Do you want to use proven strategies for learning and performing well in your courses? Use these tips and tools to actively engage in achieving your academic goals. College academic success requires you to understand the learning process, actively engage in class, and utilize expert strategies in consistent out of class learning sessions.
Get Ready for College Learning
College academic success requires that you understand concepts deeply enough to apply those concepts to new situations. You must focus on how things work, interact, and influence each other. Bloom’s Taxonomy shows how levels of learning become more complex and gives examples of what you need to do to master each level.
|1.Remember||Memorize information||Answer what, remember, list, label, state, define, choose, find, select match|
|2.Understand||Explain the information||Answer why and how, explain, paraphrase, describe, illustrate, compare, contrast, interpret, outline, map, rephrase|
|3. Apply||Use the information||Answer what if, use, compute, solve, demonstrate, apply, construct, build, experiment|
|4. Analyze||Question the information||Analyze, categorize, separate, dissect, simplify, deduce, infer|
|5. Evaluate||Justify the information||Judge, criticize, justify, recommend, critique, assess, disprove, rate, resolve|
|6. Create||Build on the information||Invent, compost, formulate, hypothesize, design, construct|
A critical factor in college success is to develop a growth mindset. People who have a fixed mindset tend to say things like, “I am just not good at Math.” Someone who has developed a growth mindset might say, “Math is challenging for me. I will schedule regular practice times and meet with a tutor when I have questions.” Learn more about resilience to see more examples of fixed versus growth mindsets and to learn tips for how you can develop a growth mindset.
Establish a rapport with your instructors and teaching assistants. Be an active participant in class, answering questions when possible, and also plan to go to office hours to discuss topics from class. Remember that your instructors were once students like you learning material for the first time, and they will likely understand the challenges you may be having. They’re also a great source of advice for future career paths, research opportunities, and letters of recommendation.
To get the most out of your interactions, use your syllabus to identify the instructor’s office hours. Office hours are a good time for you to stop by with class questions, to review your study method for the course, or to discuss how you can learn the course content more efficiently and effectively. If the scheduled time doesn’t work for you, email ahead of time to request a meeting and offer some other times that you are available.
If you choose to engage via email or Moodle, allow 24-48 hours for your instructor to respond. Remember that these busy professionals often have research groups to direct, serve on committees and teach multiple classes. In kind, please be professional in your communication, use a subject line that is informative (for example, “Questions about the CHEM 1201 assignment due Friday”), use an appropriate greeting (e.g., Dear Dr. Smith) and a closing that will identify you (e.g., Mike Tiger, Section 3).
Storing knowledge in our long-term memory with the ability to recall and apply that knowledge requires repetition, critical thinking, and practice. The Study Cycle is a step by step guide to lead you through that process. The Study Cycle can also help you get the most out of your in-class time and your out of class time.
Watch the video below on the Study Cycle to learn more.
Launch Your Learning
The CAS Study Cycle guides students through steps to meaningful learning. The first half of the Study Cycle: “Preview, Attend, and Review” leads you to getting the most out of your class time.
Previewing the course content prior to class will help with retention, encourage deeper learning, and focus your attention. Use preview time to get a “big picture” of what you are getting ready to learn; you can do this by skimming the chapter or PowerPoint. Many instructors provide a course calendar with topics for each class, which you can use to organize your preview.
(Note that preview expectations can vary from class to class. Some instructors may provide content to be read in advance of class, then discussed during class.)
Attending class allows you to receive information directly from an expert in the field. In class, take note of the facts presented but also include stories and examples, which can help you be ready to apply the information to different situations.
Develop a notetaking method that works for you. Some popular notetaking methods include visual notetaking, sketch noting, outlining, idea mapping, flow charts or other charting, summarizing into sentences, and the Cornell method. For handwritten notes, print the PowerPoint or your notetaking template before class. If you prefer to use the computer, try notetaking or mind mapping applications like Microsoft OneNote, Apple Notes, mindmeister.com, or miro.com.
