Success in College - 2012 Book Archive

Success in College - 2012 Book Archive
Success in College
v. 1.0
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Table of Contents
About the Authors................................................................................................................. 1
Acknowledgments................................................................................................................. 4
Preface..................................................................................................................................... 5
Chapter 1: You and Your College Experience ................................................................. 6
Who Are You, Really? .................................................................................................................................. 12
Different Worlds of Different Students...................................................................................................... 23
How You Learn ............................................................................................................................................. 30
What Is College, Really?............................................................................................................................... 41
Let’s Talk about Success .............................................................................................................................. 51
Chapter Activities ........................................................................................................................................ 61
Chapter 2: Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track........................................... 71
Setting and Reaching Goals......................................................................................................................... 76
Organizing Your Space ................................................................................................................................ 93
Organizing Your Time ............................................................................................................................... 100
Chapter Activities ...................................................................................................................................... 125
Chapter 3: Thinking about Thought ............................................................................. 136
Types of Thinking ...................................................................................................................................... 141
It’s Critical................................................................................................................................................... 147
Searching for “Aha!”.................................................................................................................................. 158
Problem Solving and Decision Making .................................................................................................... 165
Chapter Activities ...................................................................................................................................... 171
Chapter 4: Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering ........................................... 176
Setting Yourself Up for Success................................................................................................................ 181
Are You Ready for Class?........................................................................................................................... 183
Are You Really Listening? ......................................................................................................................... 185
Got Notes? ................................................................................................................................................... 191
Remembering Course Materials ............................................................................................................... 204
Chapter Activities ...................................................................................................................................... 213
Chapter 5: Reading to Learn ........................................................................................... 219
Are You Ready for the Big Leagues? ........................................................................................................ 224
How Do You Read to Learn? ...................................................................................................................... 226
Dealing with Special Texts ........................................................................................................................ 237
Building Your Vocabulary......................................................................................................................... 247
Chapter Activities ...................................................................................................................................... 252
Chapter 6: Preparing for and Taking Tests................................................................. 258
Test Anxiety and How to Control It ......................................................................................................... 265
Studying to Learn (Not Just for Tests) ..................................................................................................... 271
Taking Tests................................................................................................................................................ 277
The Secrets of the Q and A’s...................................................................................................................... 284
The Honest Truth ....................................................................................................................................... 289
Using Test Results ...................................................................................................................................... 294
Chapter Activities ...................................................................................................................................... 298
Chapter 7: Interacting with Instructors and Classes ................................................ 305
Why Attend Classes at All?........................................................................................................................ 311
Participating in Class ................................................................................................................................. 317
Communicating with Instructors ............................................................................................................. 324
Public Speaking and Class Presentations ................................................................................................ 339
Chapter Activities ...................................................................................................................................... 353
Chapter 8: Writing for Classes........................................................................................ 360
What’s Different about College Writing?................................................................................................. 365
How Can I Become a Better Writer?......................................................................................................... 371
Other Kinds of Writing in College Classes ............................................................................................... 385
Chapter Activities ...................................................................................................................................... 389
Chapter 9: The Social World of College ........................................................................ 397
Getting Along with Others ........................................................................................................................ 401
Living with Diversity ................................................................................................................................. 418
Campus Groups........................................................................................................................................... 434
Chapter Activities ...................................................................................................................................... 441
Chapter 10: Taking Control of Your Health ................................................................ 449
Nutrition and Weight Control .................................................................................................................. 454
Activity and Exercise ................................................................................................................................. 462
Sleep ............................................................................................................................................................ 467
Substance Use and Abuse .......................................................................................................................... 473
Stress ........................................................................................................................................................... 490
Emotional Health and Happiness ............................................................................................................. 504
Sexual Health.............................................................................................................................................. 517
Chapter Activities ...................................................................................................................................... 531
Chapter 11: Taking Control of Your Finances............................................................. 538
Financial Goals and Realities .................................................................................................................... 543
Making Money............................................................................................................................................ 546
Spending Less ............................................................................................................................................. 552
Credit Cards ................................................................................................................................................ 569
Financing College and Looking Ahead ..................................................................................................... 579
Chapter Activities ...................................................................................................................................... 586
Chapter 12: Taking Control of Your Future ................................................................ 593
The Dream of a Lifetime ............................................................................................................................ 599
Career Exploration..................................................................................................................................... 602
Choosing Your Major ................................................................................................................................. 609
Getting the Right Stuff............................................................................................................................... 612
Career Development Starts Now .............................................................................................................. 620
The Power of Networking ......................................................................................................................... 623
Résumés and Cover Letters ....................................................................................................................... 629
Interviewing for Success ........................................................................................................................... 635
Chapter Activities ...................................................................................................................................... 642
About the Authors
Bruce Beiderwell
Bruce Beiderwell (PhD, UCLA) has served as director of the UCLA Writing Programs
since 2001. He regularly teaches developmental writing classes that serve students
who arrive at the university without the preparation or skills they will need to
succeed. This teaching role links him to broad efforts from across the campus,
particularly the library and the College Learning Center. In this respect, he works
with colleagues in English as a Second Language, Library Science, Athletics, and
Counseling. In addition, Bruce’s role as a faculty mentor to student athletes in the
University’s “Community of Learners” program connects directly to his work
identifying, placing, and instructing at-risk students. Bruce has also overseen and
taught in UCLA’s Transfer Intensive Program built upon the notion that the crucial
part of a successful transfer is the ability to write. For his work with nontraditional
students seeking admission (or readmission) to the university through UC extension
courses he received a UCLA Teaching Award.
While Bruce has spent most of his professional life as a writing teacher and
administrator, his PhD is in English literature, and his first publications focused on
nineteenth-century fiction. His book, Power and Punishment in Scott’s Novels, was
nominated for a McVities Prize. Bruce was also guest editor of a special edition of
European Romantic Review that was devoted to essays on Walter Scott. In addition, he
is the coauthor of the widely used literature anthology The Literary Experience
(coauthored with Jeff Wheeler and published by Wadsworth).
Bruce’s teaching interests along with his concern for undergraduate education have
moved him outside this fairly narrow scholarly world. He has taught a wide range of
literature and composition courses in the past twenty years—everything from
courses on Faulkner to business writing workshops. He has been involved in
administrative work (e.g., student placement, curriculum development). And he has
consulted in the development of teaching materials for use in business settings.
Linda F. Tse
Linda F. Tse (MS, Minnesota State University, Mankato) has been an educator for
over two decades, first as a high school English teacher in Hong Kong and currently
at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC). Since 1997, Linda has
been working as a counselor on college campuses, initially at four-year
About the Authors
comprehensive universities before finding her passion working with the student
body at MCTC, where 43 percent of the students are non-Caucasian and more than
eighty different languages are spoken on campus. New immigrants for whom
English is a second language, first-generation college students, nontraditional
students, single parents, and students living below the poverty line make up the
majority of the college’s student population.
Born to refugee parents in Hong Kong, Linda came to the United States on a student
visa with the help of a scholarship. Her personal struggle together with her
professional training have enabled her to relate readily to underrepresented and
underserved students who aspire to higher education in the face of adversity and
disadvantage. In this regard, she provides academic, career, and personal
counseling, while teaching classes in Career Development and Life Planning, and
College Success Strategies. In addition to her academic responsibilities, Linda works
professionally with dislocated workers and people with disabilities.
Tom Lochhaas
Tom Lochhaas is a teacher, a writer, an editor, and a consultant. He received his
MFA in writing from the University of Arizona and is ABD in English at Washington
University. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
Tom has taught at the University of Arizona, Pima Community College, Otterbein
College, Washington University, Saint Louis Community College, and UCLA. His
teaching focus has been on freshman courses with an emphasis on reading, writing,
and study and communication skills. Tom’s special interests are in working with
unprepared students and recent immigrants.
As a college instructor, Tom has always focused on what students actually
need—not necessarily what professors might think they need—to succeed in their
studies, regardless of the particular topic. In an academic world where many
students do not read their textbooks at all, or have difficulty understanding them
when they do, it is critical to be realistic about how today’s students learn and how
best to reach them. “A weighty traditional tome might look like the best classic
student success textbook to some instructors,” Tom says, “but such a text fails if
students can’t or won’t read it. Students quickly become frustrated by reading
materials not useful to them as students or appropriate for their needs.” His
expertise in how to shape an effective textbook is part of what he brings to this
authorship team.
About the Authors
As a professional college textbook editor and writer, Tom specializes in making
textbooks accessible for students in many curriculum areas, including
communications, software and technical manuals, and public health information. In
his work with public organizations such as the American Red Cross and the National
Safety Council, he has brought an expertise in language and reading level to ensure
that a wide range of publications are appropriate for their intended audiences. He
has written or ghostwritten several dozen textbooks and other books.
Nicholas B. deKanter
Nick deKanter (MA, Tufts University) is an educational advocate, consultant, and
marketing professional. As founder and president of the Vision 21 Education Group,
he is working to support schools seeking to transform into twenty-first-century
learning environments that help students master core subjects, connect subjects to
real-world needs, think critically, communicate clearly, and practice collaboration
and innovation.
Unnamed Publisher would like to thank the following reviewers whose
comprehensive feedback and suggestions for improving the material helped make
this a better text:
Henry F. Algera, Seattle Pacific University
Lenore Arlee, University of Oklahoma, Norman Campus
Katie Cerrone Arnold, The University of Akron, Summit College
Steven R. Boyd, University of Texas at San Antonio
Mark Brennaman, University of Central Oklahoma
Kathryn Burk, Jackson Community College
Christi Duque, Tarrant County College
Debby Espinor, George Fox University
Lameteria D. Hall, The Community College of Baltimore County
Sheryl Hartman, Miami Dade College
Ann Iseda, Jackson Community College Extension Centers
Dan Issler, University of Pennsylvania
Timothy J. Jones, University of Oklahoma
Lucas Keefer, University of Kansas
Sharon Kousaleos, Ohio University
Carla Kulinsky, Salt Lake Community College
Patricia McGee, University of Texas at San Antonio
Ted Miller, Jackson Community College
Penny Pasque, University of Oklahoma
Said Sewell, The Fort Valley State University
Melissa Thomas, University of Texas at San Antonio
John Timmons, Winthrop University
Patrick Raphael Toney, Bowie State University
Our primary goal in writing College Success is to help you succeed in college.
According to Department of Education data, 30 percent of college freshmen leave
school in their first year and as many as 50 percent never graduate. College Success is
designed to help change that.
College Success has a student-friendly format arranged to help you develop the
essential skills and provide the information you need to succeed in college. This is
not a textbook full of theory and extensive detail that merely discusses student
success; rather, this is a how-to manual for succeeding in college. The book provides
realistic, practical guidance ranging from study skills to personal health, from test
taking to managing time and money. Furthermore, College Success is
accessible—information is presented concisely and as simply as possible.
College Success has the following features to help you achieve your goals: Each
chapter asks you to evaluate yourself because success starts with recognizing your
strengths and weaknesses, your hopes and desires, and your own personal,
individual realities. You’ll develop your own goals based on these self-assessments,
determining what success in college really means for you as an individual.
Throughout the book, you will find numerous interactive activities created to help
you improve your skills. To assist you with this, the material is presented in easily
digestible “chunks” of information so you can begin applying it immediately in your
own life—and get the most out of your college education.
College Success was developed in partnership with Career Management, LLC, whose
cofounders developed SuccessHawk® (—interactive
online job search software, designed to help you achieve your ultimate goal of
landing a great job.
Welcome aboard!
Chapter 1
You and Your College Experience
Figure 1.1
© Thinkstock
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
Where Are You Now?
Assess your present knowledge and attitudes.
Yes Unsure No
1. I understand all the benefits of a college
education for my future life.
2. I have clear-cut career interests and have already
planned my college program to prepare me best for
my future work.
3. I am aware of how my previous educational
background has prepared me for college work.
4. I have all the personal traits of a successful
college student.
5. I know how the learning process functions and
make an effort to maximize my learning at each
step in this process.
6. I know my personal learning style and use it to
my advantage when learning new things.
7. I know how to pay attention to gain the most
from my classes.
8. I am aware of my college’s policies for academic
honesty and behavior on campus.
9. I know where to find all the resources of my
college that can help me succeed both academically
and personally.
10. I am confident I can earn the grades I need to
achieve success in my college courses.
11. I know the first year of college will be the most
difficult, but I am fully prepared and take
responsibility for my own success.
12. I am taking steps every day to ensure I am
successful in every aspect of the college experience.
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
Where Do You Want to Go?
Think about how you answered the questions above. Be honest with yourself.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your present skills for succeeding in
Not very strong
Very strong
In the following list, circle the three most important areas in which you think
you can improve:
Relating my personal values to education
Choosing a program or degree major
Finding the best career for my interests and skills
Being prepared for college-level work
Developing a positive attitude for college
Successfully using each step of the learning process
Adapting and broadening my personal learning style
Getting the most out of classes large and small
Following all college policies
Taking advantage of all college resources
Getting the best grades I can get
Successfully transitioning to college and completing the first year
Doing everything I can every day to ensure I succeed in college
Are there other areas or skills that need more attention in order for you to
succeed in college? Write down other things you feel you need to work on.
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
How to Get There
Here’s what we’ll work on in this chapter:
• Viewing college in terms of your personal values
• Recognizing the importance of making a commitment to succeed
in the first year of college
• Discovering what career and college major best match your
interests and skills
• Understanding the obstacles students like you may have to
overcome when transitioning into college
• Figuring out how to learn best in each step of the learning process
• Using your personal learning style effectively while also expanding
to include other forms of learning
• Staying motivated and succeeding in large lecture classes as well as
small discussion classes
• Working with your academic advisor to select courses and plan
your program
• Discovering what resources your college offers students to succeed
not only in classes but also in their personal and social lives
• Understanding why grades matter
• Understanding why the first year of college is so critical and how
to ensure you make it through
• Knowing what steps you can take starting today and every day to
ensure your success in college
Welcome to College!
Congratulations on your decision to attend college! For the great majority of college
students, it really was your decision—not just an automatic thing to do. If you
happen to be one of the few who just sort of ended up in college for want of
anything better to do, the benefits of college will soon become obvious.
The reason for this book, and for almost all college courses, is that college does
require commitment and effort. Like everything else in life that leads to meaningful
results, success in college is not automatic. But when you apply yourself to your
studies using the skills you’ll learn in this book, you’ll find you can succeed.
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
When asked, most students say they’re in college primarily for the job or career
they expect to follow after college. And they are correct that college pays off
enormously in terms of future earnings, job security and stability, and job
satisfaction. Every statistic shows that people with a college education will make
much more in their lifetime (much, much more than the cost of college itself) and
be much happier with the work they do.
But job and career issues are only a part of the big picture. A college education
results in many other personal benefits, and these also should be part of your
motivation for doing well and continuing with your college plans. Here are a few
additional, less tangible benefits of a college education:
• You will have a fuller life and a better understanding of the world
around you.
• You will gain decision-making and problem-solving skills.
• You will meet many interesting and diverse people and have a richer
social life.
• You will gain self-confidence.
• You will gain learning skills that can continue for a lifetime.
• You will make wiser decisions about lifestyle issues and live healthier.
• You will make wiser economic decisions the rest of your life.
• You will be better equipped to deal with other people, organizations,
governmental agencies, and all the hassles of daily life.
• You will feel more fully a part of your community, the larger culture,
and history.
A college education is correlated with greater success in all those areas, even
though most students are usually more concerned with making it through the next
class or test than the rest of their lives. But sometimes it helps to recall what a truly
great step forward you are taking!
Sadly, however, it’s important to recognize that some students do not succeed in
college and drop out within the first year. Sometimes it’s due to an unsolvable
financial problem or a personal or family crisis, but most of the time students drop
out because they’re having problems passing their courses. The two biggest causes
of this problem are a lack of motivation and not having learned the skills needed to
succeed in college.
A book like this one can help you stay motivated when things get tough, but it can’t
necessarily give you motivation to start with. That’s part of what you yourself have
to bring to college. What we can promise you is that you can learn the skills for
succeeding in college.
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
Special skills are needed because college isn’t the same as high school. Throughout
this book, we’ll be looking at the many ways college is different from high school.
To name just a few, college is different in study skills needed, in personal skills
related to being independent, in social skills for getting along with instructors and
others on campus, in financial realities, in matters of personal health, and more.
Remember, you can learn whatever you need in order to succeed. That’s what this
book is all about. You’ll learn how to get the most out of going to class. You’ll learn
how to study in ways that use your time efficiently and help you pass tests. You’ll
even learn how to remember what you read in your college textbooks. You’ll learn
how to manage your time more effectively than you might have in the past, so that
studying is less a burden and more a simple routine. You’ll even learn how things
like eating well and getting enough sleep and exercise make it easier to do well in
your classes.
One warning: you might not at first see an immediate payoff for everything you
read in this book. When it comes to certain things, such as tips for how to take good
notes in class to help you study later on for a test, you will get specific, practical
advice you can put to use immediately to get a better grade. But not everything is as
obvious or immediately beneficial. Some of the things you’ll read about here involve
ideas you’ll need to think about. Some things will help you get to know yourself
better and understand more clearly what you really want from your education and
how to go about attaining them.
But we promise you this: if you care enough to want to succeed in college and care
enough to read these chapters and try to use the information, suggestions, and tips
presented here, you will succeed in college.
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
1.1 Who Are You, Really?
1. List your most important personal values and relate them to a college
2. Begin thinking about what kind of career will best match your interests,
skills, and personality.
3. Understand how college is different from high school in many ways.
4. Develop a positive attitude about yourself as a college student.
5. Accept responsibility for your college experience and your life.
Succeeding in college is rather like succeeding in life. It’s really much more about
you than it is about college. So the most important place to start is to consider why
you’re here, what matters to you, and what you expect to get out it. Even if you
have already thought about these questions, it’s good to reaffirm your commitment
to your plan as we begin to consider what’s really involved in being a college
What’s Your Plan?
Take a few minutes and write down short answers to the questions in Activity 1. Be
honest with yourself, and write down what you really feel. You are not writing for
an instructor here—not what you think someone expects to hear—and you are not
being graded on your answers!
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
How long do you anticipate being in college?
How many courses will you need to take per term to finish college in your
planned time period?
What do you anticipate will be the most difficult part of completing college?
Are you confident you will be able to overcome any possible difficulties in
completing college?
Were you able to easily answer the questions in Activity 1? How confident do you
feel about your plan?
These are important questions to think about for the simple reason that students
who have a clear plan and who are prepared to overcome possible obstacles that
may arise along the way are much more likely to succeed in college. In other words,
just thinking in a positive way about your future can help that future come true!
What Matters to You?
The word values1 refers to things that matter to a person. What makes you feel
good? What things would you be doing if you had all the time, money, and
opportunities in the world? Questions like these help us define our own values.
Every individual has his or her own values.
1. An object or quality a person
believes is desirable as a means
or as an end in itself.
1.1 Who Are You, Really?
Thinking about your own values can help you know what you want from life and
from college. Take a moment and consider the list of things in Activity 2 that are
valued by some people. For each value, rate how important that thing is to you.
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
Following is a list of things that different people say they value. For each
item on this list, indicate how important it is to you yourself by ranking it as
very important (5), not important (0), or somewhere in between.
1.1 Who Are You, Really?
Making a good income
Having good friends
Learning new things about your interests 0
Having a nice car
Having intelligent conversations
Staying current with the news
Playing sports
Hanging out with friends
Playing computer or video games
Online social networking
Reading a good book
Traveling to new places
Being liked by others
Studying and reading textbooks
Having nice clothing
Watching television
Enjoying time alone
Getting out in nature
Working your job
Looking good, personal hygiene
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
Meeting new people
Going to movies or entertainments
Eating nice meals out
Exercising, being physically active
Being your own boss
Having a positive romantic relationship
Engaging in your hobbies
Setting your own schedule
Volunteering your time for a good cause
Cleaning house
Attending classes
Going to religious services
Talking on the telephone, texting, e-mail
Going to parties
Participating in clubs, organized
Other: __________________________
Other: __________________________
Look back at the values you rated highly (4 or 5) in Activity 2, which probably give a
good indication of how you enjoy spending your time. But now look at these things
you value in a different way. Think about how each relates to how you think you
need to manage your time effectively while in college. Most college students feel
they don’t have enough time for everything they like to do. Do some of the
activities you value most contribute to your college experience, or will they distract
you from being a good student?
Students who enter college with their eyes open and who think about their own
values and motivations will be more successful. If you have a good idea of what you
want from life, the rest of it can be learned. We’ll start right away in Chapter 2
"Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track" by helping you stay motivated and
1.1 Who Are You, Really?
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
manage your time well. The following chapters will then lead you through learning
how to study well and everything else.
Thinking Ahead to a Major and Career
If you’ve just begun college, should you already know what career you seek in the
future and what courses you should take or what you should major2 in? Good
Some students say they have known from a very early age what they want to do
after college, choose the college that is best for that plan, never waiver from the
plan and choose each course with the one goal in mind, and then enter their chosen
career after college or graduate school. At the other extreme, some students have
only a vague sense of direction before beginning college, take a wide variety of
courses, select a major only when they reach the point that they must major in
something (or perhaps change majors multiple times), and then after college choose
to work in an entirely different field.
Some students choose to major in an academic subject simply because they enjoy
that subject, never concerned with what kind of job they may get afterward. The
traditional idea of the liberal arts education3 is that you can go to college not to
prepare for a specific career but to become a well-educated person who is then in a
better position to work in any number of careers.
None of these different approaches to choosing a major and a career is better than
others. All students receive the many benefits of college, and all are likely to find a
more fulfilling career.
So where are you in this great variety of attitudes about career and major choices?
2. A subject or field of study
chosen by a college student
representing his or her
principal interest.
3. A college program that
provides general knowledge
about the humanities, arts, and
natural and social sciences,
rather than professional or
technical subjects.
1.1 Who Are You, Really?
Assuming you are still early in your college program, the take-home message here
is that you don’t need to make any decisions yet. Chances are, as you take courses in
a variety of subjects and meet people in many different fields, you’ll naturally
discover something about what you really enjoy doing and what career options you
may choose to pursue.
On the other hand, help is available for discovering your interests, strengths, and
personality factors related to careers. You can learn a lot about your options and
what you would be good at by visiting your college’s advising or counseling
department. Almost all colleges have tools to help you discover what careers you
would most enjoy.
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
The Strong Interest Inventory is such an assessment
tool used by many colleges and universities. You answer
a series of simple questions, and the computer-scored
tabulation provides information about your interests,
strengths, and personality related to different types of
careers. This tool can also suggest specific courses, jobs
and internships, and extracurricular activities relevant
to personal and career interests. Ask your college’s
career counseling center if such a tool is available.
Another widely used tool is the Myers-Briggs Type
Indicator (MBTI). The MBTI is a personality inventory
that identifies you as one of sixteen distinct personality
types. Each personality type correlates with happiness
in certain careers. Ask your college’s career counselor to
see if the MBTI is available for you.
A free online assessment, like the CareerLink Inventory
(, is a
relatively simple tool that can teach you a lot about
yourself. Follow the steps in the “Outside the Book”
section to maximize your results.
Figure 1.2
Talk with your advisor or visit
the career counseling center to
learn more about what future
careers you may be interested in.
© Thinkstock
Although there’s nothing wrong with starting out
without an intended major or career path, take care not to accidentally take courses
that end up not counting toward your program goal or degree. You could end up in
college longer than needed or have to pay for additional courses. Be sure to read
your college catalog carefully and to talk to your academic advisor.
Your Past Educational Experience
It is important to understand how college is different from high school and how
well your own past educational experiences have prepared you for what you will
find in college. This is another way in which entering college “with your eyes wide
open” will prove beneficial.
College is a unique experience for all students—whether you just graduated from
high school or are returning to education after years of working. You are
transitioning from one form of education to another. Some students have difficulty
because of the differences between college and high school.
1.1 Who Are You, Really?
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
Generally speaking, however, the college experience is usually different from high
school in these ways:
• Time management is more important in college because of varying
class and work schedules and other time commitments.
• College instructors seldom seek you out to offer extra help if you’re
falling behind. You are on your own and expected to do the work, meet
deadlines, and so on, without someone looking over your shoulder.
• There may be no attendance policy for classes. You are expected to be
mature enough to come to class without fear of penalties.
• Many classes are large, making it easy to feel lost in a crowd.
• Many instructors, especially in large classes, teach by lecture—which
can be difficult for those whose high school teachers interacted a great
deal with students.
• College courses require more study time and require you to work on
your own.
• Your social and personal life in college may be less supervised.
Younger students may experience a sudden increase in freedom to do
what they want.
• You will meet more people from more diverse backgrounds in college.
• All of these differences, along with a change in living situation for
many students, can lead to emotional changes—both positive and
What does all this add up to? For some students, the sudden independence and
freedom can lead in negative directions: sleeping late, skipping classes, missing
deadlines, failing to study adequately for tests, and so on. Other students who are
highly motivated and work hard in their classes may also have difficulty
transitioning to the higher academic standards of college. Suddenly, you’re
responsible for everything. That can be thrilling but also a challenge to get used to.
All the chapters in this book will help you make this transition successfully.
Liking Yourself as a Student and Why That Matters
Of all the factors that affect how well one does in college, attitude is probably the
single most important. A positive attitude leads to motivation, and someone who is
strongly motivated to succeed can overcome obstacles that may occur.
In Chapter 2 "Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track", we’ll discuss things you
can do to keep a positive attitude about college and stay motivated in your studies.
But your attitude toward yourself as a student matters just as much. Now that you
1.1 Who Are You, Really?
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
are in college, you are a new person, not just the same person who happens now to
be a college student. What do you think of this new person?
If you’re feeling excited, enthusiastic, capable, and confident in your new
life—great! Skip ahead to the next section. But if you’re less sure how well you’ll do
in your new role, take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. A lot of new
college students, once they begin experiencing the differences from high school,
start having doubts. Some may start to feel “I’m not a good enough student” or “I
can’t keep up with all this.” Some may become fearful or apathetic.
These feelings, while a perfectly natural response to a big change in one’s life, can
hinder one’s motivation and ability to succeed. If you think you can’t make it, that
might become true. If you’re sure you’ll make it, you will.
Again, we’ll ask you to think honestly about this. If you have these thoughts
sometimes, why is that? Are you just reacting to a low grade on your first test? Are
you just feeling this way because you see other students who look like they know
what they’re doing and you’re feeling out of place? Most likely, if you have doubts
about being able to do well, this is just a reaction to college being more difficult
than what you’re used to. It’s mostly a matter of having the right skills for
succeeding in college. This book will help you learn them—everything from how to
study effectively, how to do better on tests, even how to read your textbooks more
Why is it that some students need to work on strengthening their skills after
beginning college while others seem to waltz right in and do well from the start?
The answer sounds simple but is actually rather complex. There simply are many
differences among people. There are differences among high schools as well as
one’s past teachers, one’s peer group, one’s family, one’s cultural background, and
many other factors. As a result of many different things, some students just need a
little more help to succeed in college. No student is better or automatically more
capable than another, however, and everyone can learn the skills to succeed.
To succeed in college, you need to take control of your life. Gone are the days when
you could just “cruise” through school, or life, or let others motivate you or
establish schedules to manage your time. This change presents an exciting
opportunity. It’s your first step in your new life and the key to your future. Here are
a few thoughts to get you started in the right direction:
1.1 Who Are You, Really?
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
• Accept responsibility for your life. You are on equal footing with
everyone else and have the same opportunities to succeed.
• Decide what you want to do. Don’t let things just happen—make them
happen by deciding that they should happen.
• Realize you can change. You can change your habits to become a
better student. You can change your attitudes and become a more
positive, motivated student.
• Develop a personal ethical code4. Do what is right for you and for
others. The college world demands ethical standards and rewards
responsible, ethical behavior. Be proud of who you are and your good
• Enjoy your life! Going to college might seem overwhelming at times,
but no one is asking you to “give up your life” to succeed in college.
Enjoy meeting new people, learning new things, and experiencing the
diversity of the college experience. Most college graduates look back
on their college years as one of the best periods in their whole lives!
• A college education provides many intangible benefits as well as much
better prospects for a career you will enjoy.
• Thinking about your personal values and how they relate to your
education can help you stay motivated to succeed in college.
• Personality and skill inventories can help you discover the right career
for your future and the best major in college.
• Because college is a new and different life experience for most students,
taking responsibility for new freedoms and managing time well are
4. A system of principles for
acceptable conduct.
1.1 Who Are You, Really?
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
1. Which of the following are benefits of a college education?
A better understanding of the world
Developing problem-solving skills
Meeting interesting people
Making wiser financial decisions in the future
All of the above
2. What do you value that will be richer in your future life because
you will have a college education?
What do you value that will you likely have less time or money to
spend on while in college?
3. Life in college usually differs in many ways from one’s previous
life in high school or in the workforce. What are the biggest
changes you are experiencing now or anticipate experiencing
this term?
4. For each of the following statements, circle T for true or F for
1.1 Who Are You, Really?
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
1.1 Who Are You, Really?
Attitude is one of the most important factors affecting
college success.
If you sit back, wait patiently, and stick it out long
enough, success in college will inevitably come to you.
To do well in college, you basically have to give up
everything else in life for a while.
Most college graduates later look back on their college
years as one of the best times in their lives.
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
1.2 Different Worlds of Different Students
1. Understand how you may be similar to, and different from, other
traditional students or returning students.
2. Describe the characteristics of successful students.
Not all college students are the same, and the world of college is therefore
sometimes different for different students. Students will answer the following
questions in a variety of different ways:
1. Are you attending college directly from high school or within a year of
2. Are you a full-time student?
3. Is English your first language?
4. Are you the first person in your family to attend college?
5. Have you spent most of your life in a country other than the United
6. Are you married or living with a partner? Do you have children?
7. Do you now or have you worked full time?
When thinking about different “types” of students, be careful to avoid stereotyping.
While there are genuine differences among individual students, we must never
assume an individual person has certain characteristics simply because he or she is
a certain “type” of student. For example, if you answered yes to questions 1 through
3 and no to the other questions, you may be called a “traditional” student5—young
and attending college after high school. The word “traditional” is used simply
because, in the past, this group of students formed the majority of college
students—even though, at many colleges, these students are now the minority. On
the other hand, if you are older and have worked for some years before returning to
school, or if you are an international student or are working and attending classes
part time, you might be considered a “nontraditional” student. Again, this term
comes from past statistics, even though very many colleges have more
“nontraditional” students than “traditional” students.
5. A college student, typically age
seventeen to nineteen,
attending college directly or
soon after completing high
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
What does that mean to you? First, realize that not
everything discussed in this book will apply to you. If
you’re eighteen and living away from your family for
the first time in a college dormitory, you will likely not
face the same issues of finding time for studying as an
older student working full time and having children at
home. If you’re thirty and returning to school after
years of successfully managing a job, you may have to
reestablish your study skills but will not face the same
issues as a younger student who may be tempted by the
sudden freedom of college and have difficulty setting
Figure 1.3
Colleges have students of all ages
and with diverse backgrounds.
© Thinkstock
Every student brings certain advantages to college from
their background experience. Every student may also
face certain kinds of difficulties. Understanding how
your own background may impact your own preparedness for college can help you
make a good start in your college experience.
“Traditional” Students
We’re putting the quotation marks around the word “traditional,” again, because
this group of college students is no longer the majority at many colleges, although
the term is still sometimes used by educators. Coming directly or almost directly
from high school, “traditional” students are used to attending classes, reading
textbooks, and studying and thus may find the transition to college easier. Many are
single and unattached and have fewer time commitments to others. Although a
high percentage do work while in college, the work is typically part time or during
the summer and does not have a severe time impact on their studies. As first-year
students, usually living on campus at a four-year college or university, they do not
lose time to commuting and typically their housing plan includes meals and
otherwise simplifies their living arrangements. In all, many have few
responsibilities other than their academic work.
On the other hand, “traditional” students living away from home for the first time
may face more psychological and social issues than other student groups. One is
away from family and old friends, perhaps forced to cope with an incompatible
roommate or living arrangements, and facing all sorts of new temptations.
Experiencing this sudden new freedom, many students experiment with or develop
habits such as poor dietary and sleep habits, lack of exercise, and sometimes
substance abuse or other behaviors that disrupt their academic routine and study
habits. Many young students are forced to “grow up” quickly after arriving at
1.2 Different Worlds of Different Students
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
college. Some students who do not adjust to the freedoms of college end up
dropping out in their first year.
Returning Students
Students returning to their education are often older, may have worked for a
number of years, and may be used to living on their own and being financially and
psychologically independent. They are often more mature and have a stronger
sense of what they want from college; they may be more goal driven. They may be
paying their own way through college and want to get their money’s worth. They
may be full-time students but frequently are still working and can take only a parttime course load. They often live off campus and may own a home and have a
mortgage. They may have children. Because they have made a very deliberate
decision to go to college, returning students6 are often serious students and are
motivated to do the work. Having spent time in the work world, they may also have
developed good problem-solving and decision-making skills as a result of their
“real-world” experience.
On the other hand, returning students may have less time for studying because of
work and family commitments. They may feel more stress because of the time and
financial requirements of college. Spending less time on campus may contribute to
not feeling completely at home in the academic world. They may not have time for
many extracurricular7 and campus activities. Although they may be dedicated and
hardworking students, they may also be less patient learning “theory” in courses
and want all their coursework to relate directly to the real world.
Other Student Groups
Beyond this difference of age, some other common differences also affect one’s
college experience. Students in the following groups may be either “traditional”
students by age or returning students.
Commuter Students
6. A college student, typically
over age twenty, who has
worked or engaged in other
significant activities between
high school and college.
7. Activities at college, usually
organized and involving a
group, outside academic
activities related to one’s
Many returning students are commuter students, and it is increasingly common
also for many young people after high school to continue to live at home or in their
own apartment, coming to campus only for classes. Commuter students often face
the same issues of limited time as returning students. They may find it difficult to
find time to talk with an instructor outside of class.
1.2 Different Worlds of Different Students
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
First-Generation Students
The phrase “first-generation student” refers to students who are the first in their
families to attend college. These students may be “traditional” students enrolled
right after high school or may be returning students. Students whose parents did
not attend college may be less familiar with some or all aspects of the college
experience and thus may have to transition into their new life.
Recent Immigrant and International Students
Many colleges have a significant percentage of students who have recently
immigrated8 to the United States or who are attending college here. What both
groups may have in common is coming from a different culture and possibly
speaking English as a second language. They may have to make cultural
adjustments and accommodations. Language issues are often the most serious
obstacle to overcome, especially since so much of college education is based on
reading and writing in English.
Students with Disabilities
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits colleges and universities from
discriminating on the basis of disabilities and forces them to ensure that both
classes and extracurricular activities are accessible to students with disabilities.
Accessibility includes both physical accessibility to campus buildings and housing
and accessibility to services and aids necessary for effective communication.
Students with disabilities have the right to request any accommodations needed to
allow them to succeed in college. For more information or to receive answers to any
specific questions, contact the Association on Higher Education And Disability
(AHEAD) at
Students Who Are Working
The key issue for working students often is time—how to find enough time for
studying enough to do well in classes. Since it is very difficult to maintain two fulltime schedules—work and school—one or the other may suffer. For those working
long hours, Chapter 2 "Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track" presents many
tips for managing your time when you have less of it; Chapter 11 "Taking Control of
Your Finances" also suggests ways to cut back on expenses while in college so that
you don’t have to work so many hours.
8. To move to a country of which
one is not a native, usually for
permanent residence.
1.2 Different Worlds of Different Students
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
Students with a Family
Typically it is returning students who have families of their own, although younger
students may also have families to care for. Having children of your own means you
have different priorities from most some students, but a family shouldn’t be viewed
as an obstacle to college success. Time may be short, and you’ll have to manage it
carefully to avoid falling behind in your studies. Chapter 2 "Staying Motivated,
Organized, and On Track" describes some creative ways students can involve their
families in the experience to prevent normal student stresses from disrupting
family happiness.
Profile of a Successful Student
While it’s important to consider your strengths, it’s also important to develop a
plan for moving forward and ensuring you have the knowledge and skills needed to
succeed. The following are some of the characteristics of the successful student you
can be:
• Successful students have a good attitude and know how to stay
motivated. You will learn about this in Chapter 2 "Staying Motivated,
Organized, and On Track".
• Successful students have developed good time management strategies,
such as scheduling study time and getting started early on assignments
and projects. You will also learn about this in Chapter 2 "Staying
Motivated, Organized, and On Track".
• Successful students have developed their critical thinking skills and
apply them in their studies. Chapter 3 "Thinking about Thought" gets
you started in this direction.
• Successful students have effective strategies for taking good notes in
class and using them. Chapter 4 "Listening, Taking Notes, and
Remembering" guides you through this learning process.
• Successful students have learned how to gain the most from their
assigned readings for classes. Chapter 5 "Reading to Learn" presents
guidelines for effective reading and taking notes to help you
understand and retain information.
• Successful students know how to prepare for and take tests
successfully. Chapter 6 "Preparing for and Taking Tests" tells you what
you need to know and presents tips for effective test taking.
• Successful students interact well with their instructors and fellow
students in and outside of class. Chapter 7 "Interacting with
Instructors and Classes" helps you gain these skills.
1.2 Different Worlds of Different Students
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
• Successful students have learned to write well for their classes, an
essential aspect of college education. Chapter 8 "Writing for Classes"
introduces key principles of effective college writing to get you started.
• Successful students develop social relationships that contribute to,
rather than detract from, their educational experiences. Chapter 9
"The Social World of College" will show you how to manage your social
• Successful students take control of their health with good habits that
help them be better students and feel less stress. Chapter 10 "Taking
Control of Your Health" can help you get started on good habits.
• Successful students have control over their finances. Because getting
into debt is a very common reason that students have to drop out of
college, it’s important to control expenditures and manage your
finances well, as we’ll see in Chapter 11 "Taking Control of Your
• Successful students are able to transition well from the world of
college into their future careers. You will learn these important
principles in Chapter 12 "Taking Control of Your Future" to carry
forward into your future.
• College students vary widely in terms of age, work experience before
college, cultural background, family, and other factors that may affect
how they learn.
• Traditional, young students just out of high school face a transition
involving new freedoms and new situations they may need to master in
order to succeed academically.
• Returning students who work and may also have family responsibilities
often have time issues and may feel out of place in the college
• Other student groups include commuters, first-generation students,
immigrant and international students, students with disabilities, and
others, each of whom may need to face additional issues to be successful.
