Appendix B: Succeeding as a College Student
Part 1: How to Be a College Student
Part 2: Learning to Learn
Part 3: Reading your Textbooks and Other Resources
Part 4: Effective Memorization
Part 5: Test Anxiety/Speech Anxiety
Part 6: Test-Taking
Part 7: Avoiding Plagiarism in Writing and Speaking
Thanks to Ms. Cathy Hunsicker for authoring Parts 3, 4, 5, and 6. Thanks to Ms. Amy Mendes for authoring Part 7. Thanks to Ms. Amy Burger for authoring Appendix E
Part 1: How To Be a College Student
Many students who take a basic public speaking course are enrolled in their first semester or year of college. For that reason, in this third edition of Exploring Public Speaking, we include helpful material on making the life transition to being a college student and thus a lifelong learner. Your instructor may or may not assign you to read these appendices, but we hope you will consider reading them even if not assigned.
In some ways, going to college is like taking a journey. It will feel like a different culture with a different language, customs, expectations, and even values. Consider these appendices as a guidebook for the journey.
In choosing the metaphor of a journey for college, we are comparing them on several factors.
- Like a journey, rather than a weekend trip, college is a long process. The journey takes time.
- A journey goes through different terrain. Sometimes you will feel like it’s more uphill than downhill.
- A journey involves guides, people who have been there before and have wisdom about the way to get to the destination. These are your professors mostly, but also your academic advisors, peer mentors, administrators, older students, and staff in Enrollment Services and the Dean of Students’ Office.
- A journey requires a map. This is, for the most part, the college catalog that tells you what courses are required to fulfill your major. Your advisor can also probably provide you with a “course plan,” which breaks down in order which classes you should try to take each semester.
- A journey has a destination. Here is where you might find that your values are different from your professors or mentors.
Your destination for now is probably the career you see yourself working in five years or more from now. You probably chose a major or perhaps even the college based on that career destination. That is reasonable and you were probably encouraged by your high school teachers, counselors, spiritual advisors, and parents to do that.
However…there are a few problems with approaching college with only a career destination focus.
First, you are likely to change your mind. Most college students do at some point. In fact, according to Gordon, Haubley, et al (2000), 50% – 70% of students change their majors at least once, and most will change majors at least 3 times before they graduate.
Second, you may have to change your mind about your major. Some college majors are competitive, meaning a fraction of those who want to get into them are allowed in, based on grades and other factors.
Third, you might want to change majors as you are exposed to new ideas and career fields you didn’t even know about.
Fourth, the career you end up in may not even have been invented yet. In 2007, when my son started college as a communication major, no one had heard of a social media director. That is what he does now. Conversely, some of the hottest jobs now might not be so hot in five years. Technology is changing, knowledge is expanding, politics alter realities, and the population is getting generally older. These trends will affect the kinds of jobs that are created.
Fifth, and more to my point, college is about becoming a better version of you, not just getting a job. If you see the main point of college as coming out with a career, you will miss some of the best parts of the journey. Or even worse, if you feel that every class is just an obstacle to that career rather than a stepping stone to being a more prepared individual for that career, you will miss the value of each class. And let’s face it; you are going to take at least forty classes over the next four to six years. You want to enjoy them, not just see most of them as roadblocks to getting out.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying to spend all this time, effort, and money to get a piece of paper that doesn’t take you to a career path. But note, I say career path. It is highly unlikely you will not walk off the platform after graduation and into the perfect job you will stay in for decades. The reality of today’s workplace is that you will have many positions and perhaps many careers over your forty or fifty years of work life, and college cannot prepare you specifically for all of them right now.
What college prepares you for is to be a lifelong learner who can adapt yourself and your skills to the new jobs the marketplace will create or will interest you in the future, and the new skills you will be expected to have in your chosen career field. If you want to be a registered nurse and graduate with a bachelor of science in nursing, that will just be the beginning of your learning to be a good nurse.
You have probably heard it before, but the top skills employers want, inappropriately called “soft skills,” have more to do with personal abilities. Team work, critical thinking, work ethic, spoken and written communication, conflict resolution, and group facilitation are common skills seen on lists of what employers want in new hires. (Go ahead and do an Internet search for this subject, and you will see what I mean). The soft skills, which are really not soft but the basis of your success, are what you learn in college classes and college experiences outside of the classroom. (The term “soft” does not refer to them being squishy but fluid and transferable to different contexts.)
In other words, college is not a vocational program that trains you for a specific job. If that goal interests you, you should consider it, because the workplace desperately needs skilled workers such as electricians, plumbers, technicians, and the like. College is designed to help you attain (not give you) a wide set of skills and knowledge so you can adapt, grow, communicate, and learn no matter what field you pursue, as well as given you more specific skills for positions where you will need the “soft skills.”
Also, college will not be the end of your learning. You may want to attain another credential or degree after graduating from college. You will definitely be expected by your employers to be involved in for-credit and not-for-credit continuing education. This is the just the beginning of the learning journey. Yes, you have been learning since birth and in school since you were four or five, but there is one difference now: you are learning because you want to. Learning is now your choice.
So, every part of the college experience, even the hard parts, should be seen as part of the journey. If you’re hiking in the mountains, the view from the top will be magnificent but you might sweat a lot, trip and get scrapes, or tramp through some thorny bushes before you reach the summit.
However, if you prepare for the journey and stay on the right path, many of the problems can be avoided. That is the purpose of these appendices.
Of course, much of your preparation for college came in your K-12 years. You learned to read and write, solve equations, perhaps speak the basics of a foreign language, and perform many other academic tasks. You also probably learned about working with others, solving problems, and taking responsibility through musical groups, sports teams, clubs, and other extracurricular activities. In some ways, college will be a continuation of those years, but many students find that high school did not prepare them for everything that college brings. There are many reasons for this lack of preparation. The question is, “If you find yourself unprepared, what can you do about it?” That is the subject of these appendices: Getting the big picture of what college is about; understanding your friend, the instructor; time management; appreciating how we learn and you learn individually; studying, reading, and test-taking; and avoiding the plagiarism trap. We will finish up with some resources on campus.
Part 1 of Appendix B will deal with the first two; the others will address the remaining five.
Getting the Big Picture of College
The institution of the university has actually been around longer than high schools or elementary schools. The first university was founded in Morocco in 859 C.E., the University of Karueein. (A college is traditionally considered a section of a university as well as an independent unit; today “universities” usually refer to institutions with graduate programs.) Oxford University in England came along in 1096. For that reason, centuries of tradition still cling to the culture of colleges and universities. Traditions change slowly, especially when they have been around over 1000 years! Part of being a college student is to learn the physical and cultural terrain of the college, much of which comes from traditions.
Colleges and universities are generally separated into public and private. In most caes, public institutions are in a system of related colleges or univesities in a state. Dalton State, for example, is a unit of the University System of Georgia, which means a number of positive things for you. You have access to books in all the libraries in the University System, as well as other resources. Your credits can transfer easily to other institutions, although we hope you decide to stay here and not transfer! To a large extent, the curriculum (the nature and number of courses you take) is determined by the University System of Georgia.
A college degree is either a two-year (associate of arts or science) or four-year (bachelor of arts, bachelor of science, bachelor of fine arts, bachelor of social work, bachelor of business administration, etc.). Associate’s degrees are usually limited to 60 required hours . A bachelor’s degree is usually limited to 120 hours. There are, of course, exceptions to these standards. At Dalton State, there are 42 hours of required “core” classes. Although you have some options to choose from here, you still have to take a certain set of classes. These 42 hours are divided into five areas called A-E:
A: Essential Areas (English 1101, 1102, and a math course) B: Institutional Options (for Dalton State, you take COMM 1110 and a one-hour academic elective) C: Literature and Fine Arts D: Science and Math, including two lab sciences E: Social Sciences (including required American Government and U.S. History)
Then there is Area F, 18 hours, which will be different depending on your major. In some majors you have choices in Area F; in some, for example, everything is set by state or accreditation standards. Other coleges, public and private, typically have similar breakdowns or requirements for “core” classes. Then in the junior and senior year, the student takes 60 or more hours of courses in the major and perhaps a minor.
Many students feel that some of their freshman year classes are repeats of what they had in high school. Unless you took AP or dual enrollment classes, your freshman year classes will be much more demanding than those high school classes, even if some of the material is review.
How will they be more demanding? First, you don’t get “do-overs” on tests. It is common for some high schools to let students take tests over until they are passed. A failure on a college exam is, well, a failure. You might be able to bring the grade up on the next tests, but you will rarely get a second try on that test. Second, you are expected to be self-regulating and self-directed as a learner (see Part 2 on “Learning to Learn.”). You are a legal adult, so you are supposed to take responsibility as an adult. Third, there will be much more material on any one test than you probably had in high school, which is one of the things new college students find daunting. Fourth, your instructor may primarily lecture instead of having the class do activities, projects, or field trips, and the classes may be 75 minutes of straight instruction, even lecture.
All that said, the curriculum of college is not something a bunch of people in a room thought up last week. It is the result of those hundreds of years of what has traditionally been considered important to a college education. History—how did we get to where we are? Social sciences—how do we relate to other people? Literature, language, and public speaking—what are the best ideas and how do we communicate them? Sciences—how does the physical world work? Math—what is the logic behind numbers? You can argue about the value of any one of them, but years of tradition have solidified that these are what an educated person needs to know about. The configurations of classes may differ from college to college, but the basic concepts are the same.
