How to Study: A Systematic Approach to Being Successful in College


A Systematic Approach to Being Successful in College

Philip M. Keith, Ed.D.



Text Copyright © Philip M. Keith 2014

All Rights Reserved




Getting Ready!

Be Engaged: Preparation Matters

Going to Class

Maintaining Your System

Parting Words


Congratulations on deciding to pursue your college degree! As a college graduate myself, I can relate to how amazing and overwhelming the first steps can be when you are first starting out. There’s a lot to get done. Maybe you’re a freshman and this is your first year in the dorms. Or maybe you are an older, nontraditional student who is balancing family life while pursuing your dream. Maybe you’re the first person in your family to attend college. Whatever the case may be, we both know that attending college is a major life challenge . . . and a lot of work. But one thing is for sure, by the time you are finished you will have achieved a major accomplishment in your life, something you can treasure forever. That’s why I have written this book, because I recognize that the college experience can add a lot to your life . . . not just because it’s a degree, but because it is an EXPERIENCE! And because it’s an amazing challenge.

This book is designed to change the way you think about studying in college. It focuses on the things that you can do to improve your own learning experience. It provides you with insight about your role as a student. And it helps you develop a good plan for completing the college courses ahead of you. The one thing this book is not is a quick fix. There are no shortcuts to being successful in school, and I make no claims that this book will provide you with any easy answers. Studying is work. Learning is work. Getting good grades is work. Those things you have to understand. What I can say is that by time you finish this book, you will have a lot of good direction on what you need to do to face the challenge of being successful in your college courses. This book uses a systematic approach to learning. If you spend time reading, studying, and thinking about the information I’ve provided, you will undoubtedly have a new perspective on how to tackle the learning challenges you’re going to face. There’s no doubt you are going to be a success in college. Good luck!


There are four goals I want to accomplish with this book. The obvious goal is to help improve the way you study, by providing you with a new focus on the concept of studying in general. What I hope is that by reading this book you will walk away with a new perspective on what it means to study. For too long, students have been partaking in old time rituals that involve hiding away in the deepest and darkest regions of some tenth-floor cubicle where they work hard to commit to memory certain facts, figures, and concepts associated with a particular subject. This time-honored tradition of gathering information and then trying your best to cram it into your brain in last-minute fashion, so you might pass a midterm or final exam, has sadly been the standard-practice for many college students for many years. My goal for this guide on studying is to change the way you think about—or perceive—the notion of studying, and, that by doing so, hopefully you will then be able to abandon the torturous practice of cramming.

More than anything, I want you to understand that studying is not a onetime “act” of getting together with friends or staying up late reviewing notes that you’ve scribbled into some notebook somewhere; but what you have to understand is that studying is a process that includes a variety of acts occurring over a specific period of time. You can no longer think about studying as a onetime deal; in order to improve your grades, you have to realize that studying involves more than the ten hours you spend the night before an exam. Instead, you have to realize that studying is about work-over-time.

The second goal I have is to teach you that one of the most important things you can do to improve your studying skills is to take control of your own processes for learning; that is to say, that by reading the information that I am providing you, you will ultimately realize that studying is about learning and that learning is really an active process that requires you to take action and apply your own skills in order to learn and retain the information that your teachers want you to learn. When you take responsibility for learning, then you become an active member in the process and are no longer a passive vessel that someone else is trying to fill with information. My belief is that in order for true learning to occur, the learner must assume some active role in the process and abandon the old practices of passive learning that have for many years been perpetuated by the traditional teacher/student relationship.

Think about this: most people have had at least one good teacher in their life. What generally separates good teachers from the bad teachers is that, for some reason or another, good teachers understand that learning is an active process, and that students generally have to be active with or interacting with the information being taught in order to understand and retain it.

New concepts can hardly be learned when a teacher is standing in front of the classroom spouting off about a particular subject or idea. The real way that we learn in life is by taking part in activities and participating in events that allow us to learn through experience. Good teachers make learning fun; they are able to do this because they make the information interesting and are able to completely engage the student in the process.

Good teachers are also able to teach students to take responsibility for learning. When you take responsibility for learning, and when you assume an active role in the process of learning, you are ultimately taking control of your own destiny, you are taking control of whether or not you will pass or fail any or every exam or course you take while you are in college.

This is probably scary for some people because not only does it place the burden for learning in the hands of the learner, but it also forces the learner to accept some responsibility for failure. This book is designed to help you improve the way you learn so that you might avoid failure; however, if you are not yet willing to accept responsibility for your own learning, then you are probably not ready to accept the information contained within these pages.

With this book, I hope you learn to think differently about studying. I also hope that you use what you learn and apply it to your life in a manner that will allow you to get the best out of your education. In order to achieve success you will have to become a responsible learner, and you will also have to realize that studying is a process that requires your active participation.

The third thing I hope you attain from this book is the idea that to study is to work; no matter how you approach studying, you will have to invest some degree of your own energy and sweat over a specific amount of time in order to achieve the primary goal of academic success. Nothing comes easy, and if you think that there is some magic answer that will cut all the corners and provide you with a quick and effortless method for studying, then this is not the book for you.

This may seem a bit gloomy (and perhaps blunt), and you may, at this very moment, be wondering why you have even bothered to pick up this book; and it may very well be a mistake for you to continue reading if you think that what is contained within these pages is the “golden ticket” for study and academic success; however, I do assure you that if you at least consider, with some degree of enthusiasm, the ideas that I am going to provide to you, and if you spend some amount of time thinking about how to apply these new strategies to your own life, then you will undoubtedly improve the way you study, the way you learn, the way you take tests, the way you read . . . and, ultimately, you will improve your grades.

This book does not provide you with a single method by which to improve your ability to study; instead, this book will provide you with a new way of looking at studying in order to improve the way you participate in the process; this book will provide you with a system that will help you look at learning in new ways; it will provide you with insight and tips that can help you improve your study skills and help you to be successful in college.

The really cool thing about this book is that it will provide you with the “secrets” for improving your study skills. What you have to understand, however, is that these secrets are things that you may already know. These secrets may be things that you have been doing for years and didn’t even know it. Or they may be new to you. When I say that you will learn secrets, what I really mean is that you will learn exciting ways of thinking and improving the way you learn.

The fourth and probably most important goal for this book is to get you to think more systematically about your approach to studying. The information in this book is based on the idea that by being systematic, you will improve the way you learn, and by improving the way you learn, you will find success in any course you attend.

Ultimately, being systematic with your studying is about having a good plan for the way you want to learn. This book focuses on some of the components that are necessary for any good learning plan. As you read through this book, you will gain a better understanding about using a systematic approach in college.

What does it mean to use a systematic approach to being successful in college? More specifically, what does it mean to use a systematic approach to improve the way you study?



Study: the act or process of applying the mind so as to acquire knowledge or understanding, as by reading or investigating.

Studying is Learning

The definition I’ve shared for studying is one that I took directly from Webster’s New World College Dictionary. If you look around you might find definitions that are different, but what you find won’t veer very far from the one I have chosen to use. Understanding the definition of the word study is important because it will serve as a guide on your journey to attaining new perspectives on the concept of studying. By examining the meaning of the word, you gain a clearer perspective about what it really means to study. An improved understanding of what it means to study will allow you to make deeper connections between the things you are doing now and what you hope to be doing better in the future.

For instance, the definition I’ve provided says that to study is “the act or process of applying the mind so as to acquire knowledge or understanding.” By this definition you learn that studying is a process of “acquiring knowledge or understanding”. . . or it is a process used for learning. Now let’s compare the word learning. Webster’s Dictionary defines the word learning as “the acquiring of knowledge or skill.” By comparison, the definition for learning and the definition for study are very similar—in all actuality, when you say that you are planning to “study,” what you really mean is that you are planning to “learn.” This is an important connection that we will continue to explore throughout this book, that the primary outcome for studying is learning.

One thing that is helpful for any student is to explore, more in-depth, their own understanding about studying. Have you ever thought about what it means to study? For most of us, studying has just been something we have to do, generally to prepare for a test. I’m sure that anytime you have said “I have to study!” what you really meant is that “I have to prepare for an exam!” Most of the time that’s what we do, we study to prepare for a quiz or a test or a final exam, even worse, we do so through a process called CRAMMING! From my perspective, this type of studying is the lowest level of learning possible. To understand why I believe this, we have to examine the concept of learning more closely.

What is Learning?

Ask yourself this: What is learning? Now answer that question. What did you come up with? You may have just accepted Webster’s definition that I quoted above, that learning is “acquiring knowledge or skill.” You wouldn’t be wrong necessarily. But when you think about it, Webster’s definition for learning is pretty basic. There has to be more to it. Many researchers and scholars have spent a considerable amount of time developing a broader concept of learning. What they have come up with is that learning is more than just acquiring “knowledge.”

In 1956, a guy by the name of Benjamin Bloom assembled a team of educational psychologists to develop a classification of levels of intellectual behavior important in learning. Over the years, this classification has led the way in how educators think about learning. The levels, from lowest to highest, are as follows: Remembering; Understanding; Applying; Analyzing; Evaluating; and Creating. From this perspective, the lowest or most basic level of learning activity is Remembering, whereas the highest level is Creating.

Now think back to studying. For many people, at its most basic level, studying is really no more than remembering. Most of the time, when studying is an act of mere test preparation then you are just trying to remember the facts, figures, ideas, concepts, that come with the class and will help you get an A.

Remembering is just part of learning, though. You might remember that the Civil War began in 1861, but that doesn’t mean you understand why it happened. Studying is about learning, and learning is about rising to those higher levels of intellectual behavior as outlined by Bloom. The higher you’re able to climb through these learning levels in any particular course, the better learner you’ll be, the more you’ll know and understand, and the more prepared for any test you’ll be.

One thing that you might notice about Bloom’s levels is that they are all action verbs. I point this out because it highlights one of the most important things about learning: learning occurs through active behaviors. It also reinforces the idea that studying is a process used for learning: how you study, the way you approach studying, your beliefs about studying, all of your strategies regarding studying will have a direct affect on what you want to learn. So here’s the thing, if cramming has been your only strategy for learning, then you are really limiting what it is you will take away from any course.

Analyze the following scenarios. See if you can determine which of Bloom’s learning behaviors is a match? (Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, or Creating)

1. In preparation for her biology midterm, Rebecca spent the whole evening cramming vocabulary terms from the first three chapters of the book.

2. After learning about the concept of “cash flow” in his accounting class, Nick began researching at home using the internet to find examples to help him clarify his comprehension of the subject. The next day in class, Nick was able to explain the idea to his study group.

3. Janice spent the entire evening comparing and contrasting the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution.

4. By the end of his accounting course, Nick had developed his own operating budget for his fictitious technology business.

5. Using the information she gained by examining the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution, Janice was able to illustrate for her classmates how the creation of the constitution was informed by the Articles of Confederation.

6. By the end of her biology class, Rebecca was able to assess her fellow students’ use of the scientific method while working in the lab.

Answers: 1.remembering 2.understanding 3.analyzing 4creating. 5.applying 6.evaluation

Making the Connection

So now that we have established a better definition for studying and learning, let’s take a closer look at how this new knowledge and understanding can apply to our lives as students. Let’s explore a bit further the concept of studying. A lot of students understand the basic meaning of studying. They understand, at least on the surface, that when they say they are going to be studying they mean they are going to be working toward learning a particular subject area. In many cases, however, how they study can appear disconnected from their professed understanding of the concept. Consider the following scenario:

Not only was Jerrod the first person in his family to attend college, but he also started college later than most of his peers. He had spent two years right out of high school working on a dairy farm and didn’t apply to attend college until he was twenty-one.