• Regardless of individual differences, all successful students share a
number of traits, including a good attitude, effective time management
strategies, good studying and test-taking skills, and more.
1.2 Different Worlds of Different Students
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
1. Are you a “traditional” or “returning” student? List an important
advantage you have as a result of being in this classification:
2. Check off which traits in this list are true of successful students:
They know how to stay motivated.
They don’t need to schedule study periods because they
study at every available moment every day.
They know better than to try to think on their own.
They know how to speed-read so they don’t have to
underline or highlight in their textbooks.
They avoid talking with their instructors, so they can
remain anonymous.
They develop their writing skills.
They eat fast food so they have more time for studying.
They have few friends, because social relationships distract
one from academics.
They use several credit cards so they don’t have to worry
about finances until after graduation.
1.2 Different Worlds of Different Students
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
1.3 How You Learn
1. Understand and make effective use of the four steps of the learning
2. Describe the different learning styles of different college students and
recognize your own learning preferences.
3. Know how to benefit from your own learning style and how to expand
your learning skills with the techniques of other styles.
4. Take action to learn effectively when your learning style differs from
your instructor’s teaching style.
One of the first steps for becoming a successful student is to understand the
learning process itself. Certain characteristics of effective learning, including the
four-step learning cycle, are true of all people. At the same time, people have
different learning styles. Understanding these processes is important for
maximizing your own learning while in college.
The Learning Cycle: Four Steps to Learning
Adult learning is different from learning in primary and secondary school. In high
school, teachers often take much of the responsibility for how students
learn—encouraging learning with class discussions, repeating key material, creating
study guides, and looking over students’ shoulders to make sure no one falls behind.
In college, most of the responsibility for learning falls on the student. You’re free to
fail—or succeed—as you choose. This applies as well to how well you learn.
Learning an academic subject means really understanding it, being able to think
about it in meaningful ways and to apply that understanding in new situations. This
is very different from simply memorizing something and repeating it back on a test.
Academic learning occurs most effectively in a cycle of four steps:
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
Think first about the different situations in which you learn. Obviously you learn
during class, whether by listening to the instructor speak or in class discussions in
which you participate. But you also learn while reading your textbooks and other
materials outside of class. You learn when you talk with an instructor during office
hours. You learn by talking with other students informally in study groups. You
learn when you study your class notes before an exam. All of these different
learning situations involve the same four-step process.
Figure 1.4 The Learning Cycle
One student rolls out of bed a few minutes before class and dashes across campus
and grabs the last seat in the hall just as the instructor begins a lecture; it takes him
a few minutes to find the right notebook in his backpack, and then he can’t find a
pencil. He’s thinking about how he should’ve set his alarm a little earlier so he’d
have had time to grab a cup of coffee, since he’s having trouble waking up. Finally
he settles in his seat and starts listening, but now he can’t figure out what the
instructor is talking about. He starts jotting down phrases in his notes anyway,
thinking he’ll figure it out later.
1.3 How You Learn
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
Another student looks over his notes from the previous class and quickly glances
back at passages he’d highlighted in the textbook reading. He arrives at class a few
minutes early, sits up front where he can hear well, and has his notebook open and
pencil out. While waiting for the instructor to arrive, he talks to another student
about her ideas for the paper due next week in this class.
It’s obvious which of these students will learn more during today’s class lecture.
One has prepared and the other has not, and they will experience a huge difference
in their understanding of today’s topic. Preparing to learn is the first step for
learning. The same is true when you sit down to read your textbook, to study for an
exam, or to work on an out-of-class project. Partly you are putting yourself in the
right mind-set to learn. But when you review yesterday’s notes to prepare for
today’s class, you are also solidifying yesterday’s learning.
“Absorbing” refers to the actual taking in of new ideas, information, or experience.
This is what happens at the moment a student listens to a class lecture or reads a
textbook. In high school, this is sometimes the only learning step taken by some
students. They listened to what the instructor said and “regurgitated” it back on
the test. But this won’t work in college because learning now requires understanding
the topic, not just repeating facts or information. In coming chapters you’ll get tips
for improving in this step.
“Capturing” refers to taking notes. No matter how good your memory, you need to
take good notes in college simply because there is so much to learn. Just hearing
something once is seldom enough. You have to go back over the material again,
sometimes several times again, thinking about it and seeing how it all fits together.
The more effective your note-taking skills, the better your learning abilities. Take
notes also when reading your textbooks. You’ll learn methods for taking good notes
in later chapters.
9. An audio or video recording,
such as of a class lecture, made
available online; so named
because podcasts were
originally developed to be
downloaded and played on
1.3 How You Learn
The step of reviewing—your class notes, your textbook reading and notes, and any
other course materials possibly including recordings, online media, podcasts9, and
so on—is the next step for solidifying your learning and reaching a real
understanding of the topic. Reviewing is also a way to prepare for new information
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
and ideas. That’s why this is a learning cycle: the end of the process loops back to
the beginning as you prepare for additional learning.
Reviewing is also the step in which you discover whether you really understand the
material. If you do not understand something fully, you may need to reread a
section of the book, talk it over with a friend in the class, or go see your instructor.
What’s Your Learning Style?
Different people have different learning styles10. Style refers to a student’s specific
learning preferences and actions. One student may learn more effectively from
listening to the instructor. Another learns more effectively from reading the
textbook, while another student benefits most from charts, graphs, and images the
instructor presents during a lecture.
Learning style is important in college. Each different style, described later in more
detail, has certain advantages and disadvantages compared with other styles. None
is “right” or “wrong.” You can learn to use your own style more effectively.
College instructors also have different teaching styles11, which may or may not
match up well with your learning style. Although you may personally learn best
from a certain style of teaching, you cannot expect that your instructors will use
exactly the style that is best for you. Therefore it is important to know how to adapt
to teaching styles used in college.
Different systems have been used to describe the different ways in which people
learn. Some describe the differences between how extroverts (outgoing, gregarious,
social people) and introverts (quiet, private, contemplative people) learn. Some
divide people into “thinkers” and “feelers.” A popular theory of different learning
styles is Howard Gardner’s “multiple intelligences,” based on eight different types
of intelligence:
10. A person’s preferred approach
to or way of learning most
11. The preferred methods or
techniques an instructor uses
to teach students, often based
on personal preferences,
individual skills, and the norms
of the academic discipline.
12. Referring to the sensation of
body movement or position.
1.3 How You Learn
Verbal (prefers words)
Logical (prefers math and logical problem solving)
Visual (prefers images and spatial relationships)
Kinesthetic12 (prefers body movements and doing)
Rhythmic (prefers music, rhymes)
Interpersonal (prefers group work)
Intrapersonal (prefers introspection and independence)
Naturalist (prefers nature, natural categories)
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
The multiple intelligences approach recognizes that different people have different
ways, or combinations of ways, of relating to the world.
Another approach to learning styles is called the VARK approach, which focuses on
learning through different senses (Visual, Aural, Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic):
Visual learners prefer images, charts, and the like.
Aural learners learn better by listening.
Reading/writing learners learn better through written language.
Kinesthetic learners learn through doing, practicing, and acting.
You can take a free, self-scored online assessment of your VARK learning style at
There are still more systems used by educators to describe the various ways in
which people learn. All of these systems can help you learn more about how you as
an individual person and college student learn best. You can use the online
assessment in the “Outside the Book” section at the end of this chapter to learn
more about your style.
Just knowing your style, however, doesn’t automatically provide a solution for how
to do your best in your college courses. For example, although you may be a
kinesthetic learner, you’ll likely still have textbook reading assignments (verbal
learning) as well as lecture classes (listening). All students need to adapt to other
ways of learning.
The following sections look at the key ways in which learning occurs in college
classes and offer some suggestions about how to adapt your strengths for success.
Reading skills are critically important in college. Most classes involve reading
assignments. Although many instructors may cover some of the textbook’s content
in lectures or class discussions, students cannot skip the reading assignments and
expect to do well.
If your personal learning style is verbal and independent—that is, if you learn well
by sitting alone and reading—then you will likely not have difficulty with your
college reading. Here are some tips to help maximize your learning:
1.3 How You Learn
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
• Underline and highlight key ideas when reading.
• Take good notes on your reading, using your own words.
• Write descriptions that summarize information presented in nonverbal
modes, such as through charts and graphs.
• Do all optional and supplemental readings.
• Take good notes in class, as you may remember more from your
written words than from the instructor’s spoken words.
• If a class involves significant nonreading learning, such as learning
hands-on physical processes, study with other students who are
kinesthetic or “doing” learners.
If you have a different learning style, then you may need to give more attention to
your reading skills. Always allow plenty of time for reading assignments—rushing
makes it harder to understand what you are reading. Do your reading at times of
the day when you are most alert. Find a quiet, comfortable place conducive to
Try also to maximize your learning through your personal style. If you learn better
by listening, for example, sit up front in lecture classes where you can see and hear
the instructor better. If needed, ask if you can tape-record an instructor’s lectures
and then listen again at a convenient time, such as when commuting to class or
work. If you are more of a visual learner, sit in class where you can see
PowerPoint13 slides and other visual presentations most clearly. Use a visual
approach in your class notes, as described in Chapter 4 "Listening, Taking Notes,
and Remembering". Check out whether video podcasts may be available for
reviewing lectures. Try to relate all of these visual images to the textbook’s content
when you’re reading an assignment. In addition, pay special attention to
illustrations and diagrams in the book, which will further help you understand the
written ideas and information. If you are more of an interpersonal learner, form a
study group with other students and talk with others about the course topics. Take
advantage of your instructors’ office hours to help clarify your understanding after
reading assignments.
13. The name of a specific software
presentation program (within
Microsoft Office) used in many
educational and business
settings to produce and deliver
“slides” containing text and
graphics to a group via a
projected computer screen.
1.3 How You Learn
Listening skills are as important in college as reading skills. College students are
expected to listen to their instructors in class and remember and understand what
is said. In discussion classes, listening is important also for participating well in
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
If your personal learning style favors listening, then you
may already be good at understanding class lectures.
Chapter 4 "Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering"
provides tips to help you pay close attention, take good
notes, and recall the information and ideas you have
heard. Here are some more tips:
• Sit where you can best hear the instructor,
away from other distractions.
• Study with other students and listen to
what they say about the course material.
Hearing them talk from their class notes
may be more helpful than reviewing your
own written notes.
• Record lectures and listen to them again
later when reviewing material before a test.
• When studying, read your notes aloud.
Review previous tests by reading the
questions aloud and speaking your
answers. If a section in your textbook
seems confusing, read it aloud.
• Talk with your instructor if you feel you are
not understanding course readings.
• Use rhymes or acronyms14 to recall verbal
information. For more information, see
Chapter 4 "Listening, Taking Notes, and
• Explore supplemental learning aids, such as
audio and video podcasts (even from other
colleges and universities) on the course’s
subject matter.
Figure 1.5
Many college classes involve
© Thinkstock
Figure 1.6
Instructors often use visual aids
to help explain concepts and
ideas. This helps students with
visual learning styles.
© Thinkstock
A “seeing” learner learns more effectively through
seeing than through reading or listening. Some college
courses include demonstrations and physical processes
that can be observed. If you are a visual learner, work
on developing your reading and listening skills, too, because you will need to learn
in these ways as well. Here are some tips to improve learning related to seeing:
14. A word formed from the initial
letters of words in a phrase or
series of words, such as “USA”
for “United States of America.”
1.3 How You Learn
• Pay special attention in class to visual presentations, such as charts,
diagrams, and images.
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
• Take lecture notes using a visual approach. Do the same when taking
notes on class readings. Use diagrams, different colors, lists, and
sketches to help you remember. For more information, see Chapter 4
"Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering".
• Use video podcasts or other visual aids for reviewing lectures.
• Pay special attention to your textbooks’ illustrations and diagrams.
• If your instructor or textbook uses few visuals to help you understand
and recall information and ideas, try to imagine how you would
present this information visually to others if you were giving a class
presentation. In your notes, create sketches for a PowerPoint
slideshow capturing the highlights of the material.
• Study with other students who may learn better by reading or
listening, and watch how they explain the material.
People who learn best by doing are often attracted to careers with a strong physical
or hands-on component, which can vary from athletics to engineering. But these
students may need to use other learning skills as well. Here are some tips to help
maximize your learning related to doing:
• Try to engage all your senses when learning. Even when reading about
something, try to imagine what it would feel like if you touched it, how
it might smell, how you could physically manipulate it, and so forth.
• Think about how you yourself would teach the topic you are presently
learning. What visuals could you make to demonstrate the idea or
information? Imagine a class lecture as a train of boxcars and think
about what things you would put in those cars to represent the lecture
• When it becomes difficult to concentrate when reading while sitting in
a quiet place, get up and move around while studying; make gestures
as you read aloud.
• Use your hands to create a range of study aids rather than just taking
notes: make charts, posters, flash cards, and so on.
• When taking notes, sketch familiar shapes around words and phrases
to help you remember them. Try to associate abstract ideas with
concrete examples.
• The act of writing—handwriting more than typing at a keyboard—may
increase retention; write key things several times.
• Study with other students who may learn better by reading or
1.3 How You Learn
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
Feeling learners focus on the emotional side of information and learn through
personal connections. Too often they may feel that a college textbook or a class is
“dry” or “boring” if it focuses exclusively on written information. In addition to
improving their reading and listening skills, students with this style can enrich
their learning by focusing on what they and others feel about the information and
ideas being learned. Here are some tips to help maximize your learning related to
• Try to establish an emotional connection with the topic you are
learning. In a history class, for example, imagine yourself as someone
living in the period you are studying: what would you feel about the
forces at work in your life? In a science class, think about what the
implications of a particular scientific principle or discovery might
mean for you as a person or how you yourself might have felt if you
had been the scientist making that discovery.
• Talk with your instructor during office hours. Express your enthusiasm
and share your feelings about the subject. Even instructors who may
seem “dry” in a lecture class often share their feelings toward their
subject in conversation.
• Do supplemental reading about the people involved in a subject you’re
studying. For example, reading an online biographical sketch of a
historical figure, scientist, or theorist may open your eyes to a side of
the subject you hadn’t seen before and increase your learning.
• Study with other students who may learn better by reading or
listening. Talk with them in a personal way about what the material
means to them. Try teaching them about the topic while explaining
your feelings about it.
• Also try the strategies listed for the “doing” learning style.
Your Style, Your Instructor’s Style
Many college classes tend to focus on certain learning styles. Instructors in large
lecture classes, for example, generally emphasize listening carefully and reading
well. Don’t worry, however, if these are not your particular strengths, for much of
this book focuses on learning study skills and other college skills related to these
activities. Take responsibility for your own learning, rather than expecting the
instructor to help you through the subject in your own personal way. For example,
if you are a visual learner but your instructor simply stands at a podium and
lectures, then provide your own visual stimulation by sketching concept maps in
your notes or by visualizing how information being presented might look in a pie
1.3 How You Learn
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
chart or graph. For more information, see Chapter 4 "Listening, Taking Notes, and
As you move further into your college curriculum, you will likely have more small
classes with class discussions, demonstrations, group presentations, and other
learning activities. Once you are in classes closely related to a career path that
interests you, you will find your personal style more relevant to the kinds of
material you will be learning.
Much learning in college also comes from interactions with others, who often have
different learning styles. Be open to interacting with other students and instructors
who are different from you, and you will find yourself learning in ways that may be
new to you.
Finally, if a genuine mismatch is occurring between your learning style and your
instructor’s teaching style to the extent that you may not succeed in a course, talk
to your instructor privately during office hours. You can explain how you best learn
and ask for suggestions about other resources that may help you.
• People learn through a four-step process, and you can maximize your
learning by conscientiously applying all steps throughout college.
• The first step of the learning cycle is to prepare in advance for classes,
reading, tests, and other learning.
• The second step is to absorb information and ideas effectively during
classes, reading, and other learning experiences.
• The third step, capturing, typically involves taking notes on the learning
experience to increase understanding and retention.
• The fourth step is to review your notes, to help solidify the learning and
to prepare for repeating the cycle in the next class or reading
• People have natural learning preferences, affecting how they learn best,
such as learning by reading, by listening, by seeing, by doing, and by
• Students should learn how to use their own learning style to their best
advantage while also becoming flexible and working to develop other
learning styles.
• Because your learning style may not match your instructor’s teaching
style, you need to be flexible and work to develop new learning
strategies essential for college success.
1.3 How You Learn
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
1. Number each the following actions to put them in the correct
order of the four steps of the learning cycle:
◦ ___ Review your class notes to make sure you understand.
◦ ___ Listen carefully to what your instructor says.
◦ ___ Prepare for today’s class by looking over your notes on
the reading you did for today.
◦ ___ Take effective notes.
2. How would you describe your personal learning style?
Name an activity from which you generally learn very well.
Name a type of learning experience you may have difficulty with.
For the activity above, list at least two strategies you can use to
improve your learning effectiveness when in that situation next
3. If you experience a situation in which your personal learning
style seems to clash hopelessly with an instructor’s teaching
style, what is your best course of action?
1.3 How You Learn
Ask the instructor to teach in a different way.
Drop the class.
Adapt your style or study with other students.
Complain to the dean.
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
1.4 What Is College, Really?
1. Describe differences between large and small college classes and discuss
the implications for learning.
2. Understand courses within your own college program: core courses,
electives, and major courses.
3. Describe different skills needed for online courses.
4. Know how to learn your college’s policies and understand their
5. Know what resources your college makes available to students and how
to access them.
Big Classes, Small Classes
While most high school classes are fairly small, many college classes are large—up
to several hundred students in a large lecture class. Other classes you may take will
be as small as high school classes. In large lecture classes you may feel totally
anonymous—even invisible—in a very large class. This feeling can get some
students in trouble, however. Here are some common mistaken assumptions and
attitudes about large classes:
• The instructor won’t notice me sitting there, so I can check e-mail or
read for a different class if I get bored.
• The instructor doesn’t know my name or recognize me, so I don’t even
need to go to class as long as I can borrow someone’s notes to find out
what happens.
• I hate listening to lectures, so I might as well think about something
else because I’m not going to learn anything this way anyway.
These comments all share the same flawed attitude about college: it’s up to the
instructor to teach in an entertaining way if I am to learn at all—and it’s actually
the college’s or instructor’s fault that I’m stuck in this large class, so they’re to
blame if I think about or do other things. But remember, in college, you take
responsibility for your own learning. Sure, a student is free to try to sleep in a lecture
class, or not attend the class at all—the same way a student is “free” to fail any class
he or she chooses!
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
If you dislike large lecture classes but can’t avoid them,
the best solution is to learn how to learn in such a
situation. Later chapters will give you tips for improving
this experience. Just remember that it’s up to you to
stay actively engaged in your own learning while in
college—it’s not the instructor’s job to entertain you
enough to “make” you learn.
Figure 1.7
There is one thing you need to know right away. Even in
In a lecture class, avoid the
a lecture hall holding three hundred students, your
temptation to cruise the Web or
instructors do know who you are. They may not know
engage in other activities that
your name right away or even by the end of the term,
will distract you from paying
but they see you sitting there, doing whatever you are
doing, looking wherever you are looking—and will form
a distinct impression of you. Instructors do have
© Thinkstock
academic integrity and won’t lower your grade on an
exam because you slept once in class, but the
impression you make just might affect how far
instructors go out of their way to offer a helping hand.
Interacting with instructors is a crucial part of education—and the primary way
students learn. Successful interaction begins with good communication and mutual
respect. If you want your instructors to respect you, then you need to show respect
for them and their classes as well.
Core Courses, Electives, Majors, and Credits
Every college has its own course requirements for different programs and degrees.
This information is available in a printed course catalog or online. While academic
advisors are generally assigned to students to help them plot their path through
college and take the most appropriate courses, you should also take this
responsibility yourself to ensure you are registering for courses that fit well into
your plan for a program completion or degree. In general there are three types of
15. An instructor’s or student’s
honesty and responsibility
related to scholarship and
academic interpersonal
1.4 What Is College, Really?
1. Core courses, sometimes called “general education requirements,”
involve a range of courses from which you can choose to meet this
general requirement. You may need to take one or more English
classes and possibly math or foreign language requirements. You will
need a certain number of credits or course hours in certain types of
core courses, but you can often choose among various specific courses
for how you meet these requirements.
2. Required courses in your major are determined by individual
academic departments. Whether you choose to major in English, math,
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
engineering, history, a health field, chemistry, business, or any other
field, your individual department sets specific required courses you
must take and gives you options for a required additional number of
credits in the department. You may not need to declare a major for a
while, but this is something you can start thinking about now.
3. Electives are courses you choose freely to complete the total number
of college credits needed for your program or degree. How many
electives you may take, how they “count” toward your total, and what
kinds of courses are acceptable as electives all vary considerably
among different schools and programs.
Most important is that you understand what courses you need and how each
counts. Study the college catalog carefully and be sure to talk things over fully with
your advisor. Don’t just sign up for courses that sound interesting—you might end
up taking courses that don’t count toward your degree at all.
In addition, each term you may have to choose how many courses or hours to take.
Colleges have rules about the maximum number of hours allowed for full-time
students, but this maximum may in fact be more than you are prepared to
manage—especially if you work or have other responsibilities. Taking a light course
load, while allowing more time for studying and other activities, could add up over
time and result in an extra full year of college (or more!)—at significant additional
expense. Part-time students often face decisions based more on time issues.
Everyone’s situation is unique, however, and all students should talk this issue over
with their advisor each year or term.
Online Courses
Most colleges now offer some online courses or regular courses with an online16
component. You experience an online course via a computer rather than a
classroom. Many different variations exist, but all online courses share certain
characteristics, such as working independently and communicating with the
instructor (and sometimes other students) primarily through written computer
messages. If you have never taken an online course, carefully consider what’s
involved to ensure you will succeed in the course.
16. Referring to a computer
connected to other computers,
typically through the Internet;
online education, for example,
may occur entirely through the
1.4 What Is College, Really?
• You need to own or have frequent access to a recent model of
computer with a high-speed Internet connection.
• Without the set hours of a class, you need to be self-motivating to
schedule your time to participate regularly.
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
• Without an instructor or other students in the room, you need to be
able to pay attention effectively to the computer screen. Learning on a
computer is not as simple as passively watching television! Take notes.
• Without reminders in class and peer pressure from other students,
you’ll need to take responsibility to complete all assignments and
papers on time.
• Since your instructor will evaluate you primarily through your writing,
you need good writing skills for an online course. If you believe you
need to improve your writing skills, put off taking an online course
until you feel better prepared.
• You must take the initiative to ask questions if you don’t understand
• You may need to be creative to find other ways to interact with other
students in the course. You could form a study group and get together
regularly in person with other students in the same course.
If you feel you are ready to take on these responsibilities
and are attracted to the flexibility of an online course
and the freedom to schedule your time in it, see what
your college has available.
Figure 1.8
Class Attendance and Promptness
In some classes at some colleges, attendance is required
and absences can affect one’s grade in the course. But
even when attendance is not required, missing classes
will inevitably affect your grade as well. You’re not
learning if you’re not there. Reading another student’s
notes is not the same.
Arriving to class promptly is also important. Walking
into a class that has already begun is rude to the
instructor (remember what we said earlier about the
impression you may be making) and to other students. A
mature student respects the instructor and other
students and in turn receives respect back.
Online courses are increasingly
common at colleges and require
independent learning.
© Thinkstock
College Policies
A college campus is almost like a small town—or country—unto itself. The campus
has its own police force, its own government, its own stores, its own ID cards, its
own parking rules, and so on. Colleges also have their own policies regarding many
1.4 What Is College, Really?
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
types of activities and behaviors. Students who do not understand the rules can
sometimes find themselves in trouble.
The most important academic policy is academic honesty17. Cheating is taken very
seriously. Some high school students may have only received a slap on the wrist if
caught looking at another student’s paper during a test or turning in a paper
containing sentences or paragraphs found online or purchased from a “term-paper
mill.” In many colleges, academic dishonesty like this may result in automatic
failure of the course—or even expulsion from college. The principle of academic
honesty is simple: every student must do his or her own work. If you have any
doubt of what this means for a paper you are writing, a project you are doing with
other students, or anything else, check the college Web site for its policy statements
or talk with your instructor.
Colleges also have policies about alcohol and drug use, sexual harassment, hazing,
hate crimes, and other potential problems. Residence halls have policies about noise
limits, visitors, hours, structural and cosmetic alterations of university property,
and so on. The college registrar has policies about course add and drop dates,
payment schedules and refunds, and the like. Such policies are designed to ensure
that all students have the same right to a quality education—one not unfairly
interrupted by the actions of others. You can find these policies on the college Web
site or in the catalog.
College Resources
To be successful in college, you need to be fully informed and make wise decisions
about the courses you register for, college policies, and additional resources. Always
remember that your college wants you to succeed. That means that if you are having
any difficulties or have any questions whose answers you are unsure about, there
are college resources available to help you get assistance or find answers. This is
true of both academic and personal issues that could potentially disrupt your
college experience. Never hesitate to go looking for help or information—but realize
that usually you have to take the first step.
17. Fundamental principle that a
student does his or her own
work and does not interfere
with the honest work of others;
violations of academic honesty
include cheating, plagiarism,
fabrication of false authorities,
inappropriate assistance from
others, acting to prevent
others from accomplishing
their own work, and so on.
1.4 What Is College, Really?
The college catalog has already been mentioned as a great source of many kinds of
information. You should have an updated catalog every year or know where to find
it online.
The college’s Web site is the second place to look for help. Students are often
surprised to see how much information is available online, including information
about college programs, offices, special assistance programs, and so on, as well as
helpful information such as studying tips, personal health, financial help, and other
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
resources. Take some time to explore your college’s Web site and learn what is
available—this could save you a lot of time in the future if you experience any
In addition, many colleges have offices or individuals that can help in a variety of
ways. Following are some of the resources your college may have. Learn more about
your college’s resources online or by visiting the office of student services or the
dean of students.
• Academic advising office. This office helps you choose courses and
plan your program or degree. You should have a personal meeting at
least once every term.
• Counseling office. This office helps with personal problems, including
health, stress management, interpersonal issues, and so on.
• Financial aid office. If you are presently receiving financial aid or may
qualify for assistance, you should know this office well.
• Tutoring or skill centers. The title of this resource varies among
colleges, but most have special places where students can go for
additional help for their courses. There may be a separate math center,
writing center, or general study skills center.
• Computer lab. Before almost all students became skilled in computer
use and had their own computers, colleges built labs where students
could use campus computers and receive training or help resolving
technical problems. Many campuses still maintain computer centers to
assist students with technical issues.
• Student health clinic. In addition to providing some basic medical
care and making referrals, most college student health centers also
help with issues such as diet and exercise counseling, birth control
services, and preventive health care.
• Career guidance or placement office. This center can help you find a
student job or internship, plan for your career after graduation, and
receive career counseling.
1.4 What Is College, Really?
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
• Office for students with disabilities. This
office may provide various services to help
Figure 1.9
students with disabilities adapt within the
college environment.
• Housing office. This office not only
controls campus residential housing but
often assists students to find off-campus
private accommodations.
• Diversity office. This office promotes
cultural awareness on campus, runs special
programs, and assists diverse students with
adjusting to campus culture.
• Office of student affairs or student
organizations. Participating in a group of
like-minded students often supports
academic success.
Your college has many resources
• Athletic center. Most colleges have
and many professionals available
exercise equipment, pools, courts and
to help you with any issue that
tracks, and other resources open to all
may affect your success as a
students. Take advantage of this to improve student.
or maintain your personal health, which
promotes academic success.
© Thinkstock
• Other specialized offices for student
populations. These may include an office
supporting students who speak English as a
second language, adult students returning
to college, international students, religious students, students with
children (possibly a child-care center), veterans of the armed services,
students preparing for certain types of careers, and so on.
• Your instructors. It never hurts to ask a friendly instructor if he or
she knows of any additional college resources you haven’t yet
discovered. There may be a brand new program on campus, or a
certain department may offer a service not widely promoted through
the college Web site.
Everyone needs help at some time—you should never feel embarrassed or ashamed
to seek help. Remember that a part of your tuition and fees are going to these
offices, and you have every right to take advantage of them.
1.4 What Is College, Really?
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
• Even in large lecture classes, attendance is important, along with
forming a good impression and paying attention.
• Study the college catalog and talk with your advisor to ensure you
understand the role of core classes, electives, and major courses in your
program or degree requirements.
• Online courses offer another option in many colleges but require a
certain preparedness and a heightened sense of responsibility.
• To avoid inadvertently finding yourself in trouble, know your college’s
policies for academic issues and campus behavior.
• Taking advantage of the many resources your college offers to help you
with a wide range of academic and personal matters is essential for
success in college.
1.4 What Is College, Really?
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
1. For each of the following statements, circle T for true or F for
If your instructor in a large lecture class is boring, there’s
T F nothing you can do except to try to stay awake and hope
you never have him or her for another class.
In a large lecture hall, if you sit near the back and
T F pretend to listen, you can write e-mails or send text
messages without your instructor noticing.
2. List three things a college student should be good at in order to
succeed in an online course.
3. Use your imagination and describe three different actions that
would violate of your college’s academic honesty policy.
4. Where on campus would you first go for help choosing your
courses for next term?
For help with your math class?
1.4 What Is College, Really?
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
For a problem coping with a lot of stress?
To learn about your options for student loans?
To find a better apartment?
1.4 What Is College, Really?
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
1.5 Let’s Talk about Success
1. Understand that success in college means much more in the long term
than simply passing or getting good grades.
2. Describe situations in which grades do matter—and why it’s important
to do as well as you can.
3. Describe why it is so important to be successful in your first year of
4. List steps you can begin taking immediately to ensure your success.
Success in college is the theme of this book—and you’ll be learning more about
everything involved in success in the following chapters. Let’s first define what
success really means so that you can get started, right now, on the right foot.
Understand first that no book can “make” you be successful—it can only offer the
tools for you to use if you want. What are you thinking right now as you read these
words? Are you reading this right now only because you have to, because it is
assigned reading in a course you have to take—and your mind keeps drifting to
other things because you’re feeling bored? Or are you interested because you’ve
decided you want to succeed in college?
We hope it’s the latter, that you’re feeling motivated—and excited, too—to do a
great job in college. But even if you aren’t much concerned at present about these
issues, we hope you’ll keep reading and do some thinking about why you’re in
college and how to get motivated to do well.
“Success” and “Failure”
So what does “success” actually mean in college? Good grades? That’s what many
students would say—at least toward the beginning of their time in college.
When you ask people about their college experience a few years later, grades are
seldom one of the first things mentioned. College graduates reflecting back
typically emphasize the following:
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
• The complete college experience (often described as “the best years of
my life”)
• Exploring many different subjects and discovering one’s own interests
• Meeting a lot of interesting people, learning about different ways to
• Learning how to make decisions and solve problems that are now
related to a career
• Gaining the skills needed to get the job—and life—one desires
When you are achieving what you want in life and when you are happy and
challenged and feel you are living life to its fullest and contributing to the world,
then you likely feel successful. When you reach this point, your grades in college
are about the last thing you’ll think of.
This is not to say that grades don’t matter—just that getting good grades is not the
ultimate goal of college or the best way to define personal success while in college.
Five or ten years from now, no one is going to care much about what grade you got
in freshman English or Biology 101. A successful college experience does include
acceptable grades, of course, but in the end—in your long-range goals—grades are
only one component of a larger picture.
How Much Do Grades Matter?
As you begin your college experience, it’s good to think about your attitude toward
grades, since grades often motivate students to study and do well on assignments.
Valuing grades too highly, or not highly enough, can cause problems. A student
who is determined to get only the highest grades can easily be frustrated by
difficult college classes. Expectations that are too high may lead to
disappointment—possibly depression or anxiety—and may become
counterproductive. At the other extreme, a student who is too relaxed about
grades, who is content simply with passing courses, may not be motivated to study
enough even to pass—and may be at risk for failing courses.
18. A numerical score representing
the average of a student’s
grades in all courses during a
term and cumulatively through
the student’s duration at the
particular high school or
1.5 Let’s Talk about Success
What is a good attitude to have toward grades? The answer to that depends in part
on how grades do matter generally—and specifically in your own situation. Here are
some ways grades clearly do matter:
• At most colleges, all students must maintain a certain grade point
average (GPA)18 to be allowed to continue taking courses and to
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
• Financial aid and scholarship recipients must maintain a certain grade
in all courses, or a minimum GPA overall, to continue receiving their
financial award.
• In some programs, the grade in certain courses must be higher than
simply passing in order to count toward the program or major.
After graduation, it may be enough in some careers just to have completed the
program or degree. But in most situations, how well one did in college may still
affect one’s life. Employers often ask how well you did in college (new graduates at
least—this becomes less important after one has gained more job experience).
Students who are proud of their grades usually include their GPA on their résumés.
Students with a low GPA may avoid including it on their resume, but employers may
ask on the company’s application form or in an interview (and being caught in a lie
can lead to being fired). An employer who asks for a college transcript will see all
your grades, not just the overall GPA.
In addition to the importance for jobs, grades matter if you plan to continue to
graduate school19, professional school20, or other educational programs—all of
which require your transcript.
Certainly grades are not the only way people are judged, but along with all forms of
experience (work, volunteer, internship, hobbies) and personal qualities and the
recommendations of others, they are an important consideration. After all, an
employer may think, if this person goofed off so much in college that he got low
grades, how can I expect him not to goof off on the job?
19. A division of a university with
masters or doctorate degree
programs, typically first
requiring completion of a
bachelor’s degree.
20. An academic program to
prepare for certain professions
after completion of a
bachelor’s degree, such as
medical school, law school,
business school, and others.
1.5 Let’s Talk about Success
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
How to Calculate Your GPA
Because of various requirements for maintaining a GPA at a certain level, you
may need to know how to calculate your GPA before grades come out at the end
of the term. The math is not difficult, but you need to consider both the grade
in every course and the number of credit hours for that course in order to
calculate the overall GPA. Here is how you would do the calculation in the
traditional four-point scale. First, translate each letter grade to a numerical
Then multiply each grade’s numerical score by the number of units or hours for
that course:
B in Math 101 × 5 hours = 3 × 5 = 15
B in English 4 × 3 hours = 3 × 3 = 9
C in Humanities 1 × 5 hours = 2 × 5 = 10
A in College Success × 3 hours = 4 × 3 = 12
Then add together those numbers for each course:
15 + 9 + 10 + 12 = 46.
Then divide that total by the total number of credit hours:
46 / 16 = 2.87 = GPA of 2.87.
Consult your college’s policies regarding the numeric weighting of + and −
1.5 Let’s Talk about Success
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
The best attitude to take toward grades in college is simply to do the best you can
do. You don’t need to kill yourself, but if you’re not going to make an effort then
there’s not much reason to be there in the first place. Almost everything in this
book—from time management to study skills to social skills and staying
healthy—will contribute to your overall success and, yes, to getting better grades.
If you have special concerns about grades, such as feeling unprepared in certain
classes and at risk of failing, talk with your academic advisor. If a class requires
more preparation than you have from past courses and experience, you might be
urged to drop that class and take another—or to seek extra help. Your advisor can
help you work through any individual issues related to doing well and getting the
best grade you can.
1.5 Let’s Talk about Success
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
Can You Challenge a Grade?
Yes and no. College instructors are very careful about how they assign grades,
which are based on clear-cut standards often stated in the course syllabus. The
likelihood of an instructor changing your grade if you challenge it is very low.
On the other hand, we’re all human—mistakes can occur, and if you truly feel a
test or other score was miscalculated, you can ask your instructor to review the
grade. Just be sure to be polite and respectful.
Most situations in which students want to challenge a grade, however, result
from a misunderstanding regarding the expectations of the grading scale or
standards used. Students may simply feel they deserve a higher grade because
they think they understand the material well or spent a lot of time studying or
doing the assignment. The instructor’s grade, however, is based on your actual
responses on a test, a paper or other assignment. The instructor is grading not
what he or she thinks is in your head, but what you actually wrote down.
If you are concerned that your grade does not accurately reflect your
understanding or effort, you should still talk with your instructor—but your
goal should be not to argue for a grade change but to gain a better
understanding of the course’s expectations so that you’ll do better next time.
Instructors do respect students who want to improve. Visit the instructor
during office hours or ask for an appointment and prepare questions ahead of
time to help you better understand how your performance can improve and
better indicate how well you understand the material.
A major aspect of college for some students is learning how to accept criticism.
Your college instructors hold you to high standards and expect you to have the
maturity to understand that a lower grade is not a personal attack on you and
not a statement that you’re not smart enough to do the work. Since none of us
is perfect, we all can improve in almost everything we do—and the first step in
that direction is accepting evaluation of our work. If you receive a grade lower
than you think you have earned, take the responsibility to learn what you need
to do to earn a higher grade next time.
Succeeding in Your First Year
The first year of college is almost every student’s most crucial time. Statistics show
a much higher drop-out rate in the first year than thereafter. Why? Because for
1.5 Let’s Talk about Success
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
many students, adjusting to college is not easy. Students wrestle with managing
their time, their freedom, and their other commitments to family, friends, and
work. It’s important to recognize that it may not be easy for you.
On the other hand, when you do succeed in your first year, the odds are very good
that you’ll continue to succeed and will complete your program or degree.
Are you ready? Remember that everything in this book will help you succeed in
your first year. Motivation and a positive attitude are the keys to getting off to a
running start. The next section lists some things you can do to start right now,
today, to ensure your success.
Getting Started on the Right Foot Right Now
• Make an appointment to talk with your academic advisor if you have
any doubt about the courses you have already enrolled in or about the
direction you’re taking. Start examining how you spend your time and
ensure you make enough time to keep up with your courses.
• Check for tutoring assistance if you feel you may need it and make an
appointment or schedule time to visit tutoring centers on your college
campus to see what help you can get if needed.
• Like yourself. You’ve come a long way to reach this point, you have
succeeded in taking this first step toward meeting your college goal,
and you are fully capable of succeeding the rest of the way. Avoid the
trap of feeling down on yourself if you’re struggling with any classes.
• Pay attention to your learning style and your instructors’ teaching
styles. Begin immediately applying the guidelines discussed earlier for
situations in which you do not feel you are learning effectively.
• Plan ahead. Check your syllabus for each class and highlight the dates
of major assignments and tests. Write on your calendar the important
dates coming up.
• Look around your classroom and plan to introduce yourself right away
to one or two other students. Talking with other students is the first
step in forming study groups that will help you succeed.
