My first year of college is finally finished, so I thought I would share some random bits of knowledge that I have acquired over the past nine months or so. Yes, I am attending a community college, so I am aware that my experience was probably far different from a person attending a four-year university. Also, I know that some of my advice will NOT necessarily apply to every person, every professor, every school, or every class. It is just my personal opinion and reflection, and I am not by any means “forcing” anyone to accept it or agree with it! Just as a disclaimer. Anyway, here are some lessons I have learned…
1. Pay attention in class: This may seem like a sort of “no-brainer,” something you might tell a bunch of rowdy fifth-graders who refuse to focus in class. But I have found that truly focusing during a college class (yes, this means no texting or checking Facebook during lecture) greatly improves my ability to retain and analyze the information. Another reason I say this, though, is because many professors truly appreciate it when you are attentive, focused, and engaged during class. Their job is not an easy one, and I definitely don’t envy them in that respect! So when you at least try to solely on the material being taught in class, and not on other superfluous distractions, they will, in many cases, appreciate that. Yes, I understand that there are some classes in which you are simply NOT interested. And yes, I know that we all have days during which we’d rather be doing anything but sit in a classroom and try to think only about cellular division, Pascal’s Triangle, or Spanish verbs. I definitely had some of those days. But my point is, try to keep an open mind, and don’t automatically assume that you will hate a class (or a professor) before you have given them a chance.
2. You can’t always believe those “Rate My Professor” Reviews: Yes, that particular website can, in many cases, be quite helpful. And yes, I did use it to check out the ratings on my professors. But everyone has a different opinion as to what makes a “good professor,” so take those reviews with a grain of salt, so to speak. For example, one review on my math professor said that she could be rude and got “an attitude” when asked for help. But my experience was quite different–she actually loved it when people asked her questions, and was more than happy to help individual students with problems. Not all the reviews on Rate My Professor are inaccurate or biased; I found some of them to be fairly objective and helpful. But be careful, and don’t immediately dismiss a professor just because he or she has a few negative reviews.
3. If you need to memorize a ton of facts/terms/vocabulary words, try doing it before you fall asleep: I have found that studying things such as Spanish vocabulary words or parts of the human skeleton right before I go to bed greatly helps me memorize them. I know studies have supported this as well. For some reason, thinking about them or picturing them in my mind right before I fall asleep helps “lock” them into my memory, and I can easily retrieve them from my brain the next morning when I wake up. This may not work for everyone, but it definitely helped me.
4. Don’t rush through quizzes, tests, or exams: Again, this may seem like an obvious one, but it is often tempting to just “get it over with” as soon as possible, and not double-check your answers. Many times, I lost points on my Pre-Calculus quizzes simply because of basic errors with multiplication or division–if I had been more careful, and less rushed, this probably wouldn’t have happened. Fortunately, I quickly realized this mistake and was very careful on later quizzes to recheck my answers. Also, if you are stuck on a problem or question, skip over it for the time being, and then look back on it later–you just may be able to come up with the answer. Of course, if you only have a certain period of time in which to complete a test, you may have to rush a bit. But even then, try to use up all the time you have. And whatever you do, try not to leave questions blank–I know some professors (though not ALL), dislike this. If you can eliminate at least a couple choices from a multiple-choice question, then you have a good chance of getting it correct. As for open-ended questions that stump you, try to at least write SOMETHING–who knows, it might give you at least partial credit.
5. Step outside of your comfort zone: During my first semester, I took two classes that weren’t exactly “my thing”: Speech and Spanish. Well, I only took Speech because it was required, but I chose to take Spanish even though I was aware that it might be “too late” to start learning a foreign language–I had never studied any other languages during my years of home schooling. But even though I was dreading the Speech class, I actually ended up enjoying it quite a bit, and even got 100% on two of my speeches. As for Spanish, I found that I truly loved learning another language, even though it could be tough at times. And I plan to continue taking Spanish for as long as I can. My point is, don’t be afraid to take classes that might frighten or intimidate you a bit–you never know how much you may enjoy them.
6. Don’t forget about your health: I will admit that there were times when I didn’t eat enough, drink enough, sleep enough, or de-stress enough. When I was anxious about upcoming tests, assignments, quizzes, etc…, then taking care of my physical and mental health became less of a priority. But I have learned the hard way that your brain generally functions much better when you are well fed, hydrated, and not sleep deprived. Many people tend to neglect proper nutrition in college, but it is SO important to fuel your mind with the proper nutrients. And skipping meals is a terrible idea, since your brain basically runs on glucose–so no food=no brain power. Also, my personal belief is that you should NEVER drink alcohol, do drugs, smoke, or engage in other risky activities during your college years–which makes me quite different from many college students.
7. Create a “To-Do” list or some other schedule: At the beginning of almost each week, I would write a list with the due dates of any quizzes, assignments, essays, exams, etc…that happened to be taking place that particular week. Then I put the list on my bulletin board right above my laptop, so that I would see the list each morning and be reminded of what was going on that week. I found this to be extremely helpful in helping me keep track of the various assignments due in each of my four classes–and helped ensure that I never turned in anything late.
8. Learn the difference between “fake” studying and “real” studying: I have definitely been guilty of the “fake” studying before–when you study for five minutes, then check your email or some blogs for five minutes, then listen to songs on YouTube for five minutes, then get distracted by some delicious food in the kitchen, then go back to studying for three minutes, then realize that you just got the latest issue of Vegnews in the mail and begin reading it, etc…Yeah, not very productive. Generally, I was able to do “real” studying for the most part, but I definitely slipped into “fake” studying at times. When you are truly studying. you need to be able to give your full attention to whatever you are doing–and you should be able to do that for more than five or ten minutes. Yes, it is extremely easy to get distracted, especially in today’s multi-tasking society. So if it helps, study in a place without fewer distractions: the library, your front porch, or an isolated hut in the middle of a forest. Personally, I think the hut would be the best idea;) I don’t think there is necessarily wrong with listening to music while studying; some people study better with music. Find the method that works best for you, and stick with it.
9. Prioritize your studying: Learn what subjects give you the most trouble, and try to spend a little more time studying them than on other subjects that may come naturally to you. For example, I had to devote more time to my Pre-Calculus class this semester than on anything else, since I hadn’t done pre-calculus since my junior year of high school. I had decided to take this class in order to refresh my memory on concepts such as matrices, functions, polynomial division, etc…And I am definitely glad I did; it was a great learning experience. I struggled a bit on the first few quizzes as my mind slowly kicked into “math gear,” but I managed to steadily improve throughout the year and raise my grade from a B to an A. And I ended up getting an A on my final, which both shocked and excited me. In general, my advice is not to avoid studying the subjects that frustrate or confuse you, but instead vow to spend more time studying them.
10. Don’t take college for granted: Yes, there are plenty of negative aspects to the whole “college system” in the United States. And yes, it is easy to get frustrated with mountains of homework, unkind professors, or dull classes. But don’t forget that just being able to attend college makes you far luckier than thousands of people in the world who would give almost anything to be able to get a college education. Don’t go through college with an indifferent, careless, “screw this” attitude, and don’t ever assume that good grades will be handed to you on a silver platter. I am a firm believer that college is “what you make of it,” and I don’t think that going through four years of college at a prestigious university is necessarily the best path for everyone. There are some skills-based jobs that only require an Associate’s Degree, so it is not always necessary to spend four-plus years at a college.
Well, that’s about all the advice I can offer; I hope at least some of it seemed slightly practical or useful. I hope you all have a wonderful day!