test time). Create a similar environment. Study without music if the room will be quiet. Study at a desk instead of on your bed.

4. Rephrase and explain. Try role-playing. Take the view of the teacher and explain the material to someone else, your dog, or a stuffed animal. You definitely understand the material when you can teach someone else.

5. Eliminate accidental and unrelated associations. A study situation where a phone rings constantly produces breaks in the association process. If you’re singing along to Eric Clapton throughout your study session, you will relate the material to Eric Clapton. This is only helpful if your topic is indeed Eric Clapton.

6. Eliminate previous mistakes. Take note of any previous mistakes you’ve made while studying and don’t do them anymore. If music distracts you, don’t play music during your next study session.

7. Decide on order of importance. Some things are more important than others. In a particular chapter or topic, decide what’s the big picture and organize everything else around that.

8. Become emotionally involved. This doesn’t always work with schoolwork, especially if you don’t care about a particular subject. But notice how you remember things you care about. If you can somehow relate the topic to something you care about, you’ll remember it better.

How to create a successful outline

Not enough people know how to properly create an outline and that amazes me. The first step is to actually understand the material you’re reading because if you’re simply taking chunks of the chapter, you’re not going to get anywhere. There are different types of outlines, there’s one that the professor wants you to hand in, outlining your research paper and there’s an outline of a chapter. This lesson is going to cover both.

Research outline

This will be the guts of your paper. Once you’ve figured out your topic and the general direction of your paper, creating an outline is pretty straightforward. You really need to know your thesis before completing the outline and my suggestion if you’re confused, is to not worry about the thesis until the end. Start with the information.

Once you’ve gathered your research, you generally know the idea of what you want to talk about first. If you’re completely lost, choose the idea that would be a great opener – something that’s controversial, interesting or your audience would agree with. To choose what’s next in line, ask yourself, “After idea A, what is an easy transition?” If you’re going from dogs to VCRs, there’s probably not going to be an easy connection. Transitions between different sections can be made very simple if you choose topics that seem to flow well together. Also remember that nothing is set in stone. If later you realize you should have put topic B where topic F is, change it.

Because this article is so long, I’m going to cut it off here and allow you to view the rest of entry if you choose to do so. (more…)

Research like you mean it

We’ve all had to write one before and if you’re one of the very few who haven’t, then you will get there. Some of us are lucky enough (debatable) to have had a research paper assigned in high school where the teachers walk you through everything and some of us are even luckier when our college professors are actually grad students who will do the same thing for us poor little freshmen.

In Comp I, we have three writing portfolios for the semester. The first is an autobiography, the second and third are collaborative research assignments. In the first, we simply gather our research and write source reviews. We don’t actually write the paper until the third project is due, which is the end of the semester.

Point is, research is important and here’s my tips on how to do it successfully.

Most research needs to be academic and professors usually want those sources to be from some sort of scholarly journal and if anyone’s had the privilege of reading one, they’re boring. How to get through all that material without killing yourself? Read the abstract, which most of them have. If you can sit through that, you can sit through the rest of the article. Read it in chunks. A few pages at a time, highlighting important information so you don’t ever have to read it again.

Make sure to bookmark or print out a copy and do your citation now. I keep a text document of all my citations so I don’t have to go find them at the end. Citation Machine is your friend, your hero and your savior. Choose the format (MLA, APA, Chicago or Turabian and simply input the information and it prints out the citation for you.

Zotero is a Firefox extension to help collect, manage and cite your research. I personally haven’t used it, but have heard great reviews.

To sum it up

  • Read the abstract or summary first
  • Read in chunks, taking breaks
  • Highlight
  • Bookmark the article
  • Make your citations now and keep a running bibliography

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