1.5 Let’s Talk about Success
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
• Introduce yourself to your instructors, if
you haven’t already. In a large lecture, go
Figure 1.10
up to the instructor after class and ask a
question about anything in the lecture or
about an upcoming assignment.
• Participate in your classes. If you’re
normally a quiet person who prefers to
observe others asking questions or joining
class discussions, you need to take the first
step toward becoming a participating
Start getting to know other
student—another characteristic of the
students right away by talking
before or after class. This is often
successful student. Find something of
particular interest to you and write down a a good way to start a study
question for the instructor. Then raise your
hand at the right time and ask. You’ll find
© Thinkstock
it a lot easier than you may think!
• Vow to pay more attention to how you
spend your money. Some students have to
drop out because they get into debt.
• Take good care of your body. Good health makes you a better student.
Vow to avoid junk food, to get enough sleep, and to move around more.
When you’re done reading this chapter, take a walk!
Excellent! Start doing these few things, and already you’ll be a step or two
ahead—and on your way to a successful first year!
• While success in college involves many benefits and experiences, grades
remain one important measure of success.
• Acceptable grades are important for continuing your college program
and financial aid, for graduate school or other future educational
opportunities, and for obtaining a good job in most careers.
• Succeeding is especially important in one’s first year of college because
this is the most critical period to avoid the factors that lead to many
students dropping out.
• You can launch yourself on a path of success immediately by taking the
first steps for help with studies, developing a positive attitude, taking
advantage of your personal learning style, starting to practice time
management, meeting your instructors and other students,
participating actively in your classes, and taking control of your
personal health and finances.
1.5 Let’s Talk about Success
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
1. In your college or your specific program, do you need to
maintain a minimum GPA in order to continue in the program?
(If you don’t know, check your college catalog or Web site.) What
is that minimum GPA?
What was your cumulative GPA in high school?
Because college classes are usually more difficult than high
school classes, figure—purely as a starting point—that with the
same effort, your college GPA could be a full point (or more)
lower than your high school GPA. Does that give you any cause
for concern? If so, what do you think you should work on most to
ensure you succeed in college?
2. For each of the following statements about success in college,
circle T for true or F for false:
See your academic advisor only when it’s time to register
for courses or when the college requires you to.
The best way to get help with a class is to pick whoever
T F looks like the smartest student in class and offer to pay
that person for tutoring.
A positive attitude about yourself as a college student
T F helps you stay motivated to work on succeeding in your
Understanding one’s own learning style makes it easier
to understand how to apply one’s strengths when
studying and to overcome obstacles to learning by
adapting in other ways.
1.5 Let’s Talk about Success
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
Meeting other students in your classes is important early
T F on because you can skip classes once you arrange to
borrow other people’s notes.
1.5 Let’s Talk about Success
Participating in class is a key to being successful in that
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
1.6 Chapter Activities
Chapter Takeaways
• The first year of college is the most critical. Make the commitment to overcome any obstacles to a
successful transition and stay committed and motivated to succeed.
• Although college students differ in many ways, all successful students share certain common traits,
including a positive attitude, effective critical thinking skills, good time management skills,
effective study skills, interactions with instructors and other students, and good habits for personal
health and financial stability.
• You can learn to maximize your learning by attending to each step of the learning process:
preparing, absorbing, capturing, and reviewing.
• It is important to understand your personal learning style and use it well in classes, while also
making the effort to learn in new ways and work with other students for a more effective overall
learning experience.
• Working with your academic advisor and taking advantage of the many resources available at your
college are key actions to ensure success.
• Understanding the larger characteristics of college success leads to a richer college experience,
supplementing the value of good grades.
• While it may take a few weeks to develop all the skills needed for success in college, there are many
steps you can begin taking today to get moving in the right direction.
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
Check off every action on the following list that you plan to use in your first
year of college to help you be as successful as you can be.
Approach classes and homework exactly as I did in high school
View college as a vital experience preparing me for the rest of my life
Decide immediately what I want to major in and never change my mind
as I move forward through my courses
Manage my time well so that I have enough time to study and start on
assignments well ahead of the due dates
Attend classes when I think something important will be said and I can’t
find someone to borrow class notes from
Adopt a positive attitude and work on staying motivated to succeed
Give up everything else in life while in college
Talk to my advisor so that I take only those classes where the teacher’s
style matches my own learning style
Form study groups with other students different from me so I can take
advantage of how they learn as well
Be sure to tell all my instructors what I think they want to hear, not
what I might really think
Sit in the back row where I won’t be noticed or get asked a question I
might not be able to answer
Make good friendships and interact with a wide range of people on
Pay very close attention in class so that I don’t have to be concerned
with reviewing the course material later
Prepare for each class every day
If I read too slowly, look for a CliffsNotes summary of the reading so I
don’t lose time reading whole textbook chapters
Talk to other students to find out what classes and instructors are
easiest to keep my GPA up
Take as many online courses as I can so that I can sleep late and get help
from friends doing online assignments
1.6 Chapter Activities
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
To save time, go first to a friendly instructor to learn about any
resources the college may have to help me
Take it easy my first year in college, not worrying about grades, to avoid
Check out tutoring services only as a last resort at the end of the term if
I’m in danger of failing
Check the class syllabus for important assignments and exam dates and
begin scheduling study periods well ahead of time
Get to know my instructors and other students in the class right away
1.6 Chapter Activities
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
1. Go online to the free CareerLink Inventory Web site at and spend a few minutes
taking this free assessment of your interests and personality.
Completion of the questionnaire leads to a statement of Career
Inventory Results, with different career clusters matched to your
Click on the “cluster title” for several of your best-matched
career areas to view specific career possibilities. Clicking on
specific career titles will then provide a wealth of career
information from the United States Department of Labor, Bureau
of Labor Statistics, including data about the following:
The nature of the work
Education and training required
Employment possibilities and future job outlook
Related occupations
This information will get you started thinking about possible
careers that may match your interests. For a more complete
survey of your interests, personality, and strengths, visit your
college’s career counseling center.
2. Go to
20intelligences%20tests and scroll down to the link for “free
Multiple Intelligences test (based on Howard Gardner’s
model)—in Microsoft Excel self-calculating format, and other
versions.” You need Microsoft Excel on your computer to take
this free online assessment of your learning style.
Clicking the link will download an Excel spreadsheet with 74
questions. Answer each as directed on the 1 to 4 scale. Your score
totals are then shown for each of the “multiple intelligences”
learning styles presented earlier in this chapter.
What are your two strongest “intelligence types”?
1.6 Chapter Activities
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
What are your two weakest “intelligence types”?
Based on this evaluation, what aspects of college learning might
you want to give more attention to? (Refer to Chapter 1 "You and
Your College Experience", Section 1.3 "How You Learn" for ideas
to think about.)
3. Visit your college’s Web site and spend at least thirty minutes
exploring available resources. Usually there is a section called
“Students” or “Present Students” or “Student Resources” or
something similar—apart from all the other information for
prospective future students, parents, faculty, courses, and so on.
Jot down some of the topics here that you might want to consult
again in the future if you were to experience a problem involving
money, personal health, academic success, emotional health,
social problems, discrimination, or other issues.
1.6 Chapter Activities
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
1.6 Chapter Activities
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
My most negative attitude toward college is
Here’s what I’ll do to be more positive:
My personal values most closely related to a college education are
I may have to put these values on hold while in college:
Transitioning to College
The most likely problems I’ll have (as a traditional or returning student)
transitioning to college are
Here’s what I’ll do to stay focused in my first year:
1.6 Chapter Activities
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
Learning Process
In the past, I have paid too little attention to these steps of the learning
Here’s what I will begin doing now in my classes to fully use all steps of the
Learning Style
This is my preferred learning style:
I will begin working to strengthen my learning through these other styles:
Lecture Classes
When I’m bored in a large lecture hall, I frequently do this:
1.6 Chapter Activities
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
To pay closer attention, I will try the following:
College Resources
I have not paid much attention to these available resources on my campus:
In the coming weeks, I will check online or in person for information about
these offices that may be able to help me succeed:
College Grades
My grades generally suffer when I
To ensure I do well in all my classes, I will now begin to focus on
Immediate Steps to Success
1.6 Chapter Activities
Chapter 1 You and Your College Experience
I have not used my time as well as I might because I’ve been doing the
I will immediately start taking these steps to ensure I succeed in my classes:
1.6 Chapter Activities
Chapter 2
Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
Figure 2.1
© Thinkstock
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
Where Are You Now?
Assess your present knowledge and attitudes.
Yes Unsure No
1. I have clear, realistic, attainable goals for the
short and long term, including for my educational
2. I have a good sense of priorities that helps ensure
I always get the important things done, including
my studies, while balancing my time among school,
work, and social life.
3. I have a positive attitude toward being successful
in college.
4. I know how to stay focused and motivated so I
can reach my goals.
5. When setbacks occur, I work to solve the
problems effectively and then move on.
6. I have a good space for studying and use my
space to avoid distractions.
7. I do not attempt to multitask when studying.
8. I schedule my study periods at times when I am
at my best.
9. I use a weekly or daily planner to schedule study
periods and other tasks in advance and to manage
my time well.
10. I am successful at not putting off my studying
and other important activities or being distracted
by other things.
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
Where Do You Want to Go?
Think about how you answered the questions above. Be honest with yourself.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate how well you stay focused on your
goals and use your time?
Need to improve
Very successful
In the following list, circle the three most important areas in which you think
you need to improve:
Setting goals
Staying focused on goals
Keeping strong priorities
Maintaining a positive attitude
Staying motivated for academic work
Solving and preventing problems
Having an organized space for studies
Avoiding the distractions of technology
Preventing distractions caused by other people
Managing time well when studying
Overcoming a tendency to put things off
Using a planner to schedule study periods
Using a to-do list to ensure all tasks are done
Finding enough time to do everything
Are there other areas in which you can improve your time management skills
so that you can study effectively in the time you have, while still managing
other aspects of your life? Write down other things you feel you need to work
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
How to Get There
Here’s what we’ll work on in this chapter:
• Setting and focusing on goals that are specific, realistic, and
• Setting priorities for managing your time
• Adapting a positive attitude for college success and overcoming
fear of failure or negativity
• Developing and practicing strategies for staying focused
• Preventing or solving problems that might threaten your success
in college
• Choosing a study space and using it to your advantage for most
efficient studying and avoiding distractions
• Understanding why multitasking, such as using your computer or
cell phone while studying, is inefficient and actually wastes time
• Using your “time personality” to perform at your best and to plan
• Using an academic planner to schedule study periods, get started
on projects well in advance, and manage your time well
• Developing and practicing strategies for overcoming any tendency
to procrastinate
Goals and Time Management
Since you’re reading this now, chances are very good you’re already in college or
about to start. That means you’ve already set at least one goal for yourself—to get a
college education—and that you’ve been motivated to come this far. You should feel
good about that, because lots of people don’t make it this far. You’re off to a great
first step!
But did you know that in many colleges in the United States, almost half of firstyear college students will not make it to graduation? This varies widely among
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
different colleges. Ask your instructor if he or she knows the graduation rate at
your college, or you research this topic on your own. Knowing this can be
important, because peer pressure (whether to succeed or to be lax and possibly
drop out later) can be an important factor in your success.
If you want to be among the students who do succeed, it’s important to accept that
college is not easy for most students. But we’re not trying to scare or depress you!
The evidence shows that the huge majority of those who really want to finish
college can do so successfully, if they stay motivated and learn how to succeed.
That’s what this book is all about. But it may take some effort. Succeeding in college
involves paying attention to your studies in ways you may not have had to in your
former life.
The two most common reasons why students drop out are financial difficulties and
falling behind in studying. While no one is guaranteed to easily find the money
needed for college, there are many ways you can cut costs and make it easier to get
through. Chapter 11 "Taking Control of Your Finances" has lots of tips for how to
make it financially.
This chapter looks at the other big issue: how to make sure that you succeed in your
courses. The first step is to be committed to your education. You’ve been motivated
to start college—now you need to keep that motivation going as you target specific
goals for success in your classes. Much of this has to do with attitude. Success also
requires managing your time effectively.
In fact, time management skills can make the difference between those who
graduate from college and those who drop out. Time management is actually all
about managing yourself: knowing what you want, deciding how to get what you
want, and then efficiently and effectively getting it. That applies to fun things, too.
In fact, you may want to think of the goal of this chapter as not just managing your
time for studying but ensuring that even as you do well in your studies, you’re still
enjoying your life while in college!
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
2.1 Setting and Reaching Goals
1. Make short-, mid-, and long-term goals that are realistic and specific
and commit to them.
2. Set priorities for reaching your goals as a basis for time management.
3. Develop an attitude for success.
4. Learn to use strategies for staying focused and motivated.
5. Network with other students to help ensure academic success.
6. Solve problems and overcome setbacks that threaten your goals.
Some people are goal oriented and seem to easily make decisions that lead to
achieving their goals1, while others seem just to “go with the flow” and accept what
life gives them. While the latter may sound pleasantly relaxed, moving through life
without goals may not lead anywhere at all. The fact that you’re in college now
shows you already have the major goal to complete your college program.
A goal is a result we intend to reach mostly through our own actions. Things we do
may move us closer to or farther away from that result. Studying moves us closer to
success in a difficult course, while sleeping through the final examination may
completely prevent reaching that goal. That’s fairly obvious in an extreme case, yet
still a lot of college students don’t reach their goal of graduating. The problem may
be a lack of commitment to the goal, but often students have conflicting goals. One
way to prevent problems is to think about all your goals and priorities2 and to
learn ways to manage your time, your studies, and your social life to best reach
your goals. Consider these four students:
To help his widowed mother, Juan went to work full time after high school but now,
a few years later, he’s dissatisfied with the kinds of jobs he has been able to get and
has begun taking computer programming courses in the evening. He’s often tired
after work, however, and his mother would like him to spend more time at home.
Sometimes he cuts class to stay home and spend time with her.
1. A result or achievement
toward which one directs one’s
2. Something that is more
important than other things or
given special attention.
In her senior year of college, Becky has just been elected president of her sorority
and is excited about planning a major community service project. She knows she
should be spending more time on her senior thesis, but she feels her community
project may gain her contacts that can help her find a better job after graduation.
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
Besides, the sorority project is a lot more fun, and she’s enjoying the esteem of her
position. Even if she doesn’t do well on her thesis, she’s sure she’ll pass.
After an easy time in high school, James is surprised his college classes are so hard.
He’s got enough time to study for his first-year courses, but he also has a lot of
friends and fun things to do. Sometimes he’s surprised to look up from his
computer to see it’s midnight already, and he hasn’t started reading that chapter
yet. Where does the time go? When he’s stressed, however, he can’t study well, so
he tells himself he’ll get up early and read the chapter before class, and then he
turns back to his computer to see who’s online.
Sachito was successful in cutting back her hours at work to give her more time for
her engineering classes, but it’s difficult for her to get much studying done at home.
Her husband has been wonderful about taking care of their young daughter, but he
can’t do everything, and lately he’s been hinting more about asking her sister to
babysit so that the two of them can go out in the evening the way they used to.
Lately, when she’s had to study on a weekend, he leaves with his friends, and
Sachito ends up spending the day with her daughter—and not getting much
studying done.
What do these very different students have in common? Each has goals that conflict
in one or more ways. Each needs to develop strategies to meet their other goals
without threatening their academic success. And all of them have time
management issues to work through: three because they feel they don’t have
enough time to do everything they want or need to do and one because even though
he has enough time, he needs to learn how to manage it more effectively. For all
four of them, motivation and attitude will be important as they develop strategies
to achieve their goals.
It all begins with setting goals and thinking about priorities.
As you think about your own goals, think about more than just being a student.
You’re also a person with individual needs and desires, hopes and dreams, plans
and schemes. Your long-term goals likely include graduation and a career but may
also involve social relationships with others, a romantic relationship, family,
hobbies or other activities, where and how you live, and so on. While you are a
student you may not be actively pursuing all your goals with the same fervor, but
they remain goals and are still important in your life.
Goals also vary in terms of time. Short-term goals focus on today and the next few
days and perhaps weeks. Midterm goals involve plans for this school year and the
2.1 Setting and Reaching Goals
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
time you plan to remain in college. Long-term goals may begin with graduating
college and everything you want to happen thereafter. Often your long-term goals
(e.g., the kind of career you want) guide your midterm goals (getting the right
education for that career), and your short-term goals (such as doing well on an
exam) become steps for reaching those larger goals. Thinking about your goals in
this way helps you realize how even the little things you do every day can keep you
moving toward your most important long-term goals.
Write out your goals in Activity 1. You should literally write them down, because the
act of finding the best words to describe your goals helps you think more clearly
about them. Follow these guidelines:
• Goals should be realistic. It’s good to dream and to challenge
yourself, but your goals should relate to your personal strengths and
• Goals should be specific. Don’t write, “I will become a great
musician”; instead, write, “I will finish my music degree and be
employed in a symphony orchestra.”
• Goals should have a time frame. You won’t feel very motivated if
your goal is vaguely “to finish college someday.” If you’re realistic and
specific in your goals, you should also be able to project a time frame
for reaching the goal.
• You should really want to reach the goal. We’re willing to work hard
to reach goals we really care about, but we’re likely to give up when we
encounter obstacles if we don’t feel strongly about a goal. If you’re
doing something only because your parents or someone else wants you
to, then it’s not your own personal goal—and you may have some more
thinking to do about your life.
2.1 Setting and Reaching Goals
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
Write your goals in the following blanks. Be sure to consider all areas of your
life—consider everything important that you want to do between this moment
and old age. (While you might aim for three to eight goals in each section,
remember that everyone is unique, and you may be just as passionate about
just one or two goals or more than eight.)
Short-term goals (today, this week, and this month):
Midterm goals (this year and while in college):
2.1 Setting and Reaching Goals
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
Long-term goals (from college on):
Thinking about your goals gets you started, but it’s also important to think about
priorities. We often use the word “priorities” to refer to how important something
is to us. We might think, This is a really important goal, and that is less important.
Try this experiment: go back to the goals you wrote in Activity 1 and see if you can
rank each goal as a 1 (top priority), 2 (middle priority), or 3 (lowest priority).
It sounds easy, but do you actually feel comfortable doing that? Maybe you gave a
priority 1 to passing your courses and a priority 3 to playing your guitar. So what
does that mean—that you never play guitar again, or at least not while in college?
Whenever you have an hour free between class and work, you have to study because
that’s the higher priority? What about all your other goals—do you have to ignore
everything that’s not a priority 1? And what happens when you have to choose
among different goals that are both number 1 priorities?
In reality, priorities don’t work quite that way. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to try
to rank goals as always more or less important. The question of priority is really a
2.1 Setting and Reaching Goals
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
question of what is more important at a specific time. It is important to do well in
your classes, but it’s also important to have a social life and enjoy your time off
from studying. You shouldn’t have to choose between the two—except at any given
time. Priorities always involve time: what is most important to do right now. As we’ll
see later, time management is mostly a way to juggle priorities so you can meet all
your goals.
When you manage your time well, you don’t have to ignore some goals completely
in order to meet other goals. In other words, you don’t have to give up your life
when you register for college—but you may need to work on managing your life
more effectively.
But time management works only when you’re committed to your goals. Attitude
and motivation are very important. If you haven’t yet developed an attitude for
success, all the time management skills in the world won’t keep you focused and
motivated to succeed.
An Attitude for Success
What’s your attitude right now—what started running through your mind as you saw
the “An Attitude for Success” heading? Were you groaning to yourself, thinking,
“No, not the attitude thing again!” Or, at the other extreme, maybe you were
thinking, “This is great! Now I’m about to learn everything I need to get through
college without a problem!” Those are two attitude extremes, one negative and
skeptical, the other positive and hopeful. Most students are somewhere in
between—but everyone has an attitude of one sort or another.
Everything people do and how they do it starts with attitude. One student gets up
with the alarm clock and cheerfully prepares for the day, planning to study for a
couple hours between classes, go jogging later, and see a friend at dinner. Another
student oversleeps after partying too late last night, decides to skip his first class,
somehow gets through later classes fueled by fast food and energy drinks while
dreading tomorrow’s exam, and immediately accepts a friend’s suggestion to go out
tonight instead of studying. Both students could have identical situations, classes,
finances, and academic preparation. There could be just one significant
difference—but it’s the one that matters.
Here are some characteristics associated with a positive attitude:
• Enthusiasm for and enjoyment of daily activities
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• Acceptance of responsibility for one’s actions and feeling good about
• Generally upbeat mood and positive emotions, cheerfulness with
others, and satisfaction with oneself
• Motivation to get the job done
• Flexibility to make changes when needed
• Ability to make productive, effective use of time
And here are some characteristics associated with a negative attitude:
Frequent complaining
Blaming others for anything that goes wrong
Often experiencing negative emotions: anger, depression, resentment
Lack of motivation for work or studies
Hesitant to change or seek improvement
Unproductive use of time, procrastination
We started this chapter talking about goals, because people’s goals and priorities
have a huge effect on their attitude. Someone who really wants to succeed in
college is better motivated and can develop a more positive attitude to succeed. But
what if you are committed to succeeding in college but still feel kind of doubtful or
worried or even down on yourself—what can you do then? Can people really change
their attitude? Aren’t people just “naturally” positive or negative or whatever?
While attitude is influenced by one’s personality, upbringing, and past experiences,
there is no “attitude gene” that makes you one way or another. It’s not as simple as
taking a pill, but attitude can be changed. If you’re committed to your goals, you
can learn to adjust your attitude. The following are some things you can start doing.
Be More Upbeat with Yourself
We all have conversations with ourselves. I might do badly on a test, and I start
thinking things like, “I’m just not smart enough” or “That teacher is so hard no one
could pass that test.” The problem when we talk to ourselves this way is that we
listen—and we start believing what we’re hearing. Think about what you’ve been
saying to yourself since your first day at college. Have you been negative or making
excuses, maybe because you’re afraid of not succeeding? You are smart enough or
you wouldn’t be here. Even if you did poorly on a test, you can turn that around
into a more positive attitude by taking responsibility. “OK, I goofed off too much
when I should have been studying. I learned my lesson—now it’s time to buckle
down and study for the next test. I’m going to ace this one!” Hear yourself saying
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that enough and guess what—you soon find out you can succeed even in your
hardest classes.
Choose Whom You Spend Time With
We all know negative and positive people. Sometimes it’s fun to hang out with
someone with a negative attitude, especially if their sarcasm is funny. And if we’ve
just failed a test, we might enjoy being with someone else who also blames the
instructor or “the system” for whatever goes wrong. As they say, misery loves
company. But often being with negative people is one of the surest ways to stay
negative yourself. You not only hear your own self-talk making excuses and
blaming others and putting yourself down, but you hear other people saying it, too.
After a while you’re convinced it’s true. You’ve developed a negative attitude that
sets you up for failure.
College offers a great opportunity to make new friends. Friendships and other social
relationships are important to all humans—and maybe to college students most of
all, because of the stresses of college and the changes you’re likely experiencing.
Later chapters in this book have some tips for making new friends and getting
actively involved in campus life, if you’re not already there. Most important, try to
choose friends with a positive attitude. It’s simply more fun to be with people who
are upbeat and enjoying life, people whom you respect—and who, like you, are
committed to their studies and are motivated. A positive attitude can really be
Overcome Resistance to Change
While it’s true that most people are more comfortable when their situation is not
always changing, many kinds of change are good and should be welcomed. College
is a big change from high school or working. Accepting that reality helps you be
more positive about the differences. Sure, you have to study more, and the classes
are harder. You may be working more and have less time for your personal life. But
dwelling on those differences only reinforces a negative attitude. Look instead at
the positive changes: the exciting and interesting people you’re meeting, the
education you’re getting that will lead to a bright future, and the mental challenges
and stimulation you’re feeling every day.
The first step may be simply to see yourself succeeding in your new life. Visualize
yourself as a student taking control, enjoying classes, studying effectively, getting
good grades. This book will help you do that in many ways. It all begins with the
right attitude.
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Overcome Fears
One of the most common fears of college students is a fear of failure—of not being
able to make the grade. We all know that life is not all roses and that we’re not
going to succeed at everything we try. Everyone experiences some sort of failure at
some time—and everyone has fears. The question is what you do about it.
Again, think about your goals. You’ve enrolled in college for good reasons, and
you’ve already shown your commitment by coming this far. If you still have any
fear of failure, turn it around and use it in a positive way. If you’re afraid you may
not do well on an upcoming exam, don’t mope around—sit down and schedule times
to start studying well ahead of time. It’s mostly a matter of attitude adjustment.
Stay Focused and Motivated
Okay, you’ve got a positive attitude. But you’ve got a lot of reading for classes to do
tonight, a test tomorrow, and a paper due the next day. Maybe you’re a little bored
with one of your reading assignments. Maybe you’d rather play a computer game.
Uh oh—now what? Attitude can change at almost any moment. One minute you’re
enthusiastically starting a class project, and then maybe a friend drops by and
suddenly all you want to do is close the books and relax a while, hang out with
One of the characteristics of successful people is accepting that life is full of
interruptions and change—and planning for it. Staying focused does not mean you
become a boring person who does nothing but go to class and study all the time.
You just need to make a plan.
Planning ahead is the single best way to stay focused and motivated to reach your
goals. Don’t wait until the night before an exam. If you know you have a major exam
in five days, start by reviewing the material and deciding how many hours of study
you need. Then schedule those hours spread out over the next few days—at times
when you are most alert and least likely to be distracted. Allow time for other
activities, too, to reward yourself for successful studying. Then when the exam
comes, you’re relaxed, you know the material, you’re in a good mood and confident,
and you do well.
Planning is mostly a matter of managing your time well, as we’ll see later. Here are
some other tips for staying focused and motivated:
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Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
• If you’re not feeling motivated, think about the results of your goals,
not just the goals themselves. If just thinking about finishing college
doesn’t sound all that exciting, then think instead about the great,
high-paying career that comes afterward and the things you can do
with that income.
• Say it aloud—to yourself or a friend with a positive attitude: “I’m going
to study now for another hour before I take a break—and I’m getting an
A on that test tomorrow!” It’s amazing how saying something aloud
puts commitment in it and affirms that it can be true.
• Remember your successes, even small successes. As you begin a project
or approach studying for a test, think about your past success on a
different project or test. Remember how good it feels to succeed. Know
you can succeed again.
• Focus on the here and now. For some people, looking ahead to goals, or
to anything else, may lead to daydreaming that keeps them from
focusing on what they need to do right now. Don’t worry about what
you’re doing tomorrow or next week or month. If your mind keeps
drifting off, however, you may need to reward or even trick yourself to
focus on the here and now. For example, if you can’t stop thinking
about the snack you’re going to have when you finish studying in a
couple hours, change the plan. Tell yourself you’ll take a break in
twenty minutes if you really need it—but only if you really work well
• If you just can’t focus in on what you should be doing because the task
seems too big and daunting, break the task into smaller, manageable
pieces. Don’t start out thinking, “I need to study the next four hours,”
but think, “I’ll spend the next thirty minutes going through my class
notes from the last three weeks and figure out what topics I need to
spend more time on.” It’s a lot easier to stay focused when you’re
sitting down for thirty minutes at a time.
• Never, ever multitask while studying! You may think that you can
monitor e-mail and send text messages while studying, but in reality,
these other activities lower the quality of your studying.
• Imitate successful people. Does a friend always seem better able to
stick with studying or work until they get it done? What are they doing
that you’re not? We all learn from observing others, and we can speed
up that process by deliberately using the same strategies we see
working with others. Visualize yourself studying in the same way and
getting that same high grade on the test or paper.
• Separate yourself from unsuccessful people. This is the flip side of
imitating successful people. If a roommate or a friend is always putting
off things until the last minute or is distracted with other interests and
activities, tell yourself how different you are. When you hear other
students complaining about how hard a class is or bragging about not
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studying or attending class, visualize yourself as not being like them at
• Reward yourself when you complete a significant task—but only when
you are done. Some people seem able to stay focused only when there’s
a reward waiting.
• While some people work harder for the reward, others are motivated
more by the price of failing. While some people are almost paralyzed
by anxiety, others are moved by their fear to achieve their best.
• Get the important things done first. We’ll talk about managing your
academic planner and to-do lists later in the chapter, but for now, to
stay focused and motivated, concentrate on the things that matter
most. You’re about to sit down to read a chapter in a book you’re not
much enjoying, and you suddenly notice some clothing piled up on a
chair. “I really should clean up this place,” you think. “And I’d better
get my laundry done before I run out of things to wear.” Don’t try to
fool yourself into feeling you’re accomplishing something by doing
laundry rather than studying. Stay focused!
Network for Success
Making friends with people with positive attitudes not only helps you maintain a
positive attitude yourself, but it gets you started networking with other students in
ways that will help you succeed.
Did you study alone or with friends in high school? Because college classes are
typically much more challenging, many college students discover they do better,
and find it much more enjoyable, if they study with other students taking same
course. This might mean organizing a study group or just getting together with a
friend to review material before a test. It’s good to start thinking right away about
networking with other students in your classes.
If you consider yourself an independent person and prefer studying and doing
projects on your own rather than with others, think for a minute about how most
people function in their careers and professions, what the business world is like.
Most work today is done by teams or individuals working together in a
collaborative way. Very few jobs involve a person always being and working alone.
The more you learn to study and work with other students now, the more skills you
are mastering for a successful career.
Studying with other students has immediate benefits. You can quiz each other to
help ensure that everyone understands the course material; if you’re not clear
about something, someone else can help teach it to you. You can read and respond
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to each other’s writing and other work. You can divide up the work in group
projects. And through it all, you can often have more fun than if you were doing it
on your own.
Studying together is also a great way to start networking—a topic we’ll discuss
more in coming chapters. Networking has many potential benefits for your future.
College students who feel they are part of a network on campus are more motivated
and more successful in college.
Tips for Success: Staying Motivated
• Keep your eye on your long-term goals while working toward
immediate goals.
• Keep your priorities straight—but also save some time for fun.
• Work on keeping your attitude positive.
• Keep the company of positive people; imitate successful people.
• Don’t let past habits drag you down.
• Plan ahead to avoid last-minute pressures.
• Focus on your successes.
• Break large projects down into smaller tasks or stages.
• Reward yourself for completing significant tasks.
• Avoid multitasking.
• Network with other students; form a study group.
Problem Solving: When Setbacks Happen
Even when you have clear goals and are motivated and focused to achieve them,
problems sometimes happen. Accept that they will happen, since inevitably they do
for everyone. The difference between those who succeed by solving the problem
and moving on and those who get frustrated and give up is partly attitude and
partly experience—and knowing how to cope when a problem occurs.
Lots of different kinds of setbacks may happen while you’re in college—just as to
everyone in life. Here are a few examples:
• A financial crisis
• An illness or injury
• A crisis involving family members or loved ones
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• Stress related to frequently feeling you don’t have enough time
• Stress related to relationship problems
Some things happen that we cannot prevent—such as some kinds of illness, losing
one’s job because of a business slowdown, or crises involving family members. But
many other kinds of problems can be prevented or made less likely to occur. You
can take steps to stay healthy, as you’ll learn in Chapter 10 "Taking Control of Your
Health". You can take control of your finances and avoid most financial problems
common among college students, as you’ll learn in Chapter 11 "Taking Control of
Your Finances". You can learn how to build successful social relationships and get
along better with your instructors, with other students, and in personal
relationships. You can learn time management techniques to ensure you use your
time effectively for studying. Most of the chapters in this book also provide study
tips and guidelines to help you do well in your classes with effective reading, notetaking, test-taking, and writing skills for classes. Preventing the problems that
typically keep college students from succeeding is much of what this book is all
Not all problems can be avoided. Illness or a financial problem can significantly set
one back—especially when you’re on a tight schedule and budget. Other problems,
such as a social or relationship issue or an academic problem in a certain class, may
be more complex and not easily prevented. What then?
First, work to resolve the immediate problem:
1. Stay motivated and focused. Don’t let frustration, anxiety, or other
negative emotions make the problem worse than it already is.
2. Analyze the problem to consider all possible solutions. An unexpected
financial setback doesn’t automatically mean you have to drop out of
school—not when alternatives such as student loans, less expensive
living arrangements, or other possible solutions may be available.
Failing a midterm exam doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to fail
the course—not when you make the effort to determine what went
wrong, work with your instructor and others on an improved study
plan, and use better strategies to prepare for the next test.
3. Seek help when you need to. None of us gets through life alone, and it’s
not a sign of weakness to see your academic advisor or a college
counselor if you have a problem.
4. When you’ve developed a plan for resolving the problem, work to
follow through. If it will take a while before the problem is completely
solved, track your progress in smaller steps so that you can see you
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Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
really are succeeding. Every day will move you one step closer to
putting it behind you.
After you’ve solved a problem, be sure to avoid it again in the future:
1. Be honest with yourself: how did you contribute to the problem?
Sometimes it’s obvious: a student who drank heavily at a party the
night before a big test failed the exam because he was so hung over he
couldn’t think straight. Sometimes the source of the problem is not as
obvious but may become clearer the more you think about it. Another
student did a lot of partying during the term but studied all day before
the big test and was well rested and clearheaded at test time but still
did poorly; he may not yet have learned good study skills. Another
student has frequent colds and other mild illnesses that keep him from
doing his best: how much better would he feel if he ate well, got plenty
of exercise, and slept enough every night? If you don’t honestly
explore the factors that led to the problem, it’s more likely to happen
2. Take responsibility for your life and your role in what happens to you.
Earlier we talked about people with negative attitudes, who are always
blaming others, fate, or “the system” for their problems. It’s no
coincidence that they keep on having problems. Unless you want to
keep having problems, don’t keep blaming others.
3. Taking responsibility doesn’t mean being down on yourself. Failing at
something doesn’t mean you are a failure. We all fail at something,
sometime. Adjust your attitude so you’re ready to get back on track
and feel happy that you’ll never make that mistake again!
4. Make a plan. You might still have a problem on that next big test if you
don’t make an effective study plan and stick to it. You may need to
change your behavior in some way, such as learning time management
strategies. (Read on!)
2.1 Setting and Reaching Goals
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
• Goals should be realistic, specific, and time oriented, and you must be
committed to them.
• Setting priorities helps keep you focused on your goals but doesn’t
determine how you use your time at all times.
• Attitude is often the major reason students succeed or fail in college.
Everyone can work on developing a more positive, motivating attitude.
• Planning, the essence of time management, is necessary to stay focused
and continue moving toward your goals.
• Networking with other students helps you stay motivated as well as
making studying more effective.
• Since problems and setbacks are inevitable, knowing how to solve
problems is important for reaching goals. With a good attitude, most
common student problems can be prevented.
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Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
1. Which of the following goal statements is written in a way that
shows the person has carefully considered what he or she wants
to achieve?
a. I will do better in my math course.
b. I will earn at least a B on my next English paper.
c. I will study more this term.
2. List ways in which a negative attitude can prevent students from
being successful in college.
3. Think about your friends in college or other students you have
observed in one of your classes. Choose one who usually seems
positive and upbeat and one who sometimes or frequently shows
a negative attitude about college. Visualize both their faces—side
by side—as if you are talking to both of them. Now imagine
yourself sitting down to study with one of them for a final exam.
Describe how you would imagine that study session going.
4. Look back at the four students described at the beginning of the
chapter. Each of them is experiencing some sort of problem that
could interrupt their progress toward their goals. Think about
each student and write down a solution for each problem that
you would try to work out, if you were that person.
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Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
For Juan:
For Becky:
For James:
For Sachito:
5. List a few things you can do if you’re having trouble getting
motivated to sit down to study.
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Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
2.2 Organizing Your Space
1. Recognize the importance of organizing your space to your best
advantage for studying.
2. Avoid distractions in the space where you are studying.
3. Understand the myth of multitasking and prevent distractions from
your personal technology.
Now that you’ve worked up an attitude for success and are feeling motivated, it’s
time to get organized. You need to organize both your space and your time.
Space is important for many reasons—some obvious, some less so. People’s moods,
attitudes, and levels of work productivity change in different spaces. Learning to
use space to your own advantage helps get you off to a good start in your studies.
Here are a few of the ways space matters:
• Everyone needs his or her own space. This may seem simple, but
everyone needs some physical area, regardless of size, that is really his
or her own—even if it’s only a small part of a shared space. Within your
own space, you generally feel more secure and in control.
• Physical space reinforces habits. For example, using your bed
primarily for sleeping makes it easier to fall asleep there than
elsewhere and also makes it not a good place to try to stay awake and
alert for studying.
• Different places create different moods. While this may seem
obvious, students don’t always use places to their best advantage. One
place may be bright and full of energy, with happy students passing
through and enjoying themselves—a place that puts you in a good
mood. But that may actually make it more difficult to concentrate on
your studying. Yet the opposite—a totally quiet, austere place devoid of
color and sound and pleasant decorations—can be just as unproductive
if it makes you associate studying with something unpleasant.
Everyone needs to discover what space works best for himself or
herself—and then let that space reinforce good study habits.
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
Use Space to Your Advantage and to Avoid Distractions
Begin by analyzing your needs, preferences, and past problems with places for
studying. Where do you usually study? What are the best things about that place for
studying? What distractions are most likely to occur there?
The goal is to find, or create, the best place for studying, and then to use it regularly
so that studying there becomes a good habit.
• Choose a place you can associate with studying. Make sure it’s not a
place already associated with other activities (eating, watching
television, sleeping, etc.). Over time, the more often you study in this
space, the stronger will be its association with studying, so that
eventually you’ll be completely focused as soon as you reach that place
and begin.
• Your study area should be available whenever you need it. If you
want to use your home, apartment, or dorm room but you never know
if another person may be there and possibly distract you, then it’s
probably better to look for another place, such as a study lounge or an
area in the library. Look for locations open at the hours when you may
be studying. You may also need two study spaces—one in or near
where you live, another on campus. Maybe you study best at home but
have an hour free between two classes, and the library is too far away
to use for only an hour? Look for a convenient empty classroom.
• Your study space should meet your
study needs. An open desk or table surface
usually works best for writing, and you’ll
tire quickly if you try to write notes sitting
in an easy chair (which might also make
you sleepy). You need good light for
reading, to avoid tiring from eyestrain. If
you use a laptop for writing notes or
reading and researching, you need a power
outlet so you don’t have to stop when your
battery runs out.
