Too many students try to get the grade just by going to class, maybe a little note taking, and then cramming through the text right before an exam they feel unprepared for. Sound familiar? This approach may have worked for you in high school where tests and quizzes were more frequent and teachers prepared study guides for you, but colleges require you to take responsibility for your learning and to be better prepared.
Most students simply have not learned how to study and don’t understand how learning works. Learning is actually a cycle of four steps: preparing, absorbing, capturing, and reviewing. When you get in the habit of paying attention to this cycle, it becomes relatively easy to study well. But you must use all four steps.
Effective listening skills make you a better note taker, and taking strong notes can help you listen better. Both are key study skills to help you do better in your classes.
It’s About Time: Attendance and “Presence”
In elementary school, children are reminded to “stay on task” and focus on classroom activities. But college students often need to remind themselves of this as well—to maintain focus and develop the set of skills needed to help them find success in college and achieve their dreams.
College students are expected to demonstrate independence, responsibility, and relationship-building skills. While elementary-school students are dropped off and picked up from school by adults, college students are now the adults and are on their own. Adults make decisions about being early or on time to classes and meetings; balancing the shifting priorities of home life, work life, and school life; and reaching their destinations even when their cars won’t start.
For college freshmen, whatever their age, the first year in college is a big transition and a learning experience in itself. Many students find themselves unable to catch up after missing even a single class. Class time is learning time.
In every class session, instructors cover course content, and students are invited (and expected) to think about the information, take notes, and participate in class discussions. Instructors, regardless of the level and subject they teach, want their students to learn things of value and that extend beyond the classroom and grade into the professional and the wider world. Most instructors put concerted and contemplative time and effort into what will become their teaching time, so they expect students to be in class to gain all they can.
However, sometimes students are absent when unforeseen events and challenges occur. So from the very first day of a student’s college career, the student needs to be courageous and conscientious, to contact instructors and proactively notify them in advance of every absence, to express regret, and to show a commitment to moving forward. This is particularly critical if colleges use an automatic drop or withdrawal system that cancels students’ registration if they are absent for two straight weeks.
Whether via email, phone call, text, or even in person, students should notify all their instructors about any potential missed day of class. Regardless of the notification method, students shouldn’t ask what they missed. For example, in the email text below, line 3 is a faux pas.
1 Good afternoon, Professor McKenna.
2 I had a family emergency today and was unable to make it to campus.
3 Did I miss anything important? If so, is there a time I could meet with you?
4 I look forward to your response.
5 Josh McDonald
6 English 100, Section 006, Tuesday & Thursday, 3:00 p.m.–4:15 p.m.
7 Cell: 777-123-4567
Students can be certain that “something important” was definitely covered that day in class and that it’s not the instructor’s responsibility to teach it twice; however, reaching out with a politely worded email shows interest and responsibility on the student’s part.
Absences and Connecting to Help Each Other Recover Time Lost
It’s the student’s responsibility to connect with the class community and find out what she or he missed. Early in the semester, students should make acquaintance with at least one classmate, exchange contact information, and agree to share important information with each other if one is absent. It’s important. Whenever students are absent for any amount of time in class, they have lost important instructional time and content.
Attending and being fully present involves making a commitment of time. Students and instructors also commit to each other—students to students, students to instructors, and instructors to students. Class is time for mutual respect, thoughtfulness, and kindness. Students should aim to build a sense of community and belonging. They should enter the classroom each day with a positive outlook. It’s not always easy; sometimes it’s nearly impossible. But when things are difficult, a community cares for its members. All colleges are communities filled with people and programs to help students get the assistance and guidance they need.
Absences, Deadlines, Tardies, Leaving Early
Within some academic programs or courses, even one absence may result in failing the course. In general, college students must be aware of the attendance policies (i.e., policies regarding absences, tardies, and “leaving early”) indicated within each course syllabus and the college or university catalog. Double-check the syllabus for each course every semester of college. Students who know they will be absent should always contact instructors ahead of time (i.e., a month, a week, a day, or an hour before class), depending on the policies..
A missed class does not necessarily change a due date for an assignment. Students should read the course syllabus and know their instructor’s policies for absences and late work. For example, if a student misses three classes without any reasonable explanations, notifications, or formal paperwork, what happens to the overall course grade? Students should know the answer after the first day of class.
Tardiness is equivalent to absence. Critically important activities often happen during the first few minutes of class, including the taking of attendance. Some instructors will count all tardies as absences and/or deduct points for each tardy.
Leaving early is the same thing as being absent. Some students mistakenly assume that “arriving” means “attending” class and that it’s okay to leave class early at any time. It’s not okay. Even when students think their instructors don’t notice students leaving, instructors and assistants pay attention. Students not present in class could likely miss out on essential course content. However, leaving a class early may be acceptable in extenuating circumstances if a student requests permission and if the instructor approves.
Speaking of “presence,” students must be physically, psychologically, and intellectually present in class each period to learn everything they possibly can.
