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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.)

barry schwartz

TED Talk about Choices by Barry Schwartz

Ever feel like you are bombarded by choices? Choices truly paralyze me, as Barry suggests. I can't decide whether to work on a lesson for youth or design a card for my senior adults. Should I shop online for grad gifts or send encouragements by email, Twitter

™, Facebook™, or text? It overwhelms me.

Here's a TED talk that hit on exactly what I mean. Check it out. And let me know what you think. Or, ya know, not. It's your choice.


Aubrey's Hero (feel free to sing along . . .)

April 24, 2012

This past Sunday, our Youth led the worship service, reflecting on the heroes God has given to us. One of the students who spoke was Aubrey Nelson, a Senior at AC Reynolds High School in Asheville, NC. Aubrey is a gifted musician who sings like a bird and plays her flute like an angel. Her comments Sunday spoke to my own conviction that God often uses music to draw us to the throne of Grace. I asked Aubrey if she would allow me to publish her reflection here and she has graciously agreed.

Aubrey's Hero by Aubrey Nelson 2012

A Real Hero

It is so much easier to be by ourselves.

Now, you're probably thinking I got that backwards. If you're anything like me, you're much more comfortable when someone is physically with you...talking to you, laughing at your jokes, shielding you from that dreaded image of being alone that has become somewhat of a stigma in our fast-paced, loud, busy culture. In fact, if the feeling I just described sounds at all familiar to you, you're part of the 70% of American society who labels themselves as extroverts...people who would rather be around people. But as much time as many of us spend surrounded by the talking, laughing, storytelling, and general comforting presence of others, we are truly alone...emotionally and spiritually alone. Sure, we've got all kinds of people all around us - friends, teachers, parents, coworkers, pastors, conductors, coaches - but are we listening to them? Are we soaking up what they have to say and allowing their words to change us? Or are we letting their wisdom, their experience, their uniqueness as people go right over our heads, convinced that we have all the answers?

Ernest Hemingway, the great 20th century American author, once said, "as you get older it is harder to have heroes, but it is sort of necessary." While graduating seniors such as myself are facing many apparent, obvious decisions this year - what college we'll attend, what we'll major in, what career we want to pursue - I have no doubt that everybody in this room, from elementary school students preparing to step into the frighteningly unfamiliar world of middle school, to recent college graduates who just don't know what to do with or make of their lives, to senior adults facing the painful aloneness of losing their loved ones, is encountering some sort of choice, dilemma, or question they just cannot answer. And while I'm far from discounting the great and important power of independence, confidence, and belief in oneself, we often rely on ourselves for answers to such a great extent that we take out more than we can give back. So then, if we Americans are so constantly surrounded by people, why don't we try to learn from them instead of using them as a security blanket? And instead of criticizing them, why don't we teach them? We all need someone - or something - to remind us that we don't know everything and that we do, in fact, need each other.

Though we typically assume heroic figures to be people, I think that intangible activities and experiences often take on the most powerful heroic positions in our lives. As most of you know, I'm an avid musician, and I feel that music has been my own personal "hero"'s shown me the rewarding nature of hard work, it's taught me how to lose with dignity and win with grace, and it's demonstrated for me the satisfaction and happiness that comes from creative expression. These are all lessons I could not have spontaneously learned on my own. A "heroic activity", so to speak, doesn't have to be one you do on a regular basis...even a one-time experience, such as hearing an inspiring concert or seeing an emotionally wounded person smile for the first time in months, can have a drastic, wonderful influence on the way we think and feel.

Genesis 1:27 tells us that each person is created in the image of God. I think that this is one of the most commonly (and regrettably) overlooked aspects of our Christian faith...that EACH person, rich or poor, dark or light-skinned, man or woman, left or right-brain dominant, high or low GPA or SAT score, is a little piece of God, a snippet of his glory and a small-scale manifestation of his great intentions for the world. With that scripture in mind, I think it's safe to say that ALL people are heroes. We each have experience, wisdom, talents, and ideas which cannot be found, and never will be found, in any person other than ourselves. And as the class of 2012, along with every other subgroup of the world, ventures on through the challenges and questions which make up the wonderfully confusing journey of life, we have a divine responsibility to see the hero in every person and every experience.


Aubrey Nelson

Aubrey is the daughter of Mike and Luann Nelson, and the twin sister of David Nelson. She has won countless honors for her musical gifts. Aubrey attends the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

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.

Happy Birthday Abe!

February 12: Abraham Lincoln's birthday of course. 

Every year (or at least most of them), my children beg me to read the Gettysburg Address to them on Lincoln's birthday. They sit riveted as I recite this timeless piece of history. "Thank you Mother," they say, their voices full of emotion. "We are so grateful that you make time for these things that we love so much. You are amazing."

Okay, it doesn't go exactly like that. But Hey! A girl can dream.

Anyway, I love the Gettysburg Address and all that it stood for in that time in history. A few years ago, I wrote a piece about it. You'll find it here and it includes the full Address too for your reading pleasure.

Happy Birthday Abe! You were the real deal.


Thanks be to Technology

“Baker! Get in here!” Two remotes in each hand and I still can’t turn on the TV.