Advising and Your Classes
The subject of the curriculum brings us to another matter that students often do not understand about college. Each college or university system is “autonomous.” Each has its own curriculum and set of required classes for a particular major or degree. Each college has the right to accept or not accept courses for transfer from another institution. This may seem unfair, but that is part of the tradition of higher education and not likely to change anytime soon. If you transfer to from a public to a private institution, or vice versa, or to a college out of state, some of your credits may not be accepted for transfer there.
Also, our academic advisors cannot advise you for another institution, only for this one. If you plan on transferring, you are responsible to talk to the other institution about requirements and what will transfer. Since you don’t want to take a class that will not count for your final degree and you don’t want to lose time, credits, and money, be in contact with the school you hope to attend later.
Speaking of advisors, they are your best resource for making educational choices. At the same time, they want you to develop the ability to make your own academic decisions, specifically by being able to read the catalog, the course plan, Banner and Degreeworks (these last two are common student record and degree auditing systems). You can then see what classes you need each semester and design your schedule. They are willing to help you in the freshmen year or if you change your major, but after a while the advisor (who might be a faculty member) will want you to take ownership of this process, with their help and approval. Some things to keep in mind about advising:
- As freshmen, almost all the courses you are required to take in Area A through E are offered frequently, usually every semester and with many sections, so you will not have trouble finding those courses when you need them.
- As you become a junior and senior, the courses may only be offered once a year, at a time that is not convenient, and/or even every two years. You will have to plan accordingly.
- Learn to use DegreeWorks; it is a great tool. If you advisor doesn’t mention it, ask about it.
Another very important point about advising: Financial aid questions must be addressed to the financial aid office staff in Enrollment Services. The professional and faculty advisors really have no access to your financial aid information. Students often run into financial aid problems for a number of reasons: dropping too many courses, failing to pass enough courses, and taking courses that are not required in their program are three major ones. Not completing the FAFSA on time is also a huge obstacle to navigating the financial aid universe. The financial aid office staff are the experts and you need to check your email, Banner, and your postal mail for notices from them about deadlines and your awards from financial aid.
Additionally, the college expects payment before the semester begins. In fact, if you do not pay your bill or make sure your financial aid is in order a couple of weeks before the start of the semester, your registration will be purged—you will no longer have a class schedule, even if you had registered very early. Dates are advertised on the website and calendar. Obviously, you do not want this to happen, because you have to begin all over again trying to get into classes, and by then they might be closed to new registrations. This is why you should have a way or plan to take care of the fees and tuition as soon as you register.
So, to recap, college is a new terrain, and the college experience is a journey over that terrain. The terrain has a physical and cultural features. The physical one is the actual campus, which for Dalton State involves many buildings over more than 40 acres of land. The cultural one involves the rules and regulations, the language, the values, and the persons and personalities. In the next section we will talk about the people most affecting you—the faculty—but first I’d like to address the values of higher education.
The first value is rigor. That means the learning tasks require effort from students. You could say it means the courses are hard, but there is more to it than that. It means the academic standards and expectations are high. At Dalton State, we have a tradition of being a rigorous college. Our students who transfer do very well historically at other colleges. Our health professions students do very well on certification exams. To be honest, we take pride in being rigorous and having high standards but also in empowering the students to meet those standards through good teaching. Teaching is what our faculty do, and it is our priority.
The second is diversity and inclusion. College will allow you, and sometimes force you, to encounter people and ideas that you have not before. Your instructors may be from other countries or parts of the U.S., as might be your classmates. You will have classmates who are twenty years older than you—or younger. Your instructors may teach theories and concepts you personally disagree with. One thing that students often find in college is that the old cliques and “drama” that happened in high school simply doesn’t apply in college. It’s about the learning and the work, not social status, cliques, or in-groups. Everyone belongs, no matter what they look like, as long as they do the work.
The third is civility, which can be thought of as “actively showing respect.” Not agreement, but respect for them as human beings and members of the community and as persons who have a right to express their opinions with civility as well.
The fourth value is equality and fairness. You might not always think it is true in your experience, but higher education values access (availability of learning to those willing to work hard), equality (not getting a grade for any reason other than performance, and not giving or asking for special treatment) and fairness (equal output for equal input). For that reason, if you ask a professor for special favors, you are asking him or her to be unfair to the rest of the class who did not get those favors.
Now, in case my emphasis on work is making you worry that there is nothing fun going on at Dalton State, let me stop here and say that Dalton State offers a wide variety of programs for social interaction, relaxation, fun, and developing relationships and leadership. The Dean of Students’ Office, the Health and Wellness programs, and the Athletic Department are three website you should check out right now just to convince you college is not all hard work and there is plenty of activities to get involved in here!
I have mentioned faculty several times in this section on values, and there is a reason for that. The persons you will have the most contact with on campus, other than students, are your faculty. You will spend several hours a week with them. It is best if you start to think of them in positive and constructive manners rather than as stern, rigid, distant authority figures who have no connection to your lives. The following is from a PowerPoint I created for a first-year seminar course taught in 2016 I called “The Care and Feeding of College Faculty.”
- Forget all the things you have heard about college professors. You might have been taught that college faculty:
- Spend most of their times writing books
- Are introverted, weird, or eccentric (the absent-minded professor stereotype)
- Have inappropriate relationships with their students (while this has happened in some colleges, it usually ends badly, as in unemployment. )
- Don’t work very hard (We might only be on campus about 30 hours per week, but we work away from the office many more hours.)
- Are mean. Students have informed me that their high school teachers told them that college professors were uncaring. Perhaps they said that so that the students would not expect the professors to be easy; perhaps those high school teachers did have bad experiences. I can say this is not the case at Dalton State. You will find your instructors to be warm, polite, helpful, and friendly—but professional. Part of growing up is to learn to negotiate between those two.
These mistaken and questionable ideas often come from TV and movies are questionable. However, college faculty do have specific characteristics.
- They LOVE their discipline. They live their discipline. They went to school for years to understand their discipline. They think it’s the greatest thing ever. I teach communication and do not understand why the subject does not fascinate everyone. Consequently, don’t blow off their subject. Don’t say it’s worthless or boring or of no value. How would you feel if someone did that to you?
- They like to question, so they seem skeptical. We are taught to question ideas and assumptions. Sometimes we say things in class for you to think about, even if we don’t agree with it.
- We expect you to follow the syllabus and do the assignments. The syllabus in college means much more than the syllabus in high school; you should keep it in a prominent or accessible position in your notebook.
- They have different personalities. Some of us are extraverts and some are introverts. Some have quirky senses of humor and some have fairly quiet ones.
- They are in total charge of their classrooms. College instructors are not to be disturbed when teaching. Do not walk into a college instructor’s class and interrupt in the middle of a session, unless the building is on fire.
- Higher education changes slowly, and so do faculty. Colleges were originally run entirely by the faculty; there was not really a separate administrative staff. Even today, many college academic policies cannot be changed without the approval of the faculty. For example, we cannot change financial aid policy, but we can change the curriculum in a major if we choose to do so.
- Professors at Dalton State are student-oriented. We chose to work here because it is a teaching institution, which means our main responsibility is to teach, advise, and serve students, as opposed to doing research. We do engage in research, but that is not our priority.
- They don’t treat some students better because they like them.
- We have heavy workloads. We teach 3-5 classes per semester, with varying numbers of students—as few as ten, as many as 100 or more. We have to keep office hours, one or two a day, which does not include committee meetings (faculty participate in governance of the college, and that takes time), advising students, preparing classes, grading, assessments, and required continuing education.
- We have families and lives, too.
- College faculty do not deal with parents. It is against federal law for a college instructor to talk to your parents about your status (that means grades) in their class. That law is called the Buckley Amendment and often referred to as FERPA because of its origin in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. If a parent calls and asks about a student–and it does happen occasionally–we just say we are not allowed to talk about a student’s progress to parents or anyone else outside the College personnel. There is a way around this law; the student can sign a waiver of his or her privacy rights in Enrollment Services. But our first response will be to refer to FERPA.
- As adults, authority figures, and experts in their subject matters, faculty members expect respect. It is best to refer to him or her as “Professor” if you do not know if the instructor has earned a doctorate, and as “Dr.” if you know they have (it will probably be on the syllabus). We work hard for the doctorate and it is professional courtesy to use it. Some will say it is all right to call them by their first name (very rare) or “Mr.” or “Ms.” but unless they do, you should default to “Professor.” You should also learn your professor’s name and office location on Day One.
Keeping all these characteristics in mind, here is a list of Don’ts that will keep you in good shape with your professors. Don’t…
- Ever ask them if anything important happened in class on a day you were absent. This is literally the Kiss of Death and you may get a very harsh or sarcastic answer, such as “No, since you were not there, we put our heads down and thought about your absence.”
- Don’t email them like text speak. Emails should start professionally, “Dear Professor,” identify who you are and your class (the email address may not do that), and clearly give your question or concern. You should have a closing as well. Your relationship with your faculty member is a professional one and this is a good time to learn professional communication. Many professors simply will not answer an email like this:
hey I missed class today can I get the notes from you or the power point? Bill
Yes, I have gotten emails like this from students.