• Your study space should meet your
psychological needs. Some students may
need total silence with absolutely no visual
distractions; they may find a perfect study
carrel hidden away on the fifth floor in the
library. Other students may be unable to
concentrate for long without looking up
2.2 Organizing Your Space
Figure 2.2
Choose a pleasant, quiet place for
studying, such as the college
© Thinkstock
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
from reading and momentarily letting their eyes move over a pleasant
scene. Some students may find it easier to stay motivated when
surrounded by other students also studying; they may find an open
space in the library or a study lounge with many tables spread out over
an area. Experiment to find the setting that works best for you—and
remember that the more often you use this same space, the more
comfortable and effective your studying will become.
You may need the support of others to maintain your study space.
Students living at home, whether with a spouse and children or with
their parents, often need the support of family members to maintain
an effective study space. The kitchen table probably isn’t best if others
pass by frequently. Be creative, if necessary, and set up a card table in a
quiet corner of your bedroom or elsewhere to avoid interruptions. Put
a “do not disturb” sign on your door.
Keep your space organized and free of distractions. You want to
prevent sudden impulses to neaten up the area (when you should be
studying), do laundry, wash dishes, and so on. Unplug a nearby
telephone, turn off your cell phone, and use your computer only as
needed for studying. If your e-mail or message program pops up a
notice every time an e-mail or message arrives, turn off your Wi-Fi or
detach the network cable to prevent those intrusions.
Plan for breaks. Everyone needs to take a break occasionally when
studying. Think about the space you’re in and how to use it when you
need a break. If in your home, stop and do a few exercises to get your
blood flowing. If in the library, take a walk up a couple flights of stairs
and around the stacks before returning to your study area.
Prepare for human interruptions. Even if you hide in the library to
study, there’s a chance a friend may happen by. At home with family
members or in a dorm room or common space, the odds increase
greatly. Have a plan ready in case someone pops in and asks you to join
them in some fun activity. Know when you plan to finish your studying
so that you can make a plan for later—or for tomorrow at a set time.
The Distractions of Technology
3. The performing of multiple
tasks at the same time, often
involving technology and
communications. The term
originates in computer science,
referring to how a computer’s
CPU can be programmed to
function. (Importantly, the
human brain does not function
the same as a computer!)
2.2 Organizing Your Space
Multitasking3 is the term commonly used for being engaged in two or more
different activities at the same time, usually referring to activities using devices
such as cell phones, smartphones, computers, and so on. Many people claim to be
able to do as many as four or five things simultaneously, such as writing an e-mail
while responding to an instant message (IM) and reading a tweet, all while watching
a video on their computer monitor or talking on the phone. Many people who have
grown up with computers consider this kind of multitasking a normal way to get
things done, including studying. Even people in business sometimes speak of
multitasking as an essential component of today’s fast-paced world.
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
It is true that some things can be attended to while you’re doing something else,
such as checking e-mail while you watch television news—but only when none of
those things demands your full attention. You can concentrate 80 percent on the email, for example, while 20 percent of your attention is listening for something on
the news that catches your attention. Then you turn to the television for a minute,
watch that segment, and go back to the e-mail. But you’re not actually watching the
television at the same time you’re composing the e-mail—you’re rapidly going back
and forth. In reality, the mind can focus only on one thing at any given moment.
Even things that don’t require much thinking are severely impacted by
multitasking, such as driving while talking on a cell phone or texting. An
astonishing number of people end up in the emergency room from just trying to
walk down the sidewalk while texting, so common is it now to walk into a pole or
parked car while multitasking!
“Okay,” you might be thinking, “why should it matter if I write my paper first and
then answer e-mails or do them back and forth at the same time?” It actually takes
you longer to do two or more things at the same time than if you do them
separately—at least with anything that you actually have to focus on, such as
studying. That’s true because each time you go back to studying after looking away
to a message or tweet, it takes time for your mind to shift gears to get back to where
you were. Every time your attention shifts, add up some more “downtime”—and
pretty soon it’s evident that multitasking is costing you a lot more time than you
think. And that’s assuming that your mind does fully shift back to where you were
every time, without losing your train of thought or forgetting an important detail.
It doesn’t always.
The other problem with multitasking is the effect it can have on the attention
span—and even on how the brain works. Scientists have shown that in people who
constantly shift their attention from one thing to another in short bursts, the brain
forms patterns that make it more difficult to keep sustained attention on any one
thing. So when you really do need to concentrate for a while on one thing, such as
when studying for a big test, it becomes more difficult to do even if you’re not
multitasking at that time. It’s as if your mind makes a habit of wandering from one
thing to another and then can’t stop.
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Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
So stay away from multitasking whenever you have
something important to do, like studying. If it’s already
a habit for you, don’t let it become worse. Manipulate
your study space to prevent the temptations altogether.
Turn your computer off—or shut down e-mail and
messaging programs if you need the computer for
studying. Turn your cell phone off—if you just tell
yourself not to answer it but still glance at it each time
to see who sent or left a message, you’re still losing your
studying momentum and have to start over again. For
those who are really addicted to technology (you know
who you are!), go to the library and don’t take your
laptop or cell phone.
Figure 2.3
In the later section in this chapter on scheduling your
study periods, we recommend scheduling breaks as well,
Multitasking makes studying
usually for a few minutes every hour. If you’re really
much less effective.
hooked on checking for messages, plan to do that at
scheduled times.
© Thinkstock
What about listening to music while studying? Some
don’t consider that multitasking, and many students say
they can listen to music without it affecting their studying. Studies are inconclusive
about the positive or negative effects of music on people’s ability to concentrate,
probably because so many different factors are involved. But there’s a huge
difference between listening to your favorite CD and spontaneously singing along
with some of the songs and enjoying soft background music that enhances your
study space the same way as good lighting and pleasant décor. Some people can
study better with low-volume instrumental music that relaxes them and does not
intrude on their thinking, while others can concentrate only in silence. And some
are so used to being immersed in music and the sounds of life that they find total
silence more distracting—such people can often study well in places where people
are moving around. The key thing is to be honest with yourself: if you’re actively
listening to music while you’re studying, then you’re likely not studying as well as
you could be. It will take you longer and lead to less successful results.
Family and Roommate Issues
Sometimes going to the library or elsewhere is not practical for studying, and you
have to find a way to cope in a shared space.
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Part of the solution is time management. Agree with others on certain times that
will be reserved for studying; agree to keep the place quiet, not to have guests
visiting, and to prevent other distractions. These arrangements can be made with a
roommate, spouse, and older children. If there are younger children in your
household and you have child-care responsibility, it’s usually more complicated.
You may have to schedule your studying during their nap time or find quiet
activities for them to enjoy while you study. Try to spend some time with your kids
before you study, so they don’t feel like you’re ignoring them. (More tips are offered
later in this chapter.)
The key is to plan ahead. You don’t want to find yourself, the night before an exam,
in a place that offers no space for studying.
Finally, accept that sometimes you’ll just have to say no. If your roommate or a
friend often tries to engage you in conversation or suggests doing something else
when you need to study, just say no. Learn to be firm but polite as you explain that
you just really have to get your work done first. Students who live at home may also
have to learn how to say no to parents or family members—just be sure to explain
the importance of the studying you need to do! Remember, you can’t be everything
to everyone all the time.
• Where you study can have a huge impact on the effectiveness of your
study efforts. Choose and organize your space to your advantage.
• How you control your study space can help you prevent distractions,
especially those caused by other people or your personal technology.
• Attempting to multitask while studying diminishes the quality of your
study time and results in a loss of time.
• Control your study space to prevent or manage potential interruptions
from family members or roommates.
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1. For each of the following statements, circle T for true or F for
Your bed is usually a good place to study if you can keep
the room quiet.
To study well, use the most drab, boring place you can
An empty classroom can be a good place to get some
T F studying done if you happen to have an hour free
between classes.
To maintain a clear focus while studying, limit the time
you spend checking for e-mail and text messages to every
T F ten minutes or so. Put your cell phone on vibrate mode
and keep it in your pocket where you can more easily
ignore it.
It’s OK to have the television or radio on while you study
as long as you don’t give it your full attention.
The key to avoiding interruptions and distractions from
T F family members or roommates is to plan ahead for when
and where you’ll study.
2. Class discussion exercise: Share stories about distractions caused by
roommates and others that you and other students have experienced.
Brainstorm together how to handle similar situations next time they
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Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
2.3 Organizing Your Time
1. Discover your time personality and know where your time goes.
2. Understand the basic principles of time management and planning.
3. Learn and practice time management strategies to help ensure your
academic success.
4. Know how to combat procrastination when it threatens to prevent
getting your academic work done.
5. Use a calendar planner and daily to-do list to plan ahead for study tasks
and manage your time effectively.
6. Learn effective time management techniques for students who work,
students with family, and student athletes.
This is the most important part of this chapter. When you know what you want to
do, why not just sit down and get it done? The millions of people who complain
frequently about “not having enough time” would love it if it were that simple!
Time management isn’t actually difficult, but you do need to learn how to do it well.
Time and Your Personality
People’s attitudes toward time vary widely. One person seems to be always rushing
around but actually gets less done than another person who seems unconcerned
about time and calmly goes about the day. Since there are so many different “time
personalities,” it’s important to realize how you approach time. Start by trying to
figure out how you spend your time during a typical week, using Activity 2.
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
See if you can account for a week’s worth of time. For each of the activity
categories listed, make your best estimate of how many hours you spend in a
week. (For categories that are about the same every day, just estimate for
one day and multiply by seven for that line.)
Category of activity
Number of hours per
Eating (including preparing food)
Personal hygiene (i.e., bathing, etc.)
Working (employment)
Volunteer service or internship
Chores, cleaning, errands, shopping, etc.
Attending class
Studying, reading, and researching (outside of class)
Transportation to work or school
Getting to classes (walking, biking, etc.)
Organized group activities (clubs, church services,
Time with friends (include television, video games,
Attending events (movies, parties, etc.)
Time alone (include television, video games, surfing
the Web, etc.)
Exercise or sports activities
Reading for fun or other interests done alone
Talking on phone, e-mail, Facebook, etc.
Other—specify: ________________________
Other—specify: ________________________
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Now use your calculator to total your estimated hours. Is your number
larger or smaller than 168, the total number of hours in a week? If your
estimate is higher, go back through your list and adjust numbers to be more
realistic. But if your estimated hours total fewer than 168, don’t just go back
and add more time in certain categories. Instead, ponder this question:
Where does the time go? We’ll come back to this question.
Think about your time analysis in Activity 2. People who estimate too high often
feel they don’t have enough time. They may have time anxiety and often feel
frustrated. People at the other extreme, who often can’t account for how they use
all their time, may have a more relaxed attitude. They may not actually have any
more free time, but they may be wasting more time than they want to admit with
less important things. Yet they still may complain about how much time they spend
studying, as if there’s a shortage of time.
People also differ in how they respond to schedule changes. Some go with the flow
and accept changes easily, while others function well only when following a
planned schedule and may become upset if that schedule changes. If you do not
react well to an unexpected disruption in your schedule, plan extra time for
catching up if something throws you off. This is all part of understanding your time
Another aspect of your time personality involves time of day. If you need to
concentrate, such as when writing a class paper, are you more alert and focused in
the morning, afternoon, or evening? Do you concentrate best when you look
forward to a relaxing activity later on, or do you study better when you’ve finished
all other activities? Do you function well if you get up early—or stay up late—to
accomplish a task? How does that affect the rest of your day or the next day?
Understanding this will help you better plan your study periods.
While you may not be able to change your “time personality,” you can learn to
manage your time more successfully. The key is to be realistic. How accurate is the
number of hours you wrote down in Activity 2? The best way to know how you
spend your time is to record what you do all day in a time log, every day for a week,
and then add that up. Make copies of the time log in Figure 2.4 "Daily Time Log" and
carry it with you. Every so often, fill in what you have been doing. Do this for a
week before adding up the times; then enter the total hours in the categories in
Activity 2. You might be surprised that you spend a lot more time than you thought
just hanging out with friends—or surfing the Web or playing around with Facebook
or any of the many other things people do. You might find that you study well early
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Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
in the morning even though you thought you are a night person, or vice versa. You
might learn how long you can continue at a specific task before needing a break.
Figure 2.4 Daily Time Log
If you have work and family responsibilities, you may already know where many of
your hours go. Although we all wish we had “more time,” the important thing is
what we do with the time we have. Time management strategies can help us better
use the time we do have by creating a schedule that works for our own time
Time Management
Time management for successful college studying involves these factors:
• Determining how much time you need to spend studying
• Knowing how much time you actually have for studying and increasing
that time if needed
• Being aware of the times of day you are at your best and most focused
• Using effective long- and short-term study strategies
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• Scheduling study activities in realistic segments
• Using a system to plan ahead and set priorities
• Staying motivated to follow your plan and avoid procrastination
For every hour in the classroom, college students should spend, on average, about
two hours on that class, counting reading, studying, writing papers, and so on. If
you’re a full-time student with fifteen hours a week in class, then you need another
thirty hours for rest of your academic work. That forty-five hours is about the same
as a typical full-time job. If you work part time, time management skills are even
more essential. These skills are still more important for part-time college students
who work full time and commute or have a family. To succeed in college, virtually
everyone has to develop effective strategies for dealing with time.
Look back at the number of hours you wrote in Activity 2 for a week of studying. Do
you have two hours of study time for every hour in class? Many students begin
college not knowing this much time is needed, so don’t be surprised if you
underestimated this number of hours. Remember this is just an average amount of
study time—you may need more or less for your own courses. To be safe, and to
help ensure your success, add another five to ten hours a week for studying.
To reserve this study time, you may need to adjust how much time you spend in
other activities. Activity 3 will help you figure out what your typical week should
look like.
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Plan for the ideal use of a week’s worth of time. Fill in your hours in this
1. Hours attending class
2. Study hours (2 times the number of class hours plus 5 or more hours
3. Work, internships, and fixed volunteer time
4. Fixed life activities (sleeping, eating, hygiene, chores,
transportation, etc.)
Now subtotal your hours so far and subtract that number
from 168. How many hours are left? ____________ Then
portion out the remaining hours for “discretionary activities”
(things you don’t have to do for school, work, or a healthy life).
5. Discretionary activities
Category of activity
Number of hours per
Attending class
Studying, reading, and researching (outside of class)
Working (employment)
Volunteer service or internship
Eating (including preparing food)
Personal hygiene (i.e., bathing, etc.)
Chores, cleaning, errands, shopping, etc.
Transportation to work or school
Getting to classes (walking, biking, etc.)
Discretionary activities:
Organized group activities (clubs, church services,
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Category of activity
Number of hours per
Time with friends (include television, video games,
Attending events (movies, parties, etc.)
Time alone (include television, video games, surfing
the Web, etc.)
Exercise or sports activities
Reading for fun or other interests done alone
Talking on phone, e-mail, Facebook, etc.
Other—specify: ________________________
Other—specify: ________________________
Note: If you find you have almost no time left for discretionary activities,
you may be overestimating how much time you need for eating, errands,
and the like. Use the time log in Figure 2.4 "Daily Time Log" to determine if
you really have to spend that much time on those things.
Activity 3 shows most college students that they do actually have plenty of time for
their studies without losing sleep or giving up their social life. But you may have
less time for discretionary activities than in the past. Something, somewhere has to
give. That’s part of time management—and why it’s important to keep your goals
and priorities in mind. The other part is to learn how to use the hours you do have
as effectively as possible, especially the study hours. For example, if you’re a typical
college freshman who plans to study for three hours in an evening but then
procrastinates4, gets caught up in a conversation, loses time to checking e-mail
and text messages, and listens to loud music while reading a textbook, then maybe
you actually spent four hours “studying” but got only two hours of actual work
done. So you end up behind and feeling like you’re still studying way too much. The
goal of time management is to actually get three hours of studying done in three
hours and have time for your life as well.
4. To intentionally (often
habitually) put something off
until another day or time.
2.3 Organizing Your Time
Special note for students who work. You may have almost no discretionary time
at all left in Activity 3 after all your “must-do” activities. If so, you may have
overextended yourself—a situation that inevitably will lead to problems. You can’t
sleep two hours less every night for the whole school year, for example, without
becoming ill or unable to concentrate well on work and school. It is better to
recognize this situation now rather than set yourself up for a very difficult term
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
and possible failure. If you cannot cut the number of hours for work or other
obligations, see your academic advisor right away. It is better to take fewer classes
and succeed than to take more classes than you have time for and risk failure.
Time Management Strategies for Success
Following are some strategies you can begin using immediately to make the most of
your time:
• Prepare to be successful. When planning ahead for studying, think
yourself into the right mood. Focus on the positive. “When I get these
chapters read tonight, I’ll be ahead in studying for the next test, and
I’ll also have plenty of time tomorrow to do X.” Visualize yourself
studying well!
• Use your best—and most appropriate—time of day. Different tasks
require different mental skills. Some kinds of studying you may be able
to start first thing in the morning as you wake, while others need your
most alert moments at another time.
• Break up large projects into small pieces. Whether it’s writing a
paper for class, studying for a final exam, or reading a long assignment
or full book, students often feel daunted at the beginning of a large
project. It’s easier to get going if you break it up into stages that you
schedule at separate times—and then begin with the first section that
requires only an hour or two.
• Do the most important studying first. When two or more things
require your attention, do the more crucial one first. If something
happens and you can’t complete everything, you’ll suffer less if the
most crucial work is done.
• If you have trouble getting started, do an easier task first. Like
large tasks, complex or difficult ones can be daunting. If you can’t get
going, switch to an easier task you can accomplish quickly. That will
give you momentum, and often you feel more confident tackling the
difficult task after being successful in the first one.
• If you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed because you have too
much to do, revisit your time planner. Sometimes it’s hard to get
started if you keep thinking about other things you need to get done.
Review your schedule for the next few days and make sure everything
important is scheduled, then relax and concentrate on the task at
• If you’re really floundering, talk to someone. Maybe you just don’t
understand what you should be doing. Talk with your instructor or
another student in the class to get back on track.
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• Take a break. We all need breaks to help us concentrate without
becoming fatigued and burned out. As a general rule, a short break
every hour or so is effective in helping recharge your study energy. Get
up and move around to get your blood flowing, clear your thoughts,
and work off stress.
• Use unscheduled times to work ahead. You’ve scheduled that
hundred pages of reading for later today, but you have the textbook
with you as you’re waiting for the bus. Start reading now, or flip
through the chapter to get a sense of what you’ll be reading later.
Either way, you’ll save time later. You may be amazed how much
studying you can get done during downtimes throughout the day.
• Keep your momentum. Prevent distractions, such as multitasking,
that will only slow you down. Check for messages, for example, only at
scheduled break times.
• Reward yourself. It’s not easy to sit still for hours of studying. When
you successfully complete the task, you should feel good and deserve a
small reward. A healthy snack, a quick video game session, or social
activity can help you feel even better about your successful use of time.
• Just say no. Always tell others nearby when you’re studying, to reduce
the chances of being interrupted. Still, interruptions happen, and if
you are in a situation where you are frequently interrupted by a family
member, spouse, roommate, or friend, it helps to have your “no”
prepared in advance: “No, I really have to be ready for this test” or
“That’s a great idea, but let’s do it tomorrow—I just can’t today.” You
shouldn’t feel bad about saying no—especially if you told that person in
advance that you needed to study.
• Have a life. Never schedule your day or week so full of work and study
that you have no time at all for yourself, your family and friends, and
your larger life.
• Use a calendar planner and daily to-do list. We’ll look at these time
management tools in the next section.
Battling Procrastination
Procrastination is a way of thinking that lets one put off doing something that
should be done now. This can happen to anyone at any time. It’s like a voice inside
your head keeps coming up with these brilliant ideas for things to do right now
other than studying: “I really ought to get this room cleaned up before I study” or “I
can study anytime, but tonight’s the only chance I have to do X.” That voice is also
very good at rationalizing: “I really don’t need to read that chapter now; I’ll have
plenty of time tomorrow at lunch.…”
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Procrastination is very powerful. Some people battle it daily, others only
occasionally. Most college students procrastinate often, and about half say they
need help avoiding procrastination. Procrastination can threaten one’s ability to do
well on an assignment or test.
People procrastinate for different reasons. Some people are too relaxed in their
priorities, seldom worry, and easily put off responsibilities. Others worry
constantly, and that stress keeps them from focusing on the task at hand. Some
procrastinate because they fear failure; others procrastinate because they fear
success or are so perfectionistic that they don’t want to let themselves down. Some
are dreamers. Many different factors are involved, and there are different styles of
Just as there are different causes, there are different possible solutions for
procrastination. Different strategies work for different people. The time
management strategies described earlier can help you avoid procrastination.
Because this is a psychological issue, some additional psychological strategies can
also help:
• Since procrastination is usually a habit, accept that and work on
breaking it as you would any other bad habit: one day at a time. Know
that every time you overcome feelings of procrastination, the habit
becomes weaker—and eventually you’ll have a new habit of being able
to start studying right away.
• Schedule times for studying using a daily or weekly planner. Carry it
with you and look at it often. Just being aware of the time and what
you need to do today can help you get organized and stay on track.
• If you keep thinking of something else you might forget to do later
(making you feel like you “must” do it now), write yourself a note
about it for later and get it out of your mind.
• Counter a negative with a positive. If you’re procrastinating because
you’re not looking forward to a certain task, try to think of the positive
future results of doing the work.
• Counter a negative with a worse negative. If thinking about the
positive results of completing the task doesn’t motivate you to get
started, think about what could happen if you keep procrastinating.
You’ll have to study tomorrow instead of doing something fun you had
planned. Or you could fail the test. Some people can jolt themselves
right out of procrastination.
• On the other hand, fear causes procrastination in some people—so
don’t dwell on the thought of failing. If you’re studying for a test, and
you’re so afraid of failing it that you can’t focus on studying and you
start procrastinating, try to put things in perspective. Even if it’s your
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Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
most difficult class and you don’t understand everything about the
topic, that doesn’t mean you’ll fail, even if you may not receive an A or
a B.
• Study with a motivated friend. Form a study group with other students
who are motivated and won’t procrastinate along with you. You’ll
learn good habits from them while getting the work done now.
• Keep a study journal. At least once a day write an entry about how you
have used your time and whether you succeeded with your schedule
for the day. If not, identify what factors kept you from doing your
work. (Use the form at the end of this chapter.) This journal will help
you see your own habits and distractions so that you can avoid things
that lead to procrastination.
• Get help. If you really can’t stay on track with your study schedule, or
if you’re always putting things off until the last minute, see a college
counselor. They have lots of experience with this common student
problem and can help you find ways to overcome this habit.
Calendar Planners and To-Do Lists
Calendar planners and to-do lists are effective ways to organize your time. Many
types of academic planners are commercially available (check your college
bookstore), or you can make your own. Some people like a page for each day, and
some like a week at a time. Some use computer calendars and planners. Almost any
system will work well if you use it consistently.
Some college students think they don’t need to actually write down their schedule
and daily to-do lists. They’ve always kept it in their head before, so why write it
down in a planner now? Some first-year students were talking about this one day in
a study group, and one bragged that she had never had to write down her calendar
because she never forgot dates. Another student reminded her how she’d forgotten
a preregistration date and missed taking a course she really wanted because the
class was full by the time she went online to register. “Well,” she said, “except for
that time, I never forget anything!” Of course, none of us ever forgets
anything—until we do.
Calendars and planners help you look ahead and write in important dates and
deadlines so you don’t forget. But it’s just as important to use the planner to
schedule your own time, not just deadlines. For example, you’ll learn later that the
most effective way to study for an exam is to study in several short periods over
several days. You can easily do this by choosing time slots in your weekly planner
over several days that you will commit to studying for this test. You don’t need to
fill every time slot, or to schedule every single thing that you do, but the more
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carefully and consistently you use your planner, the more successfully will you
manage your time.
But a planner cannot contain every single thing that may occur in a day. We’d go
crazy if we tried to schedule every telephone call, every e-mail, every bill to pay,
every trip to the grocery store. For these items, we use a to-do list, which may be
kept on a separate page in the planner.
Check the example of a weekly planner form in Figure 2.5 "Weekly Planner". (You
can copy this page and use it to begin your schedule planning. By using this first,
you will find out whether these time slots are big enough for you or whether you’d
prefer a separate planner page for each day.) Fill in this planner form for next week.
First write in all your class meeting times; your work or volunteer schedule; and
your usual hours for sleep, family activities, and any other activities at fixed times.
Don’t forget time needed for transportation, meals, and so on. Your first goal is to
find all the blocks of “free time” that are left over.
Remember that this is an academic planner. Don’t try to schedule in everything in
your life—this is to plan ahead to use your study time most effectively.
Next, check the syllabus for each of your courses and write important dates in the
planner. If your planner has pages for the whole term, write in all exams and
deadlines. Use red ink or a highlighter for these key dates. Write them in the hour
slot for the class when the test occurs or when the paper is due, for example. (If you
don’t yet have a planner large enough for the whole term, use Figure 2.5 "Weekly
Planner" and write any deadlines for your second week in the margin to the right.
You need to know what’s coming next week to help schedule how you’re studying
this week.)
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Figure 2.5 Weekly Planner
Remember that for every hour spent in class, plan an average of two hours studying
outside of class. These are the time periods you now want to schedule in your
planner. These times change from week to week, with one course requiring more
time in one week because of a paper due at the end of the week and a different
course requiring more the next week because of a major exam. Make sure you block
out enough hours in the week to accomplish what you need to do. As you choose
your study times, consider what times of day you are at your best and what times
you prefer to use for social or other activities.
Don’t try to micromanage your schedule. Don’t try to estimate exactly how many
minutes you’ll need two weeks from today to read a given chapter in a given
textbook. Instead, just choose the blocks of time you will use for your studies. Don’t
yet write in the exact study activity—just reserve the block. Next, look at the major
deadlines for projects and exams that you wrote in earlier. Estimate how much time
you may need for each and work backward on the schedule from the due date. For
You have a short paper due on Friday. You determine that you’ll spend ten hours
total on it, from initial brainstorming and planning through to drafting and
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revising. Since you have other things also going on that week, you want to get an
early start; you might choose to block an hour a week ahead on Saturday morning,
to brainstorm your topic, and jot some preliminary notes. Monday evening is a good
time to spend two hours on the next step or prewriting activities. Since you have a
lot of time open Tuesday afternoon, you decide that’s the best time to reserve to
write the first draft; you block out three or four hours. You make a note on the
schedule to leave time open that afternoon to see your instructor during office
hours in case you have any questions on the paper; if not, you’ll finish the draft or
start revising. Thursday, you schedule a last block of time to revise and polish the
final draft due tomorrow.
If you’re surprised by this amount of planning, you may be the kind of student who
used to think, “The paper’s due Friday—I have enough time Thursday afternoon, so
I’ll write it then.” What’s wrong with that? First, college work is more demanding
than many first-year students realize, and the instructor expects higher-quality
work than you can churn out quickly without revising. Second, if you are tired on
Thursday because you didn’t sleep well Wednesday night, you may be much less
productive than you hoped—and without a time buffer, you’re forced to turn in a
paper that is not your best work.
Figure 2.6 "Example of a Student’s Weekly Planner Page with Class Times and
Important Study Sessions" shows what one student’s schedule looks like for a week.
This is intended only to show you one way to block out time—you’ll quickly find a
way that works best for you.
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Figure 2.6 Example of a Student’s Weekly Planner Page with Class Times and Important Study Sessions
Here are some more tips for successful schedule planning:
• Studying is often most effective immediately after a class meeting. If
your schedule allows, block out appropriate study time after class
• Be realistic about time when you make your schedule. If your class
runs to four o’clock and it takes you twenty minutes to wrap things up
and reach your study location, don’t figure you’ll have a full hour of
study between four o’clock and five o’clock.
• Don’t overdo it. Few people can study four or five hours nonstop, and
scheduling extended time periods like that may just set you up for
• Schedule social events that occur at set times, but just leave holes in
the schedule for other activities. Enjoy those open times and recharge
your energies!
• Try to schedule some time for exercise at least three days a week.
• Plan to use your time between classes wisely. If three days a week you
have the same hour free between two classes, what should you do with
those three hours? Maybe you need to eat, walk across campus, or run
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an errand. But say you have an average forty minutes free at that time
on each day. Instead of just frittering the time away, use it to review
your notes from the previous class or for the coming class or to read a
short assignment. Over the whole term, that forty minutes three times
a week adds up to a lot of study time.
If a study activity is taking longer than you had scheduled, look ahead
and adjust your weekly planner to prevent the stress of feeling behind.
If you maintain your schedule on your computer or smartphone, it’s
still a good idea to print and carry it with you. Don’t risk losing
valuable study time if you’re away from the device.
If you’re not paying close attention to everything in your planner, use
a colored highlighter to mark the times blocked out for really
important things.
When following your schedule, pay attention to starting and stopping
times. If you planned to start your test review at four o’clock after an
hour of reading for a different class, don’t let the reading run long and
take time away from studying for the test.
Your Daily To-Do List
People use to-do lists in different ways, and you should find what works best for
you. As with your planner, consistent use of your to-do list will make it an effective
Some people prefer not to carry their planner everywhere but instead copy the key
information for the day onto a to-do list. Using this approach, your daily to-do list
starts out with your key scheduled activities and then adds other things you hope to
do today.
Some people use their to-do list only for things not on their planner, such as short
errands, phone calls or e-mail, and the like. This still includes important
things—but they’re not scheduled out for specific times.
Although we call it a daily list, the to-do list can also include things you may not get
to today but don’t want to forget about. Keeping these things on the list, even if
they’re a low priority, helps ensure that eventually you’ll get to it.
Start every day with a fresh to-do list written in a special small notebook or on a
clean page in your planner. Check your planner for key activities for the day and
check yesterday’s list for items remaining.
2.3 Organizing Your Time
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
Some items won’t require much time, but other activities such as assignments will.
Include a time estimate for these so that later you can do them when you have
enough free time. If you finish lunch and have twenty-five minutes left before your
next class, what things on the list can you do now and check off?
Finally, use some system to prioritize things on your list. Some students use a 1, 2, 3
or A, B, C rating system for importance. Others simply highlight or circle items that
are critical to get done today. Figure 2.7 "Examples of Two Different Students’ ToDo Lists" shows two different to-do lists—each very different but each effective for
the student using it.
Figure 2.7 Examples of Two Different Students’ To-Do Lists
Use whatever format works best for you to prioritize or highlight the most important activities.
Here are some more tips for effectively using your daily to-do list:
• Be specific: “Read history chapter 2 (30 pages)”—not “History
2.3 Organizing Your Time
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
• Put important things high on your list where you’ll see them every
time you check the list.
• Make your list at the same time every day so that it becomes a habit.
• Don’t make your list overwhelming. If you added everything you
eventually need to do, you could end up with so many things on the list
that you’d never read through them all. If you worry you might forget
something, write it in the margin of your planner’s page a week or two
• Use your list. Lists often include little things that may take only a few
minutes to do, so check your list any time during the day you have a
moment free.
• Cross out or check off things after you’ve done them—doing this
becomes rewarding.
• Don’t use your to-do list to procrastinate. Don’t pull it out to find
something else you just “have” to do instead of studying!
Time Management Tips for Students Who Work
If you’re both working and taking classes, you seldom have large blocks of free time.
Avoid temptations to stay up very late studying, for losing sleep can lead to a
downward spiral in performance at both work and school. Instead, try to follow
these guidelines:
• If possible, adjust your work or sleep hours so that you don’t spend
your most productive times at work. If your job offers flex time,
arrange your schedule to be free to study at times when you perform
• Try to arrange your class and work schedules to minimize commuting
time. If you are a part-time student taking two classes, taking classes
back-to-back two or three days a week uses less time than spreading
them out over four or five days. Working four ten-hour days rather
than five eight-hour days reduces time lost to travel, getting ready for
work, and so on.
• If you can’t arrange an effective schedule for classes and work,
consider online courses that allow you to do most of the work on your
own time.
• Use your daily and weekly planner conscientiously. Any time you have
thirty minutes or more free, schedule a study activity.
• Consider your “body clock” when you schedule activities. Plan easier
tasks for those times when you’re often fatigued and reserve alert
times for more demanding tasks.
• Look for any “hidden” time potentials. Maybe you prefer the thirtyminute drive to work over a forty-five-minute train ride. But if you can
2.3 Organizing Your Time
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
read on the train, that’s a gain of ninety minutes every day at the cost
of thirty minutes longer travel time. An hour a day can make a huge
difference in your studies.
Can you do quick study tasks during slow times at work? Take your
class notes with you and use even five minutes of free time wisely.
Remember your long-term goals. You need to work, but you also want
to finish your college program. If you have the opportunity to
volunteer for some overtime, consider whether it’s really worth it.
Sure, the extra money would help, but could the extra time put you at
risk for not doing well in your classes?
Be as organized on the job as you are academically. Use your planner
and to-do list for work matters, too. The better organized you are at
work, the less stress you’ll feel—and the more successful you’ll be as a
student also.
If you have a family as well as a job, your time is even more limited. In
addition to the previous tips, try some of the strategies that follow.
Time Management Tips for Students with Family
Living with family members often introduces additional time stresses. You may
have family obligations that require careful time management. Use all the
strategies described earlier, including family time in your daily plans the same as
you would hours spent at work. Don’t assume that you’ll be “free” every hour
you’re home, because family events or a family member’s need for your assistance
may occur at unexpected times. Schedule your important academic work well ahead
and in blocks of time you control. See also the earlier suggestions for controlling
your space: you may need to use the library or another space to ensure you are not
interrupted or distracted during important study times.
Students with their own families are likely to feel time pressures. After all, you can’t
just tell your partner or kids that you’ll see them in a couple years when you’re not
so busy with job and college! In addition to all the planning and study strategies
discussed so far, you also need to manage your family relationships and time spent
with family. While there’s no magical solution for making more hours in the day,
even with this added time pressure there are ways to balance your life well:
• Talk everything over with your family. If you’re going back to school,
your family members may not have realized changes will occur. Don’t
let them be shocked by sudden household changes. Keep
communication lines open so that your partner and children feel
they’re together with you in this new adventure. Eventually you will
need their support.
2.3 Organizing Your Time
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
• Work to enjoy your time together, whatever you’re doing. You may not
have as much time together as previously, but cherish the time you do
have—even if it’s washing dishes together or cleaning house. If you’ve
been studying for two hours and need a break, spend the next ten
minutes with family instead of checking e-mail or watching television.
Ultimately, the important thing is being together, not going out to
movies or dinners or the special things you used to do when you had
more time. Look forward to being with family and appreciate every
moment you are together, and they will share your attitude.
• Combine activities to get the most out of
time. Don’t let your children watch
Figure 2.8
television or play video games off by
themselves while you’re cooking dinner, or
you may find you have only twenty minutes
family time together while eating. Instead,
bring the family together in the kitchen
and give everyone something to do. You
can have a lot of fun together and share the
day’s experiences, and you won’t feel so
Make the most of your time with
bad then if you have to go off and study by family, since you’ll also need time
alone for studying.
• Share the load. Even children who are very
young can help with household chores to
© Thinkstock
give you more time. Attitude is everything:
try to make it fun, the whole family pulling
together—not something they “have” to do
and may resent, just because Mom or Dad
went back to school. (Remember, your kids will reach college age
someday, and you want them to have a good attitude about college.) As
they get older, they can do their own laundry, cook meals, and get
themselves off to school, and older teens can run errands and do the
grocery shopping. They will gain in the process by becoming more
responsible and independent.
• Schedule your study time based on family activities. If you face
interruptions from young children in the early evening, use that time
for something simple like reviewing class notes. When you need more
quiet time for concentrated reading, wait until they’ve gone to bed.
• Be creative with child care. Usually options are available, possibly
involving extended family members, sitters, older siblings, cooperative
child care with other adult students, as well as child-care centers. After
a certain age, you can take your child along to campus when you
attend an evening course, if there is somewhere the child can quietly
read. At home, let your child have a friend over to play with. Network
2.3 Organizing Your Time
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
with other older students and learn what has worked for them. Explore
all possibilities to ensure you have time to meet your college goals. And
don’t feel guilty: “day care babies” grow up just as healthy
psychologically as those raised in the home full time.
Time Management Tips for Student Athletes
Student athletes often face unique time pressures because of the amount of time
required for training, practice, and competition. During some parts of the year,
athletics may involve as many hours as a full-time job. The athletic schedule can be
grueling, involving weekend travel and intensive blocks of time. You can be
exhausted after workouts or competitions, affecting how well you can concentrate
on studies thereafter. Students on athletic scholarships often feel their sport is
their most important reason for being in college, and this priority can affect their
attitudes toward studying. For all of these reasons, student athletes face special
time management challenges. Here are some tips for succeeding in both your sport
and academics:
• Realize that even if your sport is more important to you, you risk
everything if you don’t also succeed in your academics. Failing one
class in your first year won’t get you kicked out, but you’ll have to
make up that class—and you’ll end up spending more time on the
subject than if you’d studied more to pass it the first time.
• It’s critical to plan ahead. If you have a big test or a paper due the
Monday after a big weekend game, start early. Use your weekly
planner to plan well in advance, making it a goal, for example, to have
the paper done by Friday—instead of thinking you can magically get it
done Sunday night after victory celebrations. Working ahead will also
free your mind to focus better on your sport.
• Accept that you have two priorities—your sport and your classes—and
that both come before your social life. That’s just how it is—what you
have accepted in your choice to be a college athlete. If it helps, think of
your classes as your job; you have to “go to study” the same as others
“go to work.”
• Use your planner to take advantage of any downtime you have during
the day between classes and at lunch. Other students may seem to have
the luxury of studying during much of the afternoon when you’re at
practice, and maybe they can get away with hanging out between
classes, but you don’t have that time available, at least not during the
season. You need to use all the time you can find to keep up with your
• Stay on top of your courses. If you allow yourself to start slipping
behind, maybe telling yourself you’ll have more time later on to catch
2.3 Organizing Your Time
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
up, just the opposite will happen. Once you get behind, you’ll lose
momentum and find it more difficult to understand what’s going on
the class. Eventually the stress will affect your athletic performance
• Get help when you need it. Many athletic departments offer tutoring
services or referrals for extra help. But don’t wait until you’re at risk
for failing a class before seeking help. A tutor won’t take your test or
write your paper for you—they can only help you focus in to use your
time productively in your studies. You still have to want to succeed.
• People “use” time very differently. To develop strategies for managing
your time, discover your time personality and observe how much time
you spend in different activities in the course of a week.
• Plan your schedule with two hours of study time for each hour in class.
