Archive for November, 2012

I have to admit something…. I actually get excited about starting a new planner in January. (Geek much?)  The photo is of my beat-up and well-used 2012 planner, next to my newly purchased 2013 planner. I have been thinking about how I want to set up my new planner and what worked and what didn’t work last year.  The planner I use is called the Uncalendar, and it allows the user to make most of the decisions. It makes perfect sense that a planner should be customizable. We aren’t cookie cutter people with matching lives.

The one thing I don’t love about it, is that it is very plain and industrial looking. But, maybe that can be tweaked, as well. I am pretty sure I will be spicing up the look of my planner, and sharing it in a future post.

For now, I will focus on the functionality and essential elements of a planner in the next several posts.  In the comments, I’d love to hear about your favorite planner and what works for you!


Yep, that wasn’t a typo. That is the response I received when I passed one of my students in the hall and asked how his last test went: “I got 101%!” I have to admit, it was an unexpected response that stopped me in my tracks. This young man was taking a particular math class for the third time. I could tell he was a smart guy, but he was mostly lacking the self-discipline he needed to make satisfactory progress. I told him what I thought, and I asked him to meet with me once a week so that we could work on developing several vital study skills. In our visits, I showed him how to keep a planner, manage his time, set up a study plan for tests, and a new way to take math notes. He took those skills and ran with them, and was now surpassing the goal he stated to me a few months ago to “just pass the class!”

Juxtapose this situation with another student coming in the program. Ronald was also taking a math class. He had failed it once before, and his immediate goal was the same as Josh’s; He just wanted to pass the class. A few days ago, Ronald dropped by my office. “Hey, I just want you to know I dropped that math class. I was still failing.” What was the difference between this student and Josh? Both students received the exact same services in our program. However, Ronald attended study skills sessions begrudgingly. Every time I tried to coach him through using a new kind of study tool he would say, “But that won’t work because…” He would meet with his tutor every week, but he didn’t do much of anything on his own between tutoring sessions. When I asked him why he wasn’t implementing the skills he learned from me, or practicing what the tutor taught him on his own, he would say, “Because all I need is for my tutor to explain things to me again.” Ronald thought he knew what he needed, but his current methods were leading to failure. The bottom line is, he was resistant to change.

20121113-112327.jpgUnfortunately, I see more students like Ronald than Josh. It is frustrating because I sense that most of these students are fully capable of achieving success, They just haven’t reached the point where they are ready to change anything. This is especially true if we are asking them to put more time and effort into a class they hate and didn’t want to take in the first place. I’ve been there…. I have to admit that I really didn’t want to take Spanish when I was working on my associate’s degree. But, I was able to get through Spanish I without too much trouble. When I started Spanish II, I despised verb conjugation. I didn’t really “get it”. I began to struggle, big time. I had to meet with a tutor. I had to take Spanish flash cards with me everywhere I went, even when I took my daily walk. I had to write and rewrite verb conjugation charts from memory. In the end, I got an “A”. And believe me, it isn’t because I was smart, it was because I realized that the methods I used in Spanish I weren’t going to work for Spanish II. Sometimes, you just have to be willing to change, and that willingness can be the bridge between failure and success.

In the Academic Support Center we have a group of Peer Tutors who work with students who have requested extra help. Even though these tutors have been able to maintain great grades in the past, once they throw the tutoring job into the mix, sometimes they have trouble keeping up with everything. We have found that if they have study skills “tutoring” where they learn time management and other quality study techniques, they are less likely to have this grade decline when they start working. Elliott is a successful engineering student who became a tutor this fall. When I showed him the 5-day study plan (which I discussed in a previous post) he decided that he liked the idea, but felt that 5 days was too much. So, he set up a 3-day study plan for an upcoming test. The result? He scored a “B” on his exam. While a “B” is not bad, he knew he could do better. So, when the next test approached, he decided to set up a 4-day study plan. That extra day of study got him a 100%!

Is your current method for test preparation only one or two days of study time? Do yourself a favor. Set up a plan for distributed practice and then follow through with the plan. I guarantee that if you stick with it, you will find your test scores soar. When you get your fabulous exam score, please take a picture of the page with your grade and tweet it to @successhacks1 and tell me how many days you set up for your study plan.

Good luck and study hard!

I was teaching study skills workshop yesterday, and when I paused to take questions, one young man raised his hand and asked, “You mentioned flash cards…. do you really recommend that? Isn’t that kind of old school?”

Suddenly feeling like an old schoolmarm, I told him that flash cards have been around so long because they work!  The standard equation I share with students about learning is this:

time + repetition = success 

Flash cards are the perfect tool for this. They have the advantage of being portable, so they can be tucked into a purse, coat pocket, backpack, glove compartment or whatever. When you have a few spare minutes, you can use the time for a quick review if you have study materials handy. (That is the time + repetition part!)

Here are some other cool things about flash cards: They are great for tactile and kinesthetic learners because they integrate motion and touch. They are great for visual learners and “self-expressive” learners, who might find it especially helpful to color code or decorate their cards. Flashcards are useful for almost every subject. You can use them to memorize math formulas, vocabulary words, and facts. If you are trying to memorize things that need to be remembered in a particular order, you can write each of them on separate cards and see if you can lay them out in order (number the back side so you can quickly check yourself).

So call me old-school if you want, but the fact is, if you don’t utilize this nifty, inexpensive, easy, and flexible tool, you just might just “get schooled”. And don’t just make the cards, actually use them. You will agree. Let me know what you think in the comments!

What I’m going to say may go against the advice you receive from your college adviser.  Most of us are guided to put together a class schedule similar to the way we would put together a puzzle. “Let’s see… I need a class that will fit in this time frame, and I also need something that meets this requirement…. Hey, this one works!” And, so….you’re in!

Can I recommend a different strategy? Long before the enrollment period begins, ask your classmates a lot of questions about the classes they are taking. And I’m not taking about asking “Do you like Dr. Doright?” That is a purely subjective question that will tell you nothing.  Instead ask, “What is it you do or don’t like about his classes?”  This will help you evaluate better whether the instructor will be a good fit for you and your learning style. Find out if the instructor requires a lot of writing, or if the tests are multiple choice, essay, or whatever.  Ask about the types of assignments, the structure of lectures, whether a teaching assistant grades tests, or whatever is important to you, as a student. The more you learn about the professors and the experiences other students are having with them, the more likely you will find the best professors on campus.

Don’t you want to get the biggest “bang” for your educational bucks? Believe it or not, the few years you spend in college will be over before you know it, and you want to be donning the cap and gown knowing that it truly represents what you came there to receive. You should be ending your college career knowing that you have gained usable knowledge and developed necessary skills for your chosen field. If you don’t end up with that, you have wasted a lot of time and money.

I always perform a Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator assessment when a struggling student comes to the Academic Success Center. Through my research, I’ve found that personality types are generally connected to the way a person learns and how they adapt to the academic environment. We call these academic differences “learning dispositions” and there is one disposition we’ve labeled “self-expressive” (SE). SE learners generally benefit from implementing creative methods into their academic activities.

I happen to be a Self-Expressive (SE) learner, so I can identify with these students. When I sit down with an SE to talk about time management, their eyes always light up when they see me with a handful of highlighters, colorful stickers and a planner. Integrating some element of creativity can take the drudgery of time management and make it more effective for them too! In a nutsell, these types of learners flourish when allowed to express themselves in unique and creative ways.

If the idea of stickers and highlighters perk your interest, you just might be a “Self-Expressive” too. I’ll show photos of the inside of my planner in a later post.