Friday, April 11, 2014

Secrets of college success, tips for getting good grades in college

Back then at my bachelor days, or even earlier, during my time in high school i was known as a nerd, a geek that was always studying instead of having fun (i may as well have been all that). Then the exams came, and people would look at me and say:

"You take NO CANDLE"

Oh wait, wrong line from another era. They would say:

  • How do you do that?
  • Tell us your secret?
  • You must be a genius.
  • Get a life?
  • You will end up unemployed anyways.
And here comes the punchline. I got stung today by some self-realization. I never studied a lot. In fact, up until the last two years of my bachelor's degree i was lazy, prefering to play World of Warcraft or spend endless hours with my girlfriend. But i had great grades. They could have been even better but i always managed to outperform better or smarter students. How did i do that? Is there some magic formula or just being good at it? Being able to guess exams? Being lucky or simply being able to digest massive amounts of information and knowledge overnight?


The list of people that can actually do any of those things is rather small.

You get the point.

In a previous post i said i would talk about how a fool with a plan is likely to outsmart a genius without a plan. I was a fool for doing a million things wrong, but where it mattered i had a plan. This applies here though you don't have to be a fool. There are certain things, tips if you prefer, that can help you pave the way to success, stardom and that really high GPA you crave and think is unreachable. Let's get to it.

1) Before the semester starts.

Preparation is everything. Time management as well. Read the academic calendar, it will help you notice the important dates and spring/summer breaks. Have a journal or a calendar to mark the future assigned papers and essays so you don't miss a deadline and have them handy.

Moving in another country? Dust off your language skills. I played a lot of online games so i kept my english skills sharp, it will definately help if you are moving somewhere else that the language is not your native one. Reading the news or even better, talking with a native person will work wonders for your language skills and confidence.

Get the required "hardware" so you don't have to run at the last moment and shout "У меня нет времени" (i don't have time). That consists: notepads, laptop, netbook, pens, etc. Will get back to that later. 

Quick-check the courses and the syllabus and do not miss orientation day. Do not pick courses blindly. Learn the facilities, settle at home, find out where you will eat, work out. Get a place where you can study, that inspires you. It does not have to be your home, everyone has his own preference or study style.

Relax, have some fun with your friends, let off some steam and take a breath, it's is going to be a long journey in pastures new.

2) During the first weeks/months of the semester.

Assess your situation. Set up a goal and have a plan to achieve it. Also eat healthy and sleep well, a tired brain will work against you. Picked up the wrong class or decided you could handle an extra subject but it pressurizes you? Is the professor bad, boring, or does not give a damn about his students?

Don't be a fool and drop the class, what good will it do if you are going to fail/pass with a mediocre degree or just scrape through if it has unecessary workload that interferes with you real priorities? It will just affect them and derail your plan, as well as it will have a massive effect on your confidence and your stamina. Being physically sick is not a good thing. College is a marathon, not a sprint.

3) The Professor is your friend, not your enemy.

Well, i know many people that are willing to bet against me in Greek universities, but in a country like Sweden where the teachers are young, thirsty to pass their knowledge and don't bring their political beliefs into class, they can be a powerful ally. College is not just attending lectures and reading books. Interaction with the professor can be the difference between an A and a B, or turning that B/A+ into an A.

Had a rough time or could not understand a part of a complex lecture? A simple question or just 5 minutes with him can maybe clear things out and steer you in the right direction. All of them have office hours especially for the students to attend. Hell sometimes they may even feel lonely. What is better for them than a student that is actually interested in learning something, a chance for them to pass all those years of experience. And we are talking about students with valid questions, not 
"Hey bro what class are you teaching?"
 Yes. That's a no go. Set up a meeting with your professor then. Show him a draft of your paper, maybe you got the topic wrong or you are stuck in a part that you need clarification. He can help. 

Ask constructive questions on the subject at hand in classroom, you can get bonus points if your question demonstrates some understanding of the material that he is presenting that day or in a previous lecture. Be combative and passionate, get into an arguement if you can, demonstrate those strong personality traits you know you have. It will break the monotony. But don't overdo it.

4) Read those red marker comments in exams/essays.

You think teachers correct your mistakes in order for you to feel ashamed and hide your paper from your friends or mother? This is a key part, one of the few times that you can get 1-1 feedback on your topic/essay/exam/mistakes from the professor. Study and analyse your mistakes, it will help you prevent them in the future.

5) Do not procrastinate.
  • You can run out of time.
  • Unless you are a born writer, it takes some time to put an idea together and turn a draft into a fully-fledged essay.
  • Something unexpected might happen and you will be into loads of trouble. The prof won't appreciate you begging for extra time.
  • A paper done overnight before the deadline will not be good enough.
  • No time to polish your work. Remember that slight line between a B and an A?
  • You sabotage yourself and your other courses.
  • It's not going to get easier if time passes.
6) Have a time-management plan.

Time management is KEY, i cannot stress this enough. Set up your courses well through the week and start working on those assignments early. You could be hit by 10 different deadlines and 3 exams in the same month and you will probably lose your sanity and go hunt white sharks in the baltic sea.

Sometimes i just can't help myself. Megalodon easter egg in BF4

7) Divide and conquer.

Large projects, assignments, papers, essays, can be broken into smaller pieces. That will give your ideas time to gel and the extra brainstorming might give you a breakthrough if you are stuck. While you sleep your brain processes the problem and can find a solution. Tip courtecy of The Secrets of College Success (Lynn Jacobs and Jeremy Hyman).

8) Save often, save early.

Not much to say here, but you would hate it if your hard drive crashes or there is a power outage. Go explain that to the prof.

9) Anticipate the exam material. 

The most important parts of the lecture are the first and last 5-10 minutes. The professor delves into the subject he is going to discuss over the next few hours. At first he is making an introduction, giving you quickfire tips about what is going to follow. Then in the end he is going to summarise what he said, helping you if you missed or misunderstood a part. Great.
Do not miss classes. Say that the course has 50 lectures per semester and you decide to skip 10. That's 20% of lost material that you cannot make up for.

Exam coming? Start early. Like a week or so before. The prof is leaving hints on what is going to show up all the time. If he stresses a point a lot, or he repeats it multiple times during the lecture, it's bound to be important. Understand the material, don't just memorize and do not read every lecture so focused that you forget about everything. There are time constraints. If you attended the classes you should have a clear idea about the topic, and if you studied efficiently you will have a firm grasp on the subject. Prepare a pre-test, or attent the professor's office, he might even drop a hint or two.

10) Eat and sleep well.

Last tip because i am a bit tired. You don't eat well? You better start now. You don't sleep well or enough? You WILL start now. The brain needs energy and a good reboot in order to function correctly and at maximum capacity. You will feel invigorated and it will show. NEVER do a last night reading marathon or you will degrade your performance and come up with many many excuses.

Sounds familiar? Not like this.

Well that concludes 10 tips on improving your college experience and your grades. Next post will be about Sweden probably, or something that irritates me, or some random thought i will have that day. Anyway time to study some Russian! Feel free to add some comments or suggestions!

Have a great weekend lads and lasses.

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