The Power of Flashcards

Most of you have already started the semester, and with that (for better or worse) comes the thought of future exams. Even though you probably don’t like thinking about this, you have to start preparing for exams as soon as you can. Research shows that cramming at the last minute is a bad way to learn. Don’t do it! Sometimes you’ll even have multiple exams in a day or week, so cramming makes it so you might not have time to study for each one.

One or more of your exams is likely multiple-choice. I’d like to argue that one of the best ways to study for these is to make flashcards. Although you might think that flashcards are only for primary school children learning arithmetic, researchers (including me) have conducted studies showing that flashcards are extremely effective even for college students.

Here are some brief pointers on making and using flashcards. I think writing your own flashcards is best, but some students I’ve had swear by flashcards you can make online (by using Quizlet or other sites):

1) Make flashcards after class. Typically, everything in your notes should be on a card. That means for every lecture you will have a bunch of flashcards

2) Be brief (more like the exam questions and answers).

3) Pay attention as you write or type each flashcard in order to learn the information on it.

4) When you have your flashcards ready, shuffle the flashcards each time you study, because it’s rare to be tested on information in sequential order.

5) Now you are ready to test yourself on each card in the deck.

6) As you test yourself, sort each card by whether you know or don’t know the information on it.

7) Go back over the pile with the cards you don’t know.

8) Repeat all the steps above with each new lecture. Add new flashcards to your old flashcards, and test yourself as before.

Here’s a video link that should help:
https://vimeo.com/48027675
Good luck! Do any of you already use flashcards? Have they helped you on exams?

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Special Guest Writer–Jenny Wu (post grad): Lessons From a post-Grad

Do you have an approach to college? Have you thought about what your goals for college are? I didn’t. For those of you who are just starting to apply, who have just stepped on their campus of choice for the first week of classes, or who have just switched their major for the first time, remember this: you must be bold in college. When signing up for classes, meeting new people, or deciding what to do in the summer, be bold.

I was frantic the last two years of my high school life: writing essays, deciding whether to apply to 7 colleges or 12, traveling on the weekends or breaks to tour college campuses with my father who was probably just as stressed and anxious as I was about what my decision would be as I was. I never asked myself when I made my college decision about what I wanted my lifestyle to be like or what I wanted to do after college and whether the colleges I was considering would be able to help me get there. The phrase “professional development” never crossed my mind. I can confession now that I made my decision based on branding, on reputation, and on the affirmation of my parents and high school teachers.

Throughout college, I had the traditional experiences and then created many of my own. I went to classes, did my homework, crammed for my exams. I pulled all-nighters, went to parties, slept over in my friends’ dorm rooms. I lived in dorms, moved out of dorms, work-studied, got a real job. I had a great time doing these things, but upon graduating, I realize that those years and months when my life revolved solely around the campus and my classmates actually taught me the least out of all of my four undergraduate years. The best thing that ever happened to me is when I realized I was bored going to the same house parties, bars, classroom buildings, and club meetings.

I became bold. I had started academic and social activities on campus since the first month of my freshman year. I found my own internship the spring semester of my sophomore year through cold calling and finding connections/references. I sought a good research mentor my sophomore year: took a whole semester e-mailing professors and graduate students and going to interview with them until I settled on working in the lab of the professor I have now worked with for almost four years. I completed a minor outside of the college of Arts & Sciences, which my major was in. For all of these experiences, I had to hassle administrators for overrides or to enroll in independent credits after the add/drop period. I had to cudgel faculty members to sign my paperwork for my internship as an advisor. The entire struggle to create my college experiences outside of the structured programs at my university taught me more about myself and being an adult than anything else did at the time.

So be bold going into college. Be bold while you’re a college student on campus and off-campus. Don’t start your adult life after graduation. Start it now.

View Jenny Wu's LinkedIn profile View Jennifer Wu’s profile

Surviving in a Large Lecture-2

Previously I discussed how important the Instructor is to having a great experience in a large class. You also have a big responsibility in a large class. Here are 7 tips I think you need to keep in mind for large classes:

1) Avoid any temptation to get lost in the crowd. With so many students it is very easy to let the crowd take over and lose your individuality. Be yourself, not a number!

(2) Attend class! Be part of the college experience by interacting with your Instructor and the other students in class. Moreover, there is usually a strong relationship between attending class and getting a high grade.