- Expect special treatment. Fairness to students is extremely important to us.
- Play with your electronic devices in class. I cannot stress this one enough. Each faculty member will have a policy on phones and laptops, and you must abide by it. Remember, we are in control of our classrooms. Faculty are also allowed to call public safety and have students escorted out of class if they are really disruptive or causing harm to other students and their learning.
- Think attendance doesn’t matter. This is one of the biggest lies that is propagated about college life. Attendance in class does matter, very, very much. No, we won’t call the county truant officer. However, many faculty take daily roll, and we have to keep some record for financial aid purposes. So, we are aware of your attendance, but more important, you will not do well by missing many classes, even in a class that is purely lecture and test-taking. Lots of research shows this.
- Be afraid to go to their offices and ask for help. It’s one of the best things you can do if you are having academic concerns. If you do go to their office, however, don’t overlook the office hours sign on the door (also on the syllabus). If the professor has informed the students that she is in from 1:00-3:00 on Thursday afternoon, don’t expect her to be there at 4:30.
- Think your instructors are psychic. If you never ask questions in class, even if you have them, we are not mind readers. Please ask.
At the end of the semester you will be asked to evaluate your instructors online. First, please comply. The data is important to the college’s operations. Second, answer thoughtfully. Third, don’t blindside the instructor. If you say “He never explained X clearly,” did you ask about X? Fourth, don’t get ugly and personal; swearing on the evaluations isn’t helping anyone. State your case about the instructor’s behavior, not that you didn’t like her shoes. The evaluations are about the learning experience in the class, not whether you think the class should be in the curriculum.
While there are a lot more things I could say about the journey of being a college student, some things you just have to experience. Not everything will make sense at first. Remember, it’s a long journey.
Expect your college life to have a cyclical nature. The first few weeks will be exciting and daunting; you may feel like your head will explode with all the newness. A few weeks in you might feel a little down. The newness has worn off and man, oh, man, the work is piling up. By the eighth week, it will feel like everything came at once, but you do get a short break about then. The stress and activity builds and builds until finals and whew, it’s time to sleep and binge watch shows on Netflix. You say, “I got to get a better start next time” before it starts again in January.
I’m telling you this now because the key word I want to leave you with is PROACTIVITY. Your college journey will be enjoyable and successful to the extent that you are proactive. I learned this all-important word from the best book on time management, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen A. Covey. In a sense it means “planning” but more than that. Because we cannot plan for everything, we plan margin for what we know we cannot plan for. I cannot plan when I will have a flat tire; I can plan to have the resources to fix it in my car when it happens. I cannot plan the traffic between my home and the campus, but I can plan to leave 10 minutes early every day to get a parking space and miss the worst of the traffic turning into the entrance.
Proactivity is about having a future-orientation that is executed in the present. Paper planners, or electronic ones, can help. But you can write down or type into your phone all the plans you want if you don’t choose to execute the plans. After a while, proactivity can become a habit and you cease to even recognize it as such. For example, years ago I learned to put my clothes out the night before a workday. My husband sets the coffee pot up before going to bed. These are small things but they save loads of time and more importantly, stress. Much of the stress we feel is self-inflicted from poor planning.
It is common for textbooks for transition for first-year students in college to contain a chapter on time management. In place of a separate chapter or appendix, we will include some online resources. Inventories, filling out sample weekly calendar/schedules, and tips on time management are very helpful, but they start with this attitude of proactivity and some of the mental processes discussed in the Part 2, specifically self-efficacy and locus of control. Now is the time in your life to realize that there are urgent things and important things in your life, and those will change as you go through various seasons.
Urgent means that for whatever reason the task must be done very, very soon. Important means that it is central to your values and to your reaching your goals. Urgent means the task or activity demands your attention now; important tends to mean it will demand your attention long-term. Some things are simply urgent, but not important; some are important but not urgent; some are neither, and some are both. The diagram on the next page is often used to show that comparison.
Many of you have family and work responsibilities. Being a student is one of your many roles. This means balancing priorities; you have more things in your life that are both urgent and important. For that reason, using tools such as planners are a must for you. As a friend of mine says, “Everything takes longer than it takes,” so be realistic about trying to pack too many activities into your day. For your health and good relationships, you need to plan “margin” in your life, time in the day that is not packed to the full. That time will probably be taken up by the urgent and semi-urgent things that come up.
Here are some resources that can help you with time management:
In conclusion, time management is more about self-management than the clock. You can’t really manage time—it keeps going forward, no matter what we do. You can only manage your own goals and behaviors, and college life will bring the importance of that home to you.
Part 2: Learning to Learn
“Remember, in business and in life – success is earned from learning how to do things that you don’t like doing.” (Glenn Llopis, 7 Reasons Networking Can Be a Professional Development Boot Camp, May 29, 2012, Forbes.com)
One of the most important things that you will learn in college is how to learn. Why does that matter? Because learning will be one of our jobs in the future. No matter what profession you eventually enter after your formal education—social work, nursing, accounting, social media director, elementary school teacher, business manager, respiratory therapist, banker, or one of many others—you will continue learning new procedures, new policies, new techniques, new ways of thinking. Your employers will expect you to attend training. You may decide to change careers completely or slightly and have to learn new skills. Software and technology change constantly. Many of you will eventually want to earn a graduate degree.
Psychologist Herbert Gerjuoy said many years ago, “Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn.“ This quotation has often been attributed to the futurist Alvin Toffler, who used it in his book Future Shock from the 1970s. These men’s words were prophetic, although they could not have foreseen all of today’s technology.
Of course, not every learning task will be the same as the type you do in college. However, the truth remains that you are only beginning to learn as an adult, and this is the time in our life where you can focus on learning, on understanding the process, on how you best learn, and how you can expand your repertoire to learn better.
There are many theories about how we learn. While in some cases they contradict, for the most part they complement and supplement each other because they concern themselves with different aspects of the learning process, either the physiological effects of learning on the brain and body, the social aspects, or the personal and psychological effects.
Thanks to magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs), other medical science, and the growing field of neuroscience, we know much more about how we learn. We know that learning creates a physical change in the brain as synapses grow. We know that this happens not by passive reception or exposure to information but by our effort. We know that memories are formed by passing from a short-term category to long-term through rehearsal, usage, and other efforts.
We understand how attention works and that distractions inhibit learning rather than helping it. While you think listening to music may help you study, it probably is not, and your open laptop in class is distracting the students behind you. In fact, the idea of multitasking is a myth. You may think you can do several things at a time, but you are actually cutting the efficiency and quality of the work you are doing. In other words, you might get some things done when you multitask, but you won’t do them as quickly or as completely.
We understand now that intelligence is malleable (change-able, flexible) and that a person with a fixed mindset about learning (those who say they are just born to be good at a skill like math, music, or writing) will face frustrations and obstacles in comparison with those who have a growth mindset. A growth mindset sees one’s failures in a learning task as ways to find new methods for learning, not as a stopping off point in learning. Also, to the advantage of all college students who sometimes feel like their heads are going to explode, we know that learning is not a zero sum game. Learning one thing does not mean it has to displace something else. Your brain is an organ that is developing new and more intricate connections; it is not a box that will only hold so much. We also know there are different kinds of knowledge and different kinds of intelligence, and we know there is a distinct difference in learning and processing between novices and experts.
We also know that some of the common ideas about learning do not have much evidence. One of them is learning styles. You have probably taken a test that classified you as a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner. While there is nothing wrong with being classified in such a way, there is no evidence from scientific studies that you will learn better if your instructor teaches to your learning style. Unfortunately, I have heard many students over the years attribute their failure in a class to the professor who didn’t teach to their learning style. What the students did not understand is that we learn through all styles (visual, print, hearing, and activity) depending on the demands of the learning tasks.
You did not learn to drive a car simply by reading about it or looking at videos (print, visual). You had to drive around in a car and listen to the instructor (kinesthetic and auditory learning). Think about learning how to ride a bicycle—same scenario. On the other hand, learning to speak a foreign language requires auditory and visual input, not just one, and is enhanced by movement. It would be better for you to use all four modalities than to pigeonhole yourself and limit your learning to a certain modality. As Steiner and Foote (2017) stated,
Like other labels, learning style labels may contain a grain of truth. A student who prefers to learn auditorily may find studying more productive when her notes are spoken aloud into a recording device and revisited later. But she may also find that when studying for a geometry test, drawing diagrams (visual) and physically manipulating shapes on paper (kinesthetic) work best for her.
In fact, it’s just as important what you do with the information after it is accessed (enters your mind) than how it gets in there! As a college student and developing adult learner, you will want to be aware of what learning tasks require, especially what they require of you in terms of effort, attention, and time. You will want to notice what you are doing when you learn and even when you do not learn as you hoped to. You will want to think about and talk about how you learn best because using language is part of the effort behind creating those synaptic connections. These behaviors are called metacognition, or “thinking about thinking.”