Use your most alert times of day, break up large tasks into smaller
pieces and stages, take breaks to help you stay focused, avoid
distractions, and reward yourself for successful accomplishments.
• Procrastination has many different causes for different people but is a
problem for most students. Different techniques can help you battle
procrastination so you can get the job done.
• Use a weekly calendar planner to block out study times and plan well
ahead for examinations and key assignments to achieve success in
• Use a daily to-do list along with your weekly planner to avoid
overlooking even smaller tasks and to make the most of your time
throughout the day.
• Students who work, live with family, or are athletes often face
significant time pressures and must make a special effort to stay
organized and plan ahead for efficient studying.
2.3 Organizing Your Time
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
1. What time(s) of day are you at your most alert?
What time(s) of day are you at your least alert?
2. What category of discretionary activity (not sleeping, working,
studying, etc.) represents your largest use of time?
Can you reduce the time you spend in that activity if you need
more time for your coursework?
3. For each of the following statements about time management,
circle T for true or F for false:
Think yourself into a positive mood before starting to
Always study just before going to sleep so that you’ll
dream about the topic.
T F Break up larger projects into smaller parts and stages.
Get everything done on your to-do list before studying so
that you’re not distracted.
When feeling stressed by a project, put it off until
Talk with your instructor or another student if you’re
having difficulty.
Try to study at least three hours at a time before taking a
T F Reward yourself for successfully completing a task.
2.3 Organizing Your Time
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
Avoid studying at times not written in on your weekly
planner; these are all free times just for fun.
Whenever interrupted by a friend, use that opportunity
to take a break for up to thirty minutes.
Turn off all electronic devices when reading an
T F assignment except for your laptop if you use it to take
Since people procrastinate when they’re distracted by
T F other things that need doing, it’s best to delay studying
until you’ve done everything else first.
Studying with a friend is a sure way to waste time and
develop poor study habits.
Use a study journal to observe how you use your time and
T F determine what things are keeping you from getting your
work done.
There’s no reason to keep a weekly calendar if all your
T F instructors have provided you with a syllabus that gives
the dates for all assignments and tests.
Studying for a particular class is most effective
immediately after that class meets.
4. Without looking at your planner, to-do list, or anything else in writing,
quickly write a list of everything you need to do in the next few days.
Then look through your planner, to-do list, and any other class notes for
anything you missed. What might you have forgotten or delayed if you
weren’t keeping a planner and to-do list?
5. Without looking at your weekly or daily schedule, think about
your typical week and the times you have free when not in class,
working, studying, eating, socializing, and so on. List at least
three “downtimes” when you don’t usually study that you can
use for coursework when necessary.
2.3 Organizing Your Time
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
2.3 Organizing Your Time
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
2.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter Takeaways
• It’s important to have short-, mid-, and long-term goals that are specific, realistic, time oriented,
and attainable. Goals help you set priorities and remain motivated and committed to your college
• Attitude is the largest factor determining success in college. Work to stay positive and surround
yourself with positive people, and you’ll find you are motivated to carry out the activities that will
help you succeed in your courses.
• Planning ahead, and then following your plan, is the essence of time management. Organize both
your space and your time to develop the best study habits. Learning strategies to stay on track,
avoid distractions of people and technology, and to prevent procrastination will pay off not only in
college but also in your career thereafter.
• Plan your use of time based on your “time personality” after assessing how you typically use your
free time. Then use an academic weekly and daily planner to schedule blocks of time most
efficiently. Start well ahead of deadlines to prevent last-minute stresses and problems completing
your work.
• Because many college students have significant time commitments with work, family, athletics, or
other activities, time management techniques are among the most important skills you can learn to
help ensure your success.
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
1. Describe the characteristics of well-written goals.
2. List at least four or five things you can do to develop a positive
3. What have you personally found helps motivate you to sit down
and start studying?
4. Describe the most important characteristics of an effective study
2.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
5. How can you prepare for unplanned interruptions while
6. After you have analyzed how you typically spend time and have
blocked out study periods for the week, you may still have
difficulty using that study time well. List additional time
management strategies that can help you make the most of the
time that you do have.
7. If you find yourself procrastinating, what can you do to get back
on track?
8. What can go wrong if you try to micromanage every minute of
the day?
2.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
What should you do, instead?
9. Realizing that any action repeated consistently and frequently
will soon become a habit, what should you do with your academic
planner every day and every week to establish a strong habit that
will help ensure your success in all your college courses to come?
2.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
Make seven copies of the “Study Journal” page following. Near the end of
the day, every day for the next week, spend a few minutes reviewing your
day and writing answers to those questions. At the end of the week, review
what you have written and summarize what you observe about your study
tendencies by answering these questions:
1. Did you usually get as much, more, or less schoolwork done as
you had scheduled for the day?
If you got less done, was the problem due to scheduling more
time than you actually had, or not making effective use of the
scheduled blocks of time?
2. List the steps you will follow to make your scheduling process
work better next week.
3. What other things did you do repeatedly during the week when
you should have been studying?
2.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
4. What were the most common distractions (people or other
interruptions) during the week when you were studying?
5. List ways you can control your study space to avoid these
activities and prevent these distractions next week.
6. Do you see a pattern in the activities you least enjoyed and had
difficulty getting started on?
7. Review Chapter 2 "Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track",
Section 2.2 "Organizing Your Space" and Chapter 2 "Staying
Motivated, Organized, and On Track", Section 2.3 "Organizing
Your Time" for specific strategies to use to stay focused and
motivated. Make a list here of five or more things you will do
differently next week if studying becomes difficult or less
2.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
Study Journal for Date: ____________
a. My daily planner had scheduled ______ hours of academic time
today (not counting time in class). It turned out that I actually
spent about ______ hours on my studies.
At some times I was scheduled to study or do academic work, I
was doing this instead:
b. The academic time I most enjoyed today was doing
I enjoyed this most because
c. The academic time I least most enjoyed today was doing
I enjoyed this least because
2.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
d. I had the most difficulty getting started on this study activity:
e. I did my studying and other academic work in these places:
f. During the time I was studying, I was interrupted by these
Other interruptions included the following (phone calls, e-mail,
2.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
I have not yet set realistic, specific, and time-oriented goals for the
In the coming weeks and months, I will think about and clarify these goals:
Planning Ahead
Too often in the past, I have not started early enough on these kinds of
school assignments and studying:
To ensure I successfully plan ahead to complete all work on time in the
future, I will do the following:
I have most difficulty maintaining a positive attitude at the following times:
2.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
I can do the following things to “adjust” my attitude at these times to help
ensure my success:
Focus and Motivation
When I’m not feeling motivated to work on my studies, I often do these
things instead:
I will try to use these strategies to keep motivated and focused on my studies
in the future:
Study Space
I have the following problems with the places where I usually study now:
I will make the following changes in my study space (or I will try these new
places) to help prevent distractions:
Time Management
2.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 2 Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track
I often feel I don’t have enough time for my college work for the following
I will start using these techniques to make sure I use my available time well:
2.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 3
Thinking about Thought
Figure 3.1
© Thinkstock
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
Where Are You Now?
Assess your present knowledge and attitudes.
Yes Unsure No
1. I am a good problem solver.
2. I am considered creative by my friends.
3. I have good judgment.
4. I find it easy to make decisions quickly.
5. My decisions usually turn out to be good
6. I like to think things through before speaking.
7. I am not shy about asking questions when I don’t
understand something.
8. I enjoy good discussions and arguments.
9. I regularly practice an art form (music, acting,
painting, etc.)
10. I enjoy hearing other people’s points of view,
even when I disagree with them.
11. I usually question information presented as fact
on the Internet or television.
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
Where Do You Want to Go?
Think about how you answered the questions above. Be honest with yourself.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your level of thinking skills at this
Poor thinking skills
Excellent thinking skills
In the following list, circle the three most important areas in which you think
you can improve:
Applying information
Analyzing information
Thinking critically
Asking questions about information
Evaluating information
Coming up with new ideas
Solving problems
Making decisions
Identifying weaknesses in ideas
Choosing sources for research
Are there other areas in which you can improve your thinking skills? Write
down other things you feel you need to work on.
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
How to Get There
Here’s what we’ll work on in this chapter:
• Understanding what makes thinking in college different from
thinking in high school
• Learning how to think
• Knowing the types of thinking
• Recognizing why all types of thinking are important
• Understanding what critical thinking is
• Recognizing and avoiding logical fallacies and faulty assumptions
• Establishing critical thinking habits
• Researching and thinking critically
• Understanding what creative thinking is
• Developing creative thinking habits
• Solving problems
• Making decisions
• Brainstorming
It’s All in Your Head
Throughout this book, we make the case that college is really quite different from
high school. Sure, the social life is different, and there are different pressures in
college, perhaps a family to support or a job schedule to coordinate with studies.
But the two most fundamental differences involve expectations—the expectation
that you will be independent and take responsibility for your actions and the
expectation that you will think for yourself.
Remember the heavy “thinking” you did in high school? Most of it was recalling
facts or information you had previously committed to memory. Perhaps in some
courses you were asked to support a statement or hypothesis using content from
your textbook or class. Your thinking in high school was very structured and tied
closely to reflecting what was taught in class.
In college, you are expected to think for yourself; to access and evaluate new
approaches and ideas; to contribute to your knowledge base; and to develop or
create new, fresh ideas. You will be required to develop and use a variety of
thinking skills—higher-order thinking skills—which you seldom used in high
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
school. In college, your instructors’ roles will be not only to supply a base of new
information and ideas, as good instructors will challenge you to stretch your skills
and knowledge base through critical and creative thinking. Much of their teaching
involves the questions they ask, not the directions they give. Your success in college
education—and in life beyond college—is directly linked to becoming a better and
more complete thinker. Becoming a better and more complete thinker requires
mastering some skills and consistent practice.
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
3.1 Types of Thinking
1. Understand that there are different types of thinking.
2. Identify how each type of thinking contributes to learning.
So what are the various types of thinking skills, and what kind things are we doing
when we apply them? In the 1950s, Benjamin Bloom developed a classification of
thinking skills that is still helpful today; it is known as Bloom’s taxonomy1. He lists
six types of thinking skills, ranked in order of complexity: knowledge,
comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Figure 3.2 "Types
of Thinking Skills" outlines each skill and what is involved in that type of thinking,
as updated by Lorin Anderson and David Krothwohl.L. W. Anderson and David R.
Krathwohl, eds., A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s
Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2001).
Figure 3.2 Types of Thinking Skills
1. A classification of thinking
skills developed by Benjamin
Bloom. In order of increasing
complexity, they are
knowledge, comprehension,
application, analysis, synthesis,
and evaluation.
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
All of these thinking skills are important for college work (and life in the “real
world,” too). You’ve likely had a great deal of experience with the lower-level
thinking skills (yellow section). The midlevel skills are skills you will get a lot of
practice with in college, and you may be well on your way to mastering them
already. The higher-level thinking skills (red section) are the most demanding, and
you will need to invest focused effort to develop them.
3.1 Types of Thinking
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
Think about Figure 3.2 "Types of Thinking Skills". Are you using all six
thinking skills? Reflect on your schoolwork in the past three weeks and
identify specific examples where you used each of the thinking skills. Use
the comment column to write notes about the skills that are second nature
to you and those you would like to develop further.
Skill Set
How You Used It in the
Past Three Weeks
and Recalling
3.1 Types of Thinking
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
Skill Set
How You Used It in the
Past Three Weeks
Look at the lists of things you actually did in each case. Notice that there are
certain verbs that apply to each skill set. When you see those verbs as a
prompt in an assignment or an exam, you will know what kind of thinking
the instructor expects from you. Table 3.1 "Thinking Verbs" lists some of the
most common verbs associated with each thinking skill.
Skill Set
and Recalling
Bookmark, count, describe, draw, enumerate, find, google, identify, label,
list, match, name, quote, recall, recite, search, select, sequence, tell, write
Blog, conclude, describe, discuss, explain, generalize, identify, illustrate,
interpret, paraphrase, predict, report, restate, review, summarize, tell,
3.1 Types of Thinking
3. Applying
Apply, articulate, change, chart, choose, collect, compute, control,
demonstrate, determine, do, download, dramatize, imitate, implement,
interview, install (as in software), participate, prepare, produce, provide,
report, role-play, run (software), select, share, show, solve, transfer, use
4. Analyzing
Analyze, break down, characterize, classify, compare, contrast, debate,
deduce, diagram, differentiate, discriminate, distinguish, examine, infer,
link, outline, relate, research, reverse-engineer, separate, subdivide, tag
5. Evaluating
Appraise, argue, assess, beta test, choose, collaborate, compare, contrast,
conclude, critique, criticize, decide, defend, “friend/de-friend,” evaluate,
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
Skill Set
judge, justify, network, post, predict, prioritize, prove, rank, rate, review,
select, support
6. Creating
Adapt, animate, blog, combine, compose, construct, create, design,
develop, devise, film, formulate, integrate, invent, make, model, modify,
organize, perform, plan, podcast, produce, program, propose, rearrange,
remix, revise, rewrite, structure
Throughout this book, we give tips that will help you develop your thinking skills.
You have read about the learning cycle and the importance of applying your
knowledge. You will learn tips for remembering information from your notes and
classes. Preparing for class requires you to analyze what you know and what you
need to learn. The sections on listening and reading will help you develop your
understanding skills. Look for those tips and practice them.
In this chapter, we will focus on critical thinking (evaluating) and creative thinking.
They deserve specific focus because they are likely to be the skills you have least
practice with. These are the skills most helpful for success in college and in “real
life.” Creative thinking will help you come up with possible solutions for problems
and new ideas. Critical thinking will help you decide which of those ideas have most
merit and deserve to be implemented.
• We use different types of thinking skills to address different
requirements, and these skills are classified in Bloom’s taxonomy.
• You have been using many thinking skills since childhood.
• Two very important thinking skills you will need to develop for success
in college and in life are critical (or evaluative) thinking and creative
3.1 Types of Thinking
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
1. List three verbs that are associated with application skills.
2. What is another name for “evaluation” thinking skills?
3. What thinking skills are associated with each of the following?
a. Compose and design:
b. Tweet and describe:
c. Break down and discriminate:
d. Rank and beta test:
e. Enumerate and google:
3.1 Types of Thinking
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
3.2 It’s Critical
Understand what critical thinking is and why it’s important.
Identify logical pitfalls.
Discover assumptions and biases.
Practice problem solving and decision making.
Know the power of questions.
Evaluate information (on and off the Internet).
Americans Have Access to…
1 million new books each year
5,500 magazines
10,500 radio stations
65,000 iPhone apps
1,000,000,000,000 Web pagesScott McLeod and Karl Fisch, “Did You
Know? 4.0,” video,
watch?v=6ILQrUrEWe8 (accessed January 10, 2010).
In today’s environment, it is not so critical to “know” a great deal of information.
The list above indicates how much information we can easily access. In fact, the
abundance of information might be the greater challenge. Your success will depend
on what you can do with the information, not just on what you know. How we filter
and use that abundance of data is the reason critical thinking has become so
important today.
2. The ability to discover the
value of an idea, a set of beliefs,
a claim, or an argument. It
requires you to use logic and
reasoning to evaluate evidence
or information to make a
decision or reach a conclusion.
Critical thinking2 is the ability to discover the value of an idea, a set of beliefs, a
claim, or an argument. It requires you to use logic and reasoning to evaluate
evidence or information to make a decision or reach a conclusion. Critical thinking
• a foundation for effective communication,
• the principal skill used in effective decision making,
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
• at the core of creating new knowledge,
• a way to uncover bias and prejudices.
Critical thinking is a part of everyday life, too. Decisions you make can have a
lasting impact on your life, and these decisions benefit from critical thinking. Did
you ever decide to quit smoking or to lose weight? Were you successful? How did
you decide to attend the college you are in? Was that the right choice for you? In
any of these cases, could you have made a better decision if you had better or more
The Critical Thinking Process
The critical thinking process is really nothing more than asking the right questions
to understand a problem or issue and then gathering the data you need to complete
the decision or take sides on an issue.
What is the problem or issue I am considering really about? Understanding this
is key to successful critical thinking. What is the objective? A position? A decision?
Are you deciding what candidate in an election will do a better overall job, or are
you looking to strengthen the political support for a particular cause? Are you
really against a recommendation from your dad, or are you using the issue to
establish your independence?
Do you understand the terms related to the issue? Are you in agreement with the
proponent’s definitions? For example, if you are evaluating a quotation on the
health-care system for use in a paper, your objective might be to decide to use the
quotation or not, but before you can make that decision you need to understand
what the writer is really saying. If a term like “family” is used, for example, does it
mean direct relations or extended family?
What are my options? What are choices that are available to you (if you are
making a decision), or what are the “sides” (in the case of a position) you might
choose to agree with? What are their differences? What are the likely consequences
of each option? In making a decision, it might be helpful to ask yourself, “What is
the worst thing that might happen in each scenario?” Examining different points of
view is very important; there may be dozens of alternative viewpoints to a
particular issue—and the validity of each can change depending on circumstances.
A position that is popular or politically correct today may not have been a year ago,
and there is no guarantee it will be right in the future. Likewise, a solution to a
personal problem that was successful for your roommate may not apply to you.
Remember also that sometimes the best option might be a combination of the
options you identify initially.
3.2 It’s Critical
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
What do I know about each option? First, make sure you have all the information
about each option. Do you have all the information to support each of your likely
options? What is still missing? Where can you get the information you need? Keep
an open mind and don’t dismiss supporting information on any position before you
evaluate it carefully.
How good is my information? Now it’s time to evaluate the quality of the support
of each option or point of view. Evaluate the strengths and the weaknesses of each
piece of supporting evidence. Are all the relevant facts presented? Are some facts
presented in misleading ways? Are enough examples presented to support the
premise? Consider the source of the supporting information. Who is the expert
presenting the facts? That “expert” may have a vested interest in the position.
Consider that bias3, more for understanding the point of view than for rejecting it.
Consider your own opinions (especially when working with emotional issues); are
your emotional ties to a point of view getting in your way of clear thinking (your
own biases)? If you really like a particular car model, are you giving the financial
implications of buying that car a fair consideration? Are there any errors or
fallacies in your logic? (See Table 3.2 "Fallacies and How to Avoid Them".)
Fallacies4 are defects in logic that weaken arguments. You should learn to identify
them in your own thinking so you can strengthen your positions, as well as in the
arguments of others when evaluating their strength.
Table 3.2 Fallacies and How to Avoid Them
3. A personal inclination that
may prevent unprejudiced
consideration of a question.
about a whole
group of people
based on an
students are
My economics
class is boring,
and my friend
says her
economic class is
too—therefore all
How to Avoid It in Your Own
What kind of sample are you
using? Is it large enough to
support the conclusions? You
may want to increase your
sample size or draw a more
modest conclusion by using the
word “some” or “many.”
4. Defects in logic that weaken
3.2 It’s Critical
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
How to Avoid It in Your Own
economics classes
are boring.
sequencing. If
A comes before
B, then A
causes B.
I studied biology
last term, and this
term I’m taking
organic chem,
which is very
confusing. Biology
makes chemistry
When making causal
statements, be sure you can
explain the process through
which A causes B beyond their
mere sequence.
Also known by
their Latin
names (ad
hominem, or
“against the
man,” and tu
quoque, or “you
Personalizations too”). Inserting
into an
Common in
Against the man: I
won’t support
Senator Smith’s
education bill. He’s
had a mistress and
marital problems.
Focus on the merits and
supporting data of an
argument, not on the
personality or behavior of the
people making the arguments.
You too: A parent
explains the
evidence of the
risks of binge
drinking. The
child rejects the
saying, “When
you were my age,
you drank too.”
The popular position is not
always the right one. Be wary
of arguments that rely
exclusively on one set of
False Cause
Everyone Does
3.2 It’s Critical
Also known by
its Latin name
(ad populum, or
Justifying an
issue based
solely on the
number of
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
How to Avoid It in Your Own
It’s healthy to
drink only soda;
millions of
American kids
Appealing to
Weak Analogy
Using an
from someone
as a primary
reason for
supporting a
point of view.
similarities in
two objects to
draw a
Setting up a
situation in
which it looks
False Dichotomy
like there are
only two
3.2 It’s Critical
We should
oppose higher
taxes; Curt
Schilling does.
Pitcher Curt
Schilling may be
a credible
authority on
baseball, but is he
an authority on
Cars and
motorcycles are
both driven at high
speeds on the
highway. Car
drivers aren’t
required to wear
helmets, so
motorcycle riders
shouldn’t have to
Quoting authorities is a
valuable tool to build an
argument; make sure the
authorities you quote are truly
subject matter experts on the
issue you are discussing.
You can draw an analogy
between just about any two
objects or ideas. If you are
using an analogy, make sure
you identify the properties
relevant to the argument you
are making and see if both
share those properties. (In the
example, the motorcycle does
not provide protection to the
rider, but the car does.
Equating the two vehicles based
on traveling speed is not
relevant to the argument.)
Examine your own thinking.
Are there really only two
The classic example
options? Look for the third
here is “America,
option. If you were asked to
love it or leave it.”
develop a compromise between
the two positions, what would
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
options. If one
option is
discredited, the
other must be
How to Avoid It in Your Own
it look like? What would its
strengths and weaknesses be?
You will need to use critical thinking throughout your college years and beyond.
Here are some common critical thinking situations and the kinds of questions you
should ask to apply critical thinking. Note that critical thinking is central to themes
covered in detail throughout this book.
• Personal choices. Examples include “What should I major in?” and
“Should I buy a new car?” What do you know about each of your
options? What is the quality of that information? Where can you get
more (reliable) information? How do those options relate to your
financial and emotional needs? What are the pros and cons of each
option? Are you open to the points of view of others who may be
involved? (See Chapter 11 "Taking Control of Your Finances" and
Chapter 12 "Taking Control of Your Future".)
• Reading, listening, note taking, and studying. What are the core
messages of the instructor or author? Why are they important? How do
these messages relate to one another or differ? (This is covered in
much more detail in Chapter 4 "Listening, Taking Notes, and
Remembering" and Chapter 5 "Reading to Learn".)
• Research papers. What evidence do you need to support your thesis?
What sources are available for that evidence? Are they reliable
sources? Are there any fallacies in your argument? (This is covered in
more detail in Chapter 8 "Writing for Classes".)
• Essay questions on exams. What is the professor really asking you to
do? What do you know about the question? What is your personal
belief about the question? What are the beliefs or biases of the
professor or quoted authors? What are the arguments against your
point of view? What are the most important pieces of evidence you
should offer to support your answer? (This covered in more detail in
Chapter 6 "Preparing for and Taking Tests".)
3.2 It’s Critical
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
Tips for Critical Thinking
• Consider all points of view; seriously consider more than two (look
for grey areas).
• Keep an open mind.
• Answer three questions about your supporting data:
1. Is it enough support?
2. Is it the right support?
3. Is it credible?
• Look for evidence that contradicts your point of view. Pretend to
disagree with the position you are supporting. What parts of your
argument are weak? Do you have the supporting facts to overcome
that evidence?
• Create a set of criteria you will use to evaluate the strength of
information you want to use to support your argument. Ask
questions like these:
◦ What is the source of this information?
◦ Is the author well respected in the field?
◦ When was this information developed? Is that important?
◦ Does the author or publisher have an agenda for publishing
the information? How does that agenda affect the credibility of
the information?
• Create a table on which you list your main points, then for each
one, list the evidence you have to support it. This method will help
you visually identify where you have weak evidence and what
points actually lack evidence.
• Be willing to admit that you lack information to support a point of
view or make a decision. Ask questions or do some focused
research to get what you still need.
• Make sure that your assumptions and points of view are supported
by facts, not opinions.
• Learn what types of fallacies you use habitually, and then be on the
lookout for them. Writers will often rely on certain types of
arguments as a matter of habit. Review some of your old papers to
identify which fallacies you need to avoid.
• Question your characterizations of others. Are those authorities
truly competent in the area you are considering? Are you
3.2 It’s Critical
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
attacking the opponents of your point of view rather than
attacking their arguments?
• Be careful of broad generalizations. Claims that use absolute words
like “all,” “none,” “always,” “never,” “no one,” and “everyone”
require much more proof than claims that use words like “most,”
“some,” “often,” “rarely,” “sometimes,” and so on.
3.2 It’s Critical
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
Where Did That Come From?
One of the most consistent uses for critical thinking in your college work is in
considering the value of research material and deciding how to use it. The
Internet gives you access to an almost unlimited amount of data, and you must
choose what to use carefully. Following are some guidelines.
1. Look at the URL5, the Web address. It can give you important
information about the reliability and intentions of the site. Start
with the page publisher. Have you heard of this source before? If
so, would you consider it a reliable source for the kind of material
you are about to read? Now consider the domain type in the URL,
which follows the period after the publisher: “.com” and “.biz” are
used by commercial enterprises, “.org” is normally used by
nonprofit organizations, and “.edu” is reserved for educational
institutions. None of these is necessarily bad or good, but they may
give you a sense behind the motivation for publishing this
material. Are you dealing with a company or the Web site of an
individual—and how might that affect the quality of the
information on that site?
2. What can you learn from poking around with navigation tabs or
buttons, and what do they tell you about the objective of the Web
site? Look for a tab labeled “About Us” or “Biography.”
3. Consider what others are saying about the site. Does the author
offer references, reviews, or quotations about the material? What
do they say? Check the blogosphere to see what other people think
of the author or Web site.
4. Trust your own impressions about the material. Is the information
consistent with what you already know?
5. Ask yourself why the Web site was written. (To inform? To provide
data or facts? To sell something? To promote a cause? To parody?)
Based on what you learned, ask yourself if the information from this Web site is
reliable for your needs. These steps are covered in more detail in Chapter 5
"Reading to Learn".
5. An Internet address; URL
stands for “uniform resource
3.2 It’s Critical
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
• Critical thinking is evaluating the strength of your arguments, data, and
• Three questions to ask about the support for an argument or
1. Is it enough support?
2. Is it the right support?
3. Is it credible?
• Weaknesses in arguments are most commonly logical fallacies.
Recognizing them will help evaluate the strength of an argument
3.2 It’s Critical
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
Figure 3.3
Crossword: Full of Fallacies
1. Fallacy is an error in _____________.
2. Appealing to _______________
3. Also known as the “you too” fallacy
5. Ad ______________; everybody
does it
4. False ________; a fallacy based on the
order of events
7. To draw conclusions based on a
small sample
6. A tendency or inclination which
9. False ________; a fallacy on
prevents fair consideration of a point of forced choice between only two
8. Weak ______________; irrelevant
3.2 It’s Critical
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
3.3 Searching for “Aha!”
1. Use creative thinking: the competitive advantage in the twenty-first
2. Understand the difference between creative thinking and free-form
3. Practice guidelines for creating ideas.
4. Use rules and directions to create effectively.
5. Understand group creativity: how to conduct effective brainstorming.
America still has the right stuff to thrive. We still have the most creative, diverse,
innovative culture and open society—in a world where the ability to imagine and
generate new ideas with speed and to implement them through global collaboration
is the most important competitive advantage.
- Thomas FriedmanThomas L. Friedman, “Time to Reboot America,” New York
Times, December 23, 2008,
24friedman.html?_r=2 (accessed January 14, 2010).
Let’s face it: many jobs are subject to outsourcing. The more menial or mechanical
the job, the greater the likelihood that there will be someone overseas ready to do
the job for a lot less pay. But generating new ideas, fostering innovation, and
developing processes or plans to implement them are something that cannot be
easily farmed out, and these are strengths of the American collegiate education.
Businesses want problem solvers, not just doers. Developing your creative thinking
skills will position you for lifelong success in whatever career you choose.
Creative thinking6 is the ability to look at things from a new perspective, to come
up with fresh solutions to problems. It is a deliberate process that allows you to
think in ways that improve the likelihood of generating new ideas or thoughts.
6. The ability to look at things
from a new perspective, to
come up with fresh solutions to
problems. It is a deliberate
process that allows you to
think in ways that increase the
likelihood of generating new
ideas or thoughts.
Let’s start by killing a couple of myths:
• Creativity is an inherited skill. Creativity is not something people are
born with but is a skill that is developed over time with consistent
practice. It can be argued that people you think were “born” creative
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
because their parents were creative, too, are creative simply because
they have been practicing creative thinking since childhood,
stimulated by their parents’ questions and discussions.
• Creativity is free-form thinking. While you may want to free yourself
from all preconceived notions, there is a recognizable structure to
creative thinking. Rules and requirements do not limit creative
thinking—they provide the scaffolding on which truly creative
solutions can be built. Free-form thinking often lacks direction or an
objective; creative thinking is aimed at producing a defined outcome or
Creative thinking involves coming up with new or original ideas; it is the process of
seeing the same things others see but seeing them differently. You use skills such as
examining associations and relationships, flexibility, elaboration, modification,
imagery, and metaphorical thinking. In the process, you will stimulate your
curiosity, come up with new approaches to things, and have fun!
Tips for Creative Thinking
• Feed your curiosity. Read. Read books, newspapers, magazines,
blogs—anything at any time. When surfing the Web, follow links just to
see where they will take you. Go to the theatre or movies. Attend
lectures. Creative people make a habit of gathering information,
because they never know when they might put it to good use.
Creativity is often as much about rearranging known ideas as it is
about creating a completely new concept. The more “known ideas” you
have been exposed to, the more options you’ll have for combining
them into new concepts.
• Develop your flexibility by looking for a second right answer.
Throughout school we have been conditioned to come up with the
right answer; the reality is that there is often more than one “right”
answer. Examine all the possibilities. Look at the items in Figure 3.4.
Which is different from all the others?
3.3 Searching for “Aha!”
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
Figure 3.4
If you chose C, you’re right; you can’t eat a board. Maybe you chose D; that’s right,
too—clams are the only animal on the chart. B is right, as it’s the only item you can
make oil from, and A can also be right; it’s the only red item.
Each option can be right depending on your point of view. Life is full of multiple
answers, and if we go along with only the first most obvious answer, we are in
danger of losing the context for our ideas. The value of an idea can only be
determined by comparing it with another. Multiple ideas will also help you
generate new approaches by combining elements from a variety of “right” answers.
In fact, the greatest danger to creative thinking is to have only one idea. Always ask
yourself, “What’s the other right answer?”
• Combine old ideas in new ways. When King C. Gillette registered his
patent for the safety razor, he built on the idea of disposable bottle
caps, but his venture didn’t become profitable until he toyed with a
watch spring and came up with the idea of how to manufacture
inexpensive (therefore disposable) blades. Bottle caps and watch
springs are far from men’s grooming materials, but Gillette’s genius
was in combining those existing but unlikely ideas. Train yourself to
3.3 Searching for “Aha!”
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
think “out of the box.” Ask yourself questions like, “What is the most
ridiculous solution I can come up with for this problem?” or “If I were
transported by a time machine back to the 1930s, how would I solve
this problem?” You may enjoy watching competitive design, cooking,
or fashion shows (Top Chef, Chopped, Project Runway, etc.); they are great
examples of combining old ideas to make new, functional ones.
• Think metaphorically. Metaphors are useful to describe complex
ideas; they are also useful in making problems more familiar and in
stimulating possible solutions. For example, if you were a partner in a
company about to take on outside investors, you might use the pie
metaphor to clarify your options (a smaller slice of a bigger pie versus
a larger slice of a smaller pie). If an organization you are a part of is
lacking direction, you may search for a “steady hand at the tiller,”
communicating quickly that you want a consistent, nonreactionary,
calm leader. Based on that ship-steering metaphor, it will be easier to
see which of your potential leaders you might want to support. Your
ability to work comfortably with metaphors takes practice. When faced
with a problem, take time to think about metaphors to describe it, and
the desired solution. Observe how metaphors are used throughout
communication and think about why those metaphors are effective.
Have you ever noticed that the financial business uses water-based
metaphors (cash flow, frozen assets, liquidity) and that meteorologists
use war terms (fronts, wind force, storm surge)? What kinds of
metaphors are used in your area of study?
• Ask. A creative thinker always questions the way things are: Why are
we doing things this way? What were the objectives of this process and
the assumptions made when we developed the process? Are they still
valid? What if we changed certain aspects? What if our circumstances
changed? Would we need to change the process? How? Get in the habit
of asking questions—lots of questions.
• Creative thinking is a requirement for success.
• Creative thinking is a deliberate process that can be learned and
• Creative thinking involves, but is not limited to, curiosity, flexibility,
looking for the second right answer, combining things in new ways,
thinking metaphorically, and questioning the way things are.
3.3 Searching for “Aha!”
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
1. Feed your curiosity. List five things you will do in the next
month that you have never done before (go to the ballet, visit a
local museum, try Moroccan food, or watch a foreign movie).
Expand your comfort “envelope.” Put them on your calendar.
2. How many ways can you use it? Think of as many uses for the
following common items as possible. Can you name more than
Peanut Butter
(PBJ counts as
Honors Level:
Pen Caps
regardless of
the flavor of
3.3 Searching for “Aha!”
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
Peanut Butter
(PBJ counts as
Honors Level:
Pen Caps
regardless of
the flavor of
3.3 Searching for “Aha!”
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
Peanut Butter
(PBJ counts as
Honors Level:
Pen Caps
regardless of
the flavor of
3. A metaphor for life. In the movie Forrest Gump, Forrest states,
“Life was like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re
gonna get.” Write your own metaphor for life and share it with
your classmates.
4. He has eyes in the back of his head. What if we really had eyes
in the backs of our heads? How would life be different? What
would be affected? Would we walk backward? Would we get
dizzy if we spun in circles? Would it be easy to put mascara on
the back eyes? Generate your own questions and answers; let the
creative juices flow!
3.3 Searching for “Aha!”
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
3.4 Problem Solving and Decision Making
1. Learn to understand the problem.
2. Learn to combine creative thinking and critical thinking to solve
3. Practice problem solving in a group.
Much of your college and professional life will be spent solving problems; some will
be complex, such as deciding on a career, and require time and effort to come up
with a solution. Others will be small, such as deciding what to eat for lunch, and will
allow you to make a quick decision based entirely on your own experience. But, in
either case, when coming up with the solution and deciding what to do, follow the
same basic steps.
• Define the problem. Use your analytical skills. What is the real issue?
Why is it a problem? What are the root causes? What kinds of outcomes
or actions do you expect to generate to solve the problem? What are
some of the key characteristics that will make a good choice: Timing?
Resources? Availability of tools and materials? For more complex
problems, it helps to actually write out the problem and the answers to
these questions. Can you clarify your understanding of the problem by
using metaphors to illustrate the issue?
• Narrow the problem. Many problems are made up of a series of
smaller problems, each requiring its own solution. Can you break the
problem into different facets? What aspects of the current issue are
“noise” that should not be considered in the problem solution? (Use
critical thinking to separate facts from opinion in this step.)
• Generate possible solutions. List all your options. Use your creative
thinking skills in this phase. Did you come up with the second “right”
answer, and the third or the fourth? Can any of these answers be
combined into a stronger solution? What past or existing solutions can
be adapted or combined to solve this problem?
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
Brainstorming7 is a process of generating ideas for solutions in a group.
This method is very effective because ideas from one person will trigger
additional ideas from another. The following guidelines make for an
effective brainstorming session:
• Decide who should moderate the session. That person may participate,
but his main role is to keep the discussion flowing.
• Define the problem to be discussed and the time you will allow to
consider it.
• Write all ideas down on a board or flip chart for all participants to see.
• Encourage everyone to speak.
• Do not allow criticism of ideas. All ideas are good during a brainstorm.
Suspend disbelief until after the session. Remember a wildly impossible
idea may trigger a creative and feasible solution to a problem.
• Choose the best solution. Use your critical thinking skills to select the
most likely choices. List the pros and cons for each of your selections.
How do these lists compare with the requirements you identified when
you defined the problem? If you still can’t decide between options, you
may want to seek further input from your brainstorming team.
Decisions, Decisions
You will be called on to make many decisions in your life. Some will be personal,
like what to major in, or whether or not to get married. Other times you will be
making decisions on behalf of others at work or for a volunteer organization.
Occasionally you will be asked for your opinion or experience for decisions others
are making. To be effective in all of these circumstances, it is helpful to understand
some principles about decision making.
7. A process of generating ideas
for solutions in a group of
First, define who is responsible for solving the problem or making the decision. In
an organization, this may be someone above or below you on the organization chart
but is usually the person who will be responsible for implementing the solution.
Deciding on an academic major should be your decision, because you will have to
follow the course of study. Deciding on the boundaries of a sales territory would
most likely be the sales manager who supervises the territories, because he or she
will be responsible for producing the results with the combined territories. Once
you define who is responsible for making the decision, everyone else will fall into
one of two roles: giving input, or in rare cases, approving the decision.
3.4 Problem Solving and Decision Making
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
Understanding the role of input is very important for good decisions. Input is
sought or given due to experience or expertise, but it is up to the decision maker to
weigh the input and decide whether and how to use it. Input should be fact based,
or if offering an opinion, it should be clearly stated as such. Finally, once input is
given, the person giving the input must support the other’s decision, whether or
not the input is actually used.
Consider a team working on a project for a science course. The team assigns you the
responsibility of analyzing and presenting a large set of complex data. Others on the
team will set up the experiment to demonstrate the hypothesis, prepare the class
presentation, and write the paper summarizing the results. As you face the data,
you go to the team to seek input about the level of detail on the data you should
consider for your analysis. The person doing the experiment setup thinks you
should be very detailed, because then it will be easy to compare experiment results
with the data. However, the person preparing the class presentation wants only
high-level data to be considered because that will make for a clearer presentation. If
there is not a clear understanding of the decision-making process, each of you may
think the decision is yours to make because it influences the output of your work;
there will be conflict and frustration on the team. If the decision maker is clearly
defined upfront, however, and the input is thoughtfully given and considered, a
good decision can be made (perhaps a creative compromise?) and the team can get
behind the decision and work together to complete the project.
Finally, there is the approval role in decisions. This is very common in business
decisions but often occurs in college work as well (the professor needs to approve
the theme of the team project, for example). Approval decisions are usually based
on availability of resources, legality, history, or policy.
• Effective problem solving involves critical and creative thinking.
• The four steps to effective problem solving are the following:
Define the problem
Narrow the problem
Generate solutions
Choose the solution
• Brainstorming is a good method for generating creative solutions.
• Understanding the difference between the roles of deciding and
providing input makes for better decisions.
3.4 Problem Solving and Decision Making
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
1. Gather a group of three or four friends and conduct three short
brainstorming sessions (ten minutes each) to generate ideas for
alternate uses for peanut butter, paper clips, and pen caps.
