ONE shocking reality that often faces students when entering college is the difference between studying for most college courses versus how they studied in high school. College courses are more difficult than those in high school. Often students must adapt their study habits to the college setting.
In college, much of the difference can be explained in the need to take responsibility for learning. Instructors may not remind students to complete an assignment, to turn in a report or project, or to prepare for a test. Some students give up and drop out before they learn the keys to college success: commitment, control, concentration, and challenge.
The first key is commitment. It is the act of devoting, pledging, or involving yourself in something. A commitment to college, learning, and working is really a positive commitment to yourself. It is a vehicle for achieving success, and in an information-driven society, it is the premier vehicle.
One of the most difficult areas of college life is dealing with peer pressure. The real issue is the strength of commitment. Some peers, for example, will convince you its not necessary to attend class, study hard, do extra work, read the textbook, or avoid parties.
With a strong commitment, you can get off to a strong start by having the textbooks, being ready to take notes at the first class meeting, planning the term s agenda, discussing term-paper ideas early with the professor, and even doing initial research.
The second key is control. It involves setting clear goals and priorities, and putting your commitment into action. Much of control relates to managing your time. You must know what you have to do and plan ahead for classes, projects, and tests.
A monthly calendar, checked often, helps you view due dates, special events, and examination times. Also, if you plan in advance around your definite commitments of class time and work time blocks of time of at least an hour each during the week specifically for study it will help you avoid the unexpected interruptions by friends and phone calls. Managing time means capturing free hours that would otherwise drift away.
Control is more than just managing your time. You need to establish a place to study, do as much of your studying in the daytime (what takes an hour during the day may take an hour and a half or two at night), schedule breaks after every hour of study, make use of labs, tutors, videos, computer programs, and alternate texts to assist your study, find at least one or two students in each class to study with, and study your hardest subjects first.
The third key is concentration. It means focusing your attention upon a single object, problem, or task. It is difficult because you are not trained to concentrate. Television does not ask listeners for more than 10 minutes worth of attention at a time. Daily reading done requires less concentration than ever, because books are filled with cartoons, jokes, and diagrams. Switching from the mental fluff to the intense concentration needed to study college material is difficult.
Your ability to concentrate is, indeed, shaky. What to do?
First, have a positive attitude toward studying. Realize that no matter how unattractive it may be, it is the means to obtaining your goal: a college degree.
Second, keep yourself in good physical shape. Diet, exercise, and avoiding exhaustion and illness will help keep your ability to concentrate from shutting down.
Third, break each task, including your reading assignments, into smaller, doable goals.
Fourth, control your concentration by noticing when your mind wanders and making a conscious effort to pull it back. Finally, do work that requires the most concentration (typically reading) earliest in the day, or first among all your tasks.
Studying on four hours of sleep and on an empty stomach or on a junk-food diet is a waste of time. Also, studying in a dorm room may be convenient, but it is often a poor place to learn. Lying down to read is often the same as taking a nap.
The fourth key is challenge. It means calling into question or disputing.
First, accept the fact that college is and should be challenging. Lectures cover more information and with more sophistication than high school lectures. Textbooks are harder to read and include dozens of new terms, difficult concepts, and involved theories.
Also, college tests are tougher and graded according to higher standards. If your study skills are weak, you will need to get help immediately. There are study skills workshops and courses, learning and tutoring centers, free guides to college study skills, and the Internet is full of tips, suggestions, and ideas.
College is a chance to try new things, consider a number of options, meet new people, and ask a lot of questions. Often, it is the tough courses, instructors, or majors that will cause you to stretch, discover, and move in new directions.
Learning to study effectively requires more than simply spending more time studying. If you really want success, then the four Cs of commitment, control, concentration, and challenge will help you.
Many things you cannot do anything about, but if you learn discipline by setting clear goals, developing workable plans, and carefully scheduling and protecting your time, your prospects for success will improve.
Richard L. Weaver II is a retired professor of speech communication at Bowling Green State University.
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