This need for metacognition is why your professors will often ask you to turn to your partner and discuss some of the lecture material, such as what was unclear– “the muddiest point”—or to compare notes you have taken. It is why your instructor might have you look at the questions you got wrong on that midterm exam and figure out why you got them wrong—what processes did you go through to get that answer, and where, perhaps, did you get off track. It is why your professor might give you a pre-test at the beginning of the course to see what your pre-conceptions about the material are.
Of course, learning is not just about adding knowledge but also reshaping your understanding and approaches. For an example, I’ll use public speaking. Students come into the class with ideas about public speaking that they have to “unlearn.” One is that they cannot do it, because of bad past experiences or fear. Another is that all they have to do to be a good speaker is be funny, even silly. Another might be that public speaking is not an important skill, or that public speaking is just reading to an audience. As another example, science instructors often see that their beginning students have faulty ideas about science as a field of knowledge as well as about specific scientific facts. Their goal is not just to fill the students’ minds with scientific facts but to think like scientists—to move from a novice to an expert.
All this is to say that one of the things you will hear over and over again, and one of the things that is a major difference between high school and college, is “time on task.” College learning, because it is “higher” in terms of the thought processes your professors want you to engage in, takes time. You cannot jot off a ten-page paper in a couple of hours. You cannot study for a midterm for an hour the night before. Well, you can try, but how successful you will be, in terms of really learning and earning good grades, is up for grabs.
Six theories of learning I would like to present here that will be of value to you as a student are Bloom’s/Krathwohl’s/Anderson’s taxonomy, Albert Bandura’s self-efficacy, self-directed and self-regulated learning, the usefulness of mindset, Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, and Kolb’s experiential learning cycle. What matters with each is that learning is effort. While learning can be enjoyable, the old “learning is fun” adage gives the idea that it is easy and that it shouldn’t require much effort. It learning does take effort, the erroneous thinking goes, then something must be wrong. On the contrary, learning is hard work.
Recently I signed up for an online course with an organization that credentials online courses. The organization’s purpose is to help instructors create excellent courses and to train college personnel in applying excellent standards to the course. I have taught online for almost twenty years but wanted to learn this organization’s system. It proved to be more challenging than I planned.
Because I had many years of experience in teaching online and reading about how to do it and design classes, I found I had to put aside some of my attitudes and ideas because of the philosophy and approach of this organization’s system. I had to “unlearn” some of my former ways of thinking about online teaching and course design. To “unlearn” doesn’t mean to forget, since memory is not something we can just erase like deleting a file from a computer. Due to my willingness to do that, I walked away with a deeper understanding of good online course design. I was also able (and this is another aspect of college learning) to transfer or apply that knowledge to my traditional classroom teaching.
What is one of the things I “unlearned?” I like to put lots of extra resources in my online class, as in “when you get a chance, this is something interesting to read.” I “unlearned” that that was a good idea. It just confuses the students, and unless it directly meets a learning objective or outcome, it does not belong with all the other materials. What I might do in a regular classroom doesn’t translate to online, not in all cases. That was a hard lesson for me because of my personality—I like to give students lots of choices! But it was a good one to learn.
In that personal learning situation I see each one of the six theories mentioned above. I see that I had to go up the taxonomy, and I had to be stretched into a new zone. I had to believe that my failure on the first assignments (yes, I failed them!) was not because I couldn’t learn but that I had to—and could—find new strategies. I also had to regulate my time and work on the class when I was mentally prepared, and I had to reflect on my experience to learn. Let’s talk about each one in more detail.
Bloom’s taxonomy was created in the 1960s to help teachers recognize that all learning was not the same and happened in an upward movement. This is a typical reproduction (source: Wikimedia.commons) of the original “taxonomy,” which means “a scheme of classifications.” In this case, it is classifying learning tasks.
Later, in 2001, the model was updated to use verbs rather than nouns and emphasize the activity of learning. (Also from Wikimedia.commons) This configuration turns the triangle (or rhombus) upside down but other versions keep it like the one above. ￼
The important thing for you to get from this is that your instructors will have some learning tasks at the bottom—remembering facts or concepts, such as being able to recreate lists of information on a test, and understanding, such as being able to define the concepts in your own words . However, in higher education we move higher up the taxonomy. You will be asked to apply the learning, and then do new things with it. You will also be asked to learn a greater volume of information for tests, in most cases, than what you have been used to in high school.
So in a history class, obviously you will have to remember dates. Then you will have to be able to explain or define an historical concept such as Manifest Destiny. Then you will be asked to apply, such as “Did the concept of Manifest Destiny influence a president’s behavior?” In this case the instructor may have never addressed that question specifically in class; you are supposed to take the concept and compare it to what the president did and said. Those are the lower levels, and it is possible that those will be your major learning tasks in your first year or so of classes, although not entirely.
However, as you progress, you will be asked to:
- Analyze (taking apart, contrasting and comparing parts): “What are the beliefs behind Manifest Destiny and where did they come from?”
- Evaluate: Assess how a concept or practice stands up to criteria: “Does Manifest Destiny violate the U.S. Constitution in spirit or in letter?”
- Create: Develop a new thesis from the materials you have learned.
This is not to say you will be asked to do all six levels of the taxonomy in anyone class; in fact, that is unlikely. But I introduce this for you to understand what your instructors are trying to do. If you come into class with the pre-conception that you will be learning lots of facts and taking tests on them, that is only partly true. You will be expected to operate more at the applying, analyzing, and evaluating levels.
The second theory we will examine is that of Mindset. This theory is based on the work of Carol Dweck, a psychologist from Stanford University in California, and it has encouraged a great deal of research on learning. It is simple, “elegant” as some say, but also has a number of parts and offshoots.
Learning is work, sometimes hard work. You do not learn a task primarily because you are inherently good at that task; you learn it because you work hard in the right way. Learning researcher Angela Duckworth shows that experts—the really skilled—spend an average of 10,000 hours becoming that skilled person. For example, concert musicians and professional athletes do not approach their tasks as “I am just talented at this” and let it slide. They constantly practice and keep working on skills.
A person with a fixed mindset does not realize this and thinks that ability in a skill and the ability to learn that skill are inborn; you either have it or you don’t. They take failure badly and take success almost as badly. “I succeeded because I am just talented” and “I failed because I’ll never be any good at this.” They might not try new things but prefer to stay safe at the things they are “good at.” They may get too much self-worth from what they think is inborn ability or from other people’s comments about “how intelligent Dylan is” or “how gifted Jamie is.”
A person with a growth mindset sees learning as possible and due to hard work. He or she will try new methods to learn because they don’t see having the skill as either “born with it or not.” Also, a person can change his or her mindset; it would be against the theory to say someone could not change! Thankfully those who are trained to recognize how their fixed mindsets are affecting them can change to a growth mindset. Finally, children (and adults) should probably not be praised for being “smart” or “gifted” but instead for “working hard,” “finding new ways to do things, “ and having perseverance or endurance. (From https://mindsetonline.com/whatisit/about/)
Closely tied to the idea of mindset is self-efficacy, which is “one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task” (Bandura, 1977). Self-efficacy is not just self-confidence, but is related to beliefs regarding specific tasks. Self-efficacy is tied to success in many endeavors, and to resilience and locus of control, which are also a large part of mindset. A person who believes that ability and talent are just natural and all that matters in success—absent from hard work and using the right techniques, practice, etc.—lacks self-efficacy. The mindset approach can help college students because they will be faced with daily events that can attack their self-worth and lead to dropping out, when what they often need is to find other ways to approach learning.
For example, let’s say that on your first Biology 1107 test you earn a 56. You say, “This is not me! I don’t 56s on exams! What is going on?” You now have a choice. You can study exactly the same way for the next exam, maybe just using more of it or spending longer hours at it. That might work, and it might not. You can blame the instructor’s teaching methods. That is not going to help, because then your only option is to drop the class, something you do not want to do because it will become a pattern. You can say, “I told you so; I stink at science, so I need to drop the class.” Again, not a pattern you want to establish. You can do nothing and hope for the best (not a good option either).
Or you can:
- Examine your behavior in the class up to now. This is called reflection. Have you attended all your classes (that old myth that you don’t need to go to class in college rears its head again!) Have you read the material in the textbook outside of class? Did you come to class alert, having slept and eaten well? Did you look at your notes after class or go over them everyday, accumulating knowledge, or did you just wait until the night before the exam? All of these are standard things that college students are told to do, and it’s not because college professors want to control your life. THEY WORK.
- Go talk to the professor during posted office hours (and don’t expect him or her to be there at other times) to ask for help and some ideas for succeeding in the class.
- Attend the tutoring services offered by the Dean of Students’ Office.
- If your instructor offers outside of class session, take advantage of them.
So, you start by reflecting on what led up to the experience, as well as how you felt about the low grade and even the experience of taking the exam. What was on the test that you didn’t expect? Did you study word-for-word definitions but the test asked you for applications? Did you memorize lists but it asked you to put concept in your own words? Was there a whole section of the textbook that you just skipped?
After reflecting, you have to make a plan for the next time and take action. It may be that your problem was not the amount of time you spent, but when you spent it and what you did during the time. For the purpose of learning and memory formation, repetition (going over the accumulated class notes every day or several days a week) would be better than what we call “cramming.” Spending ten minutes a day for 21 days (three and half hours) will be more useful than cramming for five hours the night before, which is time you might not have that night anyway. You do have ten minutes every day.
