Academic Strategies

college students studying
College coursework can be difficult at times - Check out these tips and resources to help you master your assignments.
Adapted from Haverford College’s Office of Academic Resources
Time management is key in college. As you select classes and build your schedule, you’ll quickly realize that you have a ton of unstructured “free time.” This “free time,” however, isn’t really free, and you’ll need to plan how to use that time wisely.
When I was in college, I loved using Google Calendar to block out times for my classes and Writing Center appointments. You can also use a physical planner designed for the college student in mind, which you can order from Amazon, purchase at a Target, or at your College Bookstore.
When filling in your weekly calendar, here are some items to consider:
  1. When are your major assignments due? When are exams and paper deadlines? You’ll find answers to these questions on your class syllabus.
  2. What fuels you and brings you energy? (Are there enough of these types of activities in your calendar to sustain you? How can you budget time in order to increase opportunities for these types of activities and interactions?)
  3. Are you motivated by rewards? Schedule in your social/reward times according to your motivation style.
  4. How long can you reasonably focus for at a time? Build these time blocks into your schedule with regularly scheduled breaks.
  5. Are you building enough time in your schedule to reach out to faculty, attend, review sessions, or to visit the writing center for extra support?
  6. Are you making enough time to sleep and exercise?
Your college or university will have an office dedicated to student support (whether it be tutoring, writing center, or academic resources). Definitely connect to these supports!
Adapted from Haverford College’s Office of Academic Resources

In college, you’ll have more reading than ever! It’s important to learn some reading strategies to become more effective and efficient in your reading. Try the following strategies:

Pre-reading strategies:
  • Define your purpose for reading before you even begin
  • Ask yourself: What do you know about this topic already?
  • Determine how the text fits in the context of the course
  • Research the subject matter, author, and time period in which the text was written
During Reading:
  • Put down that highlighter!! Make marginal notes or comments instead
  • Vary how and what you write. You can summarize, critique, reword, etc. Consider yourself to be in an active dialogue/debate with the author.
  • Be intentional about how and what you write in the margins and/or flag
  • If you enjoy color-coding, match a color pen or flag to a purpose. Is this evidence for an upcoming paper? A key point to be emphasized in class discussion? An idea that you are unsure of and what to discuss during office hours? A topic that is likely to be on an exam?
  • Write questions in the margins and then answer the questions in a separate notebook, as part of your notes, or on a separate piece of paper
  • Hydrate! It’s good to drink water throughout the day
After reading:
  • Write a summary of the essay or chapter in your own words. Do this in less than a page
  • Capture the main ideas and perhaps one or two key examples
  • Redefine key terms in your own words without returning to the text
  • Take time to critically reflect on whether you agree or disagree with what you read and why, as well as what was not addressed in the text that should have been
  • Teach what you have learned to someone else. Research has shown that teaching is one of the most effective ways to learn. You will quickly discover what you do and don't understand, and will begin to transfer the information from short-term to long-term memory!
  • Take a break, get some fresh air, and enjoy a snack!
In college STEM courses you will frequently be asked to complete problem sets. Questions can seem overwhelming at first, but if you take the following steps to break down the problem, it should make solving them much more manageable. Adapted from Haverford College’s Office of Academic Resources.
Step 1: Understand the Problem
  • What information have I been given? What information do I need to find? How would I restate the problem in my own words?
  • What type of problem is this? Is there a similar problem in the textbook?
  • Can I visualize this problem? Can I draw a figure that illustrates the problem?
  • Do not move on to Step 2 until you feel sure you understand the problem! You’ll know if you understand if you can explain this problem to someone else.
Step 2: Devising a Plan
  • Initial Ideas: Do I have any initial ideas as to how I might possibly solve this problem ? What other information can I derive from the given information? How have I solved a similar problem in the past?
  • Following up on initial ideas: Where would this idea get me? How would it help me get closer to the answer? What would I do next after this idea? Does the idea make sense?
  • Troubleshooting: Can I think of a simpler version of this problem that is easier to solve? How would I solve that problem? Can I break this problem into smaller parts that are easier to solve? Have I considered all pieces of the given information? What other ways might I approach this problem ? 
Step 3: Carrying Out the Plan
  • Was I successful in what I intended to do? Do things look correct? Can I prove it? 
Step 4: Checking Your Answer
  • Verifying your Answer: Does my answer make sense? Is it plausible? Can I substitute my answer for the unknown in the problem ? Does my answer have the right units?
  • Learning from your solution: Can I succinctly summarize the approach I used to solve this problem? Why was I asked to solve this problem?
  • Try to put the process of solving that problem into the context of the course. 
For more assistance, your college or university may have peer tutors to assist you. It’s also a great idea to work with others on problem set questions, and to attend your professor’s office hours.  It may take hours in some cases - you’ve got this! Push through.
Adapted from Cornell University’s Learning Strategies Center
Attending office hours is one of the best action-steps to take while enrolled in your classes! During office hours, a professor or teaching assistant (TA) will have scheduled times outside of class to meet with you. You may need to attend to ask for extra help, seek clarification of material presented in class, and follow-up on aspects of the class you find compelling. 
Office hours in college are different from office hours in high school.
  • In college, you can use office hours to discuss majors and programs of study, graduation requirements, as well as summer internships, graduate schools, and more.
  • Office hours are rarely, if ever, required. Students decide for themselves when they need or want to participate.
  • Students are expected to “drive” these meetings with their own questions and thoughts.
Tips for Office Hours:
  1. Prepare by attempting your homework and review your notes from class.
  2. Identify as clearly as you can what you do not understand, and bring those notes and questions to your office hours appointment.
  3. Be patient! Several students come for office hours at the same time. If the instructor is especially busy, you may have to wait a little longer for individual assistance. Use this time to study the material.
  4. Expect the instructor to suggest general study strategies to help you improve your overall academic performance. These strategies will help in all of your courses
  5. Avoid waiting until the day before the test or the day before an assignment is due to seek assistance.
  6. Use other resources such as formal study groups and informal homework-help groups.
  7. Keep a positive attitude about the subject and about your potential to excel. Your attitude will go a long way in determining how well you do in your course!