Being a professor is like being a professional nerd, but with a responsibility to convey our knowledge to young colleagues with great aspirations. Having trudged through eight college degrees en route to a collective 16 years of professoring, we have made a number of observations about what it takes to become a successful student. While some of the tips below are based on experience alone, many are rooted in science (surprise!). Put them to immediate use, and you’ll see your strategies pay dividends.
Do not be a cheater; be honest.
Never cheat or aid in cheating. Good students do not cheat. Although some students look at cheating as a means to get ahead, you’ll actually fall further behind. You’ll be cheating yourself because you will be lacking knowledge that your peers possess while rendering your degree meaningless. If caught cheating, the punishment can range from failing a test or assignment to failing a course, not to mention being expelled for repeat offenses. There is no faster way to earn an ‘F’ than to get caught cheating.
Attend and participate in every class.
Ask questions. Formulating questions helps you synthesize information while seeking clarity. Some professors reward such activity as class participation, but even if they don’t, it keeps you attentive and communicates interest. This contributes to the instructor holding a favorable view of the student.
Do not use electronic devices in class.
Their use has been shown to significantly lower final grades by approximately one-third of a letter grade. Not only does using technology improperly in class take your attention away from class (hence lowering your grade), it sends a message to your instructor that your technological recreation is more important than their class, which is frequently an extension of their life’s work! This is not the message you want to convey to the person who determines your grades!
Speaking of attention…
Don’t chat among your friends.
Talking to your classmates while the instructor is speaking is not only rude, but you’re dividing your attention. Not to mention, you look like you don’t know how to “do” college.
Take thorough and detailed notes, preferably in your own hand-writing (as opposed to typed).
Review your class notes every day and read the textbook to further understand class concepts. Don’t gloss over words you don’t understand–look them up!
Furthermore, make notes as you read your class notes, handouts, and textbook—highlight and write in the margins. This will force you to read actively as opposed to passively. Some students stare blankly at pages while their minds may wander. Engage and interact with your material and you’ll be surprised how much more information you retain in the same amount of time.
You lose up to 2 pounds of water overnight while sleeping, and even mild dehydration can impair cognitive function. When you begin your day, drink 16-32 ounces of fluid to rehydrate and optimize brain performance.
Have a small carbohydrate feeding no more than three hours prior to class. The brain needs glucose (carbohydrate) to operate, and that is its primary fuel. Not surprisingly, research suggests that students who routinely eat breakfast have better grades.
Get about 8 hours of sleep each night;
attention and performance of mental tasks plummets with sleep deprivation. Some research shows that lack of sleep may be the primary reason for scholastic underachievement and lowers performance by half a letter grade!
Get daily physical activity;
it stimulates the parts of the brain responsible for learning and releases factors that improve long-term memory. Exercising soon after exposure to new material improves retention.
See your instructor often, especially if you are having difficulties!
There is no shame in seeking help, especially if you’ve been attending class and putting forth a good-faith effort. In fact, seeking help can be viewed as a sign of maturity because it suggests you’ve evaluated yourself and recognize areas for improvement. Moreover, many instructors will be complimented that you seek to understand and that you view them as a valuable resource.
Bring a positive attitude!
Oftentimes, you’ve arrived at a course because you share a common interest with your classmates and your professor. Think about it: the longer that you’re in school, the more you find yourself surrounded by like-minded individuals with similar goals. A negative attitude, on the other hand, can become self-fulfilling. If you believe there is no way you can pass, you probably won’t. Believe in yourself. Did you know that college students often believe that achieving good grades is merely a factor of being “smart?” Unfortunately, under-performing students also believe that “smartness” is pre-determined and either you have it, or you don’t. The fact is that, although some students may learn more rapidly than others, studying consistently can lead to improved results.
In sum, work hard, learn as much as possible, and you will be rewarded.
Kristy Henson and Greg Popovich are mad scientists and scholarly entertainers. Please like, subscribe to, and share the Laid-Off Scientist’s posts!