You make a plan, you commit to it, you act upon it, and then you experience it again. Is there a difference? More than likely, yes. You might not get a 98 on the exam, but you should be able to approach the exam in a more organized and in control fashion. And you will have a clearer idea of how you can learn.
I have just described another theory of learning, one that I particularly like, Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle. As the image shows, this model involves four steps that are cycled through: Experience, Reflection, Abstract Conceptualization, and Active Experimentation. The key part is the reflection. Many people like to say “we learn by experience” but we don’t necessarily. We learn by reflecting on experience and doing something with it. In the model, don’t let the word “Abstract Conceptualization” confuse you. It means, in this case, making a plan for what will work next time.
Reflection is something we all approach differently. Some of us talk to reflect (even to ourselves out loud), some write (I am a writer, but I reflect a lot when I walk my dog every evening), and some just mull it over in our minds when nothing else is holding our attention There is no right way to do it, but there are some questions you should ask yourself, or some territory you should cover in reflection. In order for reflection to be useful, you should focus on what really happened in the experience as well as how you felt about it. You should turn the experience around and see it from other points of view. You should ask, “Is the way I feel about it, am evaluating it, valid, or am I just seeing one side of it?” You can question, why and how did it happened? These are only a few questions that you can use in reflecting. Here is a diagram of questions you can ask about a lecture, film, or speaker.
What I mean for you to take from this is that reflection is useful for you as a self-regulated and self-directed learner (discussed below).
Now, a few words here. First, notice I didn’t say “get a study buddy.” Study buddies or study groups are great . . . IF. What are the ifs?
- You know that the person is a good student. While you might think that student in your history class is cute and you want to get to know him or her, don’t hide asking the other student out on a date behind studying. He or she may have gotten a 48 on the exam! By a good student I don’t just mean someone with a high grade, however. This person needs to have good learning habits, take good notes, be willing to engage in asking questions, and generally be cooperative.
- If you don’t commit to serious study and to trying new approaches, such as the ones listed above. Research shows mixed results on study groups because students use it without changing other behaviors, that is, they still don’t read the textbook or go over accumulated notes every day.
- You have to realize this is a study session, not a tutoring session. You have to bring an equal part to the session. If it’s just “I want to look at your notes because I take bad ones,” or “I want you to explain this to me,” you are just using the other person and not helping them.
- You need to study in a good setting, for example, one that is free of distractions, and come prepared (laptop, textbook, paper, etc.)
- You need a plan. It can’t just be, “Well, here we are. What now?” You can first be sure all your sets of notes are complete, and then you can quiz each other, or think up possible questions that will be on the test. Plan to take breaks—we really don’t study well in two-hour sessions. The breaks should just be for bathroom and a drink of water and stretching legs, not as long as the session itself!
A second note. Up to this point I have not used the two most important words about learning in college. Those words are “self-directed” and “self-regulated.” Self-directed learning is learning you choose to do, that you are invested in and that you direct. The fact that you are in college should say that you are self-directed, because college is not legally required—we choose to go. Now, I realize that some people go to college for reasons other than choice (that is, someone told them they had to in order to get some kind of reward or avoid some sort of punishment), and those people usually are unsuccessful. I have heard of students who enrolled in college because their parents said, “You either go to work at manual labor, go in the military, or go to college,” and college sounded like the best of the three. That type of student is rarely self-directed.
Self-directed also means that you choose the method of learning and you decide when you have learned it. In this case, college cannot be totally self-directed because, unfortunately, the college expects you to learn a certain amount and show that you have learned in order to get a degree. You have to get certain grades and take certain courses to even stay in school. However, you can still be self-directed by choosing the hours that you take the classes, the professors, the number of hours of classes you take each semester, and the subject matter of the courses.
The point is that your instructors expect a large amount of self-direction from you, because you are an adult now and not required by law to be in their classes. Granted, you may only be in that biology class because two lab science classes are required for your major, but in general you have chosen to be there.
I make this point because it relates to an aspect of self-efficacy called “locus of control.” We do better at tasks, generally, when we have an internal locus of control rather than an external one. In other words, if I am the one making the choices in my life and I recognize that, my viewpoint on learning and success will be quite different than if I think I am just being bossed around by external forces, and therefore a victim. Locus of control means I take responsibility for my life rather than blaming others. If I get a ticket for going 15 miles per hour too fast in a 35 mph zone, I might blame the fact that the police officer was “out for me.” That’s external locus of control. If I own up to the fact it was my foot was the gas and I was going 50, that’s internal locus of control.
On the other hand, self-regulated learning is more about the actual behaviors you engage in as a learner. The concept of metacognition that we mentioned earlier is key here. A self-regulated learner reflects and recognizes what he or she is doing as a learner and seeks to find approaches that will make him or her more successful (and that includes more economical in use of time and resources). A self-regulated learner is like an athlete who pays attention to her body and outcomes and what they are telling her about her athletic performance.
With all this talk of self-efficacy, self-regulation, and self-direction, it may sound like I am saying that learning is a very individualistic, “lone wolf” kind of phenomenon. That is not what I want to communicate, only that ultimately it does boil down, especially in college, to your own choices and work. However, one of the best parts of college (and one of the downsides of online classes) is that learning is social. Although Bandura originated the self-efficacy concept, it is rooted in his social learning theory, which states that an individual’s actions and reactions are influenced by the actions that individual has observed in others. So, if we have self-efficacy (also called personal efficacy) it’s not because it just sprang from nowhere or we figured it out on our own somehow magically. It came largely as a result of accumulated social interactions and observations over the lifespan.
The good news is, though, that even reading this textbook is a social situation for learning, as are the classes you are enrolled in this semester—especially the public speaking class! College allows you to learn in the best of situations—you can learn from others, directed and regulated by yourself.
Of course, one of those people in the situation is the class instructor, and this brings us to the last of the theories. Go back to the beginning of this appendix and read the quotation that starts it, from Forbes Magazine online. (Forbes is a leading business magazine.) Mr. Llopis has put in his own words the essence of Vygotsky’s theory called “Zone of Proximal Development,” which sounds like something from science fiction but is really quite simple and useful.
Vygotsky claimed that we learn only when we are given new tasks that are just outside our ability to do them. If we are given tasks to do that are within our ability, what’s there to learn? Only when we have to stretch outside the “zone” do we learn. Just like an athlete who will try to beat his last time or distance, we have to be asked to do something we cannot do right now in order in order to learn it. The qualifier is that it cannot be too far outside of the “zone of proximal development,” because the learner will fail and not really be able to figure out why. Ideally, learning tasks must be staged as a series of challenges just outside what you can currently do.
Public speaking instructors do this by making your series of speech assignments longer and more complicated. Your first speech will be short and probably personal; your last speech will be much longer and involve higher order thinking such as found on the Bloom’s taxonomy. Your history instructor in First Year U.S. History will probably not assign you to write a twenty-page paper. If you are a history major and take the seminar course before you graduate, you will by that time have the skills to write a forty-page, in-depth paper with scholarly sources.
It is your instructors’ and professors’ jobs to structure the classes this way. It may feel like the challenge is too far outside your “zone.” Sometimes, it is; that doesn’t mean you are incapable of the challenge, only that there are some steps in between that you need to do first. In that case, you might need to visit the tutoring center on campus and meet with the professor for extra help.
In my many years of teaching, I have found that sometimes a short conversation with the faculty member clears up a lot of matters. A student might just misunderstand what is being asked of him or her and consequently construe it into a much more difficult task than it is. At other times a tutor or tutorial videos can fill in the gaps. This is often true with math or science concepts that are not that difficult but were missed in your high school education for some reason. The key is not to give up when the task seems right outside your reach. Your “arm” is longer than you think. Although we really can’t make our arm longer, we can build synapses in our minds that connect neurons and lead to learning.
This part of the appendix has attempted to explain and inspire. By understanding what really goes on in the learning involved in “higher education,” you will have more tools to reflect on and regulate your learning. I have emphasized that learning is hard work and should be. That does not mean college is all drudgery. You have a unique opportunity to get to know really smart and interesting people in your classes who also want to learn, and in many cases they will be going into the same fields you are, so you have built-in networking colleagues. College is about gaining what is called “social capital” (networks of friends and relationships that you can draw upon later in life) as well as intellectual capital. Instead of coming into class, hiding in the back of the room, burying yourself behind your cell phone until the instructor starts class, turn to someone and say, “Hello. My name is…What did you think about…?”
Part 3: Reading Your Textbooks and Other Resources
Many people do not realize that we read at different rates for different purposes. For instance, if we are looking for an answer to a question, we scan very quickly through the material to find the answer, and once the answer is found, we move on to something else. When we are reading a magazine for pleasure, we most likely read it quickly, skimming through the material and slowing down in sections that are especially interesting to us. We are reading for understanding, but we do not intend to memorize the material for a later date.
In college reading, we have to read slowly with an intent to remember what we have read because we know we will be tested on the material in the future. The most popular method of college reading uses a system known as SQ3R – Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review. This system has been used since WWII when it was created by Francis Pleasant Robinson from Ohio State University and is the most popular method for study reading used today.
