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Straight A's

Fake Your Way to Straight A's

 

August 11, 2012

I published a form of this article in a kids magazine back in 2006. In about 10 days, I start teaching at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (ABTech). I'll be teaching a class required for all first semester students on student success and study skills. Seemed like a good time to pull out this old article and post it. I've not updated it to include current technological aids, but I think you'll find these habits are timeless.

Fake Your Way to Straight A's

Disappointed in your grades? Want to be an A student? You can be. . .just fake it! All you have to do is find those academic superstars in your life and start imitating them. Here’s what you do: pay close attention to their class attendance; take note of how they take notes; and then study how they study. Once you have figured out how those A students act, just copy their behavior. Before long, your grades will look just like theirs!

One thing A students do is go to class--every time it meets. They treat class like a job. So do that. Be on time to class, pretending that you have to punch a time-clock. Be alert, ready to go to work. If you know you will have to miss a class, let the teacher know. Get your assignments. Act as if you care that you will not be there. If you do not know beforehand, just explain your absence to the teacher later. If possible, get a brief summary of the previous class and also find out how to make up any missed work. Then, of course, you should follow through and do the work. That’s what A students do.

C students often take lots and lots of notes, spending their whole class period with head down and pen to paper. Don’t do that. If you spend every second writing, you will miss the whole lecture. Most A students take notes sparingly. They have pre-defined abbreviations so that note-taking is more efficient. For instance, in a class on the Roman Empire, a good note-taker would just write a capital R for Rome or Roman, therefore writing less and listening more. After class is over, it’s a good idea to fill in any vague areas in your notes with details you might forget later. While you are doing that, quickly review all the day’s notes to solidify what you just learned. Take that a step further and breeze over them just before the next class begins. This way you have a fresh memory of the information from the previous class and can respond appropriately to the instructor’s questions. Not only does this make the upcoming information easier to digest, it also makes you look really smart.

A students study in many different ways. Some confine all study to an orderly desk. Others spread notes on the floor, prop up on an overstuffed pillow, and go to work. Whatever study environment suits your needs, that’s the environment you should create. It’s a good idea to post reminders in your study area so you will not forget what you are trying to fake. Make a sign for your study area that says, “A students enjoy studying!” Make a note in your car that reminds you, “A students make the most of every minute.” If you have a tendency to slouch in front of the TV like a solid D student, place a sign on it that suggests, “A students do not waste time.” (It’s not easy to be someone you have never been before; every little reminder helps.) Also, remember to allow sufficient time to study alone, even if you participate in study groups. Many A students benefit from group study; you might as well. But most A students prepare for group sessions in private and also do ample studying on their own.

One key aspect of studying is scheduling. At the start of your course, break down course requirements into daily study requirements. Stick to the plan whenever possible, but revise your schedule as the course progresses and as needs change. Sometimes classes need more time than you originally thought. Revise your plan if this is the case. And sometimes you will get behind. Again, readjust, refocus and get back on schedule. A students get off schedule all the time. The trick is, they make a new plan, they readjust, and then they get back to work.

Many times a study environment requires certain tools--things like computers, test tubes, calculators, books, notebooks and pens. But often, we find ourselves with time to study in places where these items are not within reach. When the tools that you normally use are not readily available, consider using mental rehearsal. This technique involves reviewing necessary information in your mind as if you were actually studying or practicing it. You can silently recite historical dates, mentally practice a music score or dance routine, or review mathematical or scientific equations, all without picking up a pen or lifting a finger. Mental rehearsal is convenient. It helps you make use of time that is often wasted. While you commute to class or wait in line, while you wait for your doctor's appointment or sit in line at the drive through window, wherever you are, you can use your best study tool--your brain.

One very irritating thing about A students is that they always do their class assignments, whether they get a grade or not. They practice formulas and do their reading assignments. So if you want to fake your way into straight A’s, this is crucial. No C student does assigned work just for the sake of doing it. So do those assignments, and do them in advance. A students usually have reading assignments complete before class discussion of that reading ever begins. They even bring questions to class about completed assignments that stumped them. And remember, A students do get stumped--all the time. They just ask questions, figure it out, and keep moving.

So are you ready for the test? You should be, almost. Because if you have done all these other things that A students do, cramming for the test will not be necessary. Complete additional study and review before the test. Do not stay up all night. Get plenty of rest and eat a good meal--that brain of yours needs sleep and nourishment! Get to the test on time, dressed in clothes that make you feel confident. (In other words, look the part.) Then get in there and ace that test!

See, you do not have to be an A student. Just pretend that you are! And in no time, you will find people are starting to imitate you!

Test Troubles

Ever feel like your best efforts just aren't good enough?  I've had many Finals Weeks in my life. And honestly, I think I always felt as if I just couldn't get it right. I studied material that wasn't addressed on the exam and I skipped what I thought was insignificant only to find in featured on my final. Most Finals Weeks I've managed to get myself good and stressed; sometimes downright depressed. I truly cannot stand finals.  So for those of you in the midst of that drudgery right now, you have my sympathies.