Jerrod had been an average high school student. He hadn’t taken any real college preparatory courses. He graduated high school with a C average without really ever applying himself. He thought college would be different. At twenty-one years old, he felt like he was ready to get into school and earn a degree. In his own mind, he felt like a college degree would propel him past the dead-end jobs he’d been working over the last couple of years.

Like most students, Jerrod was assigned a college advisor who helped him formulate a schedule for his first semester. Jerrod was unsure of a major course of study and so his advisor told him to focus on general studies for now. Jerrod registered for 15 credit hours. He thanked his advisor for the schedule and headed off to the bookstore to pick up the books he would need for each course.

Later that evening Jarrod looked over his schedule. Classes would begin in a week. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays he would have intro to sociology at 8a.m., biology at 10a.m., and basic math at 1p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays were reserved for art appreciation and English 101. He felt ready to learn and was excited for classes to begin. He tossed his bag of textbooks into the corner of his room; they would remain in the bag until the first week of class.

The first week of classes was great for Jarrod. In each class he got to meet new people and the instructors talked about the expectations for success in each of the courses. Most of his classes were huge. The sociology class had well over 200 students enrolled in it. English 101 was his smallest class and there were still around 50 people in it.

By the second week most of his classes had reading assignments due. Jarrod found himself spending a lot of time just keeping up with the required readings and had little time to read any of the supplemental articles assigned for sociology or art appreciation.

Before long Jarrod was spending all of his free time trying to keep up. A lot of times he was preoccupied with other activities, i.e. going out with friends, hanging out with his girl friend, working his part time job. When he did spend time studying he felt like he was gaining nothing; his head felt hollow.

By mid semester, Jarrod was feeling bogged down and considered dropping his intro to sociology course, especially with mid-terms looming around the corner. When Jarrod met with his advisor he told her that he was having a hard time keeping up with each of his courses and that he felt too overwhelmed. Jarrod’s advisor asked him to describe his study habits. Jarrod scratched his head. He wasn’t sure what she meant. “How do you study,” she asked.

“Umm, I just read the stuff and do the assignments …well, I try to do the assignments,” he stated.

“Maybe you just need tutoring,” his advisor offered. Good idea thought Jarrod, and he headed to the tutoring lab to sign up for help.

When he arrived at the tutoring lab he learned that they were overwhelmed with midterms coming up. They told him to sign up and someone should be in contact. In the meantime Jarrod had to prepare for midterms. His course of action involved cramming with his roommate each night before an exam. They would work together to remember as many facts as possible. The tutoring lab was too overwhelmed and never called.

Each night before an exam Jarrod would read through his notes and try to commit as much to memory as possible. Before his sociology midterm he stayed up till 4a.m. When he woke up the next morning he was exhausted. He had spent a lot of hours reading through material and trying to remember as much as possible. Fortunately the instructor had provided a study guide.

When he arrived at class for the exam he could barely keep his eyes open. The instructor passed out the exam. There were multiple choice questions, short answer questions, and an essay question at the end. Jarrod felt like throwing in the towel. He wasn’t sure he had the mental energy to even get started.

Don’t CRAM!

Jarrod was not ready to learn! For many students like Jarrod, studying becomes something they do the night before an exam; instead of spending time learning, they spend time cramming. When students spend time cramming information before a test they are not really learning. Most studies show that the information you cram into your short-term memory in a short period of time before an exam is quickly lost or replaced after the test anyway. When you cram you do not learn. So in order to avoid cramming, you have to understand that studying is a process of learning over time, and not a onetime or intermittent event.

Cramming is the ultimate effect of not being prepared. Many inexperienced students find themselves in Jarrod’s situation. It doesn’t take long for a semester of college courses to become overwhelming, especially if you’re not prepared. In Jarrod’s case, studying became a significant challenge because he operated as if studying was an act disconnected from the overall objective of any classroom—learning!

What we have to strive to do as learners is to begin studying the moment we decide we’re going to take a particular course. This may sound really crazy, but it can happen; it just requires you to do some things differently. To begin studying and learning even before you start a course will require you to change your own behavior. But changing your behavior isn’t easy. That’s why you reading this information right now is important, because you are not only demonstrating a responsibility for learning, but you are taking the initial steps necessary for changing your behavior by first attempting to change the way you think about studying.

When you come to understand that studying is a process used for learning then your perspective on studying is forced to change. Studying is a process that we use to acquire knowledge, understanding, and other certain abilities; this is our primary goal in any new course or content area. If you are taking a course in math then your goal is to better understand and be able to apply a variety of different mathematical concepts. If you are in an introductory sociology class then your goal is probably going to be to learn the basics of sociology. Whatever the course, if you plan to study the content therein, then you are ultimately planning to learn that content. Studying leads to learning because it is an active process whereby you acquire knowledge, understanding, the ability to analyze data, and make connections with concepts that may have previously eluded you. What you as a student have to understand is that learning is the ultimate goal and that studying involves a variety of processes to help get you there.

There are many methods you can use to become a better learner, but unless you recognize that studying is about learning, you will, like Jarrod, be disconnected from the intended outcome and so will your methodology. Learning must occur through studying or the whole process is futile. And until you realize that the primary responsibility for learning lies in your hands, you will always be a “passive vessel” that is constantly being filled and emptied with no real connection between the information the teacher is providing and your own understanding.

The promising thing is that if you take a few steps to change the way you study, then there are real possibilities for you to make deeper connections with the information you’re working with. These deeper connections will broaden your own understanding about the material and help you navigate your way through any subject. But you have to be systematic in your efforts, and being systematic means that you create a strategy that is grounded in the notion that learning is the preferred outcome. In other words, your strategy for studying has to be designed so that it provides the best opportunities for you to be successful at learning the material.

What’s Next?

So far we have uncovered some interesting concepts. We have learned that cramming is a desperate, ineffective form of studying. We have learned that studying is really just a process to help us learn something. We have uncovered the fact that learning should be active and that there are higher levels of intellectual behavior that can help us become more deeply connected to subject matter. And we have learned that our primary goal as students should be to create a systematic strategy that focuses on learning as the main outcome. Moving forward, this book will provide you with some key components that should be a part of your own strategy.


1. If Jarrod was your friend, what advice would you have for him to help improve his situation in the future?

2. How were Jarrod’s behaviors incongruent with the goal of learning? How could he have been more engaged in his own learning?


Be Engaged: Preparation Matters

Tony Dungy, the Super Bowl winning—and now retired—coach of the Indianapolis Colts, has often shared that the biggest difference between champion quarterback Peyton Manning and many others with whom he’d worked over the years was Peyton’s dedication to preparing for games. Coach Dungy, in one of his Dungy’s Diary YouTube segments, shared an example from his team’s preparations for their Super Bowl game against the Chicago Bears. In it Coach Dungy explained that as part of Peyton’s preparations, two weeks prior to the Super Bowl, Peyton watched every game the Bears had played that season. For Peyton to be ready, it was pivotal he learn everything he could about the Bears’ defense. Peyton Manning is a highly regarded quarterback in the National Football League. Among many of his peers he is thought of as one of the greats. To date, Manning’s preparations have won him one Super Bowl (against the Bears), four league MVP awards, and a number of league and franchise records.

It doesn’t matter if you’re taking a college course for the first time or getting ready to play the Bears in the Super Bowl, preparation matters. In fact, learning new information is always difficult when we are not prepared, more so if the subject matter is extremely difficult. Let me share an example from my own life.

I vividly remember my first attempt at college algebra. I was a complete failure at math during high school (or at least felt that way), so when I got to college I had pretty much already psyched myself out when I was faced with my first math course. It wasn’t any easier for me when I got into the course and the teacher began teaching at an accelerated rate. The teacher taught the course fast, and he expected the students to maintain his pace, learning new concepts and understanding and memorizing important formulas in a rate somewhere near what seemed like the speed of light. I was overwhelmed in the course. I was not prepared and was caught off-guard because I had not taken responsibility for the process of being prepared—partly because I did not know how to prepare for learning these difficult new concepts. I wish this story had a happy ending, but it did not. I dropped the algebra class and promptly had to reconsider my college major.

I offer this little anecdote of my failure at college algebra because it is one extreme of how overwhelming learning can become for us if we are not prepared. The tools that we need to be good studiers, good learners, and, ultimately, good students may sometimes seem tacit, but they are always real; that is to say that in order to study correctly we have to find the right tools for the job and be able to use them effectively . . . we have to know how to prepare!

So how could Jarrod have prepared better? In our example involving Jarrod, you can see that he wasn’t truly engaged in the college experience. He knew he had to register for classes, buy books, and then show up for class, but that was it. But when you just show up for class, expecting that the magic of learning will happen by your mere presence, you can find yourself in a predicament when exam time rolls around. Studying is an active process that helps to move us towards learning new material, and it requires preparation, even before the semester starts.


It’s very difficult to get very far in developing a strategy for learning without talking about three things: Commitment; Discipline; and Time Management. Let’s first talk about commitment. Let me be honest (here comes a disclaimer): This book is based entirely on the assumption that you are committed to being successful and finishing college. In essence, I don’t feel (and you probably don’t feel) I really need to address your level of commitment regarding your goal to get through college. You’re here, you’re reading this book, and you are prepared to do what it takes to be a success! What I do think is important is that we take a closer look at what commitment is and what it means for you as you move forward.

com·mit·ment: the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity.

Let’s further define commitment by demonstrating what it is not: It is not easy! Sure it is easy to say that you are committed to some thing, but to actually take part in the steps that will demonstrate your commitment to that thing is a different story. Here’s the truth from my perspective: College is a major challenge, and getting through college requires more commitment than most anything. College is not easy, and to expose yourself to that challenge voluntarily is admirable, but to do so without being prepared and without first exploring your own level of commitment to the process borders on the line of insanity. You have to be committed.

But why is commitment not easy? It’s not easy because it requires energy. In essence, commitment requires you to wake up every morning ready to go. It requires you to sacrifice the fun things for things that require work. It requires you to think. It requires you to tap into your creative potential. It requires you to plan and strategize and make an effort. Commitment is hard because it requires you to always be vigilant about what you need to do next in order to be successful. There are no vacations from commitment. There are no holidays. There is only the long term reward that will come when you walk across the stage donning your cap and gown.

So, even before you attend college, it’s important that you recognize the level of commitment you’ll need to get through it. If you’re up for the challenge, then you are ready to move forward. Here is a tip: let your commitment to being a success at college drive your motivation for doing so. In other words, allow your motivation to come from your commitment. Don’t be motivated by anything else!

In the past when I have polled inexperienced learners about their motivation for attending college, they’ve told me they have elected to attend so that when they’re done they can get a good job and make more money. Rarely, if ever, do I have someone respond that they are attending college because they are committed to learning or they are committed to a particular discipline, etc. The problem with the money goal is that it is extrinsic, and it is general. It might be good as an initial motivator, but unless you turn it into something a little more specific and intrinsic, I think that you are guaranteed to be left extremely frustrated sometime in the near future. Forget about the goal of making more money (that will come) and instead focus on being committed to being the best learner you can be. Besides, I can guarantee you that you are going to learn at least something by the time you finish college—there’s no guarantee you’ll make any money when you’re done. So let your commitment to learning be the drive that allows you to become the best.

