Tips for achieving academic success in college

Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT
MU student Justin Weaver shares a laugh with friends while studying in December 2012 in the MU Student Center. Finding a buddy with study skills similar to yours is one way to succeed during your first semester.

COLUMBIA — The first few weeks of school can be stressful, especially if you're not sure what to expect.

So here's some advice about what to do — and what not to do — so that you'll be adequately prepared to survive your first semester. These are hard-won suggestions from students who often learned the hard way.

  • DO find a note-taking system that works. It can be by hand or on a laptop. Try both to see which you prefer for each class. But be careful — some professors won't allow electronics in the classroom. Be sure to ask about technology policies beforehand.

  • DON’T skip class. Go to class, even the big lecture classes. You never know how much test material will come from class versus the book. Some professors put extra emphasis on class material, and sometimes your professors give you extra credit just for showing up. But extra credit or not, they do notice who's there. And that might work in your favor when grade reports come around.

  • DO take advantage of office hours. Professors can offer one-on-one help for any specific questions you might have, and coming in on your own time shows that you're serious about your studies. It'll also give you the opportunity to ask questions that there might not have been time to address in class.

  • DON’T expect professors to follow up with you. In high school, your teachers might have reminded you about upcoming assignments or given you leeway on late homework. Now you're responsible for keeping track of that. A professor who teaches a class of 300 students won't remind you of a missing quiz grade. That's up to you.

  • DO find a buddy with similar study skills. You need to be able to work with someone who has the same efficient work patterns. Hold each other accountable.
  •  DON'T be afraid to ask "stupid" questions. It's best to ask questions ahead of time to make sure you understand the material.

  • DO find a quiet environment to study (coffee shops aren’t generally quiet). Find a location that meets your study needs, whether it be somewhere in the Student Center, in Ellis Library or Peace Park.
  •  DON’T try to reread the textbook the night before the exam. It's not worth it. Go over your notes, instead, and bounce ideas off your classmates. Talking about the material with others will force you to articulate it in your own words, instead of trying to regurgitate information from a book.

  • DO get a hard drive. Save your work periodically on an external hard drive so you won't lose everything if your computer ever crashes. While Tiger Tech can fix most of your technology woes, you won't want to have to rewrite that final paper the night before it's due. (Because that's when technology gaffes always happen, am I right?)

  • DON'T procrastinate. The age-old classic. You might see it as a challenge when a teacher says "Don't wait until the day before it's due," but when an assignment is worth 20 percent of your grade, it's not worth the risk. Use a planner to keep track of due dates for long-term assignments, quizzes and exams. Most professors will provide a complete course schedule in advance, and seeing your course work spread out over the semester will give you a better idea of when to start planning for each assignment.

  • DO take courses outside your interests. These might seem a little "off-the-wall" compared to your major, but they can open your view to interests you wouldn't have discovered otherwise.

  • DON’T compare yourself to your peers. Your previous academic experiences might differ dramatically from those of your peers. For example, your high school's course offerings might have been limited, compared to the guy down the hall who brought in 25 AP credits. Instead of comparisons, focus on your own coursework, and don't worry about anyone else. It'll save you a lot of unnecessary stress.

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