The Survey step of SQ3R is be used to familiarize yourself with a new book or just a chapter of a book, depending on your goal. If you are looking at an entire book, you want to review the table of contents to see what the chapters are about. Many texts have two tables of content, one is general and short, and the other is detailed. The detailed one will give you the best overview of the text.
Next, look to see what else the book has to offer. Does it have an index? A glossary? Appendices of supplemental information? Self-tests throughout the chapters or at the end of each chapter? Lists of important terminology for each chapter? Terms defined in the margins? Terms defined in a single glossary or after each chapter? Boldface printed terms within the chapters? An introduction to each chapter? Objectives for each chapter? A summary or outline at the end of each chapter? Knowing what your text has to offer can help you devise a study plan for your reading that will be effective as well as giving you an idea as to what the text and the course will cover. Having this information allows you to start reading with background information which improves your concentration and focus, and your comprehension of the material.
When you use the Survey step of SQ3R to survey a single chapter, you want to look for and skim the chapter’s objectives and introduction. Then focus on the words in boldface print that divide the chapter into sections and emphasize the terminology. Browse the pictures, graphs, and charts and read their captions to see what examples are given of the information being presented. Look for a summary of the chapter at its end.
Once you have skimmed over for all these aspects, you will have created background information so that when you begin reading, you are not going into it cold, and you have improved your ability to focus and concentrate on the reading as well as comprehend it. This entire step should only take about ten minutes because you are skimming through the material to familiarize yourself with its contents.
Once you have finished the “S” and surveyed the chapter, you want to create questions related to the information that you can answer after reading. Basically, you want to be able to identify the main points the author is trying to get across to you. A simple way to do this is to take the boldface printed subtopics and turn them into questions. For instance, in chapter one of this text, the first section on page eight is already in a question format for you. You just have to read to find out what public speaking is. The second section on page nine is not in question format, but you can form a question out of it, such as “Why does public speaking produce anxiety?” Once you have the question, you can read to find the answer which will give you the important information in the section.
The third step of SQ3R is the Read step which goes hand-in-hand with the question step, and as you will see shortly, with the Recite step. Your goal in the Read step is to read actively and answer each of the questions you have formulated from the section headings. Pause after each section and ask yourself, “What have I just read and does it answer my question?” If you find you have understood the section, go back and highlight the key words and phrases that answer your question.
When you pause and highlight, you are in effect, reciting the information and entering the Recite step of SQ3R. Since repetition is the key to remembering what you have read, this step is very effective. To further your comprehension and memory of the information, summarize it in the margin of your book. If you find you do not understand or cannot recite what you have read, you will have to refocus and reread. Perhaps you became distracted as you were reading or started daydreaming or maybe the material is so foreign to you that you must reread it to comprehend it. Whatever the reason, it is important that you understand the section before moving on to the next section. This Recite step, coupled with repetition, is important if you want to build neural pathways to keep the information in your brain.
The last step of SQ3R, Review, is completed after you have read and highlighted the chapter in its entirety. This step can be done in different ways depending on your learning style. If you are an auditory learner, you will want to read over your high-lighted information aloud because your hearing ability is your strongest learning sense. If you are a visual, tactile, or kinesthetic learner, you will want to write out (tactile, kinesthetic) the information on paper to reread (visual). Maria Montessori, who created the Montessori schools, stated, “The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.” In essence, she believed that the hands were directly connected to the brain, so writing out the highlighted information is particularly effective to use for further review. You could write out the information and then study it aloud, too. This would incorporate all of your senses and bombard your brain with the information, making it more memorable.
The Review step must be repeated at periodic intervals because only through repetition will you build neural pathways for the information that will allow you to remember all that you have read and studied. Once you have achieved comprehension of the material, repetition and review are necessary if you want to be able to pass a test on what you have read. SQ3R promotes meaningful reading and test preparation which results in higher course grades.
Concentration is essential when reading college textbooks and studying for exams. Poor concentration is more the result of a lack of internal direction than it is the result of external direction. You must have a positive attitude and be prepared to be actively involved with the materials you are reading and/or studying. Self-testing or reciting as in the recite step of SQ3R is crucial.
When trying to improve your concentration, keep the following in mind:
- The greater your interest in a subject, and the stronger your purpose or motivation in reading, the deeper your concentration will be. Many times the preview step in the SQ3R system can perk your interest in a subject or help motivate you to learn more.
- The ability to concentrate must be acquired. It takes effort and practice. You want to read and study with an intent to understand and recall.
- Make sure you are working in a proper environment. Have good lighting, a suitable noise level with minimal distractions (put your phone away), plenty of air, and comfortable clothes and seating. Only you can drive away distractions. If you have something pressing on your mind that you need to take of first, do so, so you can concentrate on the work at hand.
- Have a well-defined purpose in reading. Think—why am I reading this?
- Do not try to concentrate when you are very tired. You will be wasting your time and become discouraged when you can’t recall what you have just read or studied.
- Find the time of day when your mind is most active and receptive to do your serious reading and studying. Reading at the same time in the same place every day will help you to form a reading and studying habit that will increase your powers of concentration.
- It helps to take a “thinking break” after each paragraph or chapter subheading. In SQ3R, this is when you recite the main points of what you have been reading. If you can’t recite the main points, perhaps you were not concentrating.
Again, reading a college textbook is a different process than thumbing through a magazine or reading your favorite novel. Using the SQ3R method and seeking to improve your concentration will make the time spent in reading your textbooks more worthwhile.
Part 4: Effective Memorization
Many students tend to be able to recognize information, but not recall information. They frequently think that when they cannot recall a correct answer that they have forgotten it, when in reality, they never really knew the information, they could only recognize it. Recognition occurs when you are able to arrive at a correct answer after you have been given a number of answers to choose from, such as in a multiple choice test. Recall involves remembering information without any choices or cues; that is, without the aid of recognition. Essay questions and even short-answer questions put an emphasis on this skill.
Thus, do not study just to recognize information; study to recall information. In addition, you should always ask your instructor what kind of test you will be taking. Is it objective, meaning multiple choice, matching and true/false, or is it subjective, meaning short answer and essay. Knowing what the test will entail will aid you in studying the information correctly.
Intend to remember. Tell yourself you will recall this information because you want to remember it.
Learn from the general to the specific. In essence, build a framework or create context first. Superior, Erie, Michigan, Huron, and Ontario mean nothing if you don’t identify them as the Great Lakes first.
Make the information meaningful by creating associations. Create a concept map of the main points and supporting details of what you have read or are trying to remember. Concept maps show the relationships between ideas and make memorization easier. They also allow you to create a “picture” of what you are learning. Pictures are easier to recall than lists of words or outlines because they allow you to visualize the information. In addition, when you try to remember lists or outlines, you have a tendency to recall the beginnings and the endings and confuse the information in the middle. An example of a concept map is on the next page.
Study actively. Look for answers, recite the material aloud, create flashcards, or write notes, and test yourself.
Recite and repeat, the more often the better. Overlearn the information. This means once you think you know the information, test yourself one more time.
As with increasing your concentration, reduce interference. Find a place to study where you won’t be distracted. Turn off your phone and put it out of sight.
Keep a positive attitude. Find something that connects you to the information or motivates you even if you think the subject is boring. Tell yourself you will learn this information because you need to pass this course in order to fulfill your goal of graduating.
Space your studying. Distribute your learning over hours or days. Studying a little at a time is more effective than cramming.
Use all of your senses. Look at it, say it, listen to it, talk about it, and write it. Use the material in as many different ways as you can. Create flashcards, concept maps, timelines, charts, short lists, summaries, and self-tests.
Group items in groups of seven or less. For instance, your social security number is ten digits, but you tend to recall it in three parts or groups (i.e. 123-45-6789). We tend to remember seven groups of information at a time.
For information that is difficult for you to recall, use a mnemonic device. For instance, make up an acronym, a rhyme or song, or an acrostic. These are described below.
Acronym: The word scuba is an acronym that stands for Self, Contained, Underwater, Breathing, and Apparatus. The word homes stands for the Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. SQ3R is another acronym: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, and Review. These are popular acronyms, but you can make up your own acronyms by taking the first letter of each of the words you want to recall and making a new word to use as a memory tag. Absurd and silly words are especially easy to remember.
Suppose you needed to remember the six listening faults: daydreaming, closed-mindedness, false attention, intellectual despair, memorizing, and personality listening. You would take the first letter of each meaningful word; in this case, D, C, F, I, M and P and create a new word or phrase, such as PC DIMF or DC PIMF. The word or phrase doesn’t have to make sense, it just has to be memorable. When you have your test in hand, take a moment to write down PC DIMF in the margin. When you come to the question that deals with the six listening faults, you will have a memory tag all ready to aid your thinking. If the list of items to be remembered has to be in order, you will be limited in what you can create, so you might want to create an acrostic instead.
Have you ever noticed that when a song comes on the radio or TV, you can easily recall the words? Create a jingle or a song of concepts to aid your memory. Perhaps you are familiar with the jingle:
Thirty days has September, April, June and November. All the rest have 31 except February, it’s a different one. It has 28 days clear, and 29 each leap year.