Here is what you can take away thus far: be motivated by a broad commitment to your success as a college student; understand that commitment requires energy; and know that commitment is not always easy. Here is another thing to think about in regard to commitment: with the broad commitment you have toward success will come a variety of specific commitments you must manage as well . . . another reason commitment is not easy. For instance, part of being a success at college is having good attendance; this means you have to be committed to getting up and getting there, which may mean you have to be committed to a schedule that gets you to bed early, etc. It goes on and on.


One of the toughest things that I think new students face when they first get to college is managing the freedom that comes with college life. When you get to college there’s really no one there to make sure you are doing what you are suppose to be doing. Ultimately this means that you’re the one who is in charge. You’re the one who sets the alarm clock, wakes up in the morning, and gets off to school. Mom and dad won’t be there to do it, and I’m sure your teachers aren’t going to want the job.

Managing your freedom at college is really about managing your discipline. Here are some questions for you: How disciplined are you when it comes to learning new stuff? Or when it comes to studying difficult subjects? How disciplined are you in general? What experiences have you had in the past that you can draw upon as models for being disciplined in the future? Will you be disciplined enough to fulfill your commitments in college?

dis·ci·pline: train oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way.

These are all good questions. Just like your level of commitment, when you begin thinking about creating a systematic strategy for learning, you have to think about and try to gauge your level of discipline. Good discipline is what will carry you through to fulfill all of your commitments while in college.

Let’s explore discipline a little more. Take a moment and jot down the types of things that will require you to be disciplined while in college. I am sure once you think about it you can come up with quite a few things. You probably thought of things like how you have to be disciplined to stay at home and study while everyone else goes out. Or you might have thought about how you’ll have to be disciplined to get to class on time. Or how you will have to avoid missing or skipping classes. There are a lot of things you’ll have to be disciplined about while attending college, learning is no different. If you want to be a successful studier, learner, and college student, then you will have to do so through a disciplined approach. Being disciplined is probably the main characteristic of any really successful person.

The definition says it all. To be disciplined is to train yourself to do something. In this case, that something will be to train yourself to be the best student you can be, and you will do so through the formation of good habits. You have to use your commitment of being successful in college to drive you to be disciplined enough to create good habits. You have to get into the habit of going to bed, getting rest, and being prepared for the day. You have to develop a habit of staying home when everyone else is going out (this one is where you will really need to be disciplined). And you will have to get into the habit of creating a learning strategy for each class you sign up for. Good discipline is the primary tool to help you continue your commitment of being a really great student.


1. What does discipline mean to you? What are the characteristics of a really disciplined person?

2. Name some people you think are really disciplined? Why did you choose them as examples?

3. Imagine you were advising Jarrod on becoming a better student. In what areas could you help him be more disciplined?

Time Management

Creating a good learning strategy in college is heavily dependent upon your time management scheme. If you want to be successful in courses, then you’re inevitably going to have to be able to manage your schedule. Like a lot of plans, your own time management plan should start out with a broad focus; you should try to focus on what the year is going to look like, then break it down into semesters, monthly, and then weekly.

Here’s something you may not have thought about. When you are attending college and pursuing a degree, the requirements are generally spelled out for you upfront. If you are working on an undergraduate degree, you will know, even before you start, most of the classes you will have to take over the course of the next four years. Knowing this upfront is one of the best things you could have if you are interested in managing your time on a semester by semester basis. I am always impressed by those students who are attuned to the college catalog and their program requirements. Most of the time these students understand the importance of managing courses. That is to say that a lot of times the students who understand all the program requirements will work really hard to manage the mix of courses they will take in any particular semester. The experienced student knows how many hours they want to take each semester, and they know what they want the mix to look like. These students are always talking about balance. They never want to schedule too many hard classes in the mix. They may elect to take college algebra in the summertime because it will allow them to focus only on that particular course, thus eliminating distractions caused by other courses. There’s a lot of power in being able to manage your schedule of courses, if you start from a broad perspective and work inward, then you will have a better chance of ensuring that your weekly schedule will be manageable. Thinking in these terms can help you avoid overloading and taking too many hours or too many difficult courses in any given semester.

So you might be asking yourself, once I get the schedule I want is there a rule of thumb to how often I should be studying in a given course. I’ve seen a lot of great answers to this question. Some folks say you should plan, on average, at least two hours per every hour you spend each week in the class. If you have a three credit hour course, that would mean six hours of study in that class per week. I recently saw a pamphlet put out by Utah State that advised students to determine the difficulty level of their courses and weight them accordingly. For instance if you evaluate a class to be “highly difficult” then that course would need three hours of study per course hour, or nine hours per week in a three hour course. An “average” course would require two hours and an easy course only one.

The amount of study time needed per class is what you will build your time management plan around. Think about it, if you have 15 hours of courses scheduled and they are all average level, that’s 30 hours per week that you are going to have to allocate just for studying. If you are in class 15 hours a week, and you have to study 30 hours a week, that’s 45 hours a week you are devoting to class—not including special projects related to class that you might have to complete. You could easily devote 50 or 60 hours a week to your education once you get started. Having a good plan to manage your time is going to matter.

Time management is ultimately about commitment and discipline. It’s one thing to take a look at your academic schedule and plan your days accordingly, it’s an entirely different thing to follow through with the time management plan you have created. I talked about commitment and discipline in the previous paragraphs so that you would have some understanding about the building blocks necessary to build a sound strategy to improve your own learning. A big part of your strategy is built around your understanding of what it means to manage your time, and how disciplined you are to do so. But here’s the thing, a good plan for managing your time is a great tool to help you begin to build the habits that are necessary to become a great learner. Use your time management plan to guide you.

There’s been a lot written about time management and studying. You can find information about how to create a sound time management plan all over the internet. You can visit your academic support program at your college. You could even talk with your professors to determine how much time they think you will need to dedicate toward studying each week for their classes.

The main thing for you to think about is the need to get the most realistic picture of how much time you are going to have to spend daily reading and studying for a particular course. All courses are different. Some will require more than others. College algebra may require more time for you than intro to sociology or vice versa. In essence, you have to spend time evaluating each course you are taking to determine how much time it will require and then build your plan around that.

Consider the following scenario:

Prior to his second semester of college, Jarrod met with his academic advisor to formulate a new schedule for the spring. By this time Jarrod was sure that he wanted to major in business, which was good because it gave him some much needed direction. His academic advisor was excited that he had settled on a major.

As they worked together on his new schedule, Jarrod decided that he would take 18 hours, including Intro to Sociology (for a second time)—3 hours; English 102—3 hours; Intro to Business—3 hours; College Algebra—3 hours; Biology 1—3 hours; Bio Lab—2 hours.

In addition to attending classes this semester, Jarrod planned to pick up hours as a student worker; he wanted to earn money for social activities. His advisor sent him to the student services division to pick up an application for available jobs.

Once back home, Jarrod reviewed the student worker application. One of the questions asked how many hours he would like to work per week. Jarrod wasn’t sure what to put. He knew he had 18 hours of classes scheduled and that he would have to dedicate some time to studying.

As he was reviewing his schedule and student worker application, Jarrod got a text from his friend, Steve. For the last few weeks, Steve had been trying to get Jarrod to join his service fraternity. Jarrod was reluctant because he wasn’t sure about the time commitment. He stared down at his phone confused about all the responsibilities he had before of him.


1. Imagine you are Jarrod’s advisor. What advice would you offer? Would you recommend that he take a job or join a service fraternity? Why or why not?

2. Imagine Jarrod has decided to pursue a job as a student worker. What tips could you give him about managing his time? How much time will/should he be devoting to studying and his classes? How many hours should he sign up for as a student worker?

3. Create a time management schedule for Jarrod.

Understand Your Learning Style

Another way you can better prepare for your next college course is by having a good understanding about your preferred style of learning. Researchers agree that people have distinct ways in which they learn. These ways include visual, aural (auditory), verbal, physical, logical, social, and/or solitary. The goal is to discover your preferred learning style (or styles) and then use it as much as possible when you are encountering new course material. There are a number of these Learning Style Inventories available online and probably at your college. I remember the first time I took one of these inventories. I thought I already knew my dominant learning style, but after responding to the questions on the inventory, I discovered that I had a different preferred learning style; knowing my learning style was extremely helpful for me because I was able to customize the way I approached learning in a variety of classes. I’m a very visual learner and respond well to graphic representations of learning material. So I find myself drawing a lot of graphic organizers to help me make sense of new concepts. Find your dominate learning style and then use it to your advantage.

Know What They Want You to Learn

One thing you have to do to be successful in college is be engaged and be ready to ask questions. If you are a new student, it’s important to remember that by being engaged in the entire learning process and by asking good questions you will gain an edge when it comes to learning and being successful in your classes. The minute you decide to take a course is the minute you have to truly commit, you have to be disciplined, and you have to be willing to spend time in preparation.

So what can you use to prepare yourself for a new course? How can you gain an edge outside of just being eager and raring to go? Well, so far we have established the connection between studying and learning. What you have to do next is begin to identify what it is you will be learning in any given course. You have to ask the question . . . so, what do they expect me to learn in this course? (we could go broader and ask what do they expect me to learn at this college or in my program, but for now we’ll just focus on the course level). This one question will help you begin your journey as an active participant in your education: what do they want me to learn?

Regardless of the course, there will be learning goals for students (there have to be, why would you need a course in the first place if there weren’t going to be things you would be required to learn?). No matter the course, no matter the subject, there will be learning goals. Your task is to find those goals, even before the semester begins. Once you find them, they will be your guides until you have mastered them.

There are a couple of places you can look and/or things you can do to locate the learning objectives for courses. One place you can start is the college catalog. Colleges and universities are required to maintain a college catalog to provide prospective students with descriptions of programs and courses. These descriptions generally give a good overview about the course, including some basic things you can expect to learn through the course.

Let’s examine an example of a course description. The following course description is from MIT’s OpenCourseWare website; the course is titled “Management Communication for Undergraduates.” As you read this description, try to focus on the specific knowledge, skills, and/or abilities you might gain after attending this course.

The goal of this course is to help students learn to communicate strategically within a professional setting. Students are asked to analyze their intended audience, the purpose of their communication, and the context in which they are operating before developing the message. The course focuses specifically on improving students’ ability to write, speak, work in a team, and communicate across cultures in their roles as future managers.

This course description from MIT is good (I’m not promising they will all be like this). Within the first sentence you get a pretty clear picture of what you are going to be doing “. . . communicating strategically within a professional setting.” If you are interested to know the skills you’ll need to develop in order to communicate strategically, look no further than the next sentence to find out you’ll be “. . . asked to analyze [your] intended audience, the purpose of [your] communication, and the context in which [you’re] operating before developing the message.” And finally, you’ll see the primary focus of the course is to improve your ability to “. . . write, speak, work in a team, and communicate across cultures in [your] role as [a] future manager.” In essence, this course description provides you with a lot of great information about what you are going to be learning throughout the course.