Here's a word of encouragement: It does end. Every Finals Week I've ever endured did, in fact, end. I've aced my share of exams and I've bombed a bunch too. But every Finals Week did, finally, end. And after each one of those weeks ended, I found, to my surprise, I had survived.

So breathe. Do your best but don't stress yourself out to the point that you can't think straight. Just get busy. And then get some rest; when all this is over you will want to have lots of energy for celebrating!

(Need Tips? Check out this post.)

final exams

Finals. Eww.

When I was in college, people often said things like, "You think this is hard, wait 'til you're out in the real world." Or, "Honey you ain't seen nothin'. When you're out in the real world--that's when the hard work begins."

Real world? Have you not been to college? It is scary real. Plus: in the real, real world, there are no finals.

Oh don't give me that. I know there are proposals and pitches, deadlines and due dates, but it's not the same. Really. It isn't. I know. I've been to college not once, not twice, but three times. And I've had about that many different careers. And seriously? Nothing compares to the intensity of finals. Often the only thing that got me through was telling myself, “In two weeks, it will be over; good or bad, it will end.”

There are some things that make it easier though. Here are a few tips I’ve learned from the 17 semesters I have spent preparing for finals.

  1. Start early. (Okay, it’s a little late for that now, but remember that next time.) Learn things well as you go along. Review your notes frequently. It will help keep the information fresh and will dramatically reduce your stress during finals.
  2. Do your reading when it is assigned. Haven’t done your reading? Well forget it then. You will never get all that read before the exam. So don’t try. Just skim the chapters and get a general idea of what’s there. Next time you’ll know: complete your assigned readings as you go along. (I didn’t learn to do this until grad school, so kudos to you for getting a head start.)
  3. Did your prof give you a study guide? Start with that (especially if you haven’t done your reading). I know, seems obvious, but sometimes in the frenzy to prepare, we miss the simplest solutions. Maybe you decide you’ll get to the study guide after you do all the readings you haven’t done yet or after you review your notes or whatever. Don’t do that. Start with the study guide.
  4. Take care of yourself. Keep up your exercise routine even though you think you have too much studying to do. If you must, take notes with you and read while you are on the treadmill or stairmaster. Even better: give yourself a 20-30 minute break from studying, exercise, and come back refreshed.
  5. Eat right. Carb crashes can cause serious exam fatalities. Get your protein. Drink your water. And lay off the sugar. Your brain will thank you.
  6. Sleep. No, not during the exam. But do get a decent amount of sleep. That means, you should be getting almost as much as you normally get. Of course you are going to have late nights and early mornings. Just remember that rested people recall information much better than exhausted folks.
  7. And remember: good or bad it will be over in a couple of weeks. You will make it through.

Temptation: Divinity School Style

Originally posted to a wellness support group September 12, 2009

It’s different in Divinity School. Our Greek prof hands our tests back to us and says, “Okay, now let’s grade these things.”
“We are grading our own tests?”
“You’re trustworthy aren’t you?”
“Well, yeah, but. . .”
“Then, let’s get these things graded.”

So it came as no surprise then that another prof gave us a rather nontraditional midterm. See, we’d missed class when the exam was scheduled on account of a rare snow day. Later that same day, we found an announcement on our class website and an email in our inboxes. “Due to the class cancellation, I’m asking you to take your midterm at home.”

Cool, I thought, a take-home exam: My favorite.

Except not really.

“I’ll post the exam on the website and you are to take it exactly as if you were here in class.”

You’re kidding.

“That is, you may use only your Bible, and that only on the essay questions. No outside materials are allowed on the objective portion.”

You really must be kidding.

“You may complete this exam at your convenience any time between now and Friday at 5:00 pm.”

You're not kidding.

So here’s the deal. The exam was posted on Monday. All the exam questions were right there—every last one of them—for my own private consumption. But I wasn’t exactly ready to take the exam yet. So there they were--waiting, beckoning, cajoling:

“No one would know if you just glanced over the items.”
“What if you just look at the essays?”
“You could just look at the questions—that’s like looking at the study guide, for heaven’s sake.”

Except not really.

Where this kind of temptation is concerned, I have endless willpower. There is absolutely no way I could have looked at the test before I took it: even though it would have relieved stress to know what was on it; even though it would have saved me a lot of time; even though others might give into that kind of temptation. Not me. No way. No how.

So it occurred to me: if I can handle temptation in one area of my life, I bet I can handle it in another. The truth is I could apply my skills regarding academic temptations to the enticing calls of a fresh bag of Cheetos® or an unopened box of Capt’n Crunch®. I could say, “I won’t do that because I don’t make those kind of choices.” I could realize, “I prefer the inconvenience of not giving in to temptation to the consequences of being swayed.” I could claim, “I will be obedient because my behavior is not dependent on the behavior of others.

Temptation. We can handle it.