(3) Get to class early. This will give you a better chance to get a seat near the front of class where you have a great chance to talk to the Instructor and you can focus on the lecture. Also, you have some time to talk to the people who sit near you. It is really important to get to know people in your class, not only for notes but because your classmates are potential life-long friends.

(4) Try your best not come to class late or leave early. Quite frankly, this can really be rude. Also, when you arrive late or leave early everyone notices—I don’t think you want the “spotlight” on you. In addition, when you come in late or leave early it can interfere with the Instructor’s lecture. Of course, sometimes things are beyond your control, so if you must arrive late or leave early do it in a way that you will hardly be noticed.

(5) Don’t be afraid to ask a question/make a comment during class. Too often students think that this will annoy the Instructor of a large class. I know I don t mind questions/comments at all, and I think most faculty don’t either. Go for it! It is probably something others in the class are thinking.

(6) Talk to your Instructor. This can be in class or during their office hours. Quick hint: Remind your Instructor of your name each time you interact because it may take just a bit for your Instructor to really learn your name. You never know how getting to know your Professor can help if you need a letter of recommendation or when there is an opportunity to get involved with that Instructor’s research.

(7) Come to your large class focused and ready to learn. Having a more “positive” attitude will probably lead to your liking the class more, learning more, doing better in the class, and finding that the time of the class zips by.

Enjoy your large classes!

Surviving in a Large Lecture 1

For better or worse, many of you will likely take large classes in college. In case you’re wondering what “large” means, it’s relative—that is, it’s defined in comparison to the size of the other classes at your school. At a big university you might have 50,000 total students on campus and large classes of several hundred or even close to a thousand students. Your class might have more than your entire high school graduating class, and this can be pretty daunting to think about. Do NOT let this overwhelm you! If you think that any big class should be avoided, stop assuming this, because it’s simply not true. Some of my best classes were large classes and some of my worst classes were small classes.

Keep in mind that whether a large class is successful greatly depends on the instructor—there are countless examples of students packing a lecture hall just to hear a certain professor teach. Most instructors who teach these classes are volunteers, because teaching this kind of class requires a lot of work. Instructors not only have to make sure that each lecture is highly organized, but also have to be prepared to deal with many more students than normal. They generally have to be more organized than other instructors, because the class would be unmanageable if they weren’t. Therefore, your instructor will know how to speak clearly, present demonstrations, show videos, and use other technology like social media.

Instructors who teach large classes often have a certain personality. It is hard to pin down that personality, but one way to think about it is that great instructors of large classes really show (verbally and non-verbally) how much they love being in front of a crowd. In addition, these great instructors always think of exciting things to do in class that will motivate you to keep attending. The key thing is that an experienced and motivated instructor will work hard to make a large class more like a small class. You’ll feel part of a community, rather than feeling like an isolated student. One last thing to keep in mind: if you get into a large class, and you can tell right away that the Instructor just doesn’t care about the class (let alone you), my advice is that you should drop it and add some other class.

Special Guest Writer–Luisa Kickler (Student): First Day of Classes is Finally Here!

The moment you’ve been waiting for all summer is finally here and guess what? You are actually freaking out. Don’t panic! With a little help, your first day of college will be a success. I know that campus seems to be equivalent to a small town (even bigger depending on where you’re from) and it can be quite intimidating if you are not familiar with it. But stay strong, there is this magic thing called map that will guide you right through it. A campus map can be found at the front desk of your dorm, online, or you can probably download an app on your phone. Read the map, study the map, love the map, be the map. No shame in your map game. It is also helpful to figure out where your classes are before they start, so go on a little adventure and look for the buildings that will become your second home. If you’re still nervous about it, there will be information tents all over campus for the first week of classes. After a couple weeks you’ll know campus like the back of your hand and I promise it will get smaller with time.

Now that you got the campus part down, let’s move on to classes. Pack your notebooks, planner (you will need one), pencils, pens, maybe some deodorant? Believe me, you’ll be glad you did. Make sure you leave 15 minutes early, just in case you get lost. When you get to class (like a champ), choose your seat wisely, wherever you’re comfortable but not too comfortable. Pay attention to what your professors have to say, you don’t want to look like an idiot by asking something he/she already repeated 3 times. Try to make at least one friend in each class, in case you need help, notes, or whatever later on. If you feel comfortable, introduce yourself to your professors after class, it is very important to establish a relationship with them. If you are a little reluctant about it, wait a few days and stay after class to ask a question. That way your professors will know who you are and they will know that you are interested in what they are teaching. Super smooth.