There are additional ways to find the learning objectives of the course prior to the start of class. Most colleges and universities go out of their way to make this information available. Besides the course catalog, you should visit the college and program department websites. You can visit the department and speak with the instructor. You can talk with past students. You could even meet with your advisor to learn more about the courses you’re planning to take. When you are visiting with the instructor, you should ask for a copy of the syllabus prior to attending class. When you get a copy of the syllabus (either before the class starts or on the first day of class) be sure to review it for clues about the course and what you are going to be learning. Below are the learning objectives I copied from the syllabus of the MIT course we’ve been examining:

Good communication is one of the keys to a successful career no matter what field you choose, and many different skills contribute to a professional’s capacity to communicate well. By the time you complete this course, you should be able to:

Formulate an effective communication strategy for any message, in any medium, and in any situation

Write clearly, concisely, and convincingly

Create impressive presentations that are delivered with confidence and poise

Give and receive feedback that will improve yours and others’ communication

Listen for understanding

Work effectively with others in small groups or teams

Identify and negotiate the difference in communication between yourself and people who are not from your culture

Right up front, you can see what you should be able to do upon completion of the course. Here’s the thing, though, just having the information is not enough. To really be prepared, to truly be engaged, you have to use the information to begin studying/learning.

Make it Active

Now that you know what it is you will be doing in the course, you have to use that information to help guide your learning, starting immediately. You can do this by becoming active in the process. Here’s how:


Step 1. Identify what you are going to learn in the course: In the MIT course, one of the goals is to help students learn to communicate strategically.


Step 2. Make it active by asking the question(s):

What is strategic communication?

What does it mean to communicate strategically? What processes are involved in strategic communication?

What does strategic communication look like?

What do I need to know or should I be able to do in order to demonstrate I can communicate strategically?

What skills will I need to acquire or develop in order to communicate strategically?

Step 3. Answer your question(s) in your own words, without looking anything up:


Here’s my attempt at answering the question what is strategic communication?

Strategic communication is about using a strategy to reach a particular audience with a message or messages that you would like to convey. When you communicate strategically, you use a well-thought-out plan to identify exactly what your message is, who the message will be for, why you want to communicate in the first place, and what media you will use to achieve your goal!

Step 4. Compare your answers with the teacher, textbooks, and other authorities.

As you can see in Step 3., I have really just used my own words to define strategic communication. I think it is really important for any new student, when you have identified learning goals like this, to spend time on your own trying to work through the questions you develop in Step 2. When you attempt to answer your questions, don’t get caught up in the right or wrong of your answers, save that for later. The real point when generating these questions and then answering them is that you are now actively engaged in the process of exploring new concepts, and that’s what taking any course is about. Once you develop questions about a new concept and then formulate an answer you have invested your own thinking into the process, you have created a connection between your own ideas and the reality that you will experience within the classroom and beyond. Just like any other situation in the past when you’ve developed an answer on your own, you will not be satisfied until you test your answer to see if you are correct. You will be driven to do the research and to explore this new concept of strategic communication. You’ll search the internet. You’ll read ahead in the textbook. And you’ll explore other people’s thoughts on what it means to be a strategic communicator—. you might even call up your parents with questions. When classes start, you will be prepared, and, ultimately, you’ll be ahead of the game. All because you decided to explore the course learning goals on your own.

Just for fun, let’s answer another one of our questions from Step 2: What do I need to know or should I be able to do in order to demonstrate I can communicate strategically?

To be able to demonstrate that I can communicate strategically, I think that I will have to use sound practices to: identify my audience; identify my purpose; identify the media I will use; define my message; understand how to shape my message given the particular context; and be able to deliver my message in an appropriate professional manner.

I formulated this answer without referring to the course description or learning goals because I wanted to try to articulate my own answer, to make my own connections. If you look back at the course description and learning goals, however, you can begin to answer the question more fully. For example, the course description says that I will have to use analytical skills to help me successfully develop a communication plan. More specifically it states that “students are asked to analyze intended audience . . . etc.” So part of being able to demonstrate that I can communicate strategically will mean that I will have to be able to analyze all of these components associated with a communication plan; I will have to use my analytical skills.

For many students, this may lead to a new question: what are analytical skills? If it does, then good, you have proven that you can be active in this whole process of learning. In fact, in order to improve your studying skills it’s extremely important to realize that what you are doing in a college course is trying to learn new skills, ideas, concepts, facts, figures, notions, assumptions, pretences, guises, associations, and/or all other constructs associated with a particular subject area. The more active you are in that process, the greater your reward come exam time. Being active means you are willing to formulate good questions about a particular subject matter and are brave enough to test your own ideas. Learning begins the moment you become active in the process, and learning is what studying is all about.

Always remember, there’s a lot of great information located just in the learning objectives we’ve identified from the course description and the syllabus. If you examine the objectives on the MIT syllabus you find some really active words describing the things you are going to be doing in the course and the skills you are going to be developing; these words can be very helpful and include formulating a communication strategy; writing clearly; giving and receiving feedback; listening for understanding; working effectively with others; and identifying and negotiating differences. All of these words detail exactly what you are going to be doing and what your teacher will be assessing you on. It’s all right there mapped out for you, and knowing these things beforehand, before classes even begin, gives you a distinct advantage, not only for passing the class, but in learning as much as possible. Studying is learning, and studying can begin even before you’ve stepped foot in the classroom.



Learn Now!

Let’s face it. As a college student, you are going to be experiencing a lot of new information. Most of the teachers in the courses you take are going to expect you to master a lot of different stuff. If you take a full course load, I can guarantee that you are going to be swamped with new concepts, ideas, formulas, etc. Your teachers are going to expect you to develop new skills and be able to demonstrate an advanced understanding regarding a variety of subject areas. And most of the time they are going to expect you to “get it” as quickly as possible.

We’ve already established that learning has to be your primary goal when it comes to studying. I know this seems obvious, but I don’t think students always approach their courses this way. How often do you approach a new course driven by the excitement that you are going to be learning something new? Hopefully you said always . . . but if you didn’t, then now is the time for you to realize that learning has to be your primary goal for every course. If you are not ready to learn the material, then you are not ready to take the course.

One of the things you can do to improve how well you learn material in any given course is to approach the course guided by the mantra of “learn now!” Think about this, you can either spend time learning new material in the classroom, or you can spend time learning during study sessions outside of the classroom. Learning during study sessions is “learning later.” Learning during class is “learning now.”

So, if you want to improve your college experience, including increasing the amount of free time you have, you are going to have to increase the amount of material you learn during class time. In other words, class time should equal learning time! In essence, you have to optimize your learning experience in the classroom so that you are able to maximize your ability to acquire and retain the information your teacher provides.

In the last chapter we talked about preparing to learn. Being well-prepared before you start a class is going to give you an ultimate advantage to learn and retain as much as you can during class time. If you learn and retain the information while you are in the classroom, while your teacher is teaching, then there will be less work required of you outside of the classroom. Learn now . . . and everything that comes later will be a lot easier to master.

Learning during class time can make a real difference, but it may sound easier than it really is. The truth is that maximizing your learning during class is not easy; it takes practice and good preparation. It’s easy enough to say you are going to spend your classroom time learning the information that’s being covered, but with the amount of information that you are likely to cover and the speed with which it comes, the whole process can be a challenge. You have to have a good plan. In the following sections, we’ll explore more closely some of the things you should include in your own system to help you learn as much as possible during class time.

Remember, Preparation Matters!

In previous sections we’ve covered the idea that you need to know what it is your teacher wants you to learn before you even get to class. If you have spent time analyzing learning objectives and trying to better understand class expectations, then you have ultimately created a learning advantage for yourself. Being engaged during your pre-class preparations will force you to begin thinking about the direction your learning will be taking. If you understand the learning expectations for courses prior to attending the first class, you will be already actively engaged in the content. In order to learn now, you have to be actively engaged. Being actively engaged means you are thinking about the material, that you are formulating scholarly questions, and you are attempting to make your own connections with the concepts and skills that are going to be covered during class time.

Understand Your Teacher’s Style!

Here’s the truth about most colleges and universities: they are filled with a diversity of individuals. Not only will you meet a lot of diverse students, make friends with a lot of different people, but you will also experience a diversity of teachers. It is probably safe to say that the larger the university or college the greater the potential for a diversity of instructors; but regardless, when you attend college, it is guaranteed that you will experience a diversity of instructors. In fact, the teachers you have in college may be drastically different from the ones you had in middle school or high school.

Think about it. Chances are, when you were in high school, most of the teachers you had were actually from the same area as the schools in which they worked and where you lived. They probably grew up relatively close to these schools. They were probably known throughout the community, and, chances are, they probably even had close relatives who preceded them as teachers in the same educational system. Communities can be quite homogeneous, especially smaller more rural ones. Teachers in small town communities often appear to represent or symbolize the ultimate cultural beliefs and norms of the communities in which they live, whereas teachers in colleges and universities come from all over the place and bring a diversity of habits—especially when it comes to how they teach.

There are great advantages in small communities where teachers know their students and maybe know their students’ families as well. These teachers not only know their students on a mere classroom level, but they have had the opportunity to watch them grow and learn. They know about, have heard about, or have experienced many of their students prior to ever having them in the classroom. This prior knowledge provides these teachers with great insight, and gives them the ability to make adjustments to meet individual learning styles and needs, and to understand their students on a different level. This isn’t always the case with most colleges and universities, especially larger ones. For one, most colleges and universities have a significantly greater number of students enrolled than do your average high schools. The teacher-student ratio for many courses in most colleges and universities is greater than what you are generally going to find in an average high school.

Something you might experience as a new college student is a different style of teacher than you are used to. Teachers in college are different. Some of them aren’t really even teachers. Some of them have never even had a course in education or know what it means to manage a classroom. They are generally experts in their respective fields, but that doesn’t mean they know anything about teaching subject matter. It doesn’t mean they know anything about strategies to improve their teaching. It doesn’t mean they know anything about the differences in student learning styles.

The other thing is that college and university professors are not only experts in their fields of study, but they consider themselves scholars in those fields. This means that they expect you to demonstrate some semblance of what it means to be a scholar. In their minds, to be a new college student means to be a rookie scholar. Many of the college and university professors with whom you’ll interact will know everything there is to know when it comes to studying and fully understanding their subject matter. They will know more than anyone else. But they won’t necessarily know how to teach it to the hordes of students with whom they’ll interact in a given semester. They’ll expect you to love the subject matter as they do and expect you to catch-on effortlessly with the passion that has driven them to come to know what they know. That’s what it means to be a scholar. And a lot of times they’ll probably just use the good ole lecture method to do so.

The Lecturer

I was an English major as an undergraduate. I once took a course titled Intro to Old English. The course was taught by the department chair who spent the entire course pacing from one end of the room to other, his arms clasped behind him, lecturing about the subject. Occasionally he would write a term on the board, but that was it. The rest of the time he paced and talked, rarely making eye contact with the students in the room. You see, as a teacher, he believed that his only job was to supply his students with the information he had bottled up in his head. It was our job to learn it. Doing well in his course was all about good listening and note taking skills, keeping up with the reading, and being brave enough to interrupt him and ask questions when you didn’t quite understand.

The Unorganized Teacher

The unorganized teacher is one of the most difficult in terms of learning. These types of teachers are sometimes very difficult to follow. The disorganization doesn’t necessarily come across through the syllabus. In fact, the course may come across as organized very well, with clear learning objectives, an easy to follow calendar of dates, and a clear outline of quizzes and tests. The problem shows up with the delivery. These teachers have an extremely difficult time presenting material, especially through lecture. A lot of times, the disorganized instructor seems like they’re all over the place. One minute they are talking about one thing, the next they’re talking about something else. These instructors jump around the material and are hard to follow, which makes for a major distraction when it comes to learning.

