Friday, October 4, 2013

6 strategies for success in your first year of college

ace your first year of college
It’s perfectly normal to feel a little bit overwhelmed by your first semester of college. After all, it’s going to take some time to adjust to new classes, professors, and demands on your time, especially if you’re trying to balance them with your career, family, and other responsibilities.

But there are certain strategies that can not only make your first year less stressful, but help you set the foundation for success for the rest of your college career. Here are six strategies that our students have found helpful in the first year of their degree program.

Success strategy #1: Establish goals. What do you want to get out of your college experience, beyond earning your degree? Do you want to maintain a certain GPA? Take part in a set amount of internships? Be more involved in the college community? Network with colleagues, faculty, and area employers? Whatever your goal, just make sure it is right for you. An easy acronym to determine this is the SMART approach. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.

Success strategy #2: Manage your time wisely. You’ve probably been told many times about the importance of managing your time wisely, yet it remains one of the biggest challenges that adult learners face. One good way to get a grip on your time is to spend a week tracking what you do each day and the time it takes you to complete it. Then you’ll have a better understanding of how you should allot time for classes, course assignments, study time, personal obligations, and work. Even account for travel time, meal time, and leisure activities -- it all adds up. Then prioritize the most important activities so you can finish what absolutely needs to get done each day. It also helps to know when you’re most productive -- are you a morning person or a night owl? Schedule accordingly.

Success strategy #3: Be an active reader. Most professors require that you read your textbook chapters before class to be ready for discussion. To do this effectively, first read the chapter introduction and major headings to understand what the material is covering at a high level. Then examine any learning objectives provided -- what you should know once you finish the chapter. Next read the chapter carefully with a purpose to achieve those objectives. You should never highlight as you read. Instead, read the chapter once to understand the big picture and then go through again and highlight the most important information. Finally, test yourself on the chapter using any sample questions that are provided.

Success strategy #4: Take lecture notes using the 5 Rs. Taking notes during class is one of the best ways to retain information in addition to assigned reading. For the most efficient form of note-taking, we recommend using the five Rs:
  • Record -- Write the main facts and ideas your professor shares during the lecture.
  • Review -- Always review your notes after class. A brief review increases your retention of the material by 50 percent, according to “How To Study In College” by Walter Pauk.
  • Reduce -- After you’ve read through your notes, pick out the most important ideas and summarize them.
  • Recite -- Then imagine you have to teach the core concepts of the lecture to a friend -- how would you explain them? This can help you relate to the information better.
  • Reflect -- Think about what you have learned. Does it make sense? Are you still unclear about something? If so, reach out to your professor or classmate for clarification.
Success strategy #5: Prepare for tests from day one. Almost all professors provide a syllabus on the first day of class, including the examinations that will be given throughout the course. Take note of what types of exams you’ll be expected to take -- multiple choice, short answer, essay, etc. -- and keep those in mind when preparing for and participating in class. Then, at least one week before each exam, begin to:
  • Gather lecture notes, textbook notes, quizzes, handouts, etc.
  • Prepare a condensed set of notes with key takeaways and concepts, which could encompass flashcards, writing out answers to sample questions, or explaining concepts in your own words.
  • Set up group study times if working with others helps you.
  • Give yourself a timed exam to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Then go back over any ideas you need to understand better.
Success strategy #6: Treat every test as an opportunity. Tests are an opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge and abilities, and preparation using the above strategies is the key to success. Once it’s test-taking time, read all of the instructions carefully. Next, assess the amount of time you should allow for each question. Do not spend too much time on one question. Instead, note questions you are unable to answer immediately and return to them if time permits. Most importantly, know that a certain amount of anxiety is normal, but try to stay calm. Take a few deep breaths and focus on what you’ve learned -- you can do it!

We hope these tips help you strengthen your study skills and approach your classes with more confidence in your first year. Would you add a strategy to our list? Let us know in a comment below.