Archive for the ‘university’ Category

The new semester just started at the college where I work as the Study Skills Development Specialist. Things are busy and even though we have only been back to class for a week, many students are already requesting one-on-one tutoring sessions.

These students have done something that I wish more students would do. They ask for help and they ask for it early. On the other hand, we often have students who wait until the last few weeks of school, asking for a tutor, and then wanting to learn everything they were supposed to learn throughout the entire semester in just a few days.

Sorry folks… but that would require an parting-of-the-red-sea type of miracle.

While I cannot hand you a miracle strategy, I can share a formula that equals success for students who apply it consistently. Here is it… the formula for success:

Time + Repetition = Success

There is no substitute for it! So, you have a choice to make. The easy way or the hard way. The easy way is to be actively engaged in the process of learning on a daily basis. The easy way consists of being prepared for class, being actively engaged in class, reviewing class notes and text material on a daily basis, and allowing at least five days to study for each exam.

Start this semester right and follow the formula for success. I will be back soon, but until then, please do one thing for me.

Before each and every class, PRE-READ the material your instructor will be covering in the lecture for that day. Even if you do not have time to read the entire thing, at least survey the chapter. Read the chapter headings, read the first paragraph of each section, skim the text, look at any charts or diagrams and read any end of chapter summary or questions. See if you can answer the questions in the summary. Now go to class with this minimal preparation, and see what a difference it makes in your comprehension of the lecture. By preparing your brain with a foundation, you give your instructor something to build on.

Try it and then please share your experiences with me! I also encourage questions!


About six weeks ago, I made a decision that may not seem very big to most people… but to me it was huge. I decided to run a 5K. It isn’t a long run by runners’ standards, but I’ve never been a distance runner, so it is pretty big to me! I’ve been using the Couch to 5K app to train and am now running almost 3 miles without stopping. There have been days I’ve struggled to keep going, but one thing I’ve learned is that I can’t allow myself to stop. At the beginning of my training, I gave up a couple of times, but I realized it made completing the run more difficult. Why? Because I had made stopping an option. So, I made a decision– no more stopping. I would keep going, even if it was a very slow jog. Surprisingly, when I did this, it was never as bad as I thought it was going to be– as a matter of fact, I learned that if I kept going, the quitters spirit went away and it got easier. Each time I finished a run, I increased my strength and determination for the next time. I developed a sense of pride and accomplishment, and because I didn’t allow myself to quit, it built my stamina, strengthened my muscles, and increased my confidence. All of this, just because I kept putting one foot in front of the other.dont stop

Are you doing something that doesn’t come easy to you? Are you entertaining the idea of giving up? Don’t let yourself believe any voice that says you can’t do something. Success is always the result of being very intentional and deliberate. I often see students who give up in a class, or even give up on pursuing their degree just because things got a little hard. The unfortunate thing is…. the point where a student begins to really struggle, is often the point where good things are about to happen. It is a moment when the student can quit, or make a decision that will build his or her stamina, strength and confidence.

When I first started my job at the community college, one of the first students I met with was taking a developmental math class for the fourth time. A few of the staff members thought he was a hopeless case…. he obviously wasn’t able to do it, or didn’t really want to do it, they said. But, I saw something different in him. When I talked with him, I learned that he had gone through some tough times and it negatively impacted his schooling. Yet, he had a tenacity most of the students I worked with did not possess. He told me that he was determined to pass the class and that he would do whatever it took to get through it. And he proved it to me by following through with the game plan I put in place for him, by attending math tutoring faithfully, and by not quitting! At the end of the semester, I got goosebumps when I heard the news…. He got an “A” in his math class! He understood that the only way that class would defeat him was if he quit trying.

So remember… don’t stop. Only volumes of hard work will close the gap between your outcome and your ambitions. It will take some time. And you may have to put up a big fight. That’s normal. You just have to keep going.

Don’t stop.

As an English major, finals week usually involved countless hours sitting on my rear, with bleary eyes staring at the computer screen, conducting research and writing lengthy term papers. After a while I would begin getting drowsy or just feel the need to move. Do you relate? While taking a break can be beneficial, the risk is getting distracted and not coming back to it soon enough….. or not at all! 