Don’t Let Electronic Devices Steal Time and Attendance
The student scrolling through websites unrelated to class content or completing homework for another course isn’t completely present nor attending to task. Such students sometimes fail their courses because it’s hard to truly learn without listening.; active learning occurs through note taking and participating in class discussion—and it is helpful to turn off devices that distract and steal attention. If information about cell phones and other devices isn’t in the syllabus, ask or take cues from the instructor and from other students during the first couple of days of class.
Some instructors weave the use of electronic devices into their lessons through response and polling programs, which allow students to use their devices to participate in discussions. In addition, many instructors allow and encourage the use of laptops and tablets in class, when appropriate. However, not all instructors and situations allow devices, and some instructors deduct points for cell phone use during class, so students should know the instructor’s preference.
Time Communicating and Attending to Email and Learning Management Systems
Before the semester begins, students would do well to familiarize themselves with their campus email system and respective learning management system (LMS), which is an electronic system to inform students of class assignments, grades, and announcements related to courses, along with allowing students to post assignments, communicate with instructors and/or classmates, and much more. Instructors and students use their campus LMS in a variety of ways and it’s important for students to ask questions about how instructors will use the LMS and how they wish to be contacted.
The Syllabus: Words to Live By
Syllabi created for college-level courses are likely to be much longer than students have previously encountered. A course syllabus is a multiple-page document that instructors provide to students during the first few days of class. If one stays enrolled in a course, both student and instructor are expected to follow the syllabus, which usually provides the following critically important information:
- Course number, title, schedule, and final exam date and time
- Instructor’s name, contact information, and office hours
- Learning Outcomes/Objectives (LOs) or goals (sometimes called Student Learning Outcomes [SLOs] or Program Learning Outcomes [PLOs], which vary amongst college and universities): Students should highlight these and keep them in mind as a checklist of goals they should meet, concepts they should learn, and skills they should demonstrate over the semester and certainly by the end of the course.
- Required materials (e.g., books, email access, computer access)
- General course tasks
- Course assignments (e.g., homework) and assessments (e.g., quizzes, exams), including formatting of written work
- Daily and/or weekly class schedule
- General course policies (e.g., attendance and participation, academic integrity, grading and late work, and suggested study times per week)
- Campus-wide support services (e.g., a writing center, learning assistance center, counseling center, health clinic, Title IX support center, and LGBTQ+ support center)
- College and university policies, rules, and guidelines
Students should read each syllabus on the first day they receive it so they are clear about all that will be expected of them for the rest of the semester.
It often seems the older people get, the busier their lives become. These days, increasingly more students can’t complete a degree without also having to work at least one job. Add family needs into the mix, and it becomes a situation in which time can seem difficult to manage, and responsibilities in life can feel overwhelming. “Overwhelming,” in fact, is a word college students often use. College is interesting, fun, exciting, and full of new ideas, and exists as a path to fulfill students’ dreams, but it requires time, attention, and energy.
To feel empowered and in control of one’s life, students need to proactively manage their time and life—instead of just letting life happen to them. It helps to be clear about expectations, to plan ahead, to stay organized, to anticipate any complications, and to create a schedule that works. It helps to use a planner to organize one’s time. Many students benefit from creating a weekly hourly plan. Organizational strategies help maintain control over time.
Some people seem more organized than others. Regardless, everyone can use strategies that work to make sure that important documents are not misplaced and that the correct essay is emailed to the correct instructor. Students should organize all their syllabi and class materials, keep up with their planners or calendars, maintain checklists of assignments and due dates, schedule study and meeting times between classes and work (i.e., actively and weekly), eat healthfully, plan for self-care (i.e., body, spirit, and mind, including sufficient sleep). Studies increasingly show the importance of sleep to a strong body, mind, and spirit, all of which affect students’ ability to succeed.
Using today’s technology makes staying organized easy; that’s what it’s there for. Calendars and software applications on cellphones can be synchronized with other devices. Online calendars can email reminders and ping cell phones so nothing is forgotten or missed.
Making Appointments with Instructors and Keeping Them
Meeting with instructors helps students obtain or process content that is significant for getting the most out of a course, but they also demonstrate a student’s interest in the content and commitment to doing well in the class. Students should prepare questions beforehand and be prepared to take notes on anything the instructor offers that seems especially poignant or helpful.
If an appointment is missed, an apology is surely due. But it’s important to remember that everyone misses a meeting now and then, and all one can do is apologize and try not to miss a second one.
License and Attributions:
CC licensed content, Previously shared: College Success. Authored by: Annonymous.
License: CC BY: Attribution.
Adaptions: Reformatted, some content removed to fit a broader audience.
CC licensed content, Previously shared: English Composition: Connect, Collaborate, Communicate. Authored by: Ann Inoshita, Karyl Garland, Kate Sims, Jeanne K. Tsutsui Keuma, and Tasha Williams.
License: CC BY: Attribution.
Adaptions: Reformatted, some content removed to fit a broader audience.