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path: main RCS Website > Science > How to Achieve Academic Success

How to Achieve Academic Success

Everyone begins a course wanting/expecting to do well; no one plans to fail. Yet not everyone succeeds. How can that happen?

Beyond being sure that you are adequately prepared, that you have the basic English and math skills needed, there are several other factors which can help you do your best, and therefore succeed. These are listed here, and result from several years working with students, in a variety of courses. Click on the topic of interest to you for more details.

People who do well in school:

All of these are predicated on the notion that the study of science is not an idle pursuit, that it is a demanding subject that requires dedication to be mastered.

Planning Time for Study

The general rule of thumb for the time you should be planning for study is two hours outside of class for every hour in class. Thus for a science class where you are spending seven hours in class you should make available fourteen additional hours for working on lab reports, assignments and study of the text.

Obviously, that amount of time can’t be found in the last day prior to an exam, or right before an assignment is due. In addition to planning sufficient time you will want to pace yourself so that you are doing some work each day, avoiding that sense of doom that can arise when you are cramming at the last moment.

Using Study Time Well

Just allotting time for study isn’t enough. That time needs to be dedicated and focused, with your mind intensely devoted to intellectual work. That means shutting out distractions. Turn off that beeper or cellphone, and let your answering machine take your messages. And as my daughter says, "Kill your TV!" Very seldom is TV an aid to study, for it demands too much of our minds (and eyeballs) to leave room for intellectual study and learning.

You may need to discuss with family and friends your need for this quality time. Be sure they understand your dedication to doing well, and how important this is to your career goals. You may want to negotiate home responsibilities so that you can have the dedicated time for study you need.

Studying the Text

A very important key to doing well in science is being able to learn from the text. Unfortunately, some students think seat time with a book is a measure of good studying. Not! Here is a suggested plan for getting the most out of your study of the text:

  1. Read the assigned material through the first time quickly. Do not attempt to understand the concepts. Rather, let your mind formulate an idea of what the topic is about. This should be done prior to the material being covered in lecture.
  2. As soon after a lecture as you can, reread the sections of the text related to the material discussed in lecture. This time try to read for understanding, but don’t be too hard on yourself. There normally will still be a few things you don't understand. One trick to helping yourself get the most out of this reading is to formulate some questions prior to reading. Then your mind will be looking for answers as you go along.
  3. This is also the time to focus on all the aids to learning provided in your text. Be sure to include the notes in the margin, and diagrams and tables in your study. Work through the example problems, and try the practice exercises provided.
  4. Finally, prior to the day of a unit test read through the text a third time. This time you should be reading for complete understanding.

No one would claim that science texts are easy reading. But with a plan and focused, ongoing study you will find that you can learn from the text. Note: These three readings of the text are only a suggested minimum. Most students will find that they need 4–5 readings to begin to achieve full understanding of the material.

Getting the Most out of Lectures

The key to getting the most out of lecture is to come prepared and ready to focus. Obviously that means bringing materials needed for note taking. You also need to bring your text and other materials, including a calculator, with you so that you can participate with the activities your teacher has planned. But you can’t focus if you bring the rest of the world with you. Leave your cares at the door, and turn off the beeper, cell phone, walkman, etc.

Bringing materials is not enough. You also need to prepare your mind. That is the principle reason for the first reading of the text suggested above. Formulating a question or two is also a good way of mentally preparing for class.

In addition, be prepared to participate actively in class. If you are asked to try a sample problem, jump right in. Contribute to class discussions, and when you need clarification, ask a question. It is important to understand that learning is not a passive activity; it is not something anyone else can do for you. A learner must be engaged.

Learning from Assignments

Your teacher has designed assignments to assist you in your learning. This can only work if you do them, yourself. This doesn’t mean you need to work alone. In fact, it can be a big help to work with others. Just be sure you understand all that is required to complete the work.

You will find it easier, and get more out of the assignments, if you complete them right after the relevant material is covered in class. This will reinforce your learning there. It will also alleviate the stress that results from having to cram a lot of work in the night before a due date.

Learning from Labs

Likewise, laboratory exercises are designed to assist in your understanding of the material being covered in class. The advantage here is that you get to actively engage in your learning.

All of the principles outlined above apply here as well. It is important to come prepared, with your procedures written in your quad–ruled notebook. Be sure to participate in all that you are asked to do. And, especially when working in pairs or groups, be sure that you understand the material and aren’t depending on others to do the work. As with other learning activities, writing up your lab report shortly after completing the lab work is not only easier, but will better reinforce your learning.

Studying with Others

A very important part of studying a subject like science is to work with others. Form study groups with others in the class. Not only can you help each other learn the materials, you may find it reassuring that you are not alone in struggling to understand the material.

Accessing Other Resources

There are numerous other resources available to help you in your study. The college library is an obvious one, so is the Internet. A number of links are included in the Resources page on this website.

Getting help from the Teacher

A particular resource you will want to avail yourself of is your teacher. It is difficult to answer every question and help each individual who needs it in lecture, so find out where his/her office is, and make use of office hours, or other times, to get help when you need it. Labs are also a good time to get individual help.

Most importantly, do let your teacher know if you are experiencing difficulty. Getting help early can alleviate big problems later.

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