I always tell my students to time the breaks ! I would suggest setting a timer for 15-30 minutes. And, what should you do? In my experience, taking a quick walk, doing some exercises, or any other physical activity can be especially helpful. It relieves stress, wakes you up, and gives your bum a break from sitting! Also, I’d suggest getting a drink, having a healthy snack, or whatever you need to revive your mind and body. However, as soon as your timer goes off, don’t procrastinate….. get back to studying!

Check out the link below to find a great chart for doing a full body workout in just 7 minutes! It fits perfectly into a study break and is great for your mind and body! 

7-Minute Research-Based Full Body Workout!


When I was in college, the term, “freshman fifteen,” referred to the fifteen pounds or more that most students gained during their first year of college. It was a true phenomenon, and I suppose we could chalk it up to a number of things. Perhaps metabolism slows down a little after 18. Or, it could be the high fat and starch diets found in many college cafeterias. Or perhaps, we should point a finger at the frat parties with plentiful booze. To top it off, it could also be the sedentary lifestyle of students who study for hours on a daily basis (is that true?). Whatever the reason, you don’t have to go to the gym every day to fight off the pounds. Making a conscious effort to stay physically active can make a big difference, not only in your body, but also in your mind. It is a well-established fact that exercise strengthens the structure and function of the brain. Many animal and human studies have “shown that a few months of moderate exercise can create new neurons, lift mood and hone memory and thinking”.

Here are some easy ways to do it:

  • Walk. Walk a lot. If you drive to school, don’t go for the closest parking lot. Park further away, and then take a brisk walk to your class.
  • Always, always choose the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • If you live close enough to campus to ride a bike to school, then do it!
  • When you walk to classes, do so at a brisk pace. Who cares if it doesn’t look cool?
  • Your campus probably has a gym. Go there and use the tread mill, elliptical, or stationery bike, and you can even use your study flash cards while you do it (see the previous post on this topic).

When you are studying, take breaks ever 45-50 minutes. This is good for your mind, but it is also good for your body if you use the break to move. Take a walk around the dorm, go up and down the stairs a few times, or change your study area. For example, if you have been studying in the library for the last hour, pack up your bag and walk to the café. Study for an hour while you sip your latte, and then pack up your bag and move to yet another area. The breaks and movement are great for your concentration and study power.

To sum it up…. Get moving!

Have you learned the hard way that you can’t remember things if you haven’t dispersed your studying over several days? Students are often surprised to learn that 10 hours of studying the day before an exam is not equal to 10 hours of studying over 5 days! The formula I am regularly giving students is TIME + REPETITION = SUCCESS. Time is a vital part of the equation!

The Ebbinghaus Curve of Forgetting shows us that people forget things at a shocking pace if they don’t review the information at regular intervals. You may recall that Ebbinghaus discovered in his experiment on memory and retention, that a huge portion forgotten material is lost in the first 20 minutes! Even more shocking, without any review, the person has forgotten nearly half of what was originally learned after just one hour. 24 hours later, a whopping 2/3 of the learned information has been lost! You can combat this rapid memory decline by using your Cornell Notes in a very purposeful way. If you follow my suggestions for review, you will find that when it is time for a test, you will have already made tremendous progress towards being prepared. Just implement the 5-day study plan a week before the test to seal the deal!

In order to use Cornell notes to combat the forgetting curve, you will want to begin by setting your note taking paper up in the form of Cornell Notes by drawing a line about 1/3 of the way over from the left, and another line a couple of inches from the bottom. Then work your way through steps 1-5, as described in the graphic below. It is just that simple!

Use Cornell Notes to Change the Forgetting Curve!

Using the Cornell note taking method in this strategic way combats the dramatic drop in memory pinpointed in the Ebbinghaus curve. Since we know that most of the forgetting occurs in the first 20 minutes after a lecture, you will want to review your notes in those first 20 minutes. (However, this is not just glancing over your notes, this reading through them and processing them in a meaningful way.) According to the Curve of Forgetting data, that brief review bumps the curve to nearly an incredible 100% again. Your second review should occur within the first 24 hours, the third within the first week, and the fourth by 30 days. Periodic review during that 30 day time period is also recommended. Look at the graphic below to see an illustration of this concept. Each time review is conducted, the curve is boosted. You might also notice that the drop in the curve is less dramatic after each review, because the brain is beginning to move information to the long-term memory.

retention and review 

The regular reviews help make those new neuro-pathways smooth and easier to navigate. This means you have quicker and easier access to the memory, which also helps to combat test anxiety, blank mind syndrome, and other stress-related memory blocks.

