I hate mathI’ve recently returned to college to work on a master’s degree. When I talked to my advisor, he said I should take a statistics class to prepare for a research methods class. I think my blood ran cold. Math is not my strong suite. I can make straight A’s in just about any other type of class, but my mind has a great difficulty processing math. I really did not want to do it, but I also recognized the value of good advice.

I signed up for the class, and tried to adjust my attitude to a positive one. I studied, I did my homework, and I spent a lot of time preparing for my first test. So, imagine my disappointment when I scored a low C on my first test. I got a little more organized, and I made some changes in how I was studying. I practiced the type of problems I thought I would see on the test, and I did a little better. But, I was still not happy with my grade. I teach students how to study for a living, so I needed to take a hard look at myself and my study habits, just like I would any other college student.

What was I missing? What was I not doing?

Pre-reading! I hadn’t been doing it, because my instructor was not telling us what she would cover in the next class. So, I decided to ask her. I sent her a message on Blackboard and asked what I should read before the next class. She was happy to tell me!

Guess what? It made a world of difference! I went to class knowing which concepts I understood, and what was causing me trouble. I went to class, prepared with questions I needed to ask, and I had the vocabulary I needed to understand more from the lecture. I also had notes from my reading, and I could just add to them in class, rather than frantically trying to write down every single word my instructor said. My experience in class was immensely different when I went to class prepared.

If you are a college student and haven’t been doing this, I would emphatically recommend it. Class is a totally different experience when you pre-read the text material, or material provided by your instructor. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your instructor questions. I have found that instructors are very accommodating and helpful. They like to know students are engaged and care about their class. Questions are welcomed and encouraged by most!

TRY IT! You will be glad you did.

final exam memeToday, I want to briefly talk about the ineffectiveness of cramming. Many students try to prepare for finals this way, but it is not effective. And, to be quite honest, most students who cram do not do well.

If you do not know what type of final exam you will have, it is a good time to ask your instructor. Is it comprehensive, or will it just be over the most recently learned material? If you have a lot of old material to review, you need to make a plan that includes both old and new material. And, you should start preparing study materials, and reviewing the old material now.

Plan study time every day between now and finals. The fact is, our working memory can’t hold that much new information, and we tend to forget most of what we attempt to learn during cramming sessions. Plus, it is far less stressful to prepare over a couple of weeks.

First, get your exam schedule. (Hint: Some colleges schedule all finals the same week, and you may have your exam at a different day, time and place, than when your class normally meets.) Make sure you ask or check your syllabus for this information and put it on your calendar.

Next, print this Expanding the 5-Day Study Plan Worksheet to construct a plan. Alter it as you need, to accommodate the number of days and the amount of material you have to study.

I will attempt to post more final exam prep information over the next several days. Please send me any questions you have, and I will do my best to respond quickly! You may see your question come up as a blog post!




As you begin a new semester, you are probably purchasing supplies, like pens, notebooks, and some very expensive textbooks! While these tools are vital for college success, it is equally important to include some solid study habits. They will provide the structural support you need to do well in college.

Here are six great habits every college student should be working to develop:

1. Stop hitting snooze. Every time you hit snooze, you are interrupting your sleep cycle, which makes you even more tired when you actually DO get out of bed. So, determine the time you really need to get out of bed. Then, when your alarm goes off…. get up!

2. Eat breakfast. After sleeping 7-8 hours or more, your brain needs fuel to process information and learn! Don’t starve it! Make a habit out of having some type of healthy breakfast when you first get up. Grains are a great choice. The ability to concentrate and focus comes from an adequate, steady supply of energy – in the form of glucose in our blood to the brain.

3. Veggies rule! Dark Green vegetables (such as broccoli, kale, spinach, etc.) are a great source of vitamin K, which is known to enhance cognitive function and improve brainpower

4. Hydrate. The brain is approximately 85 percent water and proper brain function depends on it. In fact, your ability to perform various mental processes is compromised if your fluids are low.

5. Exercise. Studying can be stressful, and exercise is a fantastic way to relieve stress. A Study at the University of British Columbia, found that regular aerobic exercise appears to boost the size of the hippocampus. This is the part of the brain involved in verbal memory and learning.

6. Jot down your thoughts. Take a few minutes every evening to write down any thoughts about the day and create a to-do list for the next day. In the morning, you can start out with a clear mind and greater focus.

I love using a planner. It truly saves me over and over again. Without it, I am sure I would forget appointments or fail to complete tasks. A few years ago, I decided to create my own planner so that I could tailor it to my own specific needs. I have it printed and spiral bound every year at the college bookstore.

There is one page that I particularly love and use every day. It is called Priority One, and I have one for “personal” priorities and one for “professional” priorities. The page has 6 blocks the size of post-it notes. Every day, I identify my 6 most important tasks for the day and write each one on a post-it  note. Then, I arrange them in order of priority on this sheet. When I complete a task, I pull off the post-it note. It is a great feeling if I end my day with all of the post-it notes removed! However, if I do not finish everything by the end of the day, I just leave those tasks on the sheet. The next day I add more notes and rearrange in order of priority.