Good notes promote active listening, provide structure for studying, and promote critical thinking. Some tips for taking good notes include:
- Listen for cues indicating important information
- Use abbreviations
- Label sections and important ideas
- Use multiple senses: icons, colors, words, images, shapes
- Use fewer words
- Reserve space on your note’s pages for each section
- It’s ok if it looks messy or if you make a mistake.
- Try working with a note partner and reviewing your notes together after class.
After attending class, you need to review your notes. This step of the Study Cycle is done before you study the material from the lecture, and before the next class. Often, the sooner you review your notes, the better since the lecture is fresh in your mind. Here are a few tips for effectively reviewing your notes:
Fill in any gaps
Sometimes it’s hard to catch everything you need in class. If possible, try to fill in any gaps you missed during class as soon as you can. This will help you have a complete set of notes and spend less time going through other resources to fill in those gaps.
Annotate your notes
This will help you evaluate your comfort level with the material, and then prioritize what is most needed to be focused on during your study time. What is muddy? What are the key concepts/terms?
This can look like a lot of different things. Some students like to color code their notes. Others prefer a symbol system such as metacognitive markers:
Elaborate on your notes
Compare the information to what you already know. Write additional information from the text into notes. Question what you have written in your class notes.
Rewrite your class notes
Use an outline format that shows connections and relationships.
Master Your Learning
The CAS Study Cycle guides students through steps to meaningful learning. The final steps of the Study Cycle: “Study and Check” lead you to active learning outside of class and help you make the most of your time engaging in the course content.
Engage in Focused Study Sessions
Use Focused Study Sessions to plan and accomplish your goals. In your sessions it is important to actively engage with the material, so that you are thinking critically about concepts and practicing new skills. Some proven techniques for academic success include concept mapping, active reading, using graphic organizers, getting the most out of homework, and participating in study groups.
Concept Mapping is a visual representation of concepts: how they connect, move, and influence each other. Always start with the big picture, then move down to details. Recite concepts aloud and describe connections between the main ideas and the details of each.
View this Concept Mapping handout to make your own concept map.
You will likely read more during your college courses than any other time in your life. Be sure you’re actively reading and not just letting your eyes fall over the words on the pages.
Build the big picture and identify purpose
Be active to stay focused
It is important to be strategic and have a plan when working multi-step problems by noting each step and what each problem is asking. This can help you identify which parts specifically you may still be confused about.
There is a better way to do homework! Many students skip reading the chapter or their class notes and jump straight to doing homework. Instead, you should aim to learn the material first, then use the homework to practice.
For example, attempt to rework problems from class and the textbook without looking at the solution to make sure you have learned the concept and the process of answering the problem. Then, use homework problems to practice. Do as many problems as you need until you’re able to complete the problem without looking at solutions, hints or answers. This simulates the testing environment and gives you a better idea of how well you’ve mastered the process.
You may also be interested in forming your own study groups. Start by choosing 3-4 classmates to work with and pick a regularly scheduled time and place that works for everyone. Set an agenda for each group meeting, as well as deadlines for group tasks. Here are some tips for effective study groups:
- Attend classes and take notes
- Discuss your goals at the beginning of each meeting
- Review what you’ve learned (and what needs more work) at the end of each session
- Before leaving, set goals for the next session
Check Your Learning
By implementing this last, but important step of the study cycle, you can:
- You can use practice tests given during class and SI, self-created practice tests, quizzes or exams provided by the instructor or the publisher.
- You can pretend to teach the material to yourself or others, write out concepts, use flash cards, concept maps and rework problems without help.
- If you know which essay questions will be asked prior to the test, you can outline and practice writing the essay.
- Go back and review what you missed and why you missed it. You can use our Examine Returned Tests tool.
- How did you perform on your last test? Well or poorly?
- If you did poorly, now is not the time to give up, but it is time to take a look at the strategies you used to prepare and determine which ones worked and which didn’t.
- You can use our Examine Returned Tests tool to help, and find the right strategies to improve for next time.