The Monotone Teacher

I remember once having a linguistics professor who stood at the podium the entire three months of the course, and although he used the overhead projector, he lectured in a muffled monotone the entire time. I have to admit that the topic of the class was really interesting, and the professor did a good job of explaining things when you could get him to speak up, but it was not a class where you wanted to sit in the back of the room. There were probably 80 students in the class, and it was everything I could do to hear the guy. It didn’t make it any easier that he would drone along with a monotone voice.

Be Aware

Being in class is really no different than being in any other place that requires you to be attentive. If you have a job, for instance, then you have to pay attention; you have to be willing to learn; and you have to be willing to do your best. A job requires a certain degree of commitment, it also requires you to maintain a certain degree of awareness—so does going to class.

Awareness in class is important. Awareness means that you are paying attention, not only to the teacher, but to the situation around you as well. Awareness means you are paying attention to your teacher’s style, that you are evaluating how well they meet your particular learning style (i.e. Do they talk all the time? Do they have a discussion with the class? Do they use a lot of outdated handouts? Or do they use the most up-to-date technology for presentations, etc.). Sometimes it takes time to adjust to a particular teacher’s style, remaining aware of what’s happening around you will help you adjust accordingly. If the teacher talks in a low volume, then you may need to change where you’re sitting. If the teacher relies on a lot of lecture, then you know you are going to have to rely on good note taking skills. Being aware of what you are experiencing in the classroom will help you better understand what you need to do to make the experience better. The goal is to learn the material and pass the class. Your job is to evaluate whether or not the classroom experience is helping you meet those objectives and change your own learning behaviors if need be.

Seek Clarification

Over the years I have experienced a lot of really good teachers and some not so good teachers. I have been in classes where the instructor came across as extremely intimidating, to the point that no one in the class really wanted to have any interaction with them. As I have become more experienced as an educator, I have come to realize that this particular demeanor is incongruent with the objective of education. A teacher’s job should really be about facilitating learning. If they fail to create an environment that is conducive to this fact, then they have failed at their job.

Ultimately, you may experience this type of situation where the teacher seems unapproachable. But here’s what you have to remember: their job is to facilitate learning! Your learning! And every other student in the classroom who is there to learn. The teacher’s role is not only to present material. It is also to help you learn it.

NEVER! And I mean NEVER! . . . settle for anything less than the understanding that is necessary for you to learn the material your teacher is presenting. If you are unclear or unsure, or if you just don’t understand something that is being covered, then you must make it your number one goal and priority to seek clarification. Always seek clarification! Always strive for deeper understanding! And if it means that you have to raise your hand during class, then do so! If it means that you have to request a conference with the teacher, then do so! If it means that you have to seek support through the tutoring center . . . then do so! Never be afraid to ask the questions that will help you learn!

Communicate with the Teacher

Communicating with your teacher is important. Whether it’s to develop a better understanding of expectations for the course or to clarify a particular concept, you should get into the habit of communicating with your teachers—both in and out of class. Most teachers welcome formal conferences (some will require them). When you communicate with your teachers, you give them the opportunity to evaluate your understanding about the material and the experience your having in the classroom. When you develop clear lines of communication with your instructors, you will have an ultimate advantage when it comes to better understanding the subject area.

Take Great Notes . . . But be Sure to Note Your Connections with the Material!

Taking great notes is an art form that requires practice. In your effort to learn as much as you can during class time, you should strive to take the best notes possible. But all notes are not created equally. When it comes to taking great notes, you should not merely repeat what is being covered during the class lecture. Most of the time, the information you cover in a particular class will already be available to you. In today’s age, instructors provide you with access to the notes for the class electronically in power point presentations, PDFs, through their class web sites, etc. Most of the time, the information you cover in a class is available through the textbook, anyway. What you should really focus on is making real learning connections with the material.

One of the things that inexperienced note takers often have trouble with is being able to sort through all the details that they encounter during a class lecture and finding the real main ideas that are being presented. It was the same experience for me when I first started out as a young college student; during class lectures I struggled with what to write down in my notebook and, so, most of the time I ended up with a huge amount of details that were very difficult for me to process later. It was like I would read a chapter in the book, then go to class and copy down everything the teacher presented. In essence, I was working way too hard and copying way more stuff than I needed.

What I have learned over the years is that great note takers don’t focus so much on the details of what’s being passed on in class lectures as they do on making connections with the information and developing a deeper understanding about it. In essence, the important notes are the ones that clarify what you’ve learned, answer the questions that you’ve had, and move your learning forward. But it’s difficult to do any of this if you are not prepared. Take a look at the following tips on how to improve your note taking abilities; then read the scenarios and try to answer the questions in the activities.

Tip1: Be sure that you are following the syllabus. The syllabus you receive at the beginning of each of your classes is there to guide you and should inform you about the daily readings and topics the teacher plans to cover.

Tip 2: Read, read, and read. It is extremely important to keep up with reading assignments. The teacher requires you to read because she wants you to learn the material. The most used resource for information out there are your textbooks.

Tip 3: Be prepared. Do everything you need to do to be well-prepared for class. The only way you can take any kind of notes is by having a good system in place. Do you plan to use a special notebook? Are you planning to use a color-code system? Have you developed a “short hand” or “symbol” system to help you record information faster?

Tip 4: Be even more prepared! Know what the teacher is going to cover during class; learn the material as much as you can beforehand so the notes you do take during class are used to reinforce and/or illustrate what you already know.

Tip 5: Ask questions. Being well-prepared does not mean that you won’t have questions for the teacher. It’s quite the opposite. Being well-prepared means you have thought about the material and you have developed good questions to help you clarify issues and/or make deeper connections to the stuff your teacher will be covering.

Consider the following class lecture. Try to complete the exercises that follow:

Jarrod’s Intro to Business course was taught by Dr. William McMillan. Dr. McMillan was a tenured professor and graduate of MIT’s school of management. He liked to open every class session with a twenty minute lecture covering the day’s topic. He would stand in front of the classroom at his podium and empty his head for his students. Today’s topic was on accounting. Like they did on most days, the students would listen attentively, jotting down as much as they could as he rattled off all the facts he knew about the subject.

“What is accounting,” he asked. It was a rhetorical question, he really didn’t want anyone to answer. “Accounting is often defined as a special language for business,” he started. “In fact, it is the language of business. And can be considered an extremely general term for a system that records, summarizes, interprets, accounts, and reports all financial transactions of an organization.” He paced around the room as he continued to speak. “Accounting also includes the design of that system and its internal controls. This definition is important. As a student, you need to know and understand this definition.” Dr. McMillan walked to the dry erase board and wrote the following: Accounting: A system, including its design and internal controls, that accounts, records, summarizes, interprets, and reports all financial transactions of an organization.

The students quickly followed the teacher’s lead and began writing in their notebooks. Jarrod wrote as fast as he could, doing his best to record every detail. He felt like he was struggling, and as he looked back at what he had written so far, it was hard for him to make sense of things.

Dr. McMillan continued his lecture. “Many people use bookkeeping and accounting interchangeably, but they are very different,” he began. “Accounting is an organization’s entire system that accounts and reports all financial transactions.” He looked around at his students as they faithfully documented everything he was telling them. “Bookkeeping is a part of accounting; it is the process of how financial transactions are kept …as in the ledgers that record credits and debits.”

Dr. McMillan moved back to his podium and continued his lecture. “So what are some of the things that accountants do,” he asked. Without waiting for a response he began, again. “Accountants record and maintain all financial activities of an organization; including creating, maintaining, and recording payroll information; recording all payments made by the organization; recording all purchases made; maintaining inventory counts; recording and maintaining property records; recording and processing all tax returns; and preparing all financial statements.”

Take a moment and jot down some of the facts that you think are important to know as they were covered in Dr. McMillan’s lecture.

If you were a student in Dr. McMillan’s class, what are some ways you might use to avoid having to write, word-for-word, everything the teacher covered during his lecture?

Back at home, Jarrod realized he was going to have to do a better job when it came to taking notes in Dr. McMillan’s course. For the first time in his life, he decided to sit down at his kitchen table and devise a plan. He remembered what one of his favorite teachers from his high school had once taught him . . . doing your best to prepare for each class will help you improve your ability to take notes. He pulled out the class syllabus. The subject of the next class would be on “the income statement.” He read the assigned chapters, including reviewing the learning objectives at the beginning. Before he began reading, he tried to formulate his own definition for an income statement. He scribbled down the following in his notebook: the income statement is a record of how much income the company has received.

As he read through the chapter, he learned a lot about the income statement. In a way it all seemed simple to him. He learned that the income statement had a purpose and that it should included a variety of categories, like revenue, expenses, and net profit. He decided that anywhere he was unclear about a term or a concept he would jot it down as a question in his notebook; then, during class, he would ask Dr. McMillan for clarification.

The next day during class, Dr. McMillan began as he always did. “The income statement is important for many reasons. Perhaps its most important purpose is to show whether the sum total of all assets of an organization have increased or decreased during the accounting period.” He looked around the room and noticed Jarrod with his hand raised. “Yes, Jarrod, do you have a question,” he asked.

Jarrod looked around the room at the other students. “Yes, Dr, McMillan. I would just like to get clarification on what you are saying about the income statement. Are you telling us that this statement is used to inform everyone who works in the organization about the financial health of the agency?”

Dr. McMillan smiled. “Yes Jarrod, I am. But not just for people who work at the agency . . . really, it tells everyone who is interested in the agency’s financial health how well the agency is doing . . . but particularly during a given time frame.”

“Do you think stockholders are the ones who are the most interested about this report,” Jarrod Asked.

“Probably so, Jarrod . . . probably so,” Dr. McMillan answered. “To clarify further,” he started. “The income statement’s purpose is to provide owners, shareholders, investors, and other interested people periodic reports about how the company is doing financially. The statement should include revenue, expenses, and net income or profit as well as the timeline the report represents, which is known as the accounting period. These components should all be a part of the report.”

“So that’s why they call it a statement,” Jarrod began. “Because it is literally a statement of how much money the organization has made during the accounting period.”

“You’re correct,” Dr. McMillan answered. “It is a statement on the condition of the organization. Statement is a key term. In this sense, statement is equal to the stated financial position of the company. The income statement is how the company’s accountants report how much revenue is generated, how much the company has spent or its expenses, and most importantly whether or not there was a profit during the period in which they are reporting. When you think of an income statement, you are literally thinking about a statement about the agency’s income, a statement made by the company’s accounting department.”

Jarrod wrote down the following in his notebook: the income statement is really a statement—a statement of a company’s financial health; it documents the company’s revenue, expenses, and net profit.

Jarrod was happy with himself because he had made a connection with what the teacher was talking about. He felt like he could have a conversation about the subject and, more importantly, he felt like he might be ready for any exam the teacher could prepare. For the first time since he started college, he finally felt like he was learning something. He looked around the class with a smile. He knew that he had worked hard, that he had prepared for the day’s class, and that he was now really learning because he had been active in the process.

What have been your experiences when it comes to taking notes in a class? Do you have any advice for someone who might be struggling? What would it be?

What do you think made the difference for Jarrod? Why was his second day of taking notes so much more productive?

What advice would you give to someone about making deeper connections with the subjects covered in their classes?