An acrostic is another effective memory device. A popular one you may be familiar with is “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas.” This acrostic, which is a sentence using words with the same first letter as the words you are trying to recall, is a clue to the planets in order from the sun: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. The six listening faults could also be recalled using an acrostic. For instance, I may call proper friends daily. I for intellectual despair; M for memorizing; C for closedmindedness; P for personality listening; F for false attention; and D for daydreaming.
Keep in mind that mnemonic devices should not be overused. They are intended just for information that is difficult for you to recall. Many times people will recall the mnemonic device they used years after memorizing it, but not be able to recall what it stands for. Roy G. Biv is a popular acronym that many people recall, but don’t remember that it stands for the colors of the rainbow in proper order; Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet. Thus, limit the number of mnemonic devices you use when you are studying.
Part 5: Test Anxiety/Speech Anxiety
All students experience some test anxiety – a fear or worry about having to take a test. When the anxiety is normal, it raises your alertness and is productive. When the anxiety is severe, it can cause mental interference which will make concentration difficult and make you easily distracted. It also can produce physical symptoms, such as restlessness; “butterflies in the stomach”; accelerated heart beat and/or breathing; nausea, sweaty palms and a headache, among other symptoms.
The worst part of severe test anxiety is that it causes a mental block which makes it difficult to focus on the task at hand and remember all the information you have studied. If you are very anxious about a test and have studied effectively, you can still do poorly on the test if you are unable to control your anxiety.
The most important step to take to control anxiety is to be prepared. You need to self-test and practice the information repeatedly to make it your own. You also need to keep your perspective and not let your emotions interfere with logic. Consider why you are anxious. Are you anxious and afraid because of self-defeating thoughts? If you think you will do poorly, you are setting yourself up to do just that.
You must keep a positive attitude and talk to yourself. Say, “I have studied for this test and even though I may not know all the answers, I do know most of them, so I will earn a good grade;” or in the case of a speech, “I have researched this speech effectively, and I have practiced this speech numerous times in front of my friends and family, so I will be able to deliver it successfully in class.” Use your imagination and visualize yourself being successful. See yourself acing the test or delivering your speech calmly and in control. Imagining yourself successful in a situation sets you up to be successful as long as you have completed all the requirements to be successful, i.e. studying and practicing.
The last technique to controlling text anxiety is to learn to relax. If you find yourself breathing heavily and upset about the test or speech, take a little time and count your breaths for a minute. A breath is considered one intake and one outtake. Next, slow down your breathing and count your breaths again. The fewer breaths you take, the more your body will slow down. If you are anxious, you are probably taking fifteen to twenty breaths per minute; whereas, if you are relaxed, you can limit yourself to three or four breaths per minute without holding your breath. This little exercise can help you focus and relax before you take a test or give a speech, or during a test if you find your anxiety is worsening.
Another exercise you can practice consists of starting out in a comfortable position. Loosen your clothing if necessary. Then, beginning with your toes, tighten your muscles to the count of ten, and then release them from the tension. Next tighten your muscles in your feet, again to the count of ten and release. Continue moving slowly up your body, tightening and releasing. As you are doing this, breathe deeply and slowly. This is a good technique to use on test or speech day before you get to class or just after you arrive. This technique can be used whenever you feel yourself becoming anxious, when you can’t sleep at night, or as a refresher between study and practice sessions.
If you find your mind is blocked during an exam or just before you are to give your speech, close your eyes, take a long, deep breath and let it out slowly. Concentrate on your breathing, so that you can feel and hear yourself breathe. Don’t allow yourself to worry about the exam, speech, time, or tension. Repeat once and then return to the test or ready yourself to give your speech. Keep in mind that being able to make your mind and body relax takes practice, so try these techniques in non-anxious situations. As you become comfortable with them, try them in anxiety-producing situations.
Part 6: Test-taking
In many classes, the large part of your grade, and thus your success, will be from high grades on exams. These pointers will walk you through preparing and taking exams.
The first step to test-taking is to study. If you are prepared for the test, you will be less anxious and more apt to score a high grade. What should you study?
Key terms, definitions and examples: It is not enough to know the terminology and what each new vocabulary word means. You need to be able to provide an example or explain how the word fits into the subject you are studying.
Enumerations or lists of items: Lists of items make excellent test questions, especially the kind that read, “All of the following are related EXCEPT…” These questions demand that you know the entire list and be able to identify the one item that does not apply.
Points emphasized in class: If your instructor repeats a concept in class several times for emphasis, he is giving you a clue that you will see that concept on a test. Study it and know it.
Reviews, study guides, flash cards, PowerPoints: Many instructors provide tools to increase your learning and help you study. If your instructor provides reviews, study guides, PowerPoints and/or flashcards, use them to your advantage. This is information your instructor has designated as important to know.
Questions from quizzes and textbook chapters: If your instructor administers regular quizzes on the material, save the quizzes for future study. There is a good chance you will see those questions or similar ones on the midterm or final. Many textbooks offer questions at the end of each chapter. Ask your instructor if studying these questions would be beneficial or not.
General Tips for Studying for Exams
Get a good night’s sleep. If you are tired while taking the exam, your focus will be weak, and you are more apt to make mistakes. Being well-rested will make you more alert during the exam.
Don’t cram. Schedule regular study times. The optimum way to study is to review the information you have read in your text and heard in your class on a daily basis. This can be just a quick reading through the information, but the repetition will make the concepts stick in your head. If daily is not feasible, schedule time to study your text and class notes on the days the class meets at a minimum. Looking over your notes as soon after class as possible increases your memory of the material and gives you the opportunity to clarify what you have written. Studies have shown that the longer you wait to review your notes, the more you will forget. In fact, you can forget half of what you have learned in just an hour if you don’t review!
The week before the test, you will need to schedule daily study times. Break up the information into workable parts. Study part one the first night. The second night review part one and study part two. The third night review parts one and two and study part three. Continue studying in this way to keep the information fresh in your mind for test day.
In addition, take breaks while you are studying. When you come back from your break, review the material you were focusing on before the break and start studying the new material. Break, review, study provides many beginnings and endings to your studying which is beneficial because we tend to remember the beginnings and endings of information and fudge up the information in the middle.
Take your books, pens, pencils, paper, etc. to class. In short, be prepared to take the test. Responsible college students have the necessary equipment to succeed in school ready every day, not just on test days. In addition to showing responsibility, having what you need with you provides a feeling of confidence because you are ready.
Be on time for the exam. It goes without saying that being on time to class shows respect to the instructor and your other classmates. Being on time also allows you to be more relaxed for the test. Rushing in late and worrying about whether you will have enough time to finish the test will weaken your focus and concentration.
Sit in a quiet spot and don’t talk about the material. Every exam day, you will find a group or groups of students hurriedly trying to make themselves remember the concepts they should have been studying all along. They tend to be frenetic as they ask each other questions and look up answers in the text. You have studied and the information is all in your mind. Don’t sit near these folks and join in their frenzy. Keep to yourself. You have put the material in your mind in a logical fashion and don’t need to upset your thinking by talking with these students.
Read all of the directions on the test carefully. Just because the questions appear to be the usual multiple choice or true and false doesn’t mean you are to answer them the usual way. Sometimes instructors want pluses and minuses instead of trues and falses or T’s and F’s. If you answer the questions using a method different from what the directions state, your answers will be incorrect.
Budget your time. Don’t spend so much time on a single question that you can’t finish the test. Mark the troubling question and come back to it if and when you have time.
Ignore those people who finish before you do. You are not in a race. Students who finish quickly either really know all the information or don’t know any of the information. You may not know all of the information, but you will know most of it because you studied. Use your time wisely and review your test if you finish before time is up to make sure you haven’t made any “stupid mistakes.” Use all the time you are given.
Answer the easy questions first. Answering the easy questions first tends to build your confidence as you proceed through the test. In addition, these questions may provide clues to the more difficult questions.
Mark the troublesome questions so you can look at them again later. Many times troublesome questions become clearer after reading and answering other questions on the test. Just be sure to keep track of the questions you have deemed difficult, so you can go back to them later. It is usually wise to select an answer to those difficult questions before you move on just in case you don’t have time to return them.
Answer all the questions. If you leave a question blank, it is wrong. Guess if you don’t know the answer. A guess at least gives you a chance at getting the question correct.
If you don’t understand the question, state the question in your own words. If this doesn’t clarify the question, ask the instructor for clarification. You can’t answer a question you don’t understand.
Always review your answers before handing in your test. However, do not change any answers unless you are certain you have made a mistake and answered incorrectly. Perhaps you accidently marked the wrong letter choice, or you misread the question. In these instances, changing your answer is wise. Otherwise, your first inclination is usually the right answer.
Additional Tips for Multiple Choice Questions
Use process of elimination. Read all of the choices and cross out those choices that are definitely false or incorrect, and choose from the answers that remain.
If unsure of an answer, even after using process of elimination, pick one, so you have an answer on your test, but mark the question to come back to later. This way, if you run out of time, you will still have an answer and not a blank.
Watch for qualifiers, such as, all, most, some, no, always, usually, sometimes, never, great, much, little, more, equal, less, good, only, bad, is, is not. Keep in mind that few things in life are always or never, so phrases such as, most of the time or rarely are more acceptable answers.
If one answer choice is a paraphrase of another answer choice, both choices are incorrect.
