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Advice for A's|Better Grades

25 Tips to Survive and Thrive Your Freshman Year

Tip #25

Be prepared to feel overwhelmed.

There's a lot going in your life right now. Expect to have moments where it seems a bit too much. As one student says, be prepared to feel completely unprepared. The trick is knowing that you're not the only one feeling that way.

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The following section gives advice for two of the most challenging “sides” of college work.


Develop your mind—put in the time.

In general, college instructors are not out to shape your opinions. But, what they do hope to see in your class participation and written work is a willingness to grapple with new ideas, to explore, to reach new insights that you didn't’t see before—not just reciting what you’ve read or heard in class. This takes more time than superficial thinking. So, it’s crucial to start assignments right away rather than waiting until the night before (it can help to set your own individual due dates before the instructor’s assigned dates).

Read everything on the syllabus—this takes discipline, but believe me, you will see the rewards! Meet with the instructor to talk over and push your ideas. To sum up: take risks with your thinking, accept big feedback, push yourself.

Write in your books.

It’s encouraged at college! Studies show that you will remember more than double the information if you write brief notes in the margins of what you read.[1] Jot notes to yourself that highlight the point of the paragraph (in your own words), talk back or agree with the author, and mark important ideas. Create symbols, such as question marks or exclamation points that point to key sentences. Underlining/highlighting alone won’t do much for you, but scribbling notes on the page as you read will help enormously when you go back to study the material.

Studying for Exams

Use dead-time when you study.

Dead time means no cell phone, no internet, no TV, no computer/video games. The power of the “avoidance cycle” leads us to use cell phone or internet to escape from the work because it’s difficult, and it’s not always fun. We all know that starting work on something is the hardest part! Schedule homework times during the week (if it can be the same time every week, all the better).

Don’t go back to your room between classes.

Go to a place where you will have the best conditions for you to work, and knock out an hour or two of “dead-time” homework. If you can’t take the silence, play some music.  You might even consider listening to Mozart.  Studies show that listening to Mozart can enhance intellectual functioning![2]  At the end of the day, you can kick back and really enjoy your guilt-free leisure time.

Start studying at least a week before an exam.

One of the biggest mistakes students make when it comes to studying is trying to study the night before. One night of studying—even two—will not be enough in most cases to do well on an exam. Instructors are often looking for two things when they give exams: your ability to store information, and your ability to apply information to brand new scenarios. Storing information involves starting one-to-two weeks in advance, and studying material in chunks (rather than trying to study everything every time you study). Studying far in advance will also help you to internalize the concepts, so that when you encounter a new kind of question, you can better apply the material.

See our suggested 7-day exam schedule.

A reminder that successful students:

  • Sit in front 1/3 of the classroom
  • Attend class no matter what
  • Visit the teacher outside of class at least once
  • Put in the time to develop insightful approaches to assignments
  • Study for exams 1-2 weeks in advance
  • Study material in chunks
  • Review notes right after class
  • Turn off cell phone/TV and nix the internet during homework

1. Flippo, Rona & David Caverly, eds. Handbook of College Reading and Study Strategy Research. Mahwah: Erlbaum, 1999.
2. Rauscher, Frances H., Gordon L. Shaw, & Catherine N. Ky.  Music and spatial task performance.  Nature 365, 611 (1993).



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