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Strategies for Academic Success

Most courses at SIUE move at a rapid pace, and, despite the bravado of some students who claim they can cram successfully during the final weeks of a term, you will be well advised to keep up with your assignments. You are expected to cover a great deal of material, to be prepared for classes, and to work on research papers due at specific times in the term. Falling behind in your work will almost always have serious consequences. You may have many unscheduled hours each day, and it is essential that you budget your time effectively and keep up with your work.

Do not depend on the last two weeks of the term to catch up on major portions of your work. This time period is designed for reviewing course material, not for learning it for the first time, and for completing the last written assignment in a course rather than just starting it.

Scheduling your time

  • Find a place where you can work effectively. If your room is noisy and your roommate likes to entertain, or if you have too many welcome but unexpected visitors, plan to work in a study area or the library. You will accomplish more in two hours of concentrated studying than in a whole evening interrupted by visitors, phone calls, and unexpected temptations.
  • Use most of your free weekday hours for study. Do not try to do all your studying in the evenings or put it off until the weekends.
  • You may want to break up study periods of several hours by working on two or three different subjects. At times it may be more efficient to concentrate on one subject, but if you notice that you are no longer studying with full attention, switch to a new subject. Starting a new subject may rekindle your interest and increase your learning rate. After two hours of intense concentration take a break.
  • Working with a small group of fellow students can be extremely effective in both tackling weekly problem sets and reviewing for exams. Studying with others can help you move more efficiently through difficult material and judge more accurately the state of your own preparation. Consult with your instructor in each course to determine the extent to which collaboration on assignments is acceptable.
  • Remember that papers due at the end of the term require a great deal of reading and research, which should be started early. In brief, you will have to learn that only a fraction of the time you do not spend in classes and labs is free time.
  • Schedule regular review periods.
  • Balance your academic commitments, your job assignments, and your recreational activities. If you are involved in sports or other regularly scheduled and demanding extracurricular activities, you will have to be especially careful about budgeting your time. Frequent weekend trips will cut seriously into your uninterrupted study time.

Developing Effective Study Skills

  • While study skills can be acquired, they are no substitute for interest, motivation, or commitment to learning. You may, however, increase the effectiveness of your learning and utilize your study time more efficiently by paying attention to a few simple rules.
  • Survey the whole assignment before you read it carefully. Read a few introductory and concluding paragraphs rapidly. Get a general idea of the content of the chapter and the development of arguments. A quick survey of the table of contents may give you a good overview of the material in the book.
  • Think about the title of the chapter and/or section headings.
  • Convert titles, headings, and subheadings into questions. Attempting to answer those questions may help focus your reading. Ask what the author intends to convey in the chapter or article and what points he or she is trying to make. When you finish a paragraph, ask a general question about its main topic. It is through this kind of self-examination that you test your understanding of the material.
  • Underline just enough to make important points stand out. If there are several points made serially, mark them in the margin 1, 2, 3, or a, b, c. Do not underline excessively. You may want to put key words, phrases, or questions in the margin of the book.
  • Take notes in your own words-do not copy the textbook. Make them brief but well organized so that you can use them for review. Capture the main themes and a few supporting ideas. Jot down any questions or comments you may have about the material covered in the notes.
  • Review your lecture notes as soon as possible after you have taken them. Be sure you understand them.
  • Review what you have read. To review is not the same as to memorize. Concentrate on the major points. Be sure that you can summarize and explain them. You cannot claim to understand something unless you can communicate it.
  • Raise critical questions wherever appropriate. Has the author expressed his or her ideas effectively? Are they valid, well supported, well reasoned? What point of view do they present? What are the fundamental assumptions, explicit or implicit, on which the arguments are based?

Meeting Regularly with an Academic Advisor especially while on Academic Probation

  • Advisors have a wealth of knowledge in regards to campus resources that will assist your academic recovery. Please set up regular meeting with him/her to share your concerns and develop a plan for your academic recovery.
  • Downloading a self-assessment form and completing it before meeting with an advisor can help you identify areas that you can work to positively develop within the semesters ahead.

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Consulting Your Professors

  • Every professor schedules time for providing individual assistance to students, and most professors post their office hours. Many students (and only too often those who need it most) fail to take advantage of this opportunity. Those who visit their instructors will find them almost without exception interested and helpful.
  • In addition to Instructional Services, located in the Student Success Center, some departments have resource centers open to students on a walk-in basis. The help you will get there is often specifically related to the material of the course in which you are encountering difficulties.
  • Do not hesitate to approach your lab assistant for help. Some of them do not have individual offices, and you may have to make a special effort to locate them. They are, however, knowledgeable and willing to help, and you should not hesitate to seek them out.

Studying for Exams

  • Know the aims of the course. Notes from lectures and on readings will provide a good basis for review. Try to anticipate the questions that will be asked on the exam and the form in which they will be asked (for example, trace, develop, compare, defend, analyze), and test your ability to answer them. Be sure you can apply a theory or principle to the solution of specific problems in preparation for quizzes and exams. Quite frequently students memorize a theory and then discover that they are unable to use it to solve a problem on the examination. You can usually practice the application of a theory by answering questions at the end of chapters or by spending time on the material in the workbook that complements the main text.
  • Also, study carefully the tests that have been returned; they can tell you the things you know (and shouldn't waste time on) and the things you don't know (and need to study). If the instructor offers the class the opportunity to look at tests that were given in previous years, study them carefully. While the questions on your examination will be different, you will nevertheless get an idea both of the essential material in the course and of the way questions tend to be formulated. Reflect on the material. Think up questions, arguments; combine facts differently. Pace your study for exams; do not leave it all for the night before the exam.

Taking Exams

  • Allow yourself plenty of time to get to the examination. Follow directions. Read all the questions carefully so that you can plan your time. Also, while you are working on one question, you will, on another level, be thinking about the questions you still have to answer. Organize your answer before you start writing. Give a frame of reference to your answer, but do not overgeneralize. Include relevant supporting material. Exams should show what you know in a well-organized and coherent manner.

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Seeking additional help

  • Be aware of other campus support offices that can assist with tutorial needs, stress management, counseling services, career services and more.

Places to get help

Information about Partners for Success

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~adapted from princeton.edu/pr/pub/agf/08/strategies/ Retrieved 8/02/2012