One important connection made by Jarrod in this scenario is that the income statement really is a statement. By merely asking for clarification and working toward expanding his own connection to this very important concept in accounting, he was able to better understand the purpose of the income statement and take note of what he had learned. Instead of just passively recording notes, word for word from the teacher, Jarrod instead took the time to actively think about the topic being covered and engage the instructor for a more complete understanding about the subject.

Although this scenario with Jarrod is a really basic example of what you can do to improve your note taking, the method can work for most classes and learning situations. But it requires you as a learner to have, at the very least, thought about the topics being covered. In essence, you have to pose the questions to yourself. Jarrod did this when he tried to formulate his own definition at home. He began the process of trying to work through the problem by first developing his own understanding regarding the concept of an income statement. The deeper connection for Jarrod came during class when he was active in asking for clarification.

Here’s something to think about: being active doesn’t always mean you have to ask the teacher for clarification . . . as long as you know you are seeking clarification then you might be able to find it in the lecture itself. For instance, what if Jarrod had just worked out the problem through a conversation with himself, in his own head. It might have gone something like this:

Thinking to himself:

So, the teacher just said that the income statement ‘shows whether the sum total of all assets of an organization have increased or decreased during the accounting period.’ In essence, what he’s saying is that this document truly is a STATMENT about the financial health of the company. I need to note that the income statement STATES the financial health of the company during a given period of time.

This interaction becomes more than just taking notes, it becomes a learning experience. The notes that a student takes when they are actively engaged in the conversation over a subject area become more like a record of what they have learned. When it comes to taking notes, you should strive to make your notes work for you and not just be another document you have to work through later. What you have come to understand during the class should be what is demonstrated in your notes, making it easier for you to get the most from them when you are reviewing later on.

Focus on Your Learning Average

My idea of studying while I was an undergrad was very different from what it has become. During the undergrad years, my mind was preoccupied with everything else that was happening around me. Learning was not a priority to me while I was in college because I had too many other things going on. I was less concerned with learning the information my teachers gave me than I was with getting a good grade or passing the test. I didn’t do horribly as a student; I just didn’t focus entirely on the real objective, the objective of learning.

I honestly believe that if I had known and applied a few basic principles to my methodology for learning, then I would have improved both my understanding and grade point averages in many content areas. The key to study-success is the realization that learning is the ultimate goal of the process, and by knowing that learning takes place through various processes, and that when we learn, we are essentially developing a more complete understanding of a content area, then we embrace a more dynamic definition for studying and establish the basic foundations to improve and be successful in any college course. This means that we have to refocus our goals and shift our intentions for success to something different than grade points or grade point averages.

I hate to belabor the point, but for studying to be successful, you have to focus on actually learning the information rather than just remembering it to pass a test; this is an essential step to improving the way you study. You cannot expect to gain deeper understanding of content if your goal is misaligned through a wrongful mindset and methodology. I suggest that your focus never linger too long on a grade point average, but that you place it instead on your own learning average.

I imagine a learning average to be the sum-total of what you actually know and understand in a course divided by the information presented in a particular course—or what the teacher expects you to know. For example, if you are taking a history course and the unit of study is focused on the Civil War in America and the instructor expects you to understand Lincoln’s goals for the preservation of the Union and why it was important to stop the succession of southern states, then there is a definitive degree of learning and understanding about these facts that has to happen for you as a student if you want to be successful meeting the goals set-forth by the instructor. You will have to know certain facts. You might have to know dates associated with particular events. There will be things you have to commit to memory to help you have a better understanding about the issues and the question in general. All of this information will provide you with a base so you can track what you have and have not learned.

The teacher requires you to know a certain and measurable degree of information. Your job is to learn it. However, your goal cannot be to achieve the best point value for a particular exam without first recognizing that you must make sense of the information you are working with. Where a grade score—or grade point average—informs you of how well you have provided answers on a particular exam (in hopes of expressing how well you as a student have learned it), a learning average tells you exactly what it is you have learned and understand as compared to what you are expected to know about a particular area of content—the cool thing is that you can use this method of learning before you even take the exam. The trick is that you have to learn to monitor what you are learning on a daily and weekly basis so that you can track your preparedness for the assessment. In the end, if there are twenty concepts that your teacher wants you to know and understand, and you have only mastered fifty percent of those, then you know that you have to learn 10 more concepts before the assessment. If the question concerns Abraham Lincoln and succession, then you know there is a certain degree of understanding that you must meet before you even attempt to formulate an answer—to do this you must first recognize the information that is available and then monitor how well and how much you learn in a given period of time. By monitoring what it is you have learned about a subject as compared to what you need to learn you are taking responsibility for the entire process.

Let’s take vocabulary for instance. Say your nursing instructor wants you to know 25 vocabulary terms by Friday. Immediately you have a goal, twenty-five new words. Every day, prior to the quiz, you have to determine how many of the words you actually know and understand. This can be an informal process where you create a two column list on a piece of paper for example. In one column you write the word and in the other column you write the definition; however, you only write the definition after you know it. This document then becomes a general reminder—or tracking—device that allows you to monitor how much you know or—more importantly—what you need to know concerning a particular amount of information. It really does not matter the method you use to do this. Whatever you use, whether it be an Excel spread sheet or a mental picture of your learning progress, what really matters is that you get in the habit of tracking your learning. You become active in the process of learning when you ask yourself questions like what do I need to know, what do I want to know, and/or what have I learned. And when you take this active role in learning, you ultimately improve the way you learn and the amount of information you do learn.

The thing you have to remember when you are tracking your learning progress (especially in consideration of new vocabulary terminology) is that there is a real difference between knowing a new vocabulary word and understanding the meaning of the word. Too many times, as students, we dedicate our time (generally at the end of a semester and under a real time crunch) to cramming definitions into our short term memories without really exploring and fully understanding what they mean. To know a definition is one thing, but to really understand it is another.

Take the definition of the word study for example. When learning new terminology it is extremely important for you to fully examine the definition of the word in order to gain a tangible understanding; this means that you have to reach further than just remembering the words associated with the definition. Certainly you can commit to memory that to study is “the act or process of applying the mind so as to acquire knowledge or understanding, as by reading or investigating.” And in doing so, you may very well meet the goal of getting a good grade on the test; however, if you avoid a real examination of the definition of a word like study, you are essentially avoiding a real understanding of the word . . . you are merely remembering a definition without really “acquiring understanding.”

So how do you cultivate a deeper understanding from something like a vocabulary word? Well, there are probably many ways, but what’s really at the core of any strategy that you use is the idea that you as a student have to make some personal connection with the facts. In order to do this, you have to be willing to examine it by making comparisons and/or associations with other words—or concepts. At the beginning of this book I made the statement that studying is a process used for learning. I did this by making a connection between the definitions of studying and learning. By associating this idea of learning with the word study, I was able to expand your understanding of the word. After reading this section, your perspective of studying may very well change because I have made a connection between the word study and the acquisition of understanding. You may now know that studying is about more than quickly remembering facts, because we were able to look at the definition, break it down into parts, and then examine those parts by making comparisons with other definitions. Every time you think about studying, you will undoubtedly associate the word with learning. This process may seem long and tedious, and I am sure that with some concepts it may be, but I guarantee that once you build connections between concepts within your own mental architecture, you will be able to freely and effortlessly recall and apply these new concepts in any situation.

It is perfectly fine for you to merely remember a definition in order to spew it back on an exam, get your grade, and be done, but you have to remember that remembering is the lowest level of learning that occurs. The alternative to this idea of only remembering the facts, ideas, and concepts associated with a particular subject is to actually commit to yourself—including your memory and all other levels of consciousness—a degree of understanding that exceeds the expectation of a grade. I honestly believe that when you reduce your own personal meaning about a class to nothing more than a grade, you are needlessly hindering the entire process of learning. You see, the minute that you enter a classroom without any real appreciation or respect for the content therein, you are simultaneously and unquestionably devaluing the inherent worth of the product or service that the teacher is providing. We all know what happens when we devalue anything—or take for granted the real worth of something—the thing takes a low priority in our lives and undeniably loses meaning.

So probably one of the biggest things you can do before starting a new class is to mentally prepare for the process of learning by committing yourself to the process in general. This means that you have to remind yourself that no matter what happens while you’re taking the class, your number one goal is to be a learner; and in order to accomplish this goal you have to abandon the notion that the primary objective is to get a good grade. Grades are just part of the learning experience, and will come a lot easier if learning is your first priority.

What I did not know as an undergrad is that there are many key things you can do to improve the way you interact with and collect information pertaining to a specific college course. Understanding that there are “real skills” involved with studying is imperative to improving your own process for studying. What I have found is that the students who monitor their own learning and interact with new information on a personal, active, and sometimes intimate level are the ones who really excel.


Learn Later!

When I first started college, I was extremely inexperienced as a learner. Most of what I have provided to you in this book comes from my own trial and error process and is a direct product of what I have learned over the years. As a new college student, I thought that studying was only something you did later. I think this is the way a lot of students think. Studying happens after class and generally just before a test. In the previous sections I talked about how to improve your process for learning now, or learning during class time. In this section we will cover the things you should include in your system for learning later. Remember, learning later matters because learning now isn’t always going to happen.

Manage Your Time and Stay Focused

I really can’t say enough about time management when it comes to learning later. One of the greatest things to overcome for any student is remaining disciplined when it comes to allotting time for studying. But in order for studying to be effective at all, it has to occur routinely throughout the semester. Most of the time, you have to always be focused on positioning yourself so that you are learning the material covered in each of your classes. If that means spending time each night previewing and reviewing, then so be it. Whatever you do, make sure you are creating a time management plan/schedule and sticking to it.

The other thing is that you have to stay focused with your studying. I believe the only way you can stay focused on what it is you are going to be studying is to be organized with each class in general. Follow your syllabus. Follow the chapters that your teacher covers. Review your notes. But be sure you know what you are going to be covering at any given study session. It is important for you to understand what your goals for learning will be at any given time. That way you will have an easier time of tracking what you do know and what you need to know.

Communicate with your Peers

Learning later can be improved anytime you include other learners in the process. It’s important to communicate with your peers who are sharing your experience in the classroom. When you are in class with a group of people who are sharing the same experience, there’s a lot of valuable information to be gained. For instance, is there a consensus on the teacher’s abilities? Is everyone feeling the same? Are you all confused? Or are you all in agreement that this person is the greatest teacher ever?

Your peers can provide you with further clarification on difficult concepts. If you are unsure about something, then work with your peers to figure it out. Form a study group. I think study groups can be a really effective way to help students gain a deeper understanding of subject areas. When you work through the material with others, you give yourself the opportunity to experience what everyone else is experiencing. You get the opportunity to help one another make deeper connections with the information. Working with your peers can be an effective way to improve your own classroom experience, and can definitely help your learning experience when you are learning later.

Read to Learn

As a college student, you are going to be spending a lot of time reading. For the most part, college professors expect you, as a scholar, to be somewhat engaged in the subject areas they hold so dearly. This means they expect you to be reading about it and sharing in their own passion for the literature. Let’s face it, books play a major role in education as tools for learning. A lot of what you will cover in any course will be illustrated through textbooks. Your teachers will expect you to interact with the books they require in their courses so that you can develop at least a basic understanding about the subject matter. Any strategy you develop to help you do better in college will require you to address how you can better use reading as a tool for learning.