Compare the results of the group with your own ideas. Be sure to
follow the brainstorming guidelines. Did you generate more ideas
in the group? Did the quality of the ideas improve? Were the
group ideas more innovative? Which was more fun? Write your
conclusions here.
2. Using the steps outlined earlier for problem solving, write a plan
for the following problem: You are in your second year of studies
in computer animation at Jefferson Community College. You and
your wife both work, and you would like to start a family in the
next year or two. You want to become a video game designer and
can benefit from more advanced work in programming. Should
you go on to complete a four-year degree?
a. Define the problem: What is the core issue? What are
the related issues? Are there any requirements to a
successful solution? Can you come up with a
metaphor to describe the issue?
3.4 Problem Solving and Decision Making
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
b. Narrow the problem: Can you break down the
problem into smaller manageable pieces? What would
they be?
c. Generate solutions: What are at least two “right”
answers to each of the problem pieces?
d. Choose the right approach: What do you already
know about each solution? What do you still need to
know? How can you get the information you need?
Make a list of pros and cons for each solution.
3.4 Problem Solving and Decision Making
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
3.4 Problem Solving and Decision Making
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
3.5 Chapter Activities
Chapter Takeaways
• Your ability to think critically and creatively is a key to your success in college and in life. You
should develop and practice these skills.
• Bloom’s taxonomy provides a framework to describe the many kinds of thinking we need to do. Up
to this point, you probably have practiced most of the lower-level thinking skills but have not had
much experience with the higher-level skills (critical thinking and creative thinking).
• Critical thinking involves evaluating the strength of ideas or concepts by asking questions about
them. Critical thinking will also allow you to identify and weed out logical fallacies that weaken the
value of an idea.
• Creative thinking is the process of generating new ideas, concepts, or solutions. This often involves
adapting existing ideas or combining them in new ways to create a new solution.
• Problem solving is effectively achieved by applying both critical thinking and creative thinking to
generate viable solutions and decisions.
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
1. List the six levels of thinking described in Bloom’s taxonomy.
2. Which thinking skill is most important for short answer quizzes?
3. List five verbs that describe the application level of thought.
4. What thinking skills are you using if you are blogging? How do
you use each one?
3.5 Chapter Activities
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
5. What is critical thinking?
6. Why is it important to pose some questions about the source of
the material you read? What kinds of questions should you ask?
7. What is a logical fallacy? Give an example of two types.
8. List six words that signal a broad generalization and a
recommended alternative that would resolve that problem of
3.5 Chapter Activities
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
9. What are some ways in which you can feed your curiosity?
10. Why is brainstorming more effective at generating new ideas
than individual work?
11. List the four steps of problem solving.
12. How do you use critical thinking and creative thinking in solving
3.5 Chapter Activities
Chapter 3 Thinking about Thought
Two things I
will do to
3.5 Chapter Activities
My critical
My creative
My problem
By when I expect
to take the action
The expected
results of that
Chapter 4
Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
Figure 4.1
© Thinkstock
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
Where Are You Now?
Assess your present knowledge and attitudes.
Yes Unsure No
1. I am satisfied with my grades.
2. I usually feel well prepared for classes.
3. I usually understand what is going on in class.
4. I find it easy to stay focused in class.
5. I am not shy or self-conscious about asking
6. I learn from recorded lectures and podcasts.
7. I take useful notes in class.
8. I go to the instructor’s office when I have a
question about an assignment.
9. I can successfully study for a test from the notes I
have taken.
10. I use different note-taking methods in different
11. I do not have trouble remembering facts and
12. I retain useful information after an exam.
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
Where Do You Want to Go?
Think about how you answered the questions above. Be honest with yourself.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your level of academic achievement at
this time?
A poor student
An excellent student
In the following list, circle the three most important areas in which you think
you can improve:
Preparing for class
Taking notes on your laptop
Listening in class
Using different systems for note taking
Using seat selection to your advantage
Remembering facts and figures
Listening to podcasts
Remembering ideas and concepts
Asking good questions
Choosing a memory method that’s right for you
Taking notes on paper
Using a memory system
Are there other areas in which you can improve your academic performance?
Write down other things you feel you need to work on.
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
How to Get There
Here’s what we’ll work on in this chapter:
Setting yourself up for success by following the learning cycle
Listening actively
Listening in class
Asking good questions
Taking effective notes
Learning the principal note-taking methods
Modifying your note-taking methods to meet your learning style
and your instructor’s approach to the material
• Understanding how your memory works
• Using your memory effectively
• Learning memory-building tips
This Is Not Like High School; This Is Not Like Work
As you embark on your college career, you have found yourself in an environment
like no other. You soon will discover the new social structure, you may be
invigorated by a new freedom, and you may be daunted by the number of options
you have for activities. We cover these nonacademic aspects of college life starting
in Chapter 9 "The Social World of College". But for now, consider some of the
differences between college classes and what you likely were used to in high school.
These differences are important because they demand you change your behavior if
you want to be a successful student.
Table 4.1 Differences between High School and College Classes
In High School
In College
Your teacher would guide
you and let you know when
you were falling behind.
You are expected to take responsibility for your academic
Your teacher would take
attendance and report you
when you were absent; the
Your instructor rarely takes attendance but expects you to
be in class and understand the material.
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
In High School
In College
teacher would help you make
up the material you missed.
Your teacher would write
assignments on the board
and remind you to complete
It is up to you to read, save, and follow the course syllabus
and to know what material you must read and understand
and by when. Since the syllabus makes this clear,
instructors will rarely remind you of assignment due dates.
Each class would typically
meet three to five times each
week with minimal
homework each night.
Each class meets less frequently but requires much more
work from each student. You should generally count on
doing two to three hours of studying for each hour of class.
What seems like an eight-hour work day may quickly
become fourteen hours or more of academic work. Take
responsibility for budgeting your time and not falling
behind. In college it is much harder to catch up if you do
get behind.
High school teachers are
passionate about guiding
their students and teaching
them to learn.
College instructors are often more passionate about their
subject matter than they are about their teaching. But you
can tap into their passion for what they are talking about
and guide your own learning by asking questions, seeking
advice during office hours, and participating in class
Daily homework assignments
and unit quizzes contributed
heavily to your grade.
Oftentimes a teacher would
offer extra credit
opportunities to give
students a chance to make up
for lapses along the way.
Your grade in a course may be determined primarily by
one or two exams and a long-term project or paper. A
subpar performance on a single exam or paper can really
drag your grades down. Identify the assignments on the
syllabus and get to work on them early and consistently.
Don’t put off assignments or studying for tests until the
last minute! In college, extra credit is not an option to fall
back on!
You were told what you
should study and when. You
followed a predetermined
You determine what you want to learn. It is your
curriculum set by state and
education—not someone else’s. Find your passion and
local officials. Even your
follow it! You will be a much better student if you do.
parents and guidance
counselors had a major say in
your “elective” choices.
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
4.1 Setting Yourself Up for Success
1. Identify the roles of listening and note taking in the learning cycle.
Too many students try to get the grade just by going to class, maybe a little note
taking, and then cramming through the text right before an exam they feel
unprepared for. Sound familiar? This approach may have worked for you in high
school where tests and quizzes were more frequent and teachers prepared study
guides for you, but colleges require you to take responsibility for your learning and
to be better prepared.
Most students simply have not learned how to study and don’t understand how
learning works. As we discussed in Chapter 1 "You and Your College Experience",
learning is actually a cycle of four steps: preparing, absorbing, capturing, and
reviewing. When you get in the habit of paying attention to this cycle, it becomes
relatively easy to study well. But you must use all four steps.
This chapter focuses on listening1, a key skill for learning new material, and note
taking, the most important skill in the capturing phase of the cycle. These skills are
closely related. Good listening skills make you a better note taker, and taking good
notes can help you listen better. Both are key study skills to help you do better in
your classes.
1. Purposefully focusing on what
a speaker is saying with the
objective of understanding.
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
Figure 4.2 The Learning Cycle
4.1 Setting Yourself Up for Success
College is very different from high school.
You must take personal responsibility for your learning.
Time management is crucial.
Learning is a cycle of four steps: preparing, absorbing, capturing, and
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
4.2 Are You Ready for Class?
1. Prepare for listening in class and taking notes.
2. Use a syllabus.
A professional athlete wouldn’t take the field without warming up first. An effective
student won’t go to a class without preparing for it first. To get the most out of a
class, you need to get yourself in the right frame of mind. This does not take a lot of
time, but it greatly increases your ability to listen actively and take good notes.
Like a good athlete, first you need to get psyched. Clearly visualize your goals.
Thinking about the following questions may help:
• What do I want to get out of the class?
• What is the main idea the class will cover?
• How will today’s class help me do better in this course?
Go to class with confidence. The best way to achieve this is to start early and be sure
you’ve completed any assignment the instructor gave you in the last class. Think
about how today’s material will tie into what you’ve already learned. You should
also review the course syllabus2 to see what the instructor expects to cover in the
class and how it relates to what you have learned so far.
Be physically prepared, too:
2. An outline of the course from
the instructor, which covers
the course objectives, the
material to be covered in each
class, and often assignments.
• Make sure you are getting enough sleep and eating nutritious meals,
including breakfast. It’s hard to focus on learning when you’re hungry.
• Make sure you have all materials you’ll need for class (paper, pens,
laptop, books, etc.).
• Be punctual. Give yourself plenty of time to get into your seat and
organize your space. If you are late, you’ll struggle to get into the right
mind-set for listening, and you won’t feel in control of your learning as
you try to catch up with the class. If you’re tardy, you also create a
distraction for your classmates—and the instructor, who will take
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
• Clear away all other distractions before the instructor starts.
Remember that putting your cell phone on “vibrate” may still distract
you—so turn it off, all the way off.
Now, take a deep breath, focus on the instructor, and listen and learn!
• To get the most out of a class, get yourself in the right frame of mind.
• Clearly visualize your goals and approach the class with confidence.
• Be physically prepared: rested, punctual, and not distracted.
4.2 Are You Ready for Class?
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
4.3 Are You Really Listening?
1. Listen actively in social situations and in class environments.
2. Apply strategies that make listening more effective.
3. Ask good questions.
Are you a good listener? Most of us like to think we are, but when we really think
about it, we recognize that we are often only half listening. We’re distracted,
thinking about other things, or formulating what we are going to say in reaction to
what we are hearing before the speaker has even finished. Effective listening is one
of the most important learning tools you can have in college. And it is a skill that
will benefit you on the job and help your relationships with others. Listening is
nothing more than purposefully focusing on what a speaker is saying with the
objective of understanding.
This definition is straightforward, but there are some important concepts that
deserve a closer look. “Purposefully focusing” implies that you are actively
processing what the speaker is saying, not just letting the sounds of their voice
register in your senses. “With the objective of understanding” means that you will
learn enough about what the speaker is saying to be able to form your own
thoughts about the speaker’s message. Listening is an active process, as opposed to
hearing, which is passive.
You listen to others in many situations: to interact with friends, to get instructions
for a task, or to learn new material. There are two general types of listening
situations: where you will be able to interact freely with the speaker (everyday
conversations, small discussion classes, business meetings) and where interaction is
limited (lectures and Webcasts).
3. A strategy for listening
effectively in interactive
situations by focusing on what
is being said, confirming that
you heard the right message,
asking for any needed
clarification, watching for
nonverbal messages, and
listening for requests.
In interactive situations, you should apply the basic principles of active listening3
(see “Principles of Active Listening”). These are not hard to understand, but they
are hard to implement and require practice to use them effectively.
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
Principles of Active Listening
1. Focus on what is being said. Give the speaker your undivided
attention. Clear your mind of anything else. Don’t prejudge. You
want to understand what the person is saying; you don’t need to
agree with it.
2. Repeat what you just heard. Confirm with the speaker that what
you heard is what he or she said.
3. Ask speaker to expand or clarify. If you are unsure you understand,
ask questions; don’t assume.
4. Look for nonverbal signals as well as the words used. Nonverbal
messages come from facial expressions, body positioning, arm
gestures, and tone of voice. Confirm these body language messages
just as you would verbal messages by saying, for example, “You
seem very excited about this idea.”
5. Listen for requests. A speaker will often hide a request as a
statement of a problem. If a friend says, “I hate math!” this may
mean, “Can you help me figure out a solution to this problem?”
Think of a person you consider an excellent listener. Picture that person
clearly in your mind. Focus on what she does, not what they she is saying.
Describe what actions and postures she uses to show she is listening. Put this
list on the left-hand side of the page.
Think of a person you consider a poor listener. Picture that person clearly in
your mind. Focus on what he does, not what he is saying. Describe what
actions and postures he uses to show he is not listening. Put this list on the
right-hand side of the page.
Now compare these lists with your own behavior. How many of the body
language signals from each side do you think you exhibit? How can you add
more of the left column’s attitudes and actions to your own behaviors? How
can you control those behaviors you recognize in yourself from the right
4.3 Are You Really Listening?
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
Listening in a classroom or lecture hall to learn can be challenging because you are
limited by how—and how much—you can interact with an instructor during the
class. The following strategies help make listening at lectures more effective and
learning more fun.
1. Get your mind in the right space. Prepare yourself mentally to
receive the information the speaker is presenting by following the
previous prep questions and by doing your assignments (instructors
build upon work presented earlier).
2. Get yourself in the right space. Sit toward the front of the room
where you can make eye contact with the instructor easily. Most
instructors read the body language of the students in the front rows to
gauge how they are doing and if they are losing the class. Instructors
also believe students who sit near the front of the room take their
subject more seriously and are more willing to give them help when
needed or to give them the benefit of the doubt when making a
judgment call while assigning grades.
3. Focus on what is being said. Eliminate distractions. Turn your cell
phone off and pack it away in your backpack. If you are using your
laptop for notes, close all applications except the one that you use to
take notes. Clear your mind and keep quiet. Listen for new ideas. Think
like an investigative reporter: you don’t just want to accept what is
being said passively—you want to question the material and be
convinced that it makes sense.
4. Look for signals. Each instructor has a different way of telling you
what is important. Some will repeat or paraphrase an idea; others will
raise (or lower) their voices; still others will write related words on the
board. Learn what signals your instructors tend to use and be on the
lookout for them. When they use that tactic, the idea they are
presenting needs to go in your notes and in your mind—and don’t be
surprised if it appears on a test or quiz!
5. Listen for what is not being said. If an instructor doesn’t cover a
subject, or covers it only minimally, this signals that that material is
not as important as other ideas covered in greater length.
6. Sort the information. Decide what is important and what is not, what
is clear and what is confusing, and what is new material and what is
review. This mental organizing will help you remember the
information, take better notes, and ask better questions.
7. Take notes. We cover taking notes in much greater detail later in this
chapter, but for now think about how taking notes can help recall what
your instructor said and how notes can help you organize your
thoughts for asking questions.
8. Ask questions. Asking questions is one of the most important things
you can do in class. Most obviously it allows you to clear up any doubts
4.3 Are You Really Listening?
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
you may have about the material, but it also helps you take ownership
of (and therefore remember) the material. Good questions often help
instructors expand upon their ideas and make the material more
relevant to students. Thinking through the material critically in order
to prepare your questions helps you organize your new knowledge and
sort it into mental categories that will help you remember it.
A note about tape-recording lectures: You may want to record a lecture to
double-check what you heard in class, but it’s usually not a good idea. Depending on
a recording may lead you to listen less effectively and think less actively.
Additionally, many instructors do not allow students to record their lectures, so
recording is usually not even an option.
Dealing with Special Listening Challenges
What to Do If…
• Your instructor speaks too fast. Crank up your preparation. The
more you know about the subject, the more you’ll be able to pick up
from the instructor. Exchange class notes with other students to fill in
gaps in notes. Visit the instructor during office hours to clarify areas
you may have missed. You might ask the instructor—very politely, of
course—to slow down, but habits like speaking fast are hard to break!
• Your instructor has a heavy accent. Sit as close to the instructor as
possible. Make connections between what the instructor seems to be
saying and what he or she is presenting on the board or screen. Ask
questions when you don’t understand. Visit the instructor during
office hours; the more you speak with the instructor the more likely
you will learn to understand the accent.
• Your instructor speaks softly or mumbles. Sit as close to the
instructor as possible and try to hold eye contact as much as possible.
Check with other students if they are having problems listening, too; if
so, you may want to bring the issue up with the instructor. It may be
that the instructor is not used to the lecture hall your class is held in
and can easily make adjustments.
4.3 Are You Really Listening?
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
Now That’s a Good Question…
Are you shy about asking questions? Do you think that others in the class will
ridicule you for asking a dumb question? Students sometimes feel this way
because they have never been taught how to ask questions. Practice these steps,
and soon you will be on your way to customizing each course to meet your
needs and letting the instructor know you value the course.
• Be prepared. Doing your assignments for a class or lecture will
give you a good idea about the areas you are having trouble with
and will help you frame some questions ahead of time.
• Position yourself for success. Sit near the front of the class. It
will be easier for you to make eye contact with the instructor as
you ask the question. Also, you won’t be intimidated by a class full
of heads turning to stare at you as you ask your question.
• Don’t wait. Ask your questions as soon as the instructor has
finished a thought. Being one of the first students to ask a question
also will ensure that your question is given the time it deserves
and won’t be cut short by the end of class.
• In a lecture class, write your questions down. Make sure you jot
your questions down as they occur to you. Some may be answered
in the course of the lecture, but if the instructor asks you to hold
your questions until the end of class, you’ll be glad you have a list
of the items you need the instructor to clarify or expand on.
• Ask specific questions. “I don’t understand” is a statement, not a
question. Give the instructor guidance about what you are having
trouble with. “Can you clarify the use of the formula for
determining velocity?” is a better way of asking for help. If you ask
your question at the end of class, give the instructor some context
for your question by referring to the part of the lecture that
triggered the question. For example, “Professor, you said the
Union troops were emboldened by Lincoln’s leadership. Was this
throughout the Civil War, or only after Gettysburg?”
• Don’t ask questions for the sake of asking questions. If your
question is not thought out, or if it appears that you are asking the
question to try to look smart, instructors will see right through
4.3 Are You Really Listening?
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
• In all interactive learning situations, apply the basic principles of active
• Focus on what is being said, confirm that you heard the right message,
ask for any clarification you need, watch for nonverbal messages, and
listen for requests.
• Specific strategies are helpful for listening well in a lecture hall.
• Be ready to compensate if your instructor speaks too fast, has a heavy
accent that makes understanding difficult for you, or speaks too softly.
• Don’t be shy about asking questions. Asking questions is easier when you
are prepared and positioned for success.
1. List two things you should do before the class to prepare yourself
for active listening.
2. Where should you sit in the classroom? Why?
3. What are some of the ways instructors signal important
4.3 Are You Really Listening?
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
4.4 Got Notes?
1. Explain why taking notes is important.
2. Use the four primary methods of note taking: lists, outlines, concept
maps, and the Cornell method.
3. Define which methods support your learning style and the instructor’s
teaching style.
4. Apply strategies to make note taking more effective.
5. Use some effective strategies if you happen to miss a class.
6. Organize your notes into effective study guides.
7. Use teacher handouts to complement your notes.
8. Determine what to do with your notes after the course is complete.
Everybody takes notes, or at least everybody claims to. But if you take a close look,
many who are claiming to take notes on their laptops are actually surfing the Web,
and paper notebooks are filled with doodles interrupted by a couple of random
words with an asterisk next to them reminding you that “This is important!” In
college, these approaches will not work. In college, your instructors expect you to
make connections between class lectures and reading assignments; they expect you
to create an opinion about the material presented; they expect you to make
connections between the material and life beyond college. Your notes are your road
maps for these thoughts. Do you take good notes? After learning to listen, note
taking is the most important skill to ensure your success in a class.
Effective note taking is important because it
• supports your listening efforts,
• allows you to test your understanding of the material,
• helps you remember the material better when you write key ideas
• gives you a sense of what the instructor thinks is important,
• creates your “ultimate study guide.”
There are various forms of taking notes, and which one you choose depends on both
your personal style and the instructor’s approach to the material. Each can be used
in a notebook, index cards, or in a digital form on your laptop. No specific type is
good for all students and all situations, so we recommend that you develop your
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
own style, but you should also be ready to modify it to fit the needs of a specific
class or instructor. To be effective, all of these methods require you to listen
actively and to think; merely jotting down words the instructor is saying will be of
little use to you.
Table 4.2 Note-Taking Methods
A sequential listing of ideas as they are presented.
Lists may be short phrases or complete paragraphs
describing ideas in more detail.
When to Use
This method is what
most students use as a
fallback if they haven’t
learned other methods.
This method typically
requires a lot of writing,
and you may find that
you are not keeping up
with the professor. It is
not easy for students to
prioritize ideas in this
The outline method places most important ideas along
the left margin, which are numbered with roman
numerals. Supporting ideas to these main concepts
Outlines are indented and are noted with capital letters. Under
each of these ideas, further detail can be added,
designated with an Arabic number, a lowercase letter,
and so forth.
A good method to use
when material
presented by the
instructor is well
organized. Easy to use
when taking notes on
your computer.
When designing a concept map, place a central idea in
Concept the center of the page and then add lines and new
circles in the page for new ideas. Use arrows and lines
to connect the various ideas.
Great method to show
relationships among
ideas. Also good if the
instructor tends to hop
from one idea to
another and back.
4.4 Got Notes?
The Cornell method uses a two-column approach. The
left column takes up no more than a third of the page
and is often referred to as the “cue” or “recall”
column. The right column (about two-thirds of the
page) is used for taking notes using any of the
methods described above or a combination of them.
After class or completing the reading, review your
notes and write the key ideas and concepts or
questions in the left column. You may also include a
summary box at the bottom of the page, in which to
write a summary of the class or reading in your own
The Cornell method can
include any of the
methods above and
provides a useful format
for calling out key
concepts, prioritizing
ideas, and organizing
review work. Most
colleges recommend
using some form of the
Cornell method.
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
The List Method
Figure 4.3 The List Method of Note Taking
The list method is usually not the best choice because it is focused exclusively on
capturing as much of what the instructor says as possible, not on processing the
information. Most students who have not learned effective study skills use this
method, because it’s easy to think that this is what note taking is all about. Even if
you are skilled in some form of shorthand, you should probably also learn one of
the other methods described here, because they are all better at helping you
process and remember the material. You may want to take notes in class using the
list method, but transcribe your notes to an outline or concept map method after
class as a part of your review process. It is always important to review your notes as
soon as possible after class and write a summary of the class in your own words.
4.4 Got Notes?
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
The Outline Method
Figure 4.4 The Outline Method of Note Taking
The advantage of the outline method is that it allows you to prioritize the material.
Key ideas are written to the left of the page, subordinate ideas are then indented,
and details of the subordinate ideas can be indented further. To further organize
your ideas, you can use the typical outlining numbering scheme (starting with
roman numerals for key ideas, moving to capital letters on the first subordinate
level, Arabic numbers for the next level, and lowercase letters following.) At first
you may have trouble identifying when the instructor moves from one idea to
another. This takes practice and experience with each instructor, so don’t give up!
In the early stages you should use your syllabus to determine what key ideas the
instructor plans to present. Your reading assignments before class can also give you
guidance in identifying the key ideas.
If you’re using your laptop computer for taking notes, a basic word processing
application (like Microsoft Word or Works) is very effective. Format your document
by selecting the outline format from the format bullets menu. Use the increase or
decrease indent buttons to navigate the level of importance you want to give each
item. The software will take care of the numbering for you!
4.4 Got Notes?
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
After class be sure to review your notes and then summarize the class in one or two
short paragraphs using your own words. This summary will significantly affect your
recall and will help you prepare for the next class.
The Concept Map Method
Figure 4.5 The Concept Map Method of Note Taking
This is a very graphic method of note-taking that is especially good at capturing the
relationships among ideas. Concept maps harness your visual sense to understand
complex material “at a glance.” They also give you the flexibility to move from one
idea to another and back easily (so they are helpful if your instructor moves freely
through the material).
To develop a concept map, start by using your syllabus to rank the ideas you will
listen to by level of detail (from high-level or abstract ideas to detailed facts). Select
an overriding idea (high level or abstract) from the instructor’s lecture and place it
in a circle in the middle of the page. Then create branches off that circle to record
the more detailed information, creating additional limbs as you need them. Arrange
the branches with others that interrelate closely. When a new high-level idea is
presented, create a new circle with its own branches. Link together circles or
4.4 Got Notes?
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
concepts that are related. Use arrows and symbols to capture the relationship
between the ideas. For example, an arrow may be used to illustrate cause or effect, a
double-pointed arrow to illustrate dependence, or a dotted arrow to illustrate
impact or effect.
As with all note-taking methods, you should summarize the chart in one or two
paragraphs of your own words after class.
The Cornell Method
Figure 4.6 The Cornell Method of Note Taking
The Cornell method4 was developed in the 1950s by Professor Walter Pauk at
Cornell University. It is recommended by most colleges because of its usefulness
and flexibility. This method is simple to use for capturing notes, is helpful for
defining priorities, and is a very helpful study tool.
4. A classic method of taking
organized class notes using a
two-column approach that
highlights key ideas.
4.4 Got Notes?
The Cornell method follows a very specific format that consists of four boxes: a
header, two columns, and a footer.
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
The header is a small box across the top of the page. In it you write identification
information like the course name and the date of the class. Underneath the header
are two columns: a narrow one on the left (no more than one-third of the page) and
a wide one on the right. The wide column, called the “notes” column, takes up most
of the page and is used to capture your notes using any of the methods outlined
earlier. The left column, known as the “cue” or “recall” column, is used to jot down
main ideas, keywords, questions, clarifications, and other notes. It should be used
both during the class and when reviewing your notes after class. Finally, use the
box in the footer to write a summary of the class in your own words. This will help
you make sense of your notes in the future and is a valuable tool to aid with recall
and studying.
Using Index Cards for the Cornell Method
Some students like to use index cards to take notes. They actually lend
themselves quite well to the Cornell method. Use the “back” or lined side of the
card to write your notes in class. Use one card per key concept. The “front”
unlined side of the card replaces the left hand “cue” column. Use it after class
to write keywords, comments, or questions. When you study, the cards become
flash cards with questions on one side and answers on the other. Write a
summary of the class on a separate card and place it on the top of the deck as
an introduction to what was covered in the class.
I used to tape my lecture classes so I could fill in my sketchy notes afterward. Now
that I’m using the Cornell system, my notes are complete and organized in much
less time. And my regular five-minute reviews make learning almost painless. No
more taping and listening twice.
- a student at Southern Methodist University
You will have noticed that all methods end with the same step: reviewing your
notes as soon as possible after class. Any review of your notes is helpful (reading
them, copying them into your computer, or even recasting them using another
note-taking method). But THINK! Make your review of notes a thoughtful activity,
not a mindless process. When you review your notes, think about questions you still
have and determine how you will get the answers. (From the next class? Studying
with a friend? Looking up material in your text or on the net?) Examine how the
material applies to the course; make connections with notes from other class
sessions, with material in your text, and with concepts covered in class discussions.
4.4 Got Notes?
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
Finally, it’s fun to think about how the material in your notes applies to real life.
Consider this both at the very strategic level (as in “What does this material mean
to me in relation to what I want to do with my life?”) as well as at a very mundane
level (as in “Is there anything cool here I can work into a conversation with my
Instructor Handouts
Some instructors hand out or post their notes or their PowerPoint slides from their
lectures. These handouts should never be considered a substitute for taking notes in
class. They are a very useful complement and will help you confirm the accuracy of
your notes, but they do not involve you in the process of learning as well as your
own notes do. After class, review your notes with highlighter in hand and mark
keywords and ideas in your notes. This will help you write the summary of the class
in your own words.
General Tips on Note Taking
Regardless of what note-taking method you choose, there are some note-taking
habits you should get into for all circumstances and all courses:
1. Be prepared. Make sure you have the tools you need to do the job. If
you are using a notebook, be sure you have it with you and that you
have enough paper. Also be sure to have your pen (as well as a spare)
and perhaps a pen with different colored ink to use for emphasis. If
you are taking notes on your laptop, make sure the battery is charged!
Select the application that lends itself best to your style of note taking.
Microsoft Word works very well for outline notes, but you might find
taking notes in Excel to work best if you are working within the Cornell
method. (It’s easier to align your thoughts in the cue or recall column
to your notes in the right column. Just be sure you keep one idea per
2. Write on only one side of the paper. This will allow you to integrate
your reading notes with your class notes.
3. Label, number, and date all notes at the top of each page. This will
help you keep organized.
4. When using a laptop, position it such that you can see the
instructor and white board right over your screen. This will keep
the instructor in your field of vision even if you have to glance at your
screen or keyboard from time to time. Make sure your focus remains
with the instructor and not on your laptop. A word of caution about
laptops for note taking: use them if you are very adept at keyboarding,
but remember that not all note-taking methods work well on laptops
4.4 Got Notes?
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
4.4 Got Notes?
because they do not easily allow you to draw diagrams and use special
notations (scientific and math formulas, for example).
Don’t try to capture everything that is said. Listen for the big ideas
and write them down. Make sure you can recognize the instructor’s
emphasis cues and write down all ideas and keywords the instructor
emphasizes. Listen for clues like “the four causes were…” or “to sum
Copy anything the instructor writes on the board. It’s likely to be
Leave space between ideas. This allows you to add additional notes
later (e.g., notes on the answer to a question you or one of your
classmates asked).
Use signals and abbreviations. Which ones you use is up to you, but
be consistent so you will know exactly what you mean by “att.” when
you review your notes. You may find it useful to keep a key to your
abbreviations in all your notebooks.
Use some method for identifying your own thoughts and questions
to keep them separate from what the instructor or textbook
author is saying. Some students use different color ink; others box or
underline their own thoughts. Do whatever works for you.
Create a symbol to use when you fall behind or get lost in your note
taking. Jot down the symbol, leave some space, and focus on what the
instructor is covering now. Later you can ask a classmate or the
professor to help you fill in what you missed, or you can find it in your
Review your notes as soon after class as possible (the same day is
best). This is the secret to making your notes work! Use the recall column
to call out the key ideas and organize facts. Fill in any gaps in your
notes and clean up or redraw hastily drawn diagrams.
Write a summary of the main ideas of the class in your own words.
This process is a great aid to recall. Be sure to include any conclusions
from the lecture or discussion.
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
Choose one of your classes where you normally take notes. Make a conscious
effort to use the Cornell method with either the outline or concept map
method for taking your notes. Follow as many steps listed previously as
possible. Now compare these notes with those you took in the previous class.
Are your new notes more useful? What did you like about taking notes this
way? What are some of the things you need to work on improving?
(Remember this will get much easier with more practice.) Write your
thoughts here.
What If You Miss Class?
Clearly the best way to learn class material is to be at the class and to take your own
notes. In college, regular attendance is expected. But life happens. On occasion, you
may have to miss a class or lecture. When this happens, here are some strategies
you can use to make up for it:
• Check with the instructor to see if there is another section of the class
you can attend. Never ask the instructor “Did I miss anything
important?” (Think about what that’s saying and you’ll see it’s rather
• If the instructor posts his or her lectures as a podcast, listen to the
lecture online and take notes. If the instructor uses PowerPoint slides,
request a copy (or download them if posted) and review them
carefully, jotting down your own notes and questions. Review your
notes with a classmate who did attend.
• You may want to borrow class notes from a classmate. If you do, don’t
just copy them and insert them in your notebook. They will not be very
4.4 Got Notes?
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
helpful. When you borrow notes from a classmate, you should
photocopy them and then review them carefully and mark your copy
with your own notes and questions. Use your textbook to try to fill in
the gaps. Finally, schedule a study session with the person who gave
you the notes to review the material and confirm your understanding.
(See studying with others in Chapter 6 "Preparing for and Taking
• If none of these options is available for you, use the course syllabus to
determine what was covered in the class, then write a short paper (two
pages or so) on the material using the class readings and reliable online
sources. See your instructor during office hours to review your key
findings and to answer any questions you still may have.
Keeping Your Notes
Class is over, and you have a beautiful set of notes in your spiral notebook or saved
in your laptop. You have written the summary of the class in your own words. Now
Start by organizing your notes. We recommend you use a three-ring binder for each
of your subjects. Print your notes if you used a computer. If you used note cards,
insert them in plastic photo holders for binders. Group all notes from a class or unit
together in a section; this includes class notes, reading notes, and instructor
handouts. You might also want to copy the instructor’s syllabus for the unit on the
first page of the section.
Next, spend some time linking the information across the various notes. Use the
recall column in your notes to link to related information in other notes (e.g., “See
class notes date/page”).
If you have had a quiz or test on the unit, add it to your binder, too, but be sure to
write out the correct answer for any item you missed. Link those corrections to
your notes, too.
Use this opportunity to write “notes on your notes.” Review your summary to see if
it still is valid in light of your notes on the reading and any handouts you may have
added to your notes package.
You don’t need to become a pack rat with your notes. It is fairly safe to toss them
after the end of a course except in the following cases:
4.4 Got Notes?
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
1. If the course you took is a prerequisite for another course, or when the
course is part of a standard progression of courses that build upon
each other (this is very common in math and science courses), you
should keep them as a reference and review for the follow-up course.
2. If the course may pertain to your future major, keep your notes. You
may not realize it now that they may have future value when you study
similar topics or even the same topics in more depth.
3. If you are very interested in the course subject and would like to get
into the material through a more advanced course, independent study,
or even research, keep your notes as a prep tool for further work.
• After effective listening, good note taking is the most important skill for
academic success.
• Choose among effective note-taking styles for what works best for you
and modify it to meet the needs of a specific class or instructor.
• List notes are generally less effective and not prioritized.
• Outlines work well for taking notes on a laptop when the instructor is
well organized.
• Concept map notes are good for showing the relationships among ideas.
• The Cornell method is effective for calling out key concepts and
organizing notes for review.
• Instructor handouts and PowerPoint presentations help with—but do
not replace the need for—personal note taking.
• If you miss a class, explore your options for replacing your missing
• Keep your notes organized in a way that makes it easy to study for tests
and other uses in the future.
4.4 Got Notes?
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
1. Name two advantages of the Cornell system over the list method
of note taking.
2. Describe the benefits of—and potential problems with—taking
class notes on a laptop.
3. List at least three ways to make up for missing notes because you
miss a class.
4.4 Got Notes?
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
4.5 Remembering Course Materials
Identify what is important to remember.
Understand the difference between short- and long-term memory.
Use a variety of strategies to build your memory power.
Identify the four key types of mnemonic devices.
Use mnemonics to remember lists of information.
Up to now we have covered how to capture material in your notes. The rest of this
chapter is dedicated to strategies for recording ideas and facts in your memory.
The Role of Memorization in Learning
Have you ever gone into an exam you have studied for and drawn a blank on a
particular question? Have you ever walked into a room only to forget for a moment
why you went there? Have you ever forgotten where you left your keys? How about
finding yourself in a conversation with someone whose name you can’t remember?
The fact is, memory fails everyone from time to time. It is not surprising that
students, with a huge amount of information they must commit to memory (not to
mention frequent distractions and interruptions), are often frustrated by their
Let’s start by taking some of the pressure off you. You will not be required to
memorize everything your instructor says in a class—nor should you try to. There is
way too much to capture. People speak at a rate of 100 to 150 words per minute. An
average 50-minute lecture may contain around 7,500 words. By listening effectively
and taking notes, your job is to distill the main ideas and a few keywords. These are
the things you should choose to memorize.
In your early and high school education, memorization was a key aspect of learning.
You memorized multiplication tables, the names of the states, and vocabulary
words. Memorized facts ensured your success on multiple-choice questions. In
college, however, most of your work is focused on understanding the material in
depth. Remembering the year of the 9/11 attack (2001) is far less important than
grasping the impact of that attack on American foreign policy. Understanding
themes and ideas and being able to think critically about them is really the key to
your success in college learning. For more on critical thinking skills, see Chapter 3
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
"Thinking about Thought". Although memorization is not the primary key to
success, having a good memory is important to capture ideas in your mind, and it
helps tremendously in certain subjects like sciences and foreign languages.
How Memory Works
Memory5 is the process of storing and retrieving information. Think of a computer.
In many ways it is an electronic model of the human memory. A computer stores,
retrieves, and processes information similarly to how the human mind does. Like
the human version, there are two types of memory: short-term or active memory
(RAM in the computer) and long-term or passive memory (the computer’s hard
drive). As its name suggests, short-term or active memory is made up of the
information we are processing at any given time. Short-term memory involves
information being captured at the moment (such as listening in class) as well as
from information retrieved from our passive memory for doing complex mental
tasks (such as thinking critically and drawing conclusions). But short-term memory
is limited and suffers from the passing of time and lack of use. We begin to forget
data within thirty seconds of not using it, and interruptions (such as phone calls or
distractions) require us to rebuild the short-term memory structure—to get “back
on task.” Learn more about multitasking in Chapter 6 "Preparing for and Taking
Tests". To keep information in our memory, we must either use it or place it into
our long-term memory (much like saving a document on your computer).
How we save information to our long-term memory has a lot to do with our ability
to retrieve it when we need it at a later date. Our mind “saves” information by
creating a complex series of links to the data. The stronger the links, the easier it is
to recall. You can strengthen these links by using the following strategies. You
should note how closely they are tied to good listening and note-taking strategies.
5. The process of storing and
retrieving information.
4.5 Remembering Course Materials
• Make a deliberate decision to remember the specific data. “I need
to remember Richard’s name” creates stronger links than just wishing
you had a better memory for names.
• Link the information to your everyday life. Ask yourself, “Why is it
important that I remember this material?”—and answer it.
• Link the information to other information you already have
“stored,” especially the key themes of the course, and you will recall
the data more easily. Ask yourself how this is related to other
information you have. Look for ways to tie items together. Are they
used in similar ways? Do they have similar meanings? Do they sound
• Mentally group similar individual items into “buckets.” By doing
this, you are creating links, for example, among terms to be
memorized. For example, if you have to memorize a vocabulary list for
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
4.5 Remembering Course Materials
a Spanish class, group the nouns together with other nouns, verbs with
verbs, and so forth. Or your groupings might be sentences using the
vocabulary words.
Use visual imagery. Picture the concept vividly in your mind. Make
those images big, bold, and colorful—even silly! Pile concepts on top of
each other or around each other; exaggerate their features like a
caricature; let your imagination run wild. Humor and crazy imagery
can help you recall key concepts.