“Calm down, Mom. All you have to do is . . . “

“Don’t teach me. I don’t want to learn . . .”

“It’s so easy Mom; if you’ll just listen.”

“I don’t want to listen. I don’t want to learn. Just turn the stupid TV on for me.”

My son says I’m ridiculously impatient when it comes to technology and I suppose he’s right. I admit there are times when I miss the days when control was up close and personal and not one bit remote. But lately I’ve been thinking about technology that I appreciate. Here’s my annotated list.

Automatic Teller Machines also known as ATM’s. I remember when they came out and we were all nervous about this robot that took our money. Thankfully, the ATM has proven quite trustworthy. I love me an ATM. I love that no matter what time or day it is, I can go by the bank and get cash or deposit a check. Plus, now you can get postage stamps from these accommodating little automatons. Sweet.

Email. When I was in grad-school the first time, back in 1991, a friend of mine edited my papers for me. I printed them out on my daisy-wheel printer, separated the pages and removed the side perforations. Then I would drive over to her house to deliver them. During that year, her husband gave her some truly unbelievable information that she passed on to me.

“Vic says that there is a way to send documents from one computer to another,” she said.

“No way,” I told her. “I don’t believe it.”

“I know,” she said, shaking her head, “But he says it’s possible.”

Sure enough, before long, we were zipping papers back and forth and soon enough our computers sent whole picture albums to each other. Of course there are limitations. Now my laptop is in relationship with so many different computers it is susceptible to all kinds of viruses. Nothing, it turns out, is perfect.

Digital Cameras. Some of my readers will find this hard to believe, but back in The Day, there was a limit to how many pictures a camera could take before running out of something called film. In fact, I remember going to G.A. (Girls in Action: a mission-focused church group for, well, girls.) camp at Chowan University and taking my camera. And film. And flashes (the built-in flash came later). My mother would caution, “Don’t take too many pictures while you are inside and you should have plenty of flashes to last the week.” So when digital cameras came out (not the early ones; those were just irritating), it was so freeing. Take as many pictures as you want. Delete the ones that don’t turn out. Then load them on your computer and let it distribute them to your loved ones. Love it.

Texting (and cell phones in general). Need to send a quick message that doesn’t require a response? Text it. Forget your grocery list? No problem. Just have someone from home text you the list. Want someone to know you are thinking about them? Send an electronic warm fuzzy from your cell to theirs. Texting is quick and efficient. Of course it can also be outright rude. There is that.

I am also quite fond of my microwave and my programmable oven. Digital music is pretty awesome too. Oh, and my GPS. Love that thing.

So really, I like technology. And when I can’t get the TV on, I just curl up with my Nook instead.

Take Greed Out of the Ballgame

Published November 7, 2009

Caleb Spady, a 10 year old with DIPG, dreamed of being a Texas Ranger for a day. On the day his wish came true, the Rangers played the Angels. Reggie Willits, a fellow Okl.ahoman from Caleb's home county, welcomed him personally and continued his relationship with his young neighbor until Caleb passed away from brain cancer in July of 2009.

Caleb Spady, a 10 year old with DIPG, dreamed of being a Texas Ranger for a day. On the day his wish came true, the Rangers played the Angels. Reggie Willits, a fellow Okie from Caleb's home county, welcomed him personally and continued his relationship with his young neighbor until Caleb passed away from brain cancer in July of 2009.

I’m not a baseball fan—I’ll give you that. Still, I'm also not an anti-fan. I care if my son’s favorite teams win (which means the Red Sox and anyone playing the Yankees) and I like the Angels—because Reggie Willits is a real live angel, that’s why. (See caption at right for proof of this fact.) But no, I didn't watch the 2009 World Series. I did hear it, though; and I heard a lot about it.

Back in 1967, according to Google Answers, the average pro baseball player made around $6000 a year. In 2000, the average salary for the same job was $1.9 million. But get this. The median household income in 1967? Around $33,000. In 2000? Approximately $45,000. So, let’s just make this simple. In 1967, a pro ball player made one-fifth of his annual income playing ball; he made the rest some other way or he slipped below the average. Today, a ballplayer makes enough for his family plus 41 other families to live at the level of the common folk. (These numbers are, of course, for salaries, and don’t include income from commercial endorsements. I think we can assume there were no such things back in the 1960’s.)


Then there are the ads. An ad for this year’s World Series ran, on the low side, $100,000 for a 30 second spot. These ads tried to get you and me to buy stuff: stuff or services, we can’t afford because we don’t make $1.9 million, but that we will pull out our plastic and purchase because we think we will be better off if we have that which is advertised. (Also, perhaps, a discussion for another time.)

All this is appalling, but I heard something today that absoflippinglutely blew my mind. If you watched the World Series you noticed that during the game, little banners ran across the top of your screen pulling your eyes away from the batter. Stats of the player? Details about the game? NO! Another dadgum advertisement. You get this right: the $100,000 and up for the actual commercials was not enough! They needed more. What in the Sam Hill?

I don't care how much a person likes baseball. This is crazy.

Greed. It’s a nasty business.

And [Jesus] said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Luke 12:15 (NRSV)

(In the words of my preacher friends, "That'll preach.")