Make it Active

There is more to reading than just reading . . . especially if you are doing it as a part of your scholarly pursuit. If you are reading for entertainment, that’s one thing. But if you are reading to learn, then it’s imperative that you make the process as active as you can.

When I say there is more to reading than reading, what I really mean is that if you want to improve your learning through reading, then you’ll have to interact with the text on a level much deeper than just merely reading through it.

Have you ever been super interested in a subject, maybe a hobby or something you enjoyed doing, and been so inspired that you spent as much time as you could researching and learning about it. Maybe you bought a book on the subject and read it from cover to cover in a matter of hours. If you have, then you know what it means to be active with your reading. If you were reading a book on something you were interested in, then you were probably simply motivated by your desire to learn more about the subject. In addition, you probably read as much as you could because you had questions that you needed answered.

Being active with your textbooks is one way to improve your own skills. Being active means you are interacting with the text on a level different than just reading it; instead, you are trying to engage yourself in the content and digging deeper to find answers and improve your understanding about the content area. In fact, the real goal as a scholar is to become as literate as you possibly can about your favorite subject.

To begin making things active in your reading, you really only have to start with good questions about the subject matter. Take a look at an excerpt from a chapter out of a book I am working on regarding developmental education in post-secondary education. Don’t spend too much time on it, just read through as fast as you can (just a quick note: Dev. Ed. courses are generally those non-credit courses that freshmen have to take in math and English before they can move on to college courses . . . usually because they didn’t test high enough to go into the regular courses).

Developmental Education in the University

Most scholars note that the moniker ‘developmental education’ first appeared in higher education in the 1970s. Historians have pointed out the differences between developmental education and several other programs of the 1960s and 1970s, noting the tendency for many administrators and scholars to mistakenly interchange the title of developmental education with those of remedial education, compensatory education, and learning assistance programs. Where remedial education historically focused on the “. . . skill deficits of students and educational approaches that addressed these identified needs”, developmental education became a program organized to focus on all aspects of students’ development in order to help them achieve success in basic courses and beyond (Arendale, 2005, p. 68). Boylan defined developmental education with the following:

“Developmental education refers to a broad range of courses and services organized and delivered in an effort to help retain students and ensure the successful completion of their post-secondary education goals. Furthermore, these courses and services are generally delivered according to the principles and theories of adult development and learning, hence the term ‘developmental’ education.”

Although a variety of researchers point out that remedial education has been a part of higher education in the United States since the influx of college enrollments throughout the industrial revolution and beyond, developmental education programs arose in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a response to increased enrollments and the movement to focus more on the development of the whole student (Casazza, 1999; Casazza & Silverman, 1996).

Several scholars view developmental education as a product of the Student Personnel Point of View (1949) movement. These authors argue that developmental education differs from remedial education largely in part because of its concentrated focus on student development and the premise that the goal of higher education should be to focus on the development of the whole student rather than “. . . merely on students’ intellectual development” (Higbee, Arendale, & Lundell, 2005, p. 6). Drawn from this statement released by the American Council on Education (1949), Higbee et al. (2005) pointed out that the Student Personnel Point of View (1949) led the way for changes in the way colleges and universities viewed their goals for students. The mission of the Student Personnel Point of View (1949) is clearly represented in the following excerpt:

“The student personnel point of view encompasses the student as a whole. The concept of education is broadened to include attention to the student’s well-rounded development—physically, socially, emotionally, and spiritually—as well as intellectually.”

Evans, Forney, and Guido-DiBrito (1998) emphasized that the Student Personnel Point of View “ . . . was a reminder to the higher education community that in addition to the contributions of research and scholarship, the personal and professional development of students was (and remains) a worthy and noble goal” (p. 6). This statement by Evans et al. (1998) demonstrates that the Student Personnel Point of View (1949) was also a direct reaction to the changes that had occurred in the focus of higher education throughout the mid 19th century and early parts of the 20th century.

The Student Personnel Point of View (1949) argued that although earlier models of higher education were more focused on the complete development of the college student, the formation of the “ . . . modern research-centered German university early in the 19th century led to the abandonment of this personal concern for students and centered on an intellectualistic concern” (p.18). The Student Personnel Point of View (1949) signifies a renewed focus on college students as unique individuals who bring with them an array of beliefs and experiences that ultimately affect their learning experiences within the college or university environment. The Student Personnel Point of View (1949) argued that in order to ensure ‘democratic educational processes’ institutions of higher education have to assume the responsibilities necessary to help perpetuate the full human development of each individual.

What did you gain from reading through the excerpt. Could you write down the main ideas? You can probably discuss a few of the details. But chances are you really didn’t gain or retain too much just by reading through the material quickly. Now try this. First, read over these learning objectives for the chapter.

Learning Objectives: After reading this chapter you should be able to do the following:

-better define Developmental Education;

-describe how developmental education differs from remedial education;

-explain the role the Student Personnel Point of View movement may have played in the way practitioners think about developmental education; and,

-explain how the German university played a role in influencing the modern university’s focus regarding students.

Now formulate questions based on the Learning Objectives. For instance, you might ask yourself: What do I know about developmental education? Or, can I expand any on what I know about developmental education? You might try to define “remedial education” and come up with your own ideas on how it differs from developmental education. Or you might try and define Student Personnel Point of View. When you create these types of questions for yourself, or just question the text in general, you give yourself a sense of purpose as you begin reading; your questions will help you focus and find answers, to find meaning, and to create new understanding about the content.

Whatever you do, realize that the learning objectives that are generally at the beginning of textbooks chapters can serve as a springboard for you to begin interacting on a much deeper level with the text. By their very nature, these learning objectives can pique your interest in the subject area and help turn your reading experience from being very passive to being very active. After you’ve read through the learning objectives and formulated a few questions, reread the chapter excerpt and see if you can form better connections with the material.

You should also use questions at the end of the chapter to help guide your reading. Most textbooks include guiding questions. These questions are formulated to help make your interaction with the text more engaging. Spend time reviewing these questions when they are available and use them to help you understand and connect with the subjects you are covering.

Even if you don’t have learning objectives at the beginning of your text or guiding questions at the end, you can make the process more active. Here are some tips:

Tip: Skim the material looking for bold text and other cues.

Tip: Don’t be afraid to write questions in the margins or underline stuff.

Tip: Read short chunks, ask questions, and then reread for clarification.

Tip: Always make notes in the text when you make connections.

Tip: Talk about what you’re reading with other people.



Now that you know how to be more active when you read, use what you know and read the following passage and try to answer the questions at the end:

Learning Objectives: After reading this chapter you should be able to do the following:

-list different types of organizational systems

-define closed systems in organizational theory

-define open systems in organizational theory

Organizational Theory

Over time various conceptualizations of organizations have evolved. Scholars have depicted colleges and universities as everything from rationally organized institutions defined by their bureaucratic structures to organized anarchies convoluted by ambiguity. Farazmand (2002) provided an exhaustive list of organizational theories detailing the progression of organizational studies over the last century. In his book, Modern Organizations: Theory and Practice, Farazmand (2002) categorized early theories of organization with the following statement: “ . . . the entire spectrum of [early] theories may fall under the three broad categories of instrumental rationality of the classical and neoclassical traditions, the systems theory and its variants pointing to the broader concepts of organization with their rational and environmental determinism, and the critical and interpretive theories with their main focus on processes and change-orientation leading to improvements in human life entangled by organizational rationality of modern capitalism and bureaucratic order.”

Within the aforementioned categories, Farazmand (2002) listed formal theories that include scientific management, principles of management, principles of administration, and ideal-type bureaucracy. Farazmand (2002) also included human relations theories of organization, contemporary organizational theories, decision and behavioral theories, systems theory, contingency theory, population ecology theory, resource-dependence model, market theory, transaction-cost theory, agency theory, organizational humanism as well as a variety of critical and interpretive theories of organization. In his chapter on emergent theories of organization, Farazmand (2002) noted that “[n]ew paradigms are emerging which suggest alternative models of organization”. These theories include the garbage can model, natural selection theory, institutional theories of organization, and chaos and transformation theories. In their book, Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership, Bolman and Deal (2003) provided four frames with which to view organizations in general, including the structural frame, the political frame, the human resource frame, and the symbolic frame. Bolman et al. (2003) highlighted a variety of organizational theories, including Mintzberg’s (1979) five forms of organizational structure: simple structure, machine bureaucracy, professional bureaucracy, divisionalized form, and adhocracy. Most scholars categorize organizational theories into open or closed. In his book, Leadership in Education: Organizational Theory for the Practitioner, Marion (2002) categorized organizational systems into closed, open, and anti-positivist systems. Marion (2002) noted that closed-type organizational theories include scientific management, bureaucracy, administration theory, human relations, and structuralism theory. Marion (2002) categorized contingency theory as an open system; anti-positivist theories include strategic choice, population ecology, culture theory, critical theory, institutionalism, and complexity theory.

Closed Systems

Marion (2002) described closed systems as highly generalizable macrotheories. Most scholars note that the focus of closed theories of organization is on the efficiency and effectiveness of productivity (Farazmand, 2002; Marion, 2002; Peterson, 1985). Marion (2002) argued that closed theories operate on the assumption that outcomes are reached through the implementation of “ . . . definable and rational efficiency/effectiveness strategies…” (p.1). Farazmand (2002) noted that “[s]tability and internal rationality are the central features of a closed system” (p. 31). Bureaucratic systems, machine theories, and human resource theories are described as closed systems because of their self-contained systems used for managing productivity. For instance, rational-bureaucracies might utilize divisions of labor to segment and manage tasks in order to improve the effectiveness of the overall organization. Human resource type organizations develop policies and activities that enhance and meet the needs of workers in order to improve productivity. The major assumption about closed systems is that these organizations are “ . . . untainted by external forces or issues . . .” (Marion, 2002, p. 2). It is assumed that the internal policies, procedures, and structures used by these organizations are all that is needed to improve the outcomes produced by these agencies. Marion (2002) stated that “The Closed System mindset pervaded the worldview of the society that developed the structure and rationale of 20th-century public education; thus it was inevitable that Closed System assumptions would influence that development and would be evident in its structure even today.”

Open Systems

Open systems are defined by their openness to the environment. Where closed systems utilize internal processes to increase productivity and, ultimately, cope with environmental forces, the open system of organization “ . . . seeks solutions to problems within a broad range of organizational and environmental dynamics” (Marion, 2002, p. 87). Marion (2002) pointed out that open system theorists define these systems through the claim that “ . . . organizational structure and behavior are significantly influenced by their environments” (p. 86). Scholars note that open systems are devised of subsystems that seek to maintain equilibrium based on a feedback system between the organization and the environment (Farazmand, 2002; Marion, 2002). Open systems differ significantly from closed systems because of their ability to adapt to external changes (Farazmand, 2002; Marion, 2002).

Guiding Questions

1. Compare and contrast Closed and Open systems of organization.

2. How have schools and universities been influenced by theories on organizational systems?


1. A friend from class is having a difficult time with the assigned texts. She is unable to stay focused through the chapters and feels as though she isn’t learning anything. What tips could you provide her to help with her reading?

Write to Learn

Writing to learn is another way to help improve how you learn. The idea is that by engaging in the content material through writing, you will develop deeper connections. For the most part, writing is really the product of our thinking about any particular subject. The more you write the more you think. The more you think and write, the more you understand. Writing is a great tool for making great connections.

