Study tips and tools

Although you cannot change the number of hours in a day, you can decide how to make the most of the hours you do have. Many activities and responsibilities will compete for your time and attention while you pursue your education. In order to succeed, you will need to diligently manage your study time.

At the university level, professors expect students to spend approximately twice as much time studying outside the classroom as every hour spent in the classroom. As an international student, you might require even more time than that. Research and experience seem to indicate that the best approach involves creating a long range schedule, used in combination with a short range schedule. Plan for the big picture when planning the whole semester, but use more detail when planning the week ahead.

The first items to put on your schedule include fixed-hour activities like classes, labs, work, social gatherings, etc. Then fill in flexible-hour activities like study time, and finally recreational activities. If something interrupts a flexible-hour activity, interchange the time with another activity on your schedule so that it still gets done.

Experts recommend putting your study time on the calendar just like any other commitment, and then follow through with it. If possible, study at the same time every day for at least five days of the week to create a habit. Make use of the hours you have between classes. Many students waste this time, but it can allow you to spend valuable time reviewing your notes or studying the material while still fresh in your mind.

Fifty to 90 minute study periods usually maximize your time. Stick with one subject during that time frame and then take a 10-15 minute break before beginning a new subject.


Submitting work
As a university student you will need to keep track of due dates and particulars for multiple assignments, projects and presentations. At this level, professors expect you to pay careful attention to the information and prerequisites they have provided and to manage your time and obligations responsibly.

Many students find it helpful to keep a dated planner or notebook to track this information. If you maintain a class binder or folder, you could keep an assignment log in one section, detailing assignments and due dates for that class. Pay attention to detail and clarify any questions you might have with the professor.

Remember, regardless of whether you receive a written document from the professor or make note of the assignments yourself, these things can change and you need to attend class to stay current on the status of the assignments.

If, for some reason you cannot submit an assignment on time or in the format requested, communicate your difficulties to the professor, and make the appropriate arrangements according to his/her recommendations.

Grading
You will receive one grade per class for each term. This grade will either be a letter grade (A, B, C, D, F), a number grade (4.0, 3.0, and so forth), or a “P” for pass or “F” for fail. Grades usually come from a combination of results including assignments, quizzes, and tests given throughout the semester, as well as participation, and the final exam. Each professor uses their own slightly grading system and criteria, usually spelled out at the beginning of the term.

Study Time
Depending on your class load (the number of class hours you have per week) and your major, you may have to study more than you have in the past, especially if you struggle with English.

Talk with other international students regarding their study habits. Many schools offer courses on how to study, which can be very helpful to new students. A common rule to follow is to spend twice as many hours in preparation for each class as you spend in the actual class. However, use common sense. If you study all night for a test, your mind won’t function well during class. And if you leave no time for social life and relaxation, you will become frustrated and lonely.

Generally, your professors will assume that, as an adult student you will take your studies seriously and manage your own learning competently. While they spend a great deal of time preparing for lectures, creating tests and grading assignments, they also usually welcome interfacing with their students. At the beginning of the term they will probably let you know the way they like to handle student interactions.

Some professors never like interruptions during lectures; others encourage class discussions and questions. Some like to stay after class for a few minutes to address individual student questions, others prefer to schedule separate office hours when they make themselves available to students. These days, email provides an alternative form of interaction that the professor can handle whenever he/she sees fit. If the professor doesn’t make his/her preferences known to the class, you should not hesitate to ask.

Study Place
Studying requires discipline. Give yourself the best opportunity to succeed by creating a specific place to study. You should do nothing else in this place but study! This builds a habit to study when you go to this place. Some good choices might include the library, an empty classroom, a quiet place in the student center or a bedroom at home.

Ensure that the place you choose has good lighting and ventilation, a comfortable chair (but not too comfortable!) and plenty of desk space to spread out your material. Make sure it does not have a television, a telephone, or a distracting view, activity or people. Remember, having a consistent time and place to study helps you build a solid habit.

Organization
Keep your school materials in predictable places to provides an orderly structure. Students who implement organizational strategies save time and effort that otherwise get wasted looking for materials, procrastinating or getting distracted. While everyone appreciates different levels of organization, we have included some ideas to help you organize your papers, materials and study area to maximize your efforts.

Keep a folder or binder for each class. Immediately put all paperwork for that class in its appropriate place as soon as you receive it. You could have a section for notes, another for handouts, another for graded papers and tests, etc. When you immediately place an item in its correct location, the likelihood of losing it diminishes greatly.

Color coding the material for each of your classes can save time by helping you quickly locate everything for each one. For example, use a green 3-ring binder, green folders and green index cards for one class, and choose yellow ones for another class. That makes it instantly obvious what material you will need for a study session for that class. Office supply stores stock an enormous variety of supplies that can help you stay organized. Take advantage of these kinds of resources.