This can easily be used for staying on top of college assignments, as well. I am sharing these two downloadable PRIORITY ONE sheets with you. Put them in a 3-ring binder, laminate, and/or hang them in a place where you will see them every day. I hope you like it as much as I have!

priority one pages

Priority One Planner Pages

priority one example 3

This is how I use my Priority One Planner Pages for work.

GPA Boosting Checklist Graphic 1) MAKE A PLAN… EVERY DAY      

If you allow the day to unfold at random, you will accomplish nothing. It is important to make a plan every single day. Start by listing everything you need to do that day. Then use a weekly schedule sheet, or your planner, to assign specific times to do each task. This will lead to more effective use of your time and better grades!


Studies show that reciting your notes out loud helps you retain more information. Try this: Stand up and pretend you’re lecturing a class, and only reference your notes when you need to refresh your memory. Or, meet with a classmate and take turns explaining each concept out loud.


Don’t wait to study until it is time for a test! Instead, create a study plan, so that you are studying a little for every class throughout each week (not just when a test is coming up). When it is time for an exam, you will already know the majority of the information and will just need to review and check for knowledge gaps.


First, make sure you shut off your electronics when you study. No TV, no radio, and set your cell phone on “do not disturb” mode (or use an app, like SelfControl.) Studies show that these kinds of distractions and interruptions greatly hinder your ability to learn new information. As a matter of fact, one study showed a 17% lower letter grade on multiple-choice tests for students who were allowed to have a cell phone during learning.


Studies have shown that the brain will forget less when learning occurs in the evening, before sleep. So, this is a great time to review lecture notes and any other information you are attempting to memorize.

The Five Step FormulaOne simple thing that students can do to improve their grades, is to read their textbooks and read them at the right times! I am going to give you a 5-step formula that is very simple, but will make a HUGE difference in your understanding of new material and in your grades. This formula should be used every time you are tackling new material for your class:

Step 1: Consult your syllabus the day before each class, and see what is going to be covered in your next lecture. Then, read the corresponding textbook material during the 24 hours before the next class. Take notes using the Cornell method, and leave spaces between each topic, so you can add to them during the lecture, if needed.

Step 2: Go to class, and during the lecture, add to your notes any time you see things you missed, or if you need to clarify things.

Step 3: Review your notes (including the material covered in class) within 20 minutes after the lecture. (If you go to another class right after that one, review while you are waiting for the next class to start.) Edit, or add to your notes, as needed.

Step 4: Conduct another review of this material within 24 hours, and write study questions for the material.

Step 5: Review again in a week and any time you have a chance, go over your study questions. (See this post on portable flash cards.)

Keep track of these reviews in your planner, or each time you finish a review, write the day you should conduct the next review at the top of the page. After you have completed these five steps, you have established pretty solid bank of memories you can draw from during your next exam. If you will be having a comprehensive final exam, continue to skim/review the material every 3-4 weeks to keep it active in your memory throughout the semester.

This process is tight. You will learn and retain information better than ever, and will be far less stressed that you would be if you were cramming for every exam.

Good luck!


Posted: October 8, 2015 in Uncategorized


No one can deny that text messaging is extremely popular among today’s college students. It is a quick and easy way to communicate with friends and family far and wide. You can even send and receive emails from your phone. How convenient is that? Some students take it even further, and try to do absolutely everything on their phones. Last fall, I worked with a student who wrote 10-page papers on his iPhone! While I did not condone it (and was a bit horrified), I have to say, a small part of me was impressed that he had the perseverance to type something that long on a 2 ½” X 5” inch screen.

While email is a convenient and quick way to reach out to professors, if it is done from an phone, it can be full of pitfalls. First of all, many students make the mistake of using texting shortcuts in emails. These shortcuts never belong in email. Another problem is that many students do not use capitalization, or pay attention to proper spelling and grammar when they email from their phones. While your friends may not care, any professional will care, especially in an academic environment. In addition, college is really a professional training ground. It is preparing you for a career, and skillful communication skills are fundamental and necessary in any job today. If these error-laden, grammatically-wrecked emails become habits that carry over to professional life, you will have a problem!

Whenever you write an email, whether it is created on your computer or your cell phone, never use texting shortcuts. I supervise about 10-15 employees every semester, and am often shocked by some of the texting-shortcut laden emails I receive.

Some are from students, but some are not. And, I hear this same message from professionals all over. It really appears that our society is dumbing-down communication. But, if there is one place where we should hold to a higher standard, it is in education.

Here are some things to remember:

  • Use your college/university email address when corresponding with your instructors. Or if you want to use something like Yahoo or Gmail, that is fine. Just don’t use a cutesy user name like “CatLover5” or “JoJosGirl.” Remember, professional is the key word.
  • Be specific with your subject line. I would suggest putting the name of the class in the subject line. (And use the type of capitalization you would use for a title.)
  • Never write an email without capitalization in the body of the message.
  • Always use proper punctuation.
  • Never use texting short cuts (such as “lol”).
  • Use proper spelling (again, no short cuts)

Begin practicing these habits now, on a daily basis. Not only will you make a better impression on your professors and acquaintances today, you are also polishing habits that will lead to a more successful career in your future.