Additional Tips for Matching Questions
Read all of the items to be matched to understand the possibilities. Fill in all the matches you are sure of and then go back and choose answers for the difficult ones. Make sure you note which answers you have used, so you can keep track of what you are doing.
Additional Tips for True and False Questions
Watch for qualifiers, such as, all, most, some, no, always, usually, sometimes, never, great, much, little, more, equal, less, good, bad, is, is not. Keep in mind that few things in life are always or never, so phrases such as, most of the time or rarely are more acceptable answers.
If any part of the statement is false, the entire statement is false.
Additional Tips for Essay Questions
When studying for an essay test, anticipate probable questions beforehand and create outlines for the answers for memorization.
Read the questions carefully and answer what is being asked. Often essay questions consist of several questions in one. Answer all of them.
Jot down a brief outline in the margin before writing out your answer, so your answer is clear and organized.
Write a clear, organized essay. Begin by paraphrasing the question. Then introduce your main points and supporting details. Remember, each main point must have supporting information. Use transitional words, such as first, second, next, then, however, finally and also to connect your ideas. Last, be sure to proofread your essay answer for errors and legibility.
Part 7: Avoiding Plagiarism
Plagiarism in a problem in many classrooms. It is a problem for students, since plagiarizing robs them of learning opportunities and can get them in serious trouble. It is a problem for teachers, since it leaves them unable to tell how much a student really knows and causes them to have extra administrative work to deal with students who plagiarize.
Unfortunately, it is also common. Some researchers estimate rates of cheating in undergraduate classrooms at over 80% (McCabe et al., 2001a, 2001b; McCabe & Trevino, 2002; Dawkins, 2004; Callahan, 2004; Whitley, 1998). This statistic includes other types of cheating, but we can deduce from it that plagiarism is common. And some researchers say that committing plagiarism in college can be a predictor of dishonesty in the workplace later in life (Hilbert, 1985; Lucas & Friedrich, 2005). Failing an assignment or a class is a bad consequence, but if this sort of behavior continues, it can ruin one’s career.
One reason that plagiarism is such a problem is that students don’t have a good understanding of what it is. Although students may articulate some understanding of plagiarism, and that it must be avoided, they do not understand the purpose of citation itself. They may only think of it as a required convention of academic writing, rather than as a means of learning and contributing to an ongoing accumulation of knowledge (Lofstrom, 2011).
Some researchers have found that students feel confused by the rules, and express fear that they may accidentally fall into plagiarism even when trying not to, or even to accidentally echo a phrase previously encountered and mistake it for their original thought (Ashworth, Bannister & Thorne, 1997). This is consistent with other’s findings that students cannot identify plagiarism when given examples, do not know how to paraphrase and cite (Marshall & Garry, 2006; Yeo, 2007; Pecorari, 2003).
How do we teach about plagiarism?
The good news is that simply educating students about plagiarism helps reduce it (Landrau, Druen & Arcuri, 2002). But, a complicating factor in the public speaking classroom is the confusion that exists for some students about citation standards in verbal communication (Holm, 2002). Some students who may exhibit appropriate citation behaviors in written assignments fail to do so in speeches.
In a recent study (Mendes, 2017), student respondents on a plagiarism survey indicated some interesting things about their understanding of plagiarism. First, many respondents specifically used the terms “stealing” or “theft” and “words.” The implications of this usage are that these students focus specifically on others’ words, but not necessarily on thoughts, ideas, or conclusions. However, another significant minority of students used “thoughts” in their answers, indicating a more thorough understanding of citation requirements. Another important group of words that came up in the study was “knowing,” “intentional,” or “purpose,” indicating that plagiarism behaviors are always intentional (and that perhaps unintentional plagiarism does not count).
Below are a series of activities that will help you reach a better understanding of some important ideas about plagiarism:
- How to use quotation marks.
- When and how to paraphrase.
- How to cite information from multiple sources.
An important thing to remember about quotation marks is that you shouldn’t use very many. Unless there is important technical language, a direct quote you need to reference, or a significant phrase, it is better to paraphrase the information you use, rather than directly quote it (more on paraphrasing later). If you are quoting something, the a proper citation should include the quoted material and a parenthetical citation (Author’s last name, Year of publication). Anytime you are going to use more than a couple words in the same order as the reference text, go ahead and add the quotation marks – but ask yourself if you could rephrase the idea so that you use different words. DO NOT just leave off the quotation marks!
Paraphrasing is when you take the information from a source and put it in your own words, usually be combining it with information you already know, or by explaining how the information is relevant to the topic you are writing about. It can be more difficult that you expect, because sometimes once you have read the original author’s phrasing, it is hard to think of a “better” way to say it. Think instead of how you will be telling us something about the information – why is it important, how it relates to your topic or argument, whether it agrees or disagrees with other information in your speech.
Read the following passage, and from the information provided, take 1 quotation and 2 paraphrased sentences:
Cricket will be joining the crowded U.S. professional sports landscape as part of a $70 million licensing agreement between the United States of America Cricket Association (USACA) and Pennsylvania-based Global Sports Ventures, LLC. The move is a significant first step in growing the popular sport in the U.S., which has the second highest viewership of cricket in the world behind only India. More than 1.4 million people in the U.S. watched the ICC World Twenty20 competition won by West Indies earlier this year.
Cricket was a popular American sport before the Civil War, with rules that were formalized by Benjamin Franklin in 1754. George Washington played cricket in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, in 1778 and the first international competition in any sport was actually a cricket match between the U.S. and Canada, according to the USACA. The multiyear licensing agreement means a franchised Twenty20 (T20) professional league will be established within the next year or so. There are ongoing talks about the number of teams, the cities in which they’ll be based, they facilities in which they’ll play, and the creation of player contracts for both men and women (Matuszewski, 2016).
Sometimes you will be combining information from more than one source in one paraphrased statement. Using the 2 passages below, write a sentence that contains information from both in paraphrased form.
What happens, though, when a child with talent and enthusiasm has nowhere to play? The U.S. only has one purpose-built ICC-certified cricket ground, at Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill, Florida. In 2015, the Cricket All-Stars, two teams captained by Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne, two of cricket’s best-recognized names, played three exhibition games at Citi Field in New York City, home of the New York Mets, Minute Maid Park in Houston and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, two other baseball venues, using drop-in cricket pitches for games of 20 overs a side. (Kakade, 2017)
An Indian-American cricket enthusiast has announced plans to build as many as eight cricket stadiums across the US at an estimated cost of $2.4 billion to professionalise the game in the country. The eight proposed stadiums, each having a capacity of 26,000 people in New York, New Jersey, Washington DC, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Illinois and California, would create as many as 17,800 new jobs in the US, said Jignesh (Jay) Pandya, chairman of Global Sports Ventures (Press Trust of India, 2017).
Hopefully, this practice exercise has made it easier to understand when and how to cite, paraphrase, and combine sources. Your instructor can answer other questions you have.
Ashworth, P., Bannister, P., and Thorne, P. (1997). Guilty in Whose Eyes? University students’ perceptions of cheating and plagiarism in academic work and assessment. Studies in Higher Education, 22 (2), 187-203.
Callahan, D. (2004). The cheating culture: Why more Americans are doing wrong to get ahead. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, Inc.
Cutler, T. (2017). Can cricket finally crack America’s sport market? Newsweek. April 12, 2017. Retrieved from http://www.newsweek.com/jay-pandya-cricket-america-indian-premier-league-582352
Dawkins, R. (2004). Attributes and statuses of college students’ association with classroom cheating on a small–sized campus. College Student Journal, 38, 116-129.
Landrau, J., Druen, P. and Arcuri, J. (2002). Methods for helping students avoid plagiarism. Teaching of Psychology, 29, 112-115.
Lofstrom, E. (2011). “Does plagiarism mean anything: LOL.” Students’ conceptions of writing and citing. Journal of Academic Ethics, 9, 257-275.
Marshall, S., Garry, M. (2006). NESB and ESB students’ attitudes and perceptions of plagiarism. International Journal for Educational Integrity, 2, 26-37.
Matuszewski, E. (2016). Professional cricket league is coming to US with $70 million licensing areement. Forbes. September 29, 2016. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/erikmatuszewski/2016/09/29/professional-cricket-league-is-coming-to-u-s-with-70-million-licensing-agreement/#457a7cf9375f
McCabe, D., Trevino, L., and Butterfield, K. (2001a). Cheating in academic institutions: A decade of research. Ethics and Behavior, 11, 219-232.
McCabe, D., Trevino, L., and Butterfield, K. (2001b). Dishonesty in academic environments. Journal of Higher Education, 72, 29-45.
Mendes, A. (2017). “What even is plagiarism?”: Measuring undergraduates’ comprehension of source attribution standards in a Public Speaking class. Proceedings, 86, Spring.
Pecorari, D. (2003). Good and original: plagiarism and patchwriting in academic second-language writing. Journal of Second Language Writing, 12, 317-345.
Press Trust of India, 2017. Indian-American to build 8 cricket stadiums in US. Times of India. February 2, 2017. Retrieved from http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/sports/cricket/news/indian-american-to-build-8-cricket-stadiums-in-us/articleshow/56930109.cms
Yeo, S. (2007). First-year university science and engineering students’ understanding of plagiarism. Higher Education Research and Development, 26, 199-216.