Basic Student Success Techniques

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Excelling in College: Techniques for Improving Your Academic Performance in College

  1. Be motivated to succeed! The most critical factor in determining college success is motivation. Strive to do the very best you can!
  2. Develop good classroom skills and study skills.
    • Attend all classes
    • Prepare in advance for class
    • Take good notes; if you have to miss a class, get notes from another student
    • Ask questions when you don’t understand something
    • Study notes and book daily
  3. Study effectively: Use distributed, not massed studying habits. In other words, spread out your studying over time vs. cramming at the last minute.
    • Research consistently shows that you will learn more, one, the more you study, and, two, the more you spread your study sessions out over time (the distributed-practice) as opposed to cramming (massed practice). Remember, research recommends that you study at least 2-3 hours for every course contact hour!
  4. Make time to study, and make good use of any “down” time.
  5. Read your textbook and review all notes taken on a daily basis.
    • Pay special attention to highlighted terms
    • Analyze how sections or chapters are organized
  6. Study difficult material first.
    • Although students typically allocate more study time for items that they believe will be difficult to master, they actually spend longer than necessary studying items they already know, and not enough time studying the items they have not yet mastered (Nelson and Leonesio, 1988).
  7. Be a DEEP LEARNER as opposed to a SURFACE LEARNER.
    • Deep learners: Actively construct knowledge; give meaning to material; focus on internal rewards (improving self); are self-motivated
    • Surface learners (usually “crammers”): Are passive learners; simply “rehearse” information; fail to tie information to a larger framework; focus on external rewards (grades)
  8. Study at a time of day (or night) that works best for you and when you are most alert. Also, get plenty of rest before studying, and especially before the exam!
  9. Minimize distractions & interruptions.
    • Avoid cell phones, texting, television, radio, roommates – hang a “DO NOT DISTURB” sign.
    • Divided Attention Research: We have limited ability in paying attention to two or more tasks at the same time (Broadbent, 1956; Westbrook, Britton, and colleagues, 1980s).
  10. Utilize Support Services: Student study groups; Faculty; Tutors; Mentors; Faculty Advisors
  11. Have positive peers and role models
  12. Enhance learning and recall on exams using encoding specificity principle (a.k.a., state dependent learning)
    • Recall is better if the retrieval context (i.e., exam) is similar to the learning context (i.e., studying). Study in an environment that is most similar to the testing environment. This includes physical location, clothing, beverage/food, medications, emotions and type of task/test (recall vs. recognition)
  13. The Testing Effect
    • Give yourself practice tests. Taking a practice test is actually an excellent way to boost your long-term recall for academic material. Testing provides practice in retrieving the relevant material (Roediger and Karpicke, 2006). So, utilize practice tests in textbooks or online, or just make up one
  14. Try to make sense out of what you are studying, even if it does not look easy! Remember, anything is possible.
  15. Don’t be overconfident in your own abilities and memory skills.
    • Research indicates that students: a) overestimate how they will perform when tested; and b) often believe that they understand material even when they answered the questions incorrectly, i.e., the overconfidence effect (Margaret Maitlin, 2008)
  16. Tip-of-the-tongue” phenomenon
    • The subjective feeling you have when you are confident that you know the target word for which you are searching, yet you cannot recall it. We typically remember the first letter and number of syllables correctly, but just cannot pull out the name/word. Strategy: move on; think of something else; it will come to you!
  17. Serial Position Effect
    • An interesting phenomenon that occurs when learning involves remembering things across time or in a specific order. The serial position effect is composed of the primacy effect (information at the beginning is remembered best) & recency effect (information at the end is also remembered best); information in the middle is not remembered as well.
    • How might the serial position effect be important in studying? Consider lecture material and the exam assessment when exams are given every two weeks; consider, also cumulative final exams — Place more emphasis in studying the material in the middle of these periods.
  18. Practice metacomprehension
    • Think about, evaluate, and adjust (as needed) your comprehension processes. In other words, if it isn’t working, fix it!
  19. Although you need to spend time studying, be sure you make time for yourself and the things you enjoy doing!

Best wishes as you pursue your educational goals!

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