After you’re done with classes, organize your syllabi and highlight important dates, you definitely don’t want to miss those. Now all you have to do is sit back and relax, because just like that your first day is over and you didn’t even call your parents crying! College is not so bad after all… Your first day might be over, but you still have 4 more years ahead of you, so make sure you make the most of it. Manage your time responsibly, go to class, do your homework, don’t wait until the last minute, make friends, and last but not least, have fun! College truly is the time of your life, so enjoy!

The Structure of College-2

The next thing to keep in mind about college structure is that in addition to being part of a major, you will be part of a group of different majors. Now this can get confusing. Let me start by saying that in higher education we talk about going to a college or a university. You are all in college, but you should understand that a 4-year college typically only gives out undergraduate or Bachelor’s degrees, whereas a university also awards graduate degrees (i.e., Master’s and/or Doctoral degrees).

If you are in a 4-year-college the level up from your major will likely be called a “division” and it will include related departments that manage majors. For example, if you are a Chemistry major you may be in the Division of Natural Sciences. This division will likely also include Biology and Physics. The level one up from a division is the 4-year-college itself. Thus the ordering (from smaller to larger): Major Department, Division, and College.

Now if you are in a university, things are a bit different. In addition to the department that that manages your major, you will also be part of one of many colleges. (We know this gets confusing, but the term “college” gets used in these different ways.) These colleges may include Art & Sciences (sometimes called Liberal Arts), Engineering, Business, Education, Agriculture, Architecture, Journalism, Medicine, Law, etc). These colleges are again comprised of related departments that manage majors. To make things more complicated, colleges can sometimes be broken down into the divisions described above. For example, in a College of Arts and Sciences there is often a Division of Natural Sciences, a Division of Humanities, and a Division of Social Sciences, Here is the ordering (from smaller to larger) for a university: Major Department, Division, College, and University.

One big reason why it is important to know all of these distinctions concerning the structure of your particular college or university is that each level often has their own course requirements. However, keep two things in mind about fulfilling requirements: (1) a particular requirement can often be fulfilled by taking one of multiple courses, and (2) even with all of the different requirements you will still have enough electives (i.e., courses not tied to a requirement) to have some freedom in what courses you take.

I hope these last two posts give you a better feel for how things are organized at your particular college or university.

The Structure of College-1

How is a college set up (i.e., structured)? When you are ready to start doing something new, it only makes sense that you understand how that something is designed. For example, if you buy a new cell phone you should know (at least) something about the phone’s set up. This will not only make your life easier, but will save you a lot of time and potential heartache if something goes wrong. Believe it or not, college is no different. When you start college it is critical that you understand how things work on campus. Otherwise, you will join the ranks of many other undergraduates wondering what to do and where to go. You can always ask friends and relatives, but quite honestly these individuals often have the wrong answer. Or, what can happen is that your parents will give you an answer about something, but what was true for them 20 years ago when they went to college simply is not the way things work now.

Let’s start at the beginning. When you go to college you have multiple affiliations. That is, each student in college is connected to several units. First, you become a member of a department that manages your major. A major involves concentrated study of a specialty area. These specialty areas are referred to as “disciplines”. In this way, Psychology is a discipline. Similarly, disciplines include English, Hispanic Studies, Economics, Mechanical Engineering…I think you get the picture! I should note that it is possible to have two majors–a “double-major”.

Second, everyone declares a major, but you might also decide to minor in another discipline. The distinction between a major and a minor is pretty self-explanatory, but just to be sure you follow a major is what you are most interested in, while a minor is typically a side interest you have or another discipline that complements your major. For example, you might choose to be a Psychology major (the study of the human mind and behavior), but minor in Sociology (the study of human society, with a specific interest in the changing relationships among individuals and groups). Psychology and Sociology study different issues, but they are clearly related—both study how humans behave.

Third, your career interests may not match a specific major. For example, you may be interested in Medicine, Dentistry or Law). You should understand that there is not a major (e.g., “medical doctor” major) for any of the careers just listed. Instead, you will choose a major in another subject, often directly related to Medicine, Dentistry, Physical therapy (e.g., Biology) or Law (e.g., Political Science). After graduating with your undergraduate degree you will then apply to a specific “professional school” to get a graduate degree. We should add, however, that for all of these fields times have changed quite a bit and you do not necessarily have to major in a directly-related field. In fact, you can major in anything as long as the courses you take meet the requirements of the Medical School, Dental School, or Law School you would like to attend.

We’ll talk more about the structure of college in my next post.