Wednesday, July 31, 2013

College Life: How to maybe succeed

After yesterday's discussion of how to fail in college, I thought I'd share some of the things I learned about how to succeed. Hopefully, my experience being on both ends, failing and near the top, have given me some sort of insight into what works and what doesn't.

My academic college history
If you're not in the mood to read about my first-year college experience, then let me sum it up for you in one word: fail. My average was just over 1% from having me kicked out for a year and within the 5% band where I was put on academic probation -- this took two straight semesters with an average above 70% to clear. You'd think 70% was a pretty easy average to get, but when your most recent average is 56%, that extra 14% feels like climbing a mountain.

In second year, the first semester back, I managed an A- average, which was pretty impressive for me. The second semester of my sophomore year ended with a B+. That's where I spent the rest of my remaining two years of undergraduate school, hovering in the upper 70s. Okay, that's not true. The final year of college for me was among my best. It didn't go extremely smoothly in the first semester, but the second semester ended with an A- average -- I even managed two A+ grades.

Graduate school came a few years later and I somehow made it in. Chances are that it had to do with the fact that I applied for a course based master's and a part-time program. Regardless, I somehow ended with an A or A+ average -- can't be sure because the scale was something like A- (80-84), A (85-89), and A+ (90-100). Depending on where six of ten A+ grades landed within those ten points, I may have managed an A+ average. Oh, and I got accepted for a second course-based and part-time master's, but decided to bail out just before starting because I wanted a break.

How to maybe succeed in college
Now that I'm done bragging, let me go over some of the things that worked for me. They might not work for everyone, but I like to think that they're reasonably good study habits. If you bother to compare this list with my failing list, they'll probably look similar but opposite.

Lots of these might be complete "duhs", but you'd be surprised what gets lost when the teacher doesn't know your name or care if you keep up or not. I also found that bad habits that worked in high school didn't in college.

1. Go to class. Show up and be on time. Professors usually went over important administrative items or quick reviews at the beginning. They also went over tips, simplifications, and what would or would not be tested in mid-terms and exams.

2. Pay attention in class and take notes. Duh? Not really, I made it through elementary school day dreaming in class, copying notes from the board like a robot, and absorbed nothing. Taking notes by hand forced me to listen and process the information, which gave me a first run through of the material in my head.

3. Reread notes taken in class before the next class and at the end of the week. This is essentially just keeping up with material. It also involves review and study because if you're reviewing notes, you'll maybe try to understand things, process the information, and see what you don't get. Questions can then be asked.

4. Ask questions in class or by email. I blew well over five figures just in tuition to go to college, yet I felt bad about bothering professors throughout undergrad. There was a hefty price that I was paying just to be able to show up for university. Seems stupid now that I wasn't getting my money's worth. And nothing looks stupider than failing a test or assignment because you were afraid to ask questions.

5. Lose the laptop, use pen and paper. This one might be a bit subjective. I got a laptop for graduate school and took it to class a few dozen times to take notes. This allowed me to take a lot of notes -- much more than when I had to write by hand. Unfortunately, I found myself zoning out and just transcribing everything said in class. Being able to type quickly meant that I didn't have to process any information so that I could summarize things to keep up.

6. Do assignments as soon as possible. Because graduate school had a 70% passing grade, I went overboard on keeping up and studying. This meant getting assignments and projects out of the way to give me more study time for tests and to be on top of things. I was probably the first person to finish most assignments and projects -- one project was handed in three weeks early as the due date was after the exam.

7. Study outside the box. What a difference a few years made. During undergrad, the internet still kind of sucked or I just didn't know how to use it. There wasn't that much material available when I tried googling questions about school topics. In graduate school, I tried again and everything was available online. I even wrote a huge research paper using nothing but internet resources because all books and documents were available as PDFs online.

8. Don't pull all-nighters. It became apparent in my final year of undergrad that if I pulled une nuit blanche, I had effed the dog. If I had to stay up all night to finish something, it meant that I total effed up and somehow managed to not find 8 hours throughout the previous month to work on whatever I was working on at 4:00 am in the morning. My most successful semesters had no all-nighters pulled. And if first year was any sign, cramming all night before a test was pointless. I retained nothing and wasn't able to remember things I knew well the day before.

9. Collect assignments and tests, learn from mistakes. After screwing up a question on a midterm or assignment, it seemed like I'd never get the chance to redeem myself. Wrong. Those questions often showed up on the final exam and were worth a larger portion of my final grade.

10. Be social. I associated with only a few people throughout undergrad. They were somewhat helpful for school assignments, notes, and questions I had, but when I needed a job, my options were limited. Worst of all, I ran into a bump of people I never talked to in class at my first job. They recognized me and I recognized them -- we just conveniently ignored the fact that we never talked to each other.

Good luck, have fun, results may vary
Again, everything I pointed out above may or may not work for anyone except me. However, those are the things I picked up over six years in undergraduate and graduate school. They were learned from failing and succeeding. Ah, I miss school... So structured and safe.

College Life: How to Flunk Out of in First-Year
Going to Theaters / Movies Alone
Moving Away for College: Furniture and Dumpster Diving
Quit My Job, Go Back to School?
So you want to study Civil Engineering?

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