Tools for Success
The Center for Academic Excellence (CAE) provides supplemental tools to undergraduate students looking to improve their academic habits. With the guidance of the CAE, students are encouraged to identify their individual strengths, providing a foundation for personal exploration that will propel them into a lifetime of success.
Explore PrepSTEP for valuable college resources available to you, including practice exams for biology, chemistry and math subjects, and graduate school admissions practice exams.
Based on our own experiences and our work with students, the CAE staff has compiled a list of recommendations to help you prepare for a semester of success. Whether you are entering your very first semester in college or your last semester before graduation, it always helps to set goals and be prepared.
One of the most challenging transitions you will face as a student in college is learning how to effectively manage your time. The Center for Academic Excellence offers tools and strategies that can help you enhance your organizational skills. Without a system in place that will keep track of everything college has to offer, life can become very overwhelming. Luckily, we offer a variety of resources that will help you balance your academic and personal responsibilities so you can plan and achieve success!
Our At-A-Glance calendars are great planning tools for when you need to see the "bigger picture." They show a view of the entire semester, including important semester dates and deadlines. Personalize them by adding dates for your projects, tests, and major assignments so you can stay on top of everything. For larger printed versions, stop by our office!
By listing everything that you need to complete each week, you will reduce your anxiety and stress about your upcoming assignments. Be sure to break large tasks or projects into smaller, manageable chunks. This will not only help you plan your time better, but it will also help you maintain your motivation as you check off items and see your progress!
Use this tool to visualize your upcoming week by blocking out your academic and personal responsibilities. Start by filling in your fixed commitments (e.g., class schedule, club meetings, internship hours, etc.). Then go back and add in time for self-care (e.g., meals, sleep, fitness, etc.). At this point, you'll start to see when you have free time during the week. Now you can add in manageable chunks of study time, appointments, social time, errands, and any other important priorities.
Here are some helpful tips so you can get the most out of your weekly planner:
- Take a few minutes at the beginning of each week to sit down and create your plan.
- Try not to overlook the small breaks in your fixed schedule. These short bursts of time can be useful for quick review sessions, brainstorming with classmates, simplifying your lecture notes, or refueling with a snack before your next class.
- Be realistic about the time you need to complete assignments or study. We're often overly optimistic about how long we need to complete a task, so add in some extra time for cushion.
- Don't feel the need to schedule every minute of every day. Leaving open blocks of time will be beneficial for life's unexpected events.
- Use a color coding system for quick reference. For example, you can use one color for your class time and another color for your study time.
- Some personalization with your planner is helpful – and fun! Be creative and enjoy the process. But if you spend hours perfecting your plan, you may be exhibiting another form of procrastination. Find a balance – a planner doesn't need a lot of bells and whistles to serve its purpose.
- When you start planning a new week, first take a minute to give yourself a reality check. How did the previous week's plan work? What took more time than you expected? Learning from this reflection will make it easier for you to plan your future weeks.
Effective study groups can help you improve your academic performance in courses while also broadening your support network as you work together with your peers. You will have the benefit of working with others who may offer alternate study strategies, ask questions you had not considered before, and even possess different strengths. We encourage students to form their own study groups and offer some tips below to help you get the most out of the experience.
How to Create and Organize Your Own Study Group
- Make an announcement before or after class and hand out a sign-up sheet to gauge interest.
- The size of the group is always important to maximize success. Limit the group to 4-6 students.
- Choose selection criteria, such as students' availability, goals for the course, etc.
- Before the group attempts a study session, first discuss and create your "Group Charter." Here is what we recommend you include:
- Group name – this forms a shared sense of identity and pride in your work together.
- All members' names and their contact information.
- Course details, like your professor's contact information and office hours.
- Purpose or goals for the group (e.g., will you meet every week to review material or only to prepare for upcoming tests?).
- Expectations and guidelines for how you will work together – your "Ground Rules."
