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Developing Successful Study Skills

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Using the Syllabus to Help You

Whether you are taking a course online or face-to-face in the classroom, the course syllabus is almost always the first and most important document you will receive for the semester. The question is, “Do you know how to use a syllabus?” Instructors use syllabi to provide students with necessary course details. Syllabi include information ranging from assignment due dates to course objectives, instructor contact information to required materials, and more. View this sample Freshman Year Experience syllabus (PDF) to practice using a syllabus. The notes in blue ink describe why different elements are included in the syllabus. While you are looking at the syllabus, try to find the answers to these questions:

  1. Where is the instructor’s office located?
  2. What is the instructor’s preferred means of contact?
  3. What is the title of the textbook required for the class?
  4. What other materials are required for the class?
  5. How many points are assignments and quizzes worth?
  6. How absences are you allowed before you are given an “F” for the course?
  7. What is the class tardy policy?
  8. During which week will the “Administration Quiz” be given?
  9. When is the Mid-Term Exam?
  10. Can the instructor make changes to the syllabus after the semester begins?

Making the Commitment to Your Education

Whether you are a new college student, seasoned college student, or just starting to think about attending college, you’ve likely heard that the workload in college is different than the workload in high school. If you’re wondering just how different the workload is, our friends at Ferris State University have broken it down for us by looking at the time commitment and workload for an Algebra class:

In most high schools, a student enrolled in Algebra is scheduled to meet for one class period each day, five days a week, for 36 weeks, or a total of 180 hours. Even after making allowances for schedule in-service days, snow days, half days, and other excused absences, we can comfortably show that students receive 160 hours of instruction in this subject for the academic year.

At the college level, the equivalent Algebra course is scheduled to meet for one class period, three days per week, for 15 weeks, or a total of 45 hours. Remember, the course content is very similar or exactly the same. The difference in contact time, however, is huge – reduced by at least 115 hours! Obviously, college students must find a way to make up the difference and the only way they can do so is by spending at least 2 hours studying and doing homework outside of class for every hour spent in class. Let’s break it down:

45 In-Class Hours + 90 Study/Homework Hours = 45 + 90 = 135 Total Hours

We still haven’t reached the amount of time spent in class by a high school student! This simple breakdown shows that college students must expect to spend time outside of the classroom studying to fully learn and understand the material. However, with college comes freedom; freedom at a level that most, if not all, high school students have never experienced. You must make a commitment to your education; a commitment to use your newly-acquired freedom to study, complete your homework, and work to become the best student you can be.

*Content adapted from Ferris State University’s “Advice for Student’s Guide”

Effective Note-Taking Strategies

Have you developed a note-taking strategy that is beneficial to your learning and success as a student? If not, now is the time to explore different strategies to find out what works best for you! You may consider learning how to take notes in different formats to use for different classes, depending on how your instructors teach the class material.

One of the most popular note-taking strategies used by students is the Cornell Method. The Cornell Method involves the student dividing their page in two to make separate spaces for main points or summaries and space for more detailed notes. Dividing the note page also allows students to quiz themselves by covering one side of the paper and recalling what they have learned. Click here to learn how to use the Cornell Method.

Many students prefer to organize their class notes in an outline; the same way you might outline a research paper you are writing. When outlining your class notes, you can break down the material by main ideas or topics and supporting information. You can bold, highlight, or underline the main points of your notes to easily scan back through them and find certain information to study. To learn more about the outlining method of taking notes, click here.

You could also consider organizing your notes in a Mind Map. While it may prove difficult to create a mind map while your instructor is lecturing, due to the size and time needed for organization, a mind map is an excellent studying tool to create after you have left class. You can use a mind map to compile information from different sections or themes from your notes. Mindmeister is a free, online mind-mapping tool that allows you to create and save mind maps. This tool is especially useful for study groups because you can share your mind map with others!

When it is time to study for an upcoming exam, you will thank yourself for using a strategy that keeps your class notes organized!

Working on Your Homework

Completing homework assignments is a critical factor in passing a class. If you are struggling to understand your assignments, turn your assignments in on time, or do not know how to prepare for an exam, the resources below are meant for you!

First, consider how you work best. Do you prefer to study on your own in a nice, quiet space? Or do you prefer to study with a group of classmates? If you like to study on your own, find a space that promotes optimum studying. If you want to study with your classmates, but are unsure of how to approach this style of studying, follow the steps Skip Downing, author of On Course: Strategies for Creating Success in College and in Life, has given for starting a study group.