Try it! It is an extremely effective way of studying and keeps you from having to use those grueling, stressful, and ineffective all-nighters before an exam.

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.

Studying for a test can be excruciatingly difficult if you wait until the day before the exam to study. But, that’s what many students do. This may be due to poor time management skills,or a student being unrealistic about how long test preparation will take, or perhaps simply having a bad case of procrastination.

Whatever the case may be, a student will not reach his or her full potential without learning how to more effectively prepare for an exam. This skill can easily be transferred over to every-day-life, as well as to a future career. Think about it. Some day Jack or Jill will be in the work force, and Big Boss will say, “I want this presentation ready by Friday.” Jack may end up with a panic-induced form of procrastination, and Jill might end up with a lousy presentation because she pulled an “all-nighter”. Instead, if Jack and Jill learn how to set up a plan for completing a project over several days, they will be more capable in their future employment.

I learned about the 5-Day Study Plan in my job as an academic coach. The idea is simple, but very effective. Block off chunks of of time in your planner each day for 5 days before the exam. Typically these blocks of time will be 2-3 hours of time, depending on the difficulty of the material. The first four days will be used to prepare study material and/or to use the study material. For example, the exam is over chapters 1-8. So, on day 1, you will prepare study materials for chapters 1 and 2. You may be creating practice tests, flash cards, concept maps, study sheets, etc. On day 2, you will prepare chapters 3 and 4, and then use the study materials you prepared the day before for chapters 1 and 2. On day 3, you would prepare chapters 5 and 6, and then review chapters 1-4 using the study materials you have prepared.

Now, let’s skip ahead to think about what day 5 would be like. You have all of your study materials ready, and have already done quite a bit of studying over the last 4 days. So, on day 5, you just need to continue to review, quiz yourself, and utilize the materials you have created. You don’t feel panicked because you’ve already gained a solid grasp of most of the material. It’s a great way to do well on the exam and combat test anxiety.

Adapting the Plan to Academic Papers

Take a moment to think about how you might adapt this idea to writing a research paper. Depending on the length and complexity of the paper, you might need more than 5 days to work on it. When you are first assigned a paper, see how many days you have between the current day and the due date. Look at your calendar and choose days and times that you will set aside to work on your paper. Think about the steps you may need to take, and make a skeleton plan for yourself. As an example, you have 2 weeks before your 10-page research paper on metaphysical poetry. In my opinion, the first step is pretty much always research, and that research will help you choose and refine your topic. The second step is nailing that topic down, and the third is beginning your focused research.

The fourth step is to start writing, and you need to identify a date for that. The reason I specifically choose a day to start comes from a conversation I was having with one of my coworkers when I was doing a large research paper. I mentioned that I enjoy the research part of writing so much, I would research a topic “to death” before I started writing. My co-worker brilliantly said, “I think that research can sometimes be a well-disguised form of procrastination.” It was a light bulb moment for me! I was regularly talking to students about methods for combating procrastination, yet I was indulging in it myself. Now, when I am preparing to write , I choose the day I will stop research and begin writing and put it in my planner. Then, I back plan and create deadlines for different parts of the writing process, and put those in my planner, as well. Don’t forget to give yourself a couple of days for editing before you have to turn the paper in!

A lot of people are resistant to integrating this much structure into their lives. But, I can tell you from experience, it is actually very freeing to plan and prepare major projects in this way. The bonus is, it drastically reduces or eliminates the anxiety and stress that comes if you have no plan and end up working on a paper, project, or studying for a test while in crisis mode. Try it. And I mean really try it! Sometimes one of my students will say, “I tried what you recommended, but it didn’t work.” But, when they tell me what they did, they often stop after the planning part. That isn’t trying it. You have to follow through with the plan. If you don’t, you can’t say it didn’t work. The truth is, you didn’t work!

Please come back and let me know how you used a 5-Day Plan in your work as a student or elsewhere. Feel free to ask question, as well. I love to brain storm solutions with students.