When you get large assignments that threaten to overwhelm you, break them down into smaller sub-tasks. A research paper can begin with study time devoted to reading about your topic. After having read through a lot of information, the next time you can spend your time taking notes from that literature to support your position. Once you have completed your notes, spend the next study time gathering all your sources into a bibliography. The next time you can create an outline for your paper. With an outline in place, spend several study times working on writing one section at a time. After you have written all the sections, spend one study session linking them together. At the next study session you can type up your paper, followed by a study session to read it through completely. At this stage you can proofread your work and make corrections. Finally, spend a study session preparing the final document and reading it through carefully one last time. Perhaps you have heard the saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Take a big job and break it into smaller chunks.

Study Calendar
Creating a study calendar can help you keep track of assignments, tests and projects for all your classes in a term. You should create a long-range calendar at the beginning of the semester when you receive a course outline from each professor. First, mark all the fixed-hour obligations you have like work, classes, labs and social functions. Next, indicate dates when each professor has scheduled tests, projects and presentations. This calendar will give you the big picture.

Now, either on the same calendar in a different color pen, or on a weekly calendar, you will write the day-to-day items you need to accomplish in order to prepare for the events you placed on your long-range calendar. You will likely maintain this short-range calendar on a weekly basis. It should show your study times and which class you will study for. Include information about how you will spend that time, whether taking or studying notes, quizzing for an exam, constructing a project, etc.


Study Groups
Forming a study group offers a good way to get help with your classes. Students can discuss material and ask questions that didn’t get covered during class. Insights and perspectives from other students can also provide valuable additional information to use in compiling notes and preparing for tests. Sometimes even just spending an hour or two with a classmate to go over material or quiz for a test can prove beneficial. Talk to other students either before or after class to find out if anyone shows an interest in forming a study group or partnership to work on class material.

Study groups can encourage commitment and interaction between students who display motivation to do well in class. You can compare notes and help each other with difficult concepts, as well as prepare for tests and presentations. Having a group to study with can keep you more focused on studying than when you try to study alone. You might also feel more comfortable speaking up and asking questions in a study group environment than you do in the classroom.

No more than three to five people should form a study group together. More than that can lead to lack of participation and cliques. Choose a quiet place to get together, like a study room in the library or an empty classroom. Everyone should participate and contribute to the discussions. Set up a schedule to meet one or two times a week for 60-90 minutes, and stay focused on studying during that time. Decide how you want to use the time together—you can compare and update notes, prepare for exams, or read and discuss material together.

If you choose to socialize as a group, do it at another time. You could go out for coffee after you complete your study time together, but make sure that you make the social time a distinctly different event than the study time. Make a copy of everyone’s name, phone number and email address to facilitate communication between you in between study group sessions.


Tutoring

When necessary, students can hire a tutor to provide supplemental help outside of the classroom. Tutors provide students with one-on-one assistance in a particular subject, or simply provide help in understanding concepts, studying, class preparation and practice work. Some tutors have a specific specialty, while others customize their help according to the specific need.

Most campuses have bulletin boards that list tutors available locally, or you can look in the Yellow Pages or online for other possibilities. Each tutor sets his/her own rate, so you should probably talk to several before deciding on who you want to hire. Ask those you interview for references of students they have worked previously; that way you can get a first-hand account of that tutor’s achievements. Make sure the tutor you hire understands your specific goals and seems like someone you could work with to accomplish them.


Reference Materials
Most universities offer an extensive library or partner with a public library nearby to provide students with access to valuable reference books. We define reference books as a collection of information about a specific topic compiled in one book, or books that people refer to for a particular piece of information, rather than reading from cover to cover. Some books that qualify as reference books include dictionaries, thesaurus, almanac, atlas, encyclopedia and concordance. Usually libraries do not allow anyone to check these books out of the building, but simply to use them while on the premises so that everyone can have access to them.

Because they have such a concentrated amount of information in one book, these volumes can provide students with important facts all in one place. You may wish to purchase some reference books that you will use frequently, like a dictionary, but otherwise take advantage of those available in the library to help you with your research.

While the internet has become a valuable research tool, remember that not everything you read online is factual. You will need to use reliable sources and cross-check the information you find to ensure its accuracy.

Writing Center
Many campuses offer on-site and/or virtual writing centers to provide one-on-one writing help free-of-charge to students, faculty and staff at the university. At your scheduled appointment, you will receive feedback, advice, resources and sometimes practice with your particular writing project. The staff available at the writing center has specific training to help with tasks like preparing an outline, organization, argument or learning how to edit and proofread. They will not do the work for you, but rather provide input and ask questions to help you improve your writing.


Tutoring
When necessary, students can hire a tutor to provide supplemental help outside of the classroom. Tutors provide students with one-on-one assistance in a particular subject, or simply provide help in understanding concepts, studying, class preparation and practice work. Some tutors have a specific specialty, while others customize their help according to the specific need.

Most campuses have bulletin boards that list tutors available locally, or you can look in the Yellow Pages or online for other possibilities. Each tutor sets his/her own rate, so you should probably talk to several before deciding on who you want to hire. Ask those you interview for references of students they have worked previously; that way you can get a first-hand account of that tutor’s achievements. Make sure the tutor you hire understands your specific goals and seems like someone you could work with to accomplish them.

In the classroom

Study tips

Exams

Writing tips

Submitting work

Rules to follow

General information


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