Let’s look at one way of approaching how you might write to learn. Imagine I gave you the American Civil War as a topic. One thing you might do is just a “free write” of the concept. With this method you would just begin to freely write everything you know about the topic. For instance:

The American Civil War began in 1861. It was a war fought between the Northern and Southern states. The war began after Virginia succeeded from the union. Part of Abraham Lincoln’s reason for going to war was to preserve the union and eliminate slavery. More Americans died in the Civil War than in any other war. The northern states represented the Union. The southern states represented the Confederacy. Robert E. Lee was considered the greatest confederate general.

This activity is something you might complete before reading the introductory chapter on the Civil War . . . or before your first day of U.S. History 101. The point is that you activate your brain so that you can begin to actively explore the concepts associated with the topic.

Another way to write to learn is to do focused research on the topics you are studying. If you were studying the Civil War and you knew that the upcoming lesson was going to be on how the battle at Gettysburg changed the war, then you would focus your research efforts specifically on that battle, and then write about it.

Some of your professors might require you to keep a journal so that you can reflect on the topics that are covered in the course. Being able to record your thoughts and connections to particular subjects will be an important part of the course. Writing is important to scholars because it is a way for them to share information and to explore in great detail different ideas and thoughts about subject matter. When you are able to write about the subjects you are studying, you’re not only making connections with the material, but you are demonstrating those connections to others as well.


1. Take 60 seconds for each of the following topics and write everything you know:

-The American Revolution

-Time and Space

-The U.S. Public School System



This book is centered round the notion that you, as a student, can create and maintain a system that will help you achieve success as a learner. The aim is for you to be systematic, which means you have a well-developed plan to achieve your goals. The major assumption here is that by you being systematic and focused on improving your learning, you will ultimately get the most out of every college course . . . and that great grades will follow suit. In the next few sections we will examine the things you should better understand in order to help maintain your own system for learning success.

Understanding Your System

At the very basic level, being systematic is about having a good plan. As mentioned previously, my main assumption in this book is that you want to do well in your college courses. There are a variety of components that we’ve talked about throughout this book that should be a part of your current system for successful learning in your college courses. Let’s review:

-Your system should be grounded in the idea that studying has to lead to real learning

-Preparation Matters

-You can determine what they want you to learn . . . even before classes start

-Commitment Matters

-Discipline Matters

-Time Management Matters

-You should be motivated to be disciplined through your commitment to being successful in college

-You should focus a lot of energy on Learning Now

– But you should be prepared to Learn Later

Before moving on, let’s quickly clarify each of these components:

Your system should be grounded in the idea that studying has to lead to real learning

What I have tried to convey in this book is that cramming is the lowest form of learning, but that cramming is also one of the most practiced forms of studying used by students everywhere. It is extremely important to remember that going to college is about learning, and everything you do regarding the courses you take should be done to facilitate learning. This ultimately means you have to explore setting up your system so that you are able to optimize your learning experience. Optimization is about creating a platform that ensures an effective and efficient means for achieving your goals. When you think about optimizing your own system for learning, what does that mean to you? Does it mean you have to be more disciplined? Does it mean you have to be more organized? Or do you have to have a better understanding of your own learning style? By remaining focused on the idea that learning is the preferred outcome for any of your college courses, you will adapt all of your own behaviors to achieve that goal. Always focus on learning.

Preparation Matters

If you are reading this book, then you are concerned about your own preparation for being successful in college. Part of optimizing your system means you are prepared. Being prepared means you are ready to learn. As we have covered throughout this book, there are a variety of things you can do to be better prepared as a learner.

You can determine what they want you to learn, even before classes start

When you think about it, this idea is really about being prepared. If you want to get a jump on any class, then you should know in advance what it is your instructors want you to learn. The important thing is that most colleges and universities are required to make this information available. Sure, it might require a little work on your part, but with access to the internet, you can find out more about any college program and their respective learning objectives. The key to being successful is that you are active in your search/journey to uncover exactly what it is your teachers want you to learn.

Commitment Matters

If you haven’t applied to college yet, then this might be a great time to explore the concept of commitment. Why do you want to go to college (and be specific)? Your level of commitment is ultimately what will drive you to complete any goal . . . not to mention graduate from college. Before you commit to anything, you have to be willing to explore all the details involved. It’s easy to say your committed . . . the hard part is fulfilling that commitment.

Discipline Matters

Remember, if you are committed to a goal, then you will find it a lot easier to stay disciplined when it comes to addressing all the details and hard work that will be necessary in achieving your long term and short term goals. One of the main things at the center of the demise of many a college student has been their inability to remain disciplined. When it comes to creating and managing your own system, your level of discipline will matter.

Time Management Matters

Developing a good plan for time management is the greatest tool at your disposal to help you manage your ability to remain disciplined. Time management is about knowing what you need to do and planning to get those things done. If you plan it out, and hold yourself accountable, then keeping disciplined will be a lot easier.

You should be motivated to be disciplined through your commitment to being successful in college

If you are looking for motivation to be disciplined, then look no further than your commitment. Your system for doing well in college is nothing without you first having the commitment to be successful in college. But this requires you to actually know why you want to do it in the first place. Do you just love learning? Do you just want a college degree? Or maybe you want to be a medical doctor? Your reason for attending college is generally where you will find your commitment. That commitment is what will see you through to the graduation platform.

You should focus a lot of energy on Learning Now

In all actuality, everything you do is about learning now. But when it comes to college courses, there are things you can optimize during the time you are in class so that you are more likely to learn them now and be required to exert less energy on learning them later. No, you probably are not going to learn everything you need to learn during class, but if you focus on in-class optimization, and remind yourself not to daydream, then you might be surprised at how much you do retain . . . and how much easier it is to recall information later.

You should be prepared to Learn Later

Regardless of what you do while you’re in college, there is no escaping the fact that you are going to have to study/practice/learn outside the classroom and on your own. The big thing to remember when you are thinking about your own system for success is that you don’t want there to be an enormous imbalance where all the time/energy/work is allotted to the few hours each night you spend at home. Studying/learning should always be happening.

Exploring Techniques

Don’t be afraid to try different techniques or to make adjustments to techniques to improve your experiences as a learner. The internet will provide you with a multitude of techniques for improving your learning experience. The important thing to remember is that the techniques you choose should match up well with your system. Sure, you can adapt a technique that will help improve your memory so that you can learn a subject area better, but don’t just use a technique because you think it’s a shortcut. The techniques you include as part of your system should complement the foundation of your system, which is learning.

Using Feedback and Adjusting What Works

Gaining good feedback is critical for your success as a college student. There are a couple of ways to think about feedback as you make your way through a semester. One way is to look at your final grade. Your final grade will tell you a lot about how well you performed throughout the course. Every student understands how important the final-grade-feedback is.

There’s also the feedback you get throughout the semester, midterm grades, weekly grades, daily grades. All of these grades tell you something about how well you are doing in the class. All of these come from your teacher. Your teacher should be the greatest provider of feedback in class. But don’t just wait for the grades. Be sure to communicate routinely with your teacher so you can get the feedback needed to tell how well you are doing or where you need help. If you are always in communication with your teacher, and working hard to get feedback about your performance, then you will have plenty of time to make adjustments when it’s necessary.

You are also a good source of feedback for yourself. You, more than anyone else, know when something’s working and when it’s not. For instance, there are a lot of techniques available to you out there regarding everything from improving your note taking skills to reading and writing better in college. You can find techniques to accommodate your preferred learning style or techniques to help you remember vocabulary terms more easily. Regardless of the techniques, you should always be evaluating them to determine whether or not they are working.

For instance, if you are using a new technique to help you read more actively, then it’s important to know if that technique is actually working. What have you learned using this particular technique? Does the technique work for you? Does it feel right? Should you continue to use it? The feedback you gain from evaluating the techniques you use will go a long way toward helping you make adjustments and improve your learning. When you find what works then stick with it. If it doesn’t work . . . don’t do it.


Parting Words

Imagine the following scenario:

When summer rolled around, Jarrod was excited to be heading home. The last year had been rough, and even though he had ended the year with a cumulative 2.5 GPA (which was really great for him), he felt like he needed a few months to sit back and take it easy. He planned to stay with his parent for the summer and work at his uncle’s hardware store. It would be a much needed relief from the pressure and stress of college life.

As he packed the last of his belongings in his car, he took a break and sat beneath a close by maple tree. He looked up at the cloudless blue sky and thought about everything he had discovered. College had been a challenge so far, and there would be more challenges to come. But he was committed. He wanted to succeed, and he knew that he would not let anything get in his way of graduating. He knew that he had to be more focused in the Fall, and that he would have to work harder to be prepared for each class. He also knew that he had to manage his time better and that he would have to be more disciplined to do so. For the most part, though, he understood that the responsibility for learning in college was all his. He had to put in the work. He had to be prepared. He knew that he was there to learn, and that learning had to be the ultimate outcome for any of his classes. All in all, he was proud of what he had accomplished. He looked forward to the Fall semester, and as he drove away, the dorms fading into the distance, he spoke out loudly to himself: “I can do this.”

College can be a challenge for any student. For many of us it’s about finding a balance and being able to juggle all of the responsibilities that come with being a student. Each class you take will be different. You’ll experience different teachers. You’ll make friends. You’ll go to parties. You’ll take exams. In the end, though, you will have acquired a lifetime of memories, many of which will include the awesome learning experiences you had in all of the amazing courses you will take.

I look back on my own undergraduate experience and am always in awe over how that time was enveloped in learning. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was what was really great about college . . . that I was always surrounded by people and experiences that were stimulating, and that challenged me on deeper, more intellectual levels.

I wrote this book about studying because as I got older I finally realized what I didn’t know when I first started college . . . that it is all about learning. For a large part of my own undergraduate experience, I thought that going to college was just another hoop I had to jump through to make a better life for myself. What I didn’t understand was that the hoop was indeed what made life better!

In this book you have learned a different way to approach studying. More than anything, what I’ve revealed is that you should be systematic and that you should do so with a primary focus on learning. There’s no doubt that if you are committed, disciplined, and well-prepared, you will create a much richer and fulfilling college experience for yourself. As you move forward with your own learning experiences, I wish you much success! Take care!



Philip Keith is a first-generation, nontraditional college graduate. He has been an educator for the last 17 years, working with students from all walks of life. He is currently the executive director of a nonprofit career academy. In his free time he enjoys hanging out with his family. For more information visit: moreaboutcollege.com

How to Study: A Systematic Approach to Being Successful in College

College can be a challenge for any student. For many of us it's about finding a balance and being able to juggle all of the responsibilities that come with being a student. Each class will be different. You'll experience different teachers. You'll make friends. You'll go to parties. You'll take exams. In the end, though, you'll have acquired a lifetime of memories, many of which will include the awesome learning experiences you had in all of the amazing courses you will take. How to Study provides readers with a new perspective on studying, and guides the prospective college graduate through the process of becoming systematic when thinking about learning. This book is useful for the aspiring college student or the seasoned veteran. Written by Dr. Philip M. Keith, How to Study combines insight from both his professional experiences as and educator as well as his personal experiences as a first-generation, nontraditional college graduate.

  • Author: Philip Keith
  • Published: 2016-06-21 17:50:09
  • Words: 22410
How to Study: A Systematic Approach to Being Successful in College How to Study: A Systematic Approach to Being Successful in College