Use the information. Studies have generally shown that we retain
only 5 percent of what we hear, 10 percent of what we read, 20 percent
of what we learn from multimedia, and 30 percent of what is
demonstrated to us, but we do retain 50 percent of what we discuss, 75
percent of what we practice by doing, and 90 percent of what we teach
others or use immediately in a relevant activity. Review your notes,
participate in class, and study with others.
Break information down into manageable “chunks.” Memorizing
the ten-digit number “3141592654” seems difficult, but breaking it
down into two sets of three digits and one of four digits, like a phone
number—(314) 159-2654—now makes it easier to remember. (Pat
yourself on the back if you recognized that series of digits: with a
decimal point after the three, that’s the value of pi to ten digits.
Remember your last math class?)
Work from general information to the specific. People usually learn
best when they get the big picture first, and then look at the details.
Eliminate distractions. Every time you have to “reboot” your shortterm memory, you risk losing data points. Multitasking—listening to
music or chatting on Facebook while you study—will play havoc with
your ability to memorize because you will need to reboot your shortterm memory each time you switch mental tasks.
Repeat, repeat, repeat. Hear the information; read the information;
say it (yes, out loud), and say it again. The more you use or repeat the
information, the stronger the links to it. The more senses you use to
process the information, the stronger the memorization. Write
information on index cards to make flash cards and use downtime
(when waiting for the subway or during a break between classes) to
review key information.
This is a test. Test your memory often. Try to write down everything
you know about a specific subject, from memory. Then go back and
check your notes and textbook to see how you did. Practicing retrieval
in this way helps ensure long-term learning of facts and concepts.
Location, location, location. There is often a strong connection
between information and the place where you first received that
information. Associate information to learning locations for stronger
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
memory links. Picture where you were sitting in the lecture hall as you
repeat the facts in your mind.
Choose a specific fact from each of your classes on a given day. Now find a
way of working that information into your casual conversations during the
rest of the day in a way that is natural. Can you do it? What effect do you
think that will have on your memory of that information?
4.5 Remembering Course Materials
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
Read the following list for about twenty seconds. After you have read it,
cover it and write down all the items you remember.
Paper clip
Thumb drive
How many were you able to recall? Most people can remember only a
fraction of the items.
Now read the following list for about twenty seconds, cover it, and see how
many you remember.
4.5 Remembering Course Materials
Paper clip
Thumb drive
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
Did your recall improve? Why do you think you did better? Was it easier?
Most people take much less time doing this version of the list and remember
almost all the terms. The list is the same as the first list, but the words have
now been grouped into categories. Use this grouping method to help you
remember lists of mixed words or ideas.
Using Mnemonics
What do the names of the Great Lakes, the makings of a Big Mac, and the number of
days in a month have in common? They are easily remembered by using mnemonic
devices. Mnemonics6 (pronounced neh-MA-nicks) are tricks for memorizing lists
and data. They create artificial but strong links to the data, making recall easier.
The most commonly used mnemonic devices are acronyms, acrostics, rhymes, and
Acronyms7 are words or phrases made up by using the first letter of each word in a
list or phrase. Need to remember the names of the Great Lakes? Try the acronym
HOMES using the first letter of each lake:
6. Tricks for memorizing lists and
7. A word formed from the initial
letters of words in a phrase or
series of words, such as “USA”
for “United States of America.”
8. A mnemonic method in which
words in a sentence or phrase
work as memory aids for
something beginning with the
same first letters in the
To create an acronym, first write down the first letters of each term you need to
memorize. Then rearrange the letters to create a word or words. You can find
acronym generators online (just search for “acronym generator”) that can help you
by offering options. Acronyms work best when your list of letters includes vowels as
well as consonants and when the order of the terms is not important. If no vowels
are available, or if the list should be learned in a particular order, try using an
acrostic instead.
Acrostics8 are similar to acronyms in that they work off the first letter of each
word in a list. But rather than using them to form a word, the letters are
represented by entire words in a sentence or phrase. If you’ve studied music, you
may be familiar with “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge” to learn the names of the
notes on the lines of the musical staff: E, G, B, D, F. The ridiculous and therefore
memorable line “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas” was used by
many of us to remember the names of the planets (at least until Pluto was
4.5 Remembering Course Materials
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
Educated Earth
To create an acrostic, list the first letters of the terms to be memorized in the order
in which you want to learn them (like the planet names). Then create a sentence or
phrase using words that start with those letters.
Rhymes9 are short verses used to remember data. A common example is “In
fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” Need to
remember how many days a given month has? “Thirty days hath September, April,
June, and November…,” and so forth. Writing rhymes is a talent that can be
developed with practice. To start, keep your rhymes short and simple. Define the
key information you want to remember and break it down into a series of short
phrases. Look at the last words of the phrases: can you rhyme any of them? If they
don’t rhyme, can you substitute or add a word to create the rhyme? (For example,
in the Columbus rhyme, “ninety-two” does not rhyme with “ocean,” but adding the
word “blue” completes the rhyme and creates the mnemonic.)
Jingles10 are phrases set to music, so that the music helps trigger your memory.
Jingles are commonly used by advertisers to get you to remember their product or
product features. Remember “Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese,
pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun”—the original Big Mac commercial. Anytime
you add rhythm to the terms you want to memorize, you are activating your
auditory sense, and the more senses you use for memorization, the stronger the
links to the data you are creating in your mind. To create a jingle for your data,
start with a familiar tune and try to create alternate lyrics using the terms you want
to memorize. Another approach you may want to try is reading your data aloud in a
hip-hop or rap music style.
9. Short verses used to remember
10. A phrase that is set to music
and is easy to remember.
4.5 Remembering Course Materials
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
Create an acrostic to remember the noble gasses: helium (He), neon (Ne),
argon (Ar), krypton (Kr), xenon (Xe), and the radioactive radon (Rn).
Create an acronym to remember the names of the G8 group of countries:
France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, Germany, Japan,
Italy, and Canada. (Hint: Sometimes it helps to substitute terms with
synonyms—“America” for the United States or “England” for the United
Kingdom—to get additional options.)
Create a jingle to remember the names of the Seven Dwarfs: Bashful, Doc,
Dopey, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, and Sneezy.
Mnemonics are good memory aids, but they aren’t perfect. They take a lot of effort
to develop, and they also take terms out of context because they don’t focus on the
meaning of the words. Since they lack meaning, they can also be easily forgotten
later on, although you may remember them through the course.
• Understanding ideas is generally more important in college than just
memorizing facts.
• To keep information in our memory, we must use it or build links with it
to strengthen it in long-term memory.
• Key ways to remember information include linking it to other
information already known; organizing facts in groups of information;
eliminating distractions; and repeating the information by hearing,
reading, and saying it aloud.
• To remember specific pieces of information, try creating a mnemonic
that associates the information with an acronym or acrostic, a rhyme or
a jingle.
4.5 Remembering Course Materials
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
1. For each of the following statements, circle T for true or F for
Preparing for class is important for listening, for taking
notes, and for memory.
T F Multitasking enhances your active memory.
If you listen carefully, you will remember most of what
was said for three days.
“Use it or lose it” applies to information you want to
T F Mnemonics should be applied whenever possible.
4.5 Remembering Course Materials
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
4.6 Chapter Activities
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
Chapter Takeaways
• Learning involves following a cycle of preparing, absorbing, recording, and reviewing.
• The most important difference between high school learning and college learning is that colleges
expect you to take full responsibility for your learning. Many of the support mechanisms you had in
high school do not exist in college.
• Listening takes place in two primary situations: where there can be open interaction with the
speaker (social conversation, small group discussions, business meetings, and small classes) and
where there is limited interaction with the speaker (lectures, online courses, and podcasts).
• In situations where interaction is allowed, active listening principles work well.
• In lecture situations, additional strategies are required. They include physical preparation, seating
for listening, eliminating distractions, thinking critically about the material as it is presented,
taking notes, and asking appropriate questions.
• Prepare for listening by completing all assignments for the class and reviewing the syllabus. Ask
yourself what you expect to gain from the class and how that ties in to the rest of the course
• Think critically about what you are listening to. Do you agree with what the instructor is saying?
How does it tie to the rest of the material in the course? What does this new material mean to you
in “real” life?
Note Taking
• There are four primary ways of taking notes (lists, outlines, concept maps, and the Cornell method).
• Select the note-taking method that best serves your learning style and the instructor’s teaching
style. Remember that methods may be combined for maximum effect.
• Completing assignments and reviewing the syllabus can help you define the relative importance of
the ideas the instructor presents.
• Don’t expect to capture everything the instructor says. Look for keywords and central ideas.
• Anything the instructor writes on the board is likely to be important.
• Review your notes as soon as possible after the class, to annotate, correct, complete, and
• The two types of memory are short-term memory, which allows you to apply knowledge to a
specific task, and long-term memory, which allows you to store and recall information.
4.6 Chapter Activities
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
• The brain commits information to long-term memory by creating an intricate system of links to
that information. Strength, number, and variety of links all lead to better recall.
• To create strong links, start by making a conscious decision to want to commit something specific
to memory. Link the information to real life and other data from the course. Group like information
into “buckets” that create links among the terms you want to remember.
• Use the information. The more you use the information, the more you will activate the links in your
• Eliminate distractions. Every time you are diverted from your task, you need to reboot your shortterm memory, weakening the links.
4.6 Chapter Activities
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
1. Describe the four steps of active listening.
2. How is listening defined?
3. List three things you should do to prepare to listen in class.
4. Where should you sit in a class? Why?
5. What should you do with your notes soon after each class?
4.6 Chapter Activities
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
6. Why do you think the Cornell method of note taking is
recommended by so many colleges?
7. How do short-term and long-term memory differ?
8. List three ways in which you can create links to help remember
9. Why is multitasking dangerous to memorization?
10. What is a mnemonic?
4.6 Chapter Activities
Chapter 4 Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering
Two things I
will do to
My listening
My note taking
My memory
4.6 Chapter Activities
By when I expect
to take the
How I will know I
accomplished the
Chapter 5
Reading to Learn
Figure 5.1
© 2010 Jupiterimages Corporation
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
Where Are You Now?
Assess your present knowledge and attitudes.
Unsure No Yes
1. I am a good reader and like to read for pleasure.
2. I feel overwhelmed by the amount of reading I
have to do for classes.
3. I usually understand what is written in textbooks.
4. I get frustrated by difficult books.
5. I find it easy to stay focused on my reading.
6. I am easily bored reading for classes.
7. I take useful notes when I read.
8. I can successfully study for a test from the notes I
have taken.
9. I use a dictionary when needed while reading.
10. I have trouble reading long passages on the
computer screen.
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
Where Do You Want to Go?
Think about how you answered the questions above. Be honest with yourself.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your level of academic reading at this
Poor reader
Excellent reader
In the following list, circle the three most important areas in which you think
you can improve:
Preparing for reading
Understanding what you read
Staying focused while reading
Selecting the best location for reading
Selecting the best time for reading assignments
Breaking down assignments into manageable pieces
Working my way through a difficult text
Setting priorities for reading assignments
Reading faster
Taking notes while reading
Finding strategies for highlighting and marginal notes
Reading primary source documents
Improving my vocabulary
Are there other ways in which you can improve your reading? Write down
other things you feel you need to work on.
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
How to Get There
Here’s what we’ll work on in this chapter:
• Understanding why reading is so important for college success
• Learning how reading fits into the learning cycle
• Learning how reading in college is different from reading in high
• Discovering the principles of reading to learn (active reading)
• Knowing where, when, and how long to read
• Discovering the anatomy of a textbook
• Learning tips for reading textbooks in specific subjects
• Learning tips for reading primary sources
• Learning tips for reading digital texts
• Building your vocabulary
Reading to Learn
Sure you can read. After all, that’s what you are doing now, at this moment. But
reading to learn is active reading, a process that involves much more than the
mechanics of converting a set of letters into meaningful words. It is a process that
you will use for gathering much of the new information you get in school—and in
Does the following sound familiar? You’ve had a full day of classes, so you go to the
gym to get in a workout. Afterward, you meet a friend who suggests going out for a
quick bite; you get back to your room around eight o’clock and settle in to work on
your reading assignment, a chapter from your sociology text entitled “Stratification
and Social Mobility.” You jump right in to the first paragraph, but the second
paragraph seems a bit tougher. Suddenly you wake up and shake your head and see
your clock says 11:15 p.m. Oh no! Three hours down the drain napping, and your
book is still staring back at you at the beginning of the chapter, and you have a
crick in your neck.
Now, picture this: You schedule yourself for a series of shorter reading periods at
the library between classes and during the afternoon. You spend a few minutes
preparing for what you are going to read, and you get to work with pen and paper
in hand. After your scheduled reading periods, by 5:30 p.m. you have completed the
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
assignment, making a note that you are interested in comparing the social mobility
in India with that in the United States. You reward yourself with a workout and
dinner with a friend. At 8 p.m., you return to your room and review your notes,
feeling confident that you are ready for the next class.
The difference between these two scenarios is active reading1. Active reading is a
planned, deliberate set of strategies to engage with text-based materials with the
purpose of increasing your understanding. This is a key skill you need to master for
college. Along with listening, it is the primary method for absorbing new ideas and
information in college. But active reading also applies to and facilitates the other
steps of the learning cycle; it is critical for preparing, capturing, and reviewing, too.
Figure 5.2 The Role of Reading in the Learning Cycle
In this chapter, you will learn the basics of active reading. Follow all the
recommended steps, even though at first you may think they take too long. In the
end, you will be able to cut your reading time while increasing what you learn from
reading. Read on!
1. A conscious process in which
the reader chooses to create an
interaction with the written
word, with the objective of
increasing understanding.
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
5.1 Are You Ready for the Big Leagues?
1. Explain how reading in college is different from reading in high school.
2. Understand the importance of reading for college learning.
Think back to a high school history or literature class. Those were probably the
classes in which you had the most reading. You would be assigned a chapter, or a
few pages in a chapter, with the expectation that you would be discussing the
reading assignment in class. In class, the teacher would guide you and your
classmates through a review of your reading and ask questions to keep the
discussion moving. The teacher usually was a key part of how you learned from
your reading.
If you have been away from school for some time, it’s likely that your reading has
been fairly casual. While time spent with a magazine or newspaper can be
important, it’s not the sort of concentrated reading you will do in college. And no
one will ask you to write in response to a magazine piece you’ve read or quiz you
about a newspaper article.
2. Additional or supplemental
reading materials beyond a
standard course textbook.
These may include journal
articles and academic papers.
3. Documents, letters, diaries,
newspaper reports, financial
reports, lab reports, and
records that directly report or
offer new information or ideas,
rather than secondary sources
(like many textbooks) that
collect information that
originated in primary sources.
In college, reading is much different. You will be expected to read much more. For
each hour you spend in the classroom, you will be expected to spend two or more
additional hours studying between classes, and most of that will be reading.
Assignments will be longer (a couple of chapters is common, compared with
perhaps only a few pages in high school) and much more difficult. College textbook
authors write using many technical terms and include complex ideas. Many college
authors include research, and some textbooks are written in a style you may find
very dry. You will also have to read from a variety of sources: your textbook,
ancillary materials2, primary sources3, academic journals, periodicals, and online
postings. Your assignments in literature courses will be complete books, possibly
with convoluted plots and unusual wording or dialects, and they may have so many
characters you’ll feel like you need a scorecard to keep them straight.
In college, most instructors do not spend much time reviewing the reading
assignment in class. Rather, they expect that you have done the assignment before
coming to class and understand the material. The class lecture or discussion is often
based on that expectation. Tests, too, are based on that expectation. This is why
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
active reading is so important—it’s up to you to do the reading and comprehend
what you read.
Note: It may not always be clear on an instructor’s syllabus, but a reading
assignment listed on any given class date should be read before coming to class on
that date.
• College reading is very different from high school reading.
• You must take personal responsibility for understanding what you read.
• Expect to spend about two or more hours on homework, most of it
reading, for every hour you spend in class.
• Reading is a primary means for absorbing ideas in the learning cycle, but
it is also very important for the other three aspects of the learning cycle.
5.1 Are You Ready for the Big Leagues?
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
5.2 How Do You Read to Learn?
1. Understand the four steps of active learning.
2. Develop strategies to help you read effectively and quickly.
The four steps of active reading are almost identical to the four phases of the
learning cycle—and that is no coincidence! Active reading is learning through
reading the written word, so the learning cycle naturally applies. Active reading
involves these steps:
Capturing the key ideas
Let’s take a look at how to use each step when reading.
Preparing to Read
Start by thinking about why your instructor has chosen this text. Has the instructor
said anything about the book or the author? Look at the table of contents; how does
it compare with the course syllabus? What can you learn about the author from the
front matter4 of the book (see Table 5.1 "Anatomy of a Textbook")? Understanding
this background will give you the context of the book and help define what is most
important in the text. Doing this exercise once per textbook will give you a great
deal of insight throughout the course.
4. A publishing term used to
describe the first parts of the
book that are not part of the
actual text. The front matter
may include a preface, a
foreword, an introduction,
biographical profiles of the
authors, and the table of
Now it is time to develop a plan of attack for your assignment. Your first step in any
reading assignment is to understand the context of what you are about to read.
Think of your reading assignment in relation to the large themes or goals the
instructor has spelled out for the class. Remember that you are not merely
reading—you are reading for a purpose. What parts of a reading assignment should
you pay special attention to, and what parts can you browse through? As we
mentioned in the beginning of this chapter, you will be expected to do a
considerable amount of reading in college, and you will not get through it all by
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
reading each and every word with a high level of focus and mental intensity. This is
why it is so important to learn to define where to invest your efforts.
Open your text to the assigned pages. What is the chapter title? Is the chapter
divided into sections? What are the section titles? Which sections are longer? Are
there any illustrations? What are they about? Illustrations in books cost money, so
chances are the author and publisher thought these topics were particularly
important, or they would not have been included. How about tables? What kinds of
information do they show? Are there bold or italicized words? Are these terms you
are familiar with, or are they new to you? Are you getting a sense for what is
important in the chapter? Use the critical thinking skills discussed in Chapter 3
"Thinking about Thought" as you think about your observations. Why did the
author choose to cover certain ideas and to highlight specific ideas with graphics or
boldface fonts? What do they tell you about what will be most important for you in
your course? What do you think your instructor wants you to get out of the
assignment? Why?
5.2 How Do You Read to Learn?
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
Anatomy of a Textbook
Good textbooks are designed to help you learn, not just to present information.
They differ from other types of academic publications intended to present
research findings, advance new ideas, or deeply examine a specific subject.
Textbooks have many features worth exploring because they can help you
understand your reading better and learn more effectively. In your textbooks,
look for the elements listed in the table below.
Table 5.1 Anatomy of a Textbook
What It Is
A section at the beginning of a
book in which the author or
editor outlines its purpose
Preface or
and scope, acknowledges
individuals who helped
Introduction prepare the book, and
perhaps outlines the features
of the book.
A section at the beginning of
the book, often written by an
expert in the subject matter
(different from the author)
endorsing the author’s work
and explaining why the work
is significant.
A short biography of the
author illustrating the
Author Profile
author’s credibility in the
subject matter.
Table of
5.2 How Do You Read to Learn?
A listing of all the chapters in
the book and, in most cases,
primary sections within
Why You Might Find It Helpful
You will gain perspective on the
author’s point of view, what the
author considers important. If the
preface is written with the student in
mind, it will also give you guidance
on how to “use” the textbook and its
A foreword will give you an idea
about what makes this book different
from others in the field. It may
provide hints as to why your
instructor selected the book for your
This will help you understand the
author’s perspective and what the
author considers important.
The table of contents is an outline of
the entire book. It will be very
helpful in establishing links among
the text, the course objectives, and
the syllabus.
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
What It Is
A section at the beginning of
each chapter in which the
author outlines what will be
covered in the chapter and
what the student should
expect to know or be able to
do at the end of the chapter.
These sections are invaluable for
determining what you should pay
special attention to. Be sure to
compare these outcomes with the
objectives stated in the course
The first paragraph(s) of a
chapter, which states the
chapter’s objectives and key
themes. An introduction is
also common at the beginning
of primary chapter sections.
Introductions to chapters or sections
are “must reads” because they give
you a road map to the material you
are about to read, pointing you to
what is truly important in the
chapter or section.
Exercises, activities, or drills
designed to let students apply
their knowledge gained from
the reading. Some of these
features may be presented via
Web sites designed to
supplement the text.
These features provide you with a
great way to confirm your
understanding of the material. If you
have trouble with them, you should
go back and reread the section. They
also have the additional benefit of
improving your recall of the
A section at the end of a
chapter that confirms key
ideas presented in the
It is a good idea to read this section
before you read the body of the
chapter. It will help you strategize
about where you should invest your
reading effort.
A section at the end of the
chapter that includes
additional applied practice
exercises, review questions,
and suggestions for further
The review questions will help you
confirm your understanding of the
Preview or
Endnotes and Formal citations of sources
Bibliographies used to prepare the text.
5.2 How Do You Read to Learn?
Why You Might Find It Helpful
These will help you infer the author’s
biases and are also valuable if doing
further research on the subject for a
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
Now, before actually starting to read, try to give your reading more direction. Are
you ever bored when reading a textbook? Students sometimes feel that about some
of their textbooks. In this step, you create a purpose or quest for your reading, and
this will help you become more actively engaged and less bored.
Start by checking your attitude: if you are unhappy about the reading assignment
and complaining that you even have to read it, you will have trouble with the
reading. You need to get “psyched” for the assignment. Stoke your determination
by setting yourself a reasonable time to complete the assignment and schedule
some short breaks for yourself. Approach the reading with a sense of curiosity and
thirst for new understanding. Think of yourself more as an investigator looking for
answers than a student doing a homework assignment.
Take out your notebook for the class for which you are doing the reading.
Remember the Cornell method of note taking from Chapter 4 "Listening, Taking
Notes, and Remembering"? You will use the same format here with a narrow
column on the left and a wide column on the right. This time, with reading,
approach taking notes slightly differently. In the Cornell method used for class
notes, you took notes in the right column and wrote in questions and comments in
the left column after class as you reviewed your notes. When using this system with
reading, write your questions about the reading first in the left column (spacing
them well apart so that you have plenty of room for your notes while you read in
the right column). From your preliminary scanning of the pages, as described
previously, you should already have questions at your fingertips.
Use your critical thinking skill of questioning what the author is saying. Turn the
title of each major section of the reading into a question and write it down in your
left column of your notes. For example, if the section title is “The End of the
Industrial Revolution,” you might write, “What caused the Industrial Revolution to
end?” If the section title is “The Chemistry of Photosynthesis,” you might write,
“What chemical reactions take place to cause photosynthesis, and what are the
outcomes?” Note that your questions are related to the kind of material you are
hearing about in class, and they usually require not a short answer but a thoughtful,
complete understanding. Ideally, you should not already know the answer to the
questions you are writing! (What fun is a quest if you already know each turn and
strategy? Expect to learn something new in your reading even if you are familiar
with the topic already.) Finally, also in the left column, jot down any keywords that
appear in boldface. You will want to discover their definitions and the significance
of each as you read.
5.2 How Do You Read to Learn?
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
OK. Time to take a break from reading this book. Choose a textbook in which
you have a current reading assignment. Scan the assigned pages, looking for
what is really important, and write down your questions using the Cornell
Now answer the following questions with a journal entry.
Do you feel better prepared to read this assignment? How?
Do you feel more confident?
Do you feel less overwhelmed?
Do you feel more focused?
Alternative Approaches for Preparing to Read
In Chapter 4 "Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering" you may have
determined that you are more comfortable with the outline or concept map
methods of note taking. You can use either of these methods also to prepare for
reading. With the outline method, start with the chapter title as your primary
heading, then create subheadings for each section, rephrasing each section title in
terms of a question.
5.2 How Do You Read to Learn?
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
If you are more comfortable using the concept map method, start with the chapter
title as your center and create branches for each section within the chapter. Make
sure you phrase each item as a question.
Now Read
Now you are ready to start reading actively. Start by taking a look at your notes;
they are your road map. What is the question you would like to answer in the first
section? Before you start reading, reflect about what you already know about the
subject. Even if you don’t know anything, this step helps put you in the right mindset to accept new material. Now read through the entire section with the objective
of understanding it. Follow these tips while reading, but do not start taking notes or
highlighting text at this point:
• Look for answers to the questions you wrote.
• Pay particular attention to the first and last lines of each paragraph.
• Think about the relationships among section titles, boldface words,
and graphics.
• Skim quickly over parts of the section that are not related to the key
After reading the section, can you answer the section question you earlier wrote in
your notes? Did you discover additional questions that you should have asked or
that were not evident from the title of the section? Write them down now on your
notes page. Can you define the keywords used in the text? If you can’t do either of
these things, go back and reread the section.
Capture the Key Ideas
Once you can answer your questions effectively and can define the new and
keywords, it is time to commit these concepts to your notes and to your memory.
Start by writing the answers to your questions in your notes in the right column.
Also define the keywords you found in the reading.
Now is also the time to go back and reread the section with your highlighter or
pencil to call out key ideas and words and make notes in your margins. Marking up
your book may go against what you were told in high school, when the school
owned the books and expected to use them year after year. In college, you bought
the book. Make it truly yours. Although some students may tell you that you can get
more cash by selling a used book that is not marked up, this should not be a concern
at this time—that’s not nearly as important as understanding the reading and doing
well in the class!
5.2 How Do You Read to Learn?
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
The purpose of marking your textbook is to make it your personal studying
assistant with the key ideas called out in the text. Most readers tend to highlight
too much, however, hiding key ideas in a sea of yellow lines. When it comes to
highlighting, less is more. Think critically before you highlight. Your choices will
have a big impact on what you study and learn for the course. Make it your
objective to highlight no more than 10 percent of the text.
Use your pencil also to make annotations in the margin. Use a symbol like an
exclamation mark (!) or an asterisk (*) to mark an idea that is particularly
important. Use a question mark (?) to indicate something you don’t understand or
are unclear about. Box new words, then write a short definition in the margin. Use
“TQ” (for “test question”) or some other shorthand or symbol to signal key things
that may appear in test or quiz questions. Write personal notes on items where you
disagree with the author. Don’t feel you have to use the symbols listed here; create
your own if you want, but be consistent. Your notes won’t help you if the first
question you later have is “I wonder what I meant by that?”
If you are reading an essay from a magazine or an academic journal, remember that
such articles are typically written in response to other articles. In Chapter 4
"Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering", you learned to be on the lookout for
signal words when you listen. This applies to reading, too. You’ll need to be
especially alert to signals like “according to” or “Jones argues,” which make it clear
that the ideas don’t belong to the author of the piece you are reading. Be sure to
note when an author is quoting someone else or summarizing another person’s
position. Sometimes, students in a hurry to get through a complicated article don’t
clearly distinguish the author’s ideas from the ideas the author argues against.
Other words like “yet” or “however” indicate a turn from one idea to another.
Words like “critical,” “significant,” and “important” signal ideas you should look at
After annotating, you are ready to read the next section.
Reviewing What You Read
When you have completed each of the sections for your assignment, you should
review what you have read. Start by answering these questions: “What did I learn?”
and “What does it mean?” Next, write a summary of your assigned reading, in your
own words, in the box at the base of your notepaper. Working from your notes,
cover up the answers to your questions and answer each of your questions aloud.
(Yes, out loud. Remember from Chapter 4 "Listening, Taking Notes, and
Remembering" that memory is improved by using as many senses as possible?)
5.2 How Do You Read to Learn?
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
Think about how each idea relates to material the instructor is covering in class.
Think about how this new knowledge may be applied in your next class.
If the text has review questions at the end of the chapter, answer those, too. Talk to
other students about the reading assignment. Merge your reading notes with your
class notes and review both together. How does your reading increase your
understanding of what you have covered in class and vice versa?
Strategies for Textbook Reading
The four steps to active reading provide a proven approach to effective learning
from texts. Following are some strategies you can use to enhance your reading even
• Pace yourself. Figure out how much time you have to complete the
assignment. Divide the assignment into smaller blocks rather than
trying to read the entire assignment in one sitting. If you have a week
to do the assignment, for example, divide the work into five daily
blocks, not seven; that way you won’t be behind if something comes up
to prevent you from doing your work on a given day. If everything
works out on schedule, you’ll end up with an extra day for review.
• Schedule your reading. Set aside blocks of time, preferably at the
time of the day when you are most alert, to do your reading
assignments. Don’t just leave them for the end of the day after
completing written and other assignments.
• Get yourself in the right space. Choose to read in a quiet, well-lit
space. Your chair should be comfortable but provide good support.
Libraries were designed for reading—they should be your first option!
Don’t use your bed for reading textbooks; since the time you were read
bedtime stories, you have probably associated reading in bed with
preparation for sleeping. The combination of the cozy bed, comforting
memories, and dry text is sure to invite some shut-eye!
• Avoid distractions. Active reading takes place in your short-term
memory. Every time you move from task to task, you have to “reboot”
your short-term memory and you lose the continuity of active reading.
Multitasking—listening to music or texting on your cell while you
read—will cause you to lose your place and force you to start over
again. Every time you lose focus, you cut your effectiveness and
increase the amount of time you need to complete the assignment.
• Avoid reading fatigue. Work for about fifty minutes, and then give
yourself a break for five to ten minutes. Put down the book, walk
around, get a snack, stretch, or do some deep knee bends. Short
physical activity will do wonders to help you feel refreshed.
5.2 How Do You Read to Learn?
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
• Read your most difficult assignments early in your reading time,
when you are freshest.
• Make your reading interesting. Try connecting the material you are
reading with your class lectures or with other chapters. Ask yourself
where you disagree with the author. Approach finding answers to your
questions like an investigative reporter. Carry on a mental
conversation with the author.
• Consider why the instructor has selected the particular text. Map the
table of contents to the course syllabus.
• Understand how your textbook is put together and what features might
help you with your reading.
• Plan your reading by scanning the reading assignment first, then create
questions based on the section titles. These will help you focus and
prioritize your reading.
• Use the Cornell method for planning your reading and recording key
• Don’t try to highlight your text as you read the first time through. At
that point, it is hard to tell what is really important.
• End your reading time by reviewing your notes.
• Pace yourself and read in a quiet space with minimal distractions.
5.2 How Do You Read to Learn?
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
1. List the four steps to active reading. Which one do you think will
take most time? Why?
2. Think of your most difficult textbook. What features can you use
to help you understand the material better?
3. What things most commonly distract you when you are reading?
What can you do to control these distractions?
4. List three specific places on your campus or at home that are
appropriate for you to do your reading assignments. Which is
best suited? What can you do to improve that reading
5.2 How Do You Read to Learn?
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
5.3 Dealing with Special Texts
1. Recognize strategies for reading special types of material and
special situations, such as the following:
Mathematics texts
Science texts
Social studies texts
Primary sources
Foreign language texts
Integrating reading with your family life
Online reading
While the active reading process outlined earlier is very useful for most
assignments, you should consider some additional strategies for reading
assignments in other subjects.
Mathematics Texts
Mathematics present unique challenges in that they typically contain a great
number of formulas, charts, sample problems, and exercises. Follow these
• Do not skip over these special elements as you work through the text.
• Read the formulas and make sure you understand the meaning of all
the factors.
• Substitute actual numbers for the variables and work through the
• Make formulas real by applying them to real-life situations.
• Do all exercises within the assigned text to make sure you understand
the material.
• Since mathematical learning builds upon prior knowledge, do not go
on to the next section until you have mastered the material in the
current section.
• Seek help from the instructor or teaching assistant during office hours
if need be.
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
Reading Graphics
You read earlier about noticing graphics in your text as a signal of important ideas. But it is equally
important to understand what the graphics intend to convey. Textbooks contain tables, charts, maps,
diagrams, illustrations, photographs, and the newest form of graphics—Internet URLs for accessing
text and media material. Many students are tempted to skip over graphic material and focus only on
the reading. Don’t. Take the time to read and understand your textbook’s graphics. They will
increase your understanding, and because they engage different comprehension processes, they will
create different kinds of memory links to help you remember the material.
To get the most out of graphic material, use your critical thinking skills and question why each
illustration is present and what it means. Don’t just glance at the graphics; take time to read the title,
caption, and any labeling in the illustration. In a chart, read the data labels to understand what is
being shown or compared. Think about projecting the data points beyond the scope of the chart;
what would happen next? Why?
Table 5.2 "Common Uses of Textbook Graphics" shows the most common graphic elements and notes
what they do best. This knowledge may help guide your critical analysis of graphic elements.
Table 5.2 Common Uses of Textbook Graphics
Figure 5.3 Table
Most often used to present raw data. Understand what is
being measured. What data points stand out as very high
or low? Why? Ask yourself what might cause these
measurements to change.
Figure 5.4 Bar Chart
Used to compare quantitative data or show changes in
data over time. Also can be used to compare a limited
number of data series over time. Often an illustration of
data that can also be presented in a table.
5.3 Dealing with Special Texts
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
Figure 5.5 Line Chart
Used to illustrate a trend in a series of data. May be used
to compare different series over time.
Figure 5.6 Pie Chart
Used to illustrate the distribution or share of elements as
a part of a whole. Ask yourself what effect a change in
distribution of factors would have on the whole.
Figure 5.7 Map
Used to illustrate geographic distributions or movement
across geographical space. In some cases can be used to
show concentrations of populations or resources. When
encountering a map, ask yourself if changes or
comparisons are being illustrated. Understand how those
changes or comparisons relate to the material in the text.
5.3 Dealing with Special Texts
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
Figure 5.8 Photograph
Used to represent a person, a condition, or an idea
discussed in the text. Sometimes photographs serve
mainly to emphasize an important person or situation, but
photographs can also be used to make a point. Ask
yourself if the photograph reveals a biased point of view.
Figure 5.9 Illustration
Used to illustrate parts of an item. Invest time in these
graphics. They are often used as parts of quizzes or exams.
Look carefully at the labels. These are vocabulary words
you should be able to define.
Figure 5.10 Flowchart or
Commonly used to illustrate processes. As you look at
diagrams, ask yourself, “What happens first? What needs
to happen to move to the next step?”
Scientific Texts
Science occurs through the experimental process: posing hypotheses, and then
using experimental data to prove or disprove them. When reading scientific texts,
look for hypotheses and list them in the left column of your notes pages. Then make
5.3 Dealing with Special Texts
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
notes on the proof (or disproof) in the right column. In scientific studies these are
as important as the questions you ask for other texts. Think critically about the
hypotheses and the experiments used to prove or disprove them. Think about
questions like these:
• Can the experiment or observation be repeated? Would it reach the
same results?
• Why did these results occur? What kinds of changes would affect the
• How could you change the experiment design or method of
observation? How would you measure your results?
• What are the conclusions reached about the results? Could the same
results be interpreted in a different way?
Social Sciences Texts
Social sciences texts, such as those for history, economics, and political science
classes, often involve interpretation where the authors’ points of view and theories
are as important as the facts they present. Put your critical thinking skills into
overdrive when you are reading these texts. As you read, ask yourself questions
such as the following:
Why is the author using this argument?
Is it consistent with what we’re learning in class?
Do I agree with this argument?
Would someone with a different point of view dispute this argument?
What key ideas would be used to support a counterargument?
Record your reflections in the margins and in your notes.
Social science courses often require you to read primary source documents.
Primary sources include documents, letters, diaries, newspaper reports, financial
reports, lab reports, and records that provide firsthand accounts of the events,
practices, or conditions you are studying. Start by understanding the author(s) of
the document and his or her agenda. Infer their intended audience. What response
did the authors hope to get from their audience? Do you consider this a bias5? How
does that bias affect your thinking about the subject? Do you recognize personal
biases that affect how you might interpret the document?
5. A personal inclination that
may prevent unprejudiced
consideration of a question.
5.3 Dealing with Special Texts
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
Foreign Language Texts
Reading texts in a foreign language is particularly challenging—but it also provides
you with invaluable practice and many new vocabulary words in your “new”
language. It is an effort that really pays off. Start by analyzing a short portion of the
text (a sentence or two) to see what you do know. Remember that all languages are
built on idioms6 as much as on individual words. Do any of the phrase structures
look familiar? Can you infer the meaning of the sentences? Do they make sense
based on the context? If you still can’t make out the meaning, choose one or two
words to look up in your dictionary and try again. Look for longer words, which
generally are the nouns and verbs that will give you meaning sooner. Don’t rely on
a dictionary (or an online translator); a word-for-word translation does not always
yield good results. For example, the Spanish phrase “Entre y tome asiento” might
correctly be translated (word for word) as “Between and drink a seat,” which means
nothing, rather than its actual meaning, “Come in and take a seat.”
Reading in a foreign language is hard and tiring work. Make sure you schedule
significantly more time than you would normally allocate for reading in your own
language and reward yourself with more frequent breaks. But don’t shy away from
doing this work; the best way to learn a new language is practice, practice, practice.
Note to English-language learners: You may feel that every book you are assigned
is in a foreign language. If you do struggle with the high reading level required of
college students, check for college resources that may be available to ESL (English
as a second language) learners. Never feel that those resources are only for weak
students. As a second-language learner, you possess a rich linguistic experience that
many American-born students should envy. You simply need to account for the
difficulties you’ll face and (like anyone learning a new language) practice, practice,
6. An expression whose meaning
is not predictable by the
meanings of the words that
make it up; many slang
expressions are idioms.
5.3 Dealing with Special Texts
Go online and open a Web-based language translator such as Babel Fish
( In the translation window, type in a
phrase that you or your friends might say in your daily conversations,
including any slang terms. Translate it to another language (any language
will do) and then copy the translation. Then open a new translation window,
paste the translated phrase, and translate back from that language to
English. Does it match your original phrase? Try this with other languages to
see if your results vary. What does this tell you about automated translation
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
Integrating Reading with Your Family Life
If you are a parent of young children, you know how hard it is to get your
schoolwork done with them around. You might want to consider some of these
• Don’t expect that you will often get long periods of uninterrupted
reading time. Find or create short periods of time to do things like
scanning the assignment and preparing your questions.
• Schedule your heavy reading for early in the morning or late at night
when the children are sleeping. Don’t use that precious uninterrupted
time for watching television or washing the dishes; those can be done
when the kids are awake.
• Read to your children and then tell them it’s time for everybody to
read their own book. (Even very young children like to “read” books by
looking at the pictures.) You’ll be surprised how long kids will read,
especially when they see Mommy and Daddy reading, too.
• Take your reading with you. You can get a lot of reading done while
waiting for your children during music or dance class or soccer
practice, or while you wait to pick them up at school.