Starting a Study Group

1. “Choose Only Creators”

Who is a “creator?” A creator is an individual who carefully considers their options before making a decision, makes wise choices based on their considerations, and accepts personal responsibility for their actions. Downing instructs students to choose only creators as members of their study group. How will you know who the creators are in your class? Spend the first few weeks of class observing your classmates. Who speaks up in class with thoughtful and meaningful comments? Who turns their assignments in early and makes careful revisions to their work when necessary? These are the students you want to approach for a study group.

2. “Choose Group Goals”

At your first meeting, discuss the goals of the group and put them in writing. All group members should agree on the goals. Reflect on the group goals every few weeks to check your progress.

3. “Choose Group Rules”

It may seem strict to adhere to rules for a study group, but having rules will ensure your group meets regularly and your time spent at group meetings is not wasted. Rules may include where, when, and how often your group will meet, and the responsibilities of each group member.

Source: Downing, Skip. On Course: Strategies for Creating Success in College and in Life. 7th ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2014. Print.

If you are unsure of how to study to achieve optimal retention of the material, watch Dr. Stephen Chew’s 5-part video series on studying at the following links:

If you are having difficulty understanding your homework assignments and need additional support, visit NEO’s Tutoring Services page to learn more about our Tutoring Center.

For help writing essays and learning more about citations and references, check out the Online Writing Lab, or OWL, at Purdue. This website serves as a great resource for writers of all skill levels.

Participating in Class

Do you shudder when you hear that class participation contributes to your grade in a course? Speaking up in class and giving the answer to a math problem or sharing thoughts on a particular subject is intimidating for many students. In order to feel comfortable participating in class, you must first prepare for class. Before class, look over your notes from the previous period and read the textbook chapter that your instructor is going to discuss. Both of these activities are known as “pre-studying” and will help you prepare for class. The more familiar you are with the course content, the more comfortable you will feel participating in class.

Participating in class does not only mean speaking up when called upon by your instructor or chiming in during a class discussion. It can also mean working in a small group with your classmates. Working in a small group comes naturally to many students, especially those who easily assume leadership positions. However, many students struggle with small group work and feel uncomfortable in these situations. If you find yourself in a small group setting as a requirement for a class and are unsure of how to approach this type of class participation, read through the resources at the bottom of this page under Learning with Others.

Another way you can participate in class is by being an active note-taker. Dr. Stephen Chew’s 5-part video series entitled, “How to Get the Most out of Studying,” includes strategies for how to take good notes in class. He also discusses how to take good notes outside of class when you are reading through the textbook. You will not regret taking thorough notes when it is time to study for mid-term and final exams!

Using Technology to Help with Learning

The internet is one of the most, if not, the most, readily available source of information for students. Information is updated at a constant online and access is nearly unlimited. However, this information is useless to you unless you know how to obtain resources through effective web searches and apply the content to your learning. NEO’s library offers students many avenues for research.

To discover the resources NEO’s library offers, check out the Online Library Orientation (PDF). The orientation includes general library information, instructions for using the Card Catalog, NEO’s E-Library, and EBSCO Database, and how to perform a Google Advanced Search.

For other online database searches, visit NEO’s Online Databases pages to explore databases that can be used on campus and also those that are available off campus.

If you are creating a digital story and require assistance, visit NEO’s Digital Storytelling page for WeVideo account creation instructions, equipment check-out possibilities, and a complete list of resources.

Other Technology-Related Resources

Preparing For and Taking Tests

Preparing for a test may elicit a variety of emotions. These emotions include fear, apprehension, overwhelm, confusion, and frustration. However, with adequate preparation, you can learn to feel less anxious as your test date draws near.

Studying for a test should not begin an hour or even the night before you are to take the test. You should continually be reviewing the material you learn in class. The Study Cycle breaks down how you should spend your time preparing and studying for class. If you spend adequate time studying each week, you will not feel rushed to learn, or relearn, material before a test. Frequent studying will help you retain the material. While you study, consider how you could link course concepts to the different areas of your life. If you can relate your learning to your personal life, you will be more likely to recall information on a test.

If you find yourself struggling to overcome test anxiety and it is inhibiting your ability to focus while studying or while taking a test, read through this information on Overcoming Test Anxiety.

If you prefer to study with a group of classmates, follow Skip Downing’s steps for creating a successful Study Group.

*Unless otherwise stated, the material published within this website is copyright of Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College (College). No part may be reproduced, in whole or in part, without specific written permission of the College. For further copyright information regarding NEO’s Student Success Resources, please contact the Success Center.

Success Center Administrative Assistant - Cristen Knight
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