- Assign roles to add structure to the group. Some suggestions include:
- A group leader to facilitate the meetings and keep the group on track.
- An organizer to keep track of, and remind members of, important assignments/dates.
- A notetaker to record information brought up during the meetings related to both the course material and suggestions for future sessions.
- Select a location for your study sessions that is quiet and conducive to learning.
- Plan out your meeting dates from start to finish. You do not want to start a group cram session.
Getting the Most Out of a Study Group Session
- Attend each session on time, every time! When necessary, communicate in advance with other members if you will be late or have to miss a session. The study group won't work unless all members are taking the time commitment seriously. Be considerate of each other.
- Set an agenda for each session. It's best to assign this responsibility as part of one's role in the group. An agenda is most helpful when drafted up and sent out the day before the session so members can agree or recommend changes.
- Come prepared, having completed related assignments and readings for each session. For example, with a quantitative course, you should have practiced problems first and written down how you would explain your work, or questions you have if you got stuck.
- Have honest, open communication with your group members. Be up front if you are not understanding something discussed in the session and be supportive of each other's abilities.
- Respect each other's boundaries. If you find yourself frequently reaching out to other members with questions, remember that they are also students with lives outside of the group. Consider whether you need extra help, like professor's office hours or a tutor.
What to do During Your Study Sessions
- Practice different methods to learn the information together, such as working in pairs and reporting out to the group, assigning someone to lead a group discussion or "pop quiz," or comparing notes and synthesizing them into one document.
- Get active! Connect ideas through interactive exercises that will help you better remember information, like working together to build a visual map of the concept on a whiteboard.
- Create questions to ask each other and actually take the time to answer those questions. This is an important test preparation strategy – you have to assess whether you really understand the material with practice tests!
- End each session with dedicated time to rate and critique your collective performance and success as a group based on your session agenda. Note areas for improvement for the next session and record any recommendations.
Setting a goal is one of the most effective ways to increase your motivation and self-confidence. When practiced correctly, goal-setting can help you improve your performance, concentration, and focus while also decreasing your levels of stress and anxiety associated with obtaining a specific objective. Creating goals can give you a clear way to track your progress and evaluate (then celebrate!) your successes.
We often first set goals that are too vague or unrealistic, making them difficult to achieve, which in turn leaves us frustrated and insecure about our abilities. Learning the steps to set proper goals takes time and practice, but once you master this skill you will appreciate the journey. As Henry David Thoreau once said, "What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals." Below are our tips to make your goal-setting experience a successful one.
- Your goal should be something you genuinely care about and truly hope to achieve. You should not set goals that others want you to achieve – be true to yourself!
- Practice techniques that will make your goals more attainable, like following the "S.M.A.R.T." acronym when creating a goal. This is a great reminder that your goals should be specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and timely.
- Reflect on your goal and decide if it needs to be broken down into a series of smaller goals. This helps you maintain your motivation. Think about fitness goals. Let's say you've never done pull-ups before and your goal is to do 30 pull-ups. It makes sense that you would need to work up to that, right? You could set an initial goal of five pull-ups. When you achieve that, you then create a new goal with a higher number of pull-ups. As the weeks go on and your abilities improve, you continue to increase the number and eventually you will have made it to 30 pull-ups.
- Writing your goal on paper makes a difference. Your goal becomes tangible and thus you're more likely to follow through with steps to achieve it. Try sticking a note with your goal on your mirror. The more you see it, the more you will hold yourself accountable to completing it.
- Notice how you speak to yourself. Give your brain a dose of positivity with some confident self-talk. For example, thinking or saying, "I will…" instead of "I would like to" can impact your actions. Positive words give you power!
- "Hope is not a strategy," says business expert Frances Cole Jones. If you only focus on what you want to happen without a plan of how to make it happen, your goal becomes more like a wish. To avoid losing your drive, make an action plan. Write down the steps you must take in order to reach your goal and cross each one off as you complete it so you can see that you are making progress.