• Share child-care responsibilities with other students who also have
children. This can buy an additional big block of reading time for each
of you.
Online Reading
When accessing materials online, you should ask additional questions in order to
fully understand the assignment. The Internet provides access to virtually endless
numbers of articles on just about any subject. The following five steps will help you
understand the “story behind the story” in online materials and also evaluate the
reliability of the material, especially if this is a reading you selected yourself for
research or independent work.
7. An Internet address; URL
stands for “uniform resource
5.3 Dealing with Special Texts
1. Look at the URL7, the Web address. It can give you important
information about the reliability and intentions of the site. Start with
the page publisher (the words following the “www” or between the
“http//” and the first single backslash). Have you heard of this source
before? If so, would you consider it a reliable source for the kind of
material you are about to read? For example, you might happen upon
an article about cholesterol with this URL: The
page publisher identifier shows this is the Web site of the American
Heart Association, a reputable source of health information. Now
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
5.3 Dealing with Special Texts
consider the domain type in the URL, which follows the period after
the publisher. “.com” and “.biz” are used by commercial enterprises,
“.org” is normally used by nonprofit organizations, and “.edu” is
reserved for educational institutions. None of these is necessarily bad
or good, but it may give you a sense of the motivation for publishing
this material. For example, a different article about cholesterol on a
pharmaceutical company’s Web site might be biased toward treatment
of high cholesterol with a drug the company makes.
Look at the page’s perimeter and the “masthead” at the top of the
page. What name is listed there? Is it the same entity as the one listed
as the publisher in the URL? Are you dealing with a company or the
Web site of an individual—and how might that affect the quality of the
information on this site? What can you learn from poking around with
navigation tabs or buttons: what do they tell you about the objective of
the Web site? Look for a tab labeled “About Us” or “Biography”; those
pages will give you additional background on the writer.
Check the quality of the information. Based on what you learned
earlier, ask yourself if the information from this Web site is reliable for
your needs. If the material you are reading was originally published
elsewhere, was that publication reputable, such as an academic or
peer-reviewed journal or a well-known newspaper? If you need the
most up-to-date information, check the bottom of the page, where a
“last modified” date may be shown. Does the author reference reliable
sources? What links does the author offer to other Web sites? Are they
active and reputable?
Consider what others are saying about the site. Does the author offer
references, reviews, or quotes about the material? Check blogs to see
what other people think of the author or Web site by searching for the
title of the article together with the word “review” or “blog.” Enter the
Web site’s URL in the search engine at to see
what other Web sites link to the one you are reading.
Trust your impressions about the material. You have recently been
exposed to related material in your class and textbooks. What does
your “gut” say about the material? Ask yourself why the Web site was
written. (To inform and provide data or facts? To sell something? To
promote a cause? To parody?) If you are unsure of the quality of the
information, don’t use it or check first with your instructor or college
librarian before you do.
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
Additional Resources
University of California Berkeley Library.
Cornell University Olin and Uris Libraries.
Duke University Library.
• Do all the exercises in math textbooks; apply the formulas to real-world
• Each type of graphic material has its own strength; those strengths are
usually clues about what the author wants to emphasize by using the
• Look for statements of hypotheses and experimental design when
reading science texts.
• History, economics, and political science texts are heavily influenced by
interpretation. Think critically about what you are reading.
• Working with foreign language texts requires more time and more
frequent breaks. Don’t rely on word-for-word translations.
• If you need to read with children around, don’t put off your reading
until you have a large block of time; there is much you can do with short
reading periods.
• Online materials offer endless possibilities, but select Web sites for
information carefully to ensure reliability and currency.
5.3 Dealing with Special Texts
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
Go online and find an article about something you are reading about in a
textbook. (Use the five steps to evaluate the article.) Scan both the Web page
and the equivalent textbook section and list your questions for both. Are the
questions different, or are many similar? How does each author answer
those questions? Which do you think is better written and more
authoritative? Why?
5.3 Dealing with Special Texts
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
5.4 Building Your Vocabulary
1. Recognize the importance of building your vocabulary.
2. Master techniques for building your vocabulary.
Both leaders and advertisers inspire people to take action by choosing their words
carefully and using them precisely. A good vocabulary is essential for success in any
role that involves communication, and just about every role in life requires good
communication skills. We include this section on vocabulary in this chapter on
reading because of the connections between vocabulary building and reading.
Building your vocabulary will make your reading easier, and reading is the best way
to build your vocabulary.
Learning new words can be fun and does not need to involve tedious rote
memorization of word lists. The first step, as in any other aspect of the learning
cycle, is to prepare yourself to learn. Consciously decide that you want to improve
your vocabulary; decide you want to be a student of words. Work to become more
aware of the words around you: the words you hear, the words you read, the words
you say, and those you write.
Do you have a lazy vocabulary? Wake it up with the “lazy speech” exercise.
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
Recruit a friend you spend a lot of time with. Give them an index card with
the following words written on it and ask them to keep a tally of the number
of times you say these words sometime when you are together for an hour or
more. If you have a small recorder, give it to the person and ask them to
record you at a time you are not aware of it.
Ummm or Uhh
You know
Include in this list any other words, including expletives, that you may be
using without thinking.
Are there words you constantly overuse? Were you surprised at how often
you used some of these expressions? Now that you are aware of the
frequency you use certain expressions, what strategies can you use to
control or substitute more articulate and expressive words for them?
Building a stronger vocabulary should start with a strong foundation of healthy
word use. Just as you can bring your overuse of certain words to your conscious
awareness in the previous activity, think about the kinds of words you should be
using more frequently. Some of the words you might consciously practice are
actually very simple ones you already know but significantly underuse or use
imprecisely. For example, many students say he or she “goes” instead of he or she
“says.” If you take it a step further, you can consider more accurate choices still.
Perhaps, he “claims” or she “argues.” Maybe he “insists” or “assumes.” Or it could
be that she “believes” or she “suggests.” This may seem like a small matter, but it’s
important from both a reader’s and a writer’s perspective to distinguish among the
different meanings. And you can develop greater awareness by bringing some of
these words into your speech.
These habits are easier to put into action if you have more and better material to
draw upon: a stronger vocabulary. The following tips will help you gain and
correctly use more words.
5.4 Building Your Vocabulary
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
• Be on the lookout for new words. Most will come to you as you read,
but they may also appear in an instructor’s lecture, a class discussion,
or a casual conversation with a friend. They may pop up in random
places like billboards, menus, or even online ads!
• Write down the new words you encounter, along with the
sentences in which they were used. Do this in your notes with new
words from a class or reading assignment. If a new word does not come
from a class, you can write it on just about anything, but make sure you
write it. Many word lovers carry a small notepad or a stack of index
cards specifically for this purpose.
• Infer the meaning of the word. The context in which the word is used
may give you a good clue about its meaning. Do you recognize a
common word root in the word? (Check Table 5.3 "Common Latin and
Greek Word Roots" for common roots.) What do you think it means?
• Look up the word in a dictionary. Do this as soon as possible (but
only after inferring the meaning). When you are reading, you should
have a dictionary at hand for this purpose. In other situations, do this
within a couple hours, definitely during the same day. How does the
dictionary definition compare with what you inferred?
• Write the word in a sentence, ideally one that is relevant to you. If
the word has more than one definition, write a sentence for each.
• Say the word out loud and then say the definition and the sentence
you wrote.
• Use the word. Find occasion to use the word in speech or writing over
the next two days.
• Schedule a weekly review with yourself to go over your new words
and their meanings.
Table 5.3 Common Latin and Greek Word Roots
5.4 Building Your Vocabulary
automatic, automobile
bicycle, biplane
biography, biology
chrono time
synchronize, chronicle
predict, dictate
give birth generate, genetic
geology, geography, geometry
biology, logic, pathology
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
manufacture, manual
philosophy, anglophile
transport, portable
submarine, subtract
vacuum, evacuate
Where Have You Been All My Life?
The following are some fun ways to find new words:
• Read.
• When you look up a word in the dictionary, look at other
interesting words on the same page.
• Solve crossword puzzles.
• Play word games like Scrabble, Boggle, or Pictionary.
• Watch movies.
• Listen to speeches and attend lectures.
• Go to comedy clubs.
• Have discussions (not just casual conversations) with friends.
• Read some more.
• The best way to build your vocabulary is to read, and a stronger
vocabulary makes it easier and more fun to read.
• Be aware of your own lazy vocabulary and try to avoid those words and
• Look for new words everywhere, not just in class readings.
• Before you look up a word in the dictionary, infer its meaning based on
its context and roots.
• After you look up a word in the dictionary, write your own sentence
using the new word. Say the word and definition out loud.
• Use the new word as soon as possible.
5.4 Building Your Vocabulary
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
1. Which words do you habitually overuse? Do your friends overuse
the same words? How can you collaborate to correct that
2. During the course of the day, find five new words in five different
places. What were those words, and where did you uncover
3. What do the words “manuscript,” “scribe,” and “scribble” have
in common? Can you detect the same root in these words?
4. What do you think the root means?
5.4 Building Your Vocabulary
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
5.5 Chapter Activities
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
Chapter Takeaways
• Reading, like learning, involves a cycle of preparing, absorbing, recording, and reviewing.
• In college, you will be expected to do much reading; it is not unusual to do two or more hours of
reading for every hour you spend in class. In college, you are also expected to think critically about
what you read.
• Active reading involves four steps:
1. Prepare for reading by scanning the assignment and developing questions for which you want
to discover answers through your reading.
2. Read the material and discover the answers to your questions.
3. Capture the information by highlighting and annotating the text as well as by taking effective
4. Review the reading by studying your notes, by integrating them with your class notes, and by
discussing the reading with classmates.
• Before you read, learn as much as you can about the author and his or her reason for writing the
text. What is his or her area of expertise? Why did the instructor select this text?
• When scanning a reading, look for clues to what might be important. Read the section titles, study
illustrations, and look for keywords and boldface text.
• Do not highlight your text until you have read a section completely to be sure you understand the
context. Then go back and highlight and annotate your text during a second read-through.
• Think critically about what you are reading. Do you agree with what the author is saying? How does
it relate to the rest of the material in the course? What does this new material mean to you in “real
Special Texts and Situations
Do all the exercises in math textbooks; apply the formulas to real-world situations.
Practice “reading” the illustrations. Each type of graphic material has its own strength or purpose.
Look for statements of hypotheses and experimental design when reading science texts.
History, economics, and political science texts are heavily influenced by interpretation. Think
critically about what you are reading.
• Working with foreign language texts requires more time and more frequent breaks. Don’t rely on
word-for-word translations.
• If you need to read with children around, don’t put off your reading until you have a large block of
time; learn to read in short periods as available.
5.5 Chapter Activities
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
• When reading on the Internet, be extra diligent to evaluate the source of the material to decide how
reliable that source may be.
• If English is your second language, seek out resources that may be offered on campus. In any case,
be patient with the process of mastering college-level English. And always remember this: what
feels like a disadvantage in one situation can be a great gift in another situation.
• Reading and vocabulary development are closely linked. A stronger vocabulary makes reading
easier and more fun; the best way to build a vocabulary is to read.
• Look for new words everywhere, not just in class.
• When you encounter a new word, follow these steps:
Write it down and write down the sentence in which it was used.
Infer its meaning based on the context and word roots.
Look it up in a dictionary.
Write your own sentence using the word.
Say the word, its definition, and your sentence out loud.
Find an opportunity to use the word within two days.
5.5 Chapter Activities
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
1. Describe the four steps of active reading.
2. What part of a textbook should you compare with a class
syllabus? Why?
3. Why is it important to know something about a textbook’s
4. What time of the day should you plan to do your reading? Why?
5. What is the difference between using the Cornell method for
taking class notes and using the Cornell method for reading
5.5 Chapter Activities
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
6. Why do you think it is important to pose some questions about
the material before you read?
7. What should you do if you are getting tired when reading?
8. List three requirements for a good reading location.
9. Can you multitask while doing a reading assignment? Why or
why not?
10. Describe the process of evaluating a Web-based reading
5.5 Chapter Activities
Chapter 5 Reading to Learn
Two things I will
do to improve
My reading
My reading speed
My vocabulary
5.5 Chapter Activities
By when I
expect to take
the action
How I will know I
accomplished the
Chapter 6
Preparing for and Taking Tests
Figure 6.1
© Thinkstock
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
Where Are You Now?
Assess your present knowledge and attitudes.
Usually Sometimes Seldom
1. I do well on exams.
2. Exams make me very nervous and
3. I study for exams at the last minute.
4. I feel confident going into tests or
5. When we get pop quizzes, I do OK.
6. I remember what I’ve studied long
after studying for an exam.
7. I am overwhelmed by the amount of
material I have to study for an exam.
8. I run out of time when taking
9. I write good responses to essay
10. I “draw a blank” during an exam
on material I know.
11. I have trouble really understanding
what the instructor is looking for on a
12. I lose points for stupid mistakes.
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
Where Do You Want to Go?
Think about how you answered the questions above. Be honest with yourself.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your preparation for tests at this
Prepare for tests poorly
Prepare for tests well
On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your test-taking skills at this time?
A poor tester
An excellent tester
In the following list, circle the three most important areas in which you think
you can improve:
Reducing test anxiety
Cramming for exams
Using study time more effectively
Feeling confident for an exam
Staying focused while studying
Using my time effectively during an exam
Selecting the right things to study
Answering multiple-choice questions
Selecting the best time and place to study
Answering short answer questions
Working in effective study groups
Answering essay questions
Studying from my notes
Taking oral exams/giving presentations as exams
Studying from my text
Taking online exams
Are there other areas in which you can improve your test preparation and test
taking? Write down other things you feel you need to work on.
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
How to Get There
Here’s what we’ll work on in this chapter:
• Knowing what exams really are and why the right attitude about
them is important for your college success
• Discovering how studying for and taking tests fit in to the learning
• Dealing with test anxiety
• Learning when, where, and how to study
• Recognizing types of tests and types of test questions
• Learning tips for multiple-choice, true-or-false, fill-the-blank,
matching, short answer, and essay questions
• Applying general strategies for tests and exams
• Applying strategies for math and science tests
Tested at Every Turn
Testing is a part of life. Have you ever participated in an athletic event? Completed
a crossword puzzle? Acted in a play? Cooked dinner? Answered a child’s question?
Prepared a cost estimate? All of these common life situations are forms of tests
because they measure how much we know about a specific subject at a single point
in time. They alone are not good measurements about how smart or gifted you
are—they show only how much you know or can do at that moment. We can learn
from how we have performed, and we can think about how to apply what we have
learned to do even better next time. We can have fun measuring our progress.
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
Many of our daily activities are measurements of progress toward mastery of skills
or knowledge. We welcome these opportunities as both work and fun. But when
these opportunities are part of our academic life, we often dread them and rarely
feel any sense of fun. In reality, however, academic tests are similar to real-life tests
in the following ways:
• They help us measure our progress toward mastery of a particular
• They are not a representation of how smart, talented, or skilled we are
but rather are a measurement only of what we know about a specific
subject at a specific point in time.
• They are extraordinary learning opportunities.
Academic tests in college are different from those you took in high school. College
instructors expect to see much more of you in an exam: your thoughts, your
interpretations, your thinking process, your conclusions. High school teachers
usually look for your ability to repeat precisely what you read in your text or heard
in your class. Success on high school tests relies much more on memorization than
on understanding the material. This is why you need to modify your study habits
and your strategies for taking exams in college.
Take a look at the learning cycle in Figure 6.2 "The Learning Cycle: Review and
Apply". In this chapter, we cover reviewing and applying the material you learn;
preparing for and taking exams is the practical application of this phase.
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
Figure 6.2 The Learning Cycle: Review and Apply
The end and the beginning of the learning cycle are both involved in test taking, as
we’ll see in this chapter. We will discuss the best study habits for effective review
and strategies for successful application of your knowledge in tests and exams.
Finally, we will cover how the review and application processes set you up for
additional learning.
Let’s start at the top of the cycle. You have invested your time in preparing for
class, you have been an active listener in class, and you have asked questions and
taken notes. You have summarized what you learned and have looked for
opportunities to apply the material. You have completed your reading assignments
and compared your reading notes with your class notes. And now you hear your
instructor say, “Remember the exam next week.”
A sense of dread takes over. You worry about the exam and what might be on it.
You stay up for a couple of nights trying to work through the volumes of material
the course has covered. Learning or remembering it all seems hopeless. You find
yourself staring at the same paragraph in your text over and over again, but you
just don’t seem to get it. As the exam looms closer, you feel your understanding of
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
the material is slipping away. You show up to the exam and the first questions look
familiar, but then you draw a blank—you’re suffering from test anxiety.
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
6.1 Test Anxiety and How to Control It
1. Learn what test anxiety really is.
2. Gain strategies for controlling anxiety.
Take the true-or-false quiz below (circle T for true or F for false). There are no
wrong answers.
T F I have a hard time starting to study for a test.
T F When studying for an exam, I feel desperate or lost.
T F When studying for an exam, I often feel bored and tired.
T F I don’t sleep well the night before an exam.
My appetite changes the day of the exam. (I’m not hungry and skip
T F meals or I overeat—especially high-sugar items like candy or ice
T F When taking an exam, I am often confused or suffer mental blocks.
T F When taking an exam, I feel panicky and my palms get sweaty.
T F I’m usually in a bad mood after taking an exam.
I usually score lower on exams than on papers, assignments, and
After an exam, I can remember things I couldn’t recall during the
If you answered true to any of the statements in the table above, you have suffered
some of the symptoms of test anxiety. Most of us have experienced this. It is normal
to feel stress before an exam, and in fact, that may be a good thing. Stress motivates
you to study and review, generates adrenaline to help sharpen your reflexes and
focus while taking the exam, and may even help you remember some of the
material you need. But suffering too many stress symptoms or suffering any of
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
them severely will impede your ability to show what you have learned. Test
anxiety1 is a psychological condition in which a person feels distress before, during,
or after a test or exam to the point where stress causes poor performance. Anxiety
during a test interferes with your ability to recall knowledge from memory as well
as your ability to use higher-level thinking skills effectively. To learn more about
critical thinking and study skills, see Chapter 3 "Thinking about Thought" and
Chapter 4 "Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering", respectively.
There are steps you should take if you find that stress is getting in your way:
1. A psychological condition in
which a person feels distress
before, during, or after a test
or exam to the point where
stress causes poor
6.1 Test Anxiety and How to Control It
• Be prepared. A primary cause of test anxiety is not knowing the
material. If you take good class and reading notes and review them
regularly, this stressor should be greatly reduced if not eliminated. You
should be confident going into your exam (but not overconfident).
• Bounce bad vibes. Your own negative thoughts—“I’ll never pass this
exam” or “I can’t figure this out, I must be really stupid!”—may move
you into spiraling stress cycle that in itself causes enough anxiety to
block your best efforts. When you feel you are brewing a storm of
negative thoughts, stop what you are doing and clear your mind. Allow
yourself to daydream a little; visualize yourself in pleasant
surroundings with good friends. Don’t go back to work until you feel
the tension release. Sometimes it helps to take a deep breath and shout
“STOP!” and then proceed with clearing your mind. Once your mind is
clear, repeat a reasonable affirmation to yourself—“I know this
stuff”—before continuing your work.
• Visualize success. Picture what it will feel like to get that A. Translate
that vision into specific, reasonable goals and work toward each
individual goal. Take one step at a time and reward yourself for each
goal you complete.
• It’s all about you! Don’t waste your time comparing yourself to other
students in the class, especially during the exam. Keep focused on your
own work and your own plan. Exams are not a race, so it doesn’t
matter who turns in their paper first. Certainly you have no idea how
they did on their exam, so a thought like “Kristen is already done, she
must have aced it, I wish I had her skills” is counterproductive and will
only cause additional anxiety.
• Have a plan and follow it. As soon as you know that an exam is
coming, you can develop a plan for studying. As soon as you get your
exam paper, you should develop a plan for the exam itself. We’ll
discuss this more later in this chapter. Don’t wait to cram for an exam
at the last minute; the pressure you put on yourself and the late night
will cause more anxiety, and you won’t learn or retain much.
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
• Make sure you eat well and get a good night’s sleep before the
exam. Hunger, poor eating habits, energy drinks, and lack of sleep all
contribute to test anxiety.
• Chill! You perform best when you are relaxed, so learn some
relaxation exercises you can use during an exam. Before you begin
your work, take a moment to listen to your body. Which muscles are
tense? Move them slowly to relax them. Tense them and relax them.
Exhale, then continue to exhale for a few more seconds until you feel
that your lungs are empty. Inhale slowly through your nose and feel
your rib cage expand as you do. This will help oxygenate your blood
and reenergize your mind. Chapter 10 "Taking Control of Your Health"
has more tips for dealing with stress.
6.1 Test Anxiety and How to Control It
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
You’ve learned how negative thoughts contribute to test anxiety and keep
you from doing as well as you can. Take some time to disarm your most
frequent offenders. From the following list, select three negative thoughts
that you have experienced (or write your own). Then fill in the second and
third columns for each statement, as shown in the example.
I don’t know anything.…What’s the matter with me?
If I fail this test, I’ll flunk the course.
I should have studied more.…I’ll never make it through.
I just can’t think.…Why did I ever take this course?
I know everyone’s doing better than I am.
If I fail this test, my dad (or husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend, teacher)
will be mad. I don’t know how I can face them again.
• I’m going to be the last one done again.…I must really be stupid.
• I’m getting really tense again; my hands are shaking.…I can’t even hold
the pen.
• I can’t remember a thing.…This always happens to me.…I never do well
on anything.
6.1 Test Anxiety and How to Control It
My boogie statement
How rational is this
thought? Do you
have any evidence
that it is true?
Reasonable reinforcing or
affirmation statements
you can use to replace it.
Example: I’m drawing
a blank.…I’ll never get
the answer…I must
really be stupid.
I’ve missed
questions on things
that I studied and
knew before.
I studied this and know it.
I’ll visualize where it’s
written in my notes to help
me trigger my memory.
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
My boogie statement
How rational is this
thought? Do you
have any evidence
that it is true?
Reasonable reinforcing or
affirmation statements
you can use to replace it.
• Some stress before a test or exam is common and beneficial.
• Test anxiety is stress that gets in the way of performing effectively.
• The most common causes of test anxiety are lack of preparation and
negative attitudes.
• The key to combating test anxiety is to try to reduce stressors to a
manageable level rather than try to eliminate them totally.
6.1 Test Anxiety and How to Control It
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
1. List three things you should do before a test or exam to combat
test anxiety.
2. List three things you can do during an exam to reduce stress.
6.1 Test Anxiety and How to Control It
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
6.2 Studying to Learn (Not Just for Tests)
1. Face tests with confidence, not anxiety.
2. Learn how to use your class and reading notes to learn the material, not
just to pass the test.
3. Gain key strategies for effective studying.
4. Form and participate in study groups.
You have truly learned material when you can readily
recall it and actually use it—on tests or in real-life
situations. Effective studying is your most important
tool to combat test anxiety, but more important,
effective studying helps you truly master the material
and be able to apply it as you need to, in school and
Figure 6.3
In Chapter 4 "Listening, Taking Notes, and
Remembering" and Chapter 5 "Reading to Learn", we set Late-night cramming is not an
effective studying strategy!
the foundation for effective learning. You learned how
to listen and how to take notes. You learned some tricks
for improving your memory. You learned how to read
© Thinkstock
actively and how to capture information from written
sources. Now we’ll follow up on some of those key ideas
and take the learning cycle to its conclusion and a new
The reviewing and applying stage of the learning cycle involves studying and using
the material you have been exposed to in your course. Recall that in Chapter 4
"Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering" and Chapter 5 "Reading to Learn" we
emphasized the importance of reviewing your notes soon after the class or
assignment. This review is largely what studying is all about.
Effective studying is an ongoing process of reviewing course material. The first and
most important thing you should know is that studying is not something you do a
few days before an exam. To be effective, studying is something you do as part of an
ongoing learning process, throughout the duration of the term.
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
Studying Every Day
Studying begins after each class or assignment when you review your notes. Each
study session should involve three steps:
1. Gather your learning materials. Take time to merge your class notes
with your reading notes. How do they complement each other? Stop
and think. What do the notes tell you about your material? What
aspects of the material are you unsure about? Do you need to reread a
part of your text? Write down any questions you have for your
instructor and pay a visit during office hours. It is better to clear up
any misconceptions and get your questions answered soon after you
are exposed to the material, rather than to wait, for two reasons: (1)
the question or doubt is fresh in your mind and you won’t forget about
it and (2) instructors usually build their lessons on material already
presented. If you don’t take these steps now, you are setting yourself
up for problems later in the course.
2. Apply or visualize. What does this material mean to you? How will you
use this new knowledge? Try to find a way to apply it in your own life
or thoughts. If you can’t use the knowledge right away, visualize
yourself using the knowledge to solve a problem or visualize yourself
teaching the material to other students.
3. Cement your knowledge. If you use the two-column note-taking
method, cover up the right side of your notes with a piece of paper,
leaving the questions in the left column exposed. Test yourself by
trying to answer your questions without referring to your notes. How
did you do? If you are unsure about anything, look up the answer and
write it down right away. Don’t let a wrong answer be the last thing
you wrote on a subject, because you will most likely continue to
remember the wrong answer.
Studying in Course Units
At the end of each unit, or at least every two weeks or so, use your notes and
textbook to write an outline or summary of the material in your own words.
(Remember the paragraphs you wrote to summarize each class or reading? They’ll
be very helpful to you here.) After you have written the summary or outline, go
back and reread your outline from the prior unit followed by the one you just
wrote. Does the new one build on the earlier one? Do you feel confident you
understand the material?
6.2 Studying to Learn (Not Just for Tests)
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
Studying before the Exam
At least a week before a major exam, ask yourself these questions: What has the
instructor said about what is included on the exam? Has the instructor said
anything about what types of questions will be included? If you were the instructor,
what questions would you ask on an exam? Challenge yourself to come up with
some really tough open-ended questions. Think about how you might answer them.
Be sure to go to any review sessions the instructor or your section leader holds.
Now go back and review your outlines. Do they cover what the instructor has
suggested might be on the exam? After reviewing your outlines, reread the sections
of your notes that are most closely associated with expected exam questions. Pay
special attention to those items the instructor emphasized during class. Read key
points aloud and write them down on index cards. Make flash cards to review in
downtimes, such as when you’re waiting for a bus or for a class to start.
More Tips for Success
• Schedule a consistent study-review time for each course at least
once a week, in addition to your class and assignment time. Keep to
that schedule as rigorously as you do your class schedule. Use your
study time to go through the steps outlined earlier; this is not meant to
be a substitute for your assignment time.
• Get yourself in the right space. Choose to study in a quiet, well-lit
space. Your chair should be comfortable but provide good support.
Remember that libraries were designed for reading and should be your
first option.
• Minimize distractions. Turn off your cell phone and get away from
Facebook, television, other nearby activities, and chatty friends or
roommates. All of these can cut into the effectiveness of your study
efforts. Multitasking and studying don’t mix.
• If you will be studying for a long time, take short breaks at least
once an hour. Get up, stretch, breathe deeply, and then get back to
work. (If you keep up with your daily assignments and schedule weekly
review sessions for yourself—and keep them—there should be almost
no need for long study sessions.)
6.2 Studying to Learn (Not Just for Tests)
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
Studying in Groups
Study groups are a great idea—as long as they are
Figure 6.4
thoughtfully managed. A study group can give you new
perspectives on course material and help you fill in gaps
in your notes. Discussing course content will sharpen
your critical thinking related to the subject, and being
part of a group to which you are accountable will help
you study consistently. In a study group, you will end up
“teaching” each other the material, which is the
strongest way to retain new material. But remember,
A study group that is too large is
being in a group working together doesn’t mean there
more likely to digress into casual
will be less work for you as an individual; your work will conversation.
just be much more effective.
© Thinkstock
Here are some tips for creating and managing effective
study groups:
• Think small. Limit your study group to no more than three or four
people. A larger group would limit each student’s participation and
make scheduling of regular study sessions a real problem.
• Go for quality. Look for students who are doing well in the course,
who ask questions, and who participate in class discussions. Don’t
make friendship the primary consideration for who should be in your
group. Meet up with your friends instead during “social time”—study
time is all about learning.
• Look for complementary skills and learning styles. Complementary
skills make for a good study group because your weaknesses will be
countered by another student’s strengths. When a subject requires a
combination of various skills, strengths in each of those skills is helpful
(e.g., a group with one student who is really good at physics and
another at math would be perfect for an engineering course). Finally, a
variety of learning styles is helpful because each of you pick up
differing signals and emphases from the instructor that you can share
with each other, so you will not likely miss important points.
• Meet regularly. When you first set up a study group, agree to a
regular meeting schedule and stick to it. Moving study session times
around can result in nonparticipation, lack of preparation, and
eventually the collapse of the study group. Equally important is
keeping your sessions to the allotted times. If you waste time and
regularly meet much longer than you agreed to, participants will not
feel they are getting study value for their time invested.
6.2 Studying to Learn (Not Just for Tests)
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
• Define an agenda and objectives. Give your study sessions focus so
that you don’t get sidetracked. Based on requests and comments from
the group, the moderator should develop the agenda and start each
session by summarizing what the group expects to cover and then keep
the group to task.
• Include some of the following items on your agenda:
◦ Review and discuss class and assignment notes since your last
◦ Discuss assigned readings.
◦ Quiz each other on class material.
◦ “Reteach” aspects of the material team participants are unsure of.
◦ Brainstorm possible test questions and responses.
◦ Review quiz and test results and correct misunderstandings.
◦ Critique each other’s ideas for paper themes and approaches.
◦ Define questions to ask the instructor.
• Assign follow-up work. If there is any work that needs to be done
between meetings, make sure that all team members know specifically
what is expected of them and agree to do the work.
• Rotate the role of moderator or discussion leader. This helps ensure
“ownership” of the group is spread equally across all members and
ensures active participation and careful preparation.
• Effective studying happens over time, not just a few days before an
exam. Consistent and regular review time helps you learn the material
better and saves you time and anguish as exam time approaches.
• The following are three steps to follow in each study session:
◦ Gather your knowledge.
◦ Apply or visualize your knowledge.
◦ Cement your knowledge.
• Study groups are a great idea—provided they are thoughtfully managed.
6.2 Studying to Learn (Not Just for Tests)
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
1. What do we mean by “gathering your knowledge”?
2. What study habits recommended in this section do you want to
develop or improve? What specific steps will you take to start
working on them?
3. Think of your toughest course. Which students in that class
would you want to include in a study group? Why?
6.2 Studying to Learn (Not Just for Tests)
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
6.3 Taking Tests
1. Understand the kinds of tests you will take in college and how you can
learn from them.
2. Learn general strategies to apply when taking tests and quizzes.
Types of Tests
All tests are designed to determine how much you know about a particular subject
at a particular point in time. But you should be aware of differences in types of tests
because this will help guide how you prepare for them. Two general types of tests
are based on their objectives, or how they are intended to be used: formative
assessments2 and summative assessments3.
Formative assessments include quizzes, unit tests, pop quizzes, and review quizzes
from a textbook or its Web site. Their main objective is to make sure you know the
fundamental material before moving on to more challenging topics. Because these
quizzes usually don’t count much toward your final grade, many students think
they are not very important. In fact, these quizzes are very important, particularly
to you; they can help you to identify what you know and what you still need to learn
to be successful in the course and in applying the material. A poor result on a quiz
may not negatively affect your final grade much—but learning from its results and
correcting your mistakes will affect your final grade, on the positive side, when you
take midterms and finals! More on this in Chapter 6 "Preparing for and Taking
Tests", Section 6.6 "Using Test Results".
2. A test or quiz used to
determine a student’s basic
understanding of material
before taking on more
challenging ideas.
3. A test or exam used by an
instructor to determine if a
student has mastered the
material sufficiently to get
credit for the course.
Summative assessments include midterms and finals. They are used by the
instructor to determine if you are mastering a large portion of the material, and as
such, they usually carry a heavy weight toward your final grade for the course.
Because of this, they often result in high levels of test anxiety and long study
In addition to this classification by objective, tests can also be grouped into various
categories based on how they are delivered. Each type has its own peculiar
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
• Paper tests are still the most common type of test, requiring students
to write answers on the test pages or in a separate test booklet. They
are typically used for in-class tests. Neatness and good grammar count,
even if it’s not an English exam. Remember that the instructor will be
reading dozens of test papers and will not likely spend much time
trying to figure out your hieroglyphics, arrows, and cross-outs.
• Open-book tests allow the student to consult their notes, textbook, or
both while taking the exam. Instructors often give this type of test
when they are more interested in seeing your thoughts and critical
thinking than your memory power. Be prepared to expose and defend
your own viewpoints. When preparing, know where key material is
present in your book and notes; create an index for your notes and use
sticky notes to flag key pages of your textbook before the exam. Be
careful when copying information or formulas to your test answers,
because nothing looks worse in an open-book exam than misusing the
material at your disposal.
• Take-home tests are like open-book tests except you have the luxury
of time on your side. Make sure you submit the exam on time. Know
what the instructor’s expectations are about the content of your
answers. The instructor will likely expect more detail and more
complete work because you are not under a strict time limit and
because you have access to reference materials. Be clear about when
the test is due. (Some instructors will ask you to e-mail your exam to
them by a specific time.) Also find out if the instructor allows or
expects you to collaborate with classmates. Be sure to type your exam
and don’t forget to spell-check!
• Online tests are most commonly used for formative assessments,
although they are starting to find their way into high-stakes exams,
particularly in large lecture classes that fulfill a graduation
requirement (like introductory psychology or history survey courses).
The main advantage of online tests is that they can be computer
graded, providing fast feedback to the student (with formative tests)
and allowing the instructor to grade hundreds of exams easily (with
summative assessments). Since these tests are computer graded, be
aware that the instructor’s judgment is not involved in the grading.
Your answers will be either right or wrong; there is no room for
partially correct responses. With online tests, be sure you understand
the testing software. Are there practice questions? If so, make sure you
use them. Find out if you will be allowed to move freely between test
sections to go back and check your work or to complete questions you
might have skipped. Some testing software does not allow you to
return to sections once they are “submitted.” Unless your exam needs
to be taken at a specific time, don’t wait until the last minute to take
the test. Should you have technical problems, you want to have time to
6.3 Taking Tests
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
resolve the issues. To avoid any conflicts with the testing software,
close all other software applications before beginning the testing
• Electronic tests in the classroom are becoming more common as
colleges install “smart classrooms” with technology such as wireless
“clicker” technology that instructors may use to get a quick read of
students’ understanding of a lecture. This testing method allows for
only true-or-false and multiple-choice questions, so it is rarely used for
summative assessments. When taking this kind of quick quiz, take
notes on questions you miss so that you can focus on them when you
do your own review.
• Presentations and oral tests are the most complete means for
instructors to evaluate students’ mastery of material, because the
evaluation is highly interactive. The instructor can (and likely will)
probe you on certain points, question your assumptions, or ask you to
defend your point of view. Make sure you practice your presentation
many times with and without an audience (your study group is good
for this). Have a clear and concise point of view and keep to the
allotted time. (You don’t want to miss delivering a killer close if your
instructor cuts you off because you weren’t aware of the time!) Chapter
7 "Interacting with Instructors and Classes" covers public speaking and
class presentations in more detail. Use the same strategies in oral
Tips for Taking Tests
You’ve reviewed the material for a test and feel confident that you will do well. You
have brought your test anxiety into control. What else can you do to ensure success
on a test? Learn and apply these top ten test-taking strategies:
1. Learn as much as you can about the test. What has the instructor
told you about the test? Will it be open book? What types of questions
will be on it? Are there parts of the test that will be worth more points
than others? Will it be cumulative or just cover the most recent
material? Will you have choices about which questions to answer?
2. Try to foresee the questions likely to be on the test. What kinds of
questions would you include if you were the instructor? Brainstorm
possible questions with your study group. Look for possible questions
in your notes. Review past quizzes and tests to see what kinds of
questions the instructor likes to ask. Above all, take it seriously
whenever your instructor warns, “This will be on the test.”
3. Don’t be tempted to stay up late cramming. Get some exercise and
watch what you eat. Cramming is not a substitute for doing your
6.3 Taking Tests
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
6.3 Taking Tests
assignments and studying consistently over time. It is far more
important to get a good night’s sleep and face your test fresh and well
rested. A good workout the day before an exam will help you be fresh
and stay focused during the exam (provided you already like to work
out; if not, find time to take a long walk). A healthy diet the night
before and the day of the exam will give you energy and concentration
to do well on the exam. Include “brain foods,” such as those rich in
omega-3 oils, and avoid “heavy” foods that are rich in fat and sugar.
(After the exam, you can celebrate with a cheeseburger, fries, and
milkshake—but not before the exam!)
Get to the test site early. Take out all your allowable tools (pencils,
pens, calculator, etc.). Turn off your cell phone (yes, all the way off, not
on vibrate) as a way of disconnecting from your everyday world. Do
some of the relaxation exercises described earlier for controlling test
Create a test plan. Listen carefully to the directions given by the
instructor. When you receive your test, scan the entire test first.
Evaluate the importance of each section. Then create a time allocation
plan. Decide how much time you should dedicate to each section. You
don’t want to spend 80 percent of your time on a question worth 10
percent of the grade.
Write it down. Take a couple minutes to write down key facts, dates,
principles, statistics, and formulas on a piece of scratch paper or in the
margin of the exam paper. Do this while you are still fresh and aren’t
yet feeling time pressure (when it will be harder to remember them).
Then you can refer to these notes as you take the exam.
Read the directions carefully. Then reread them. Do you understand
what is expected of you? If not, ask the instructor to be sure you are
clear. Too many students lose points simply by not following directions
Do the easy questions first. By getting the easy questions out of the
way, you’ll feel more confident about the test and have more time to
think about the tougher questions. Start with the objective sections of
the exam first (multiple choice, true or false, and matching columns).
As you answer these questions, keep an eye out for facts or concepts
you may want to use later in an essay question.
Keep an eye on the time. Keep as close to your plan as possible. If you
see that you are running out of time, don’t panic. Move to those
questions you think you can still answer accurately within the
remaining time.
Check your work. This doesn’t mean going through all your
calculations again. Start by ensuring that you have complete answers
according to the directions. Then look for other common mistakes,
such as a misplaced decimal point, dropped words (especially those
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
that can modify the answer, like “not”), and any incomplete or
incomprehensible phrases.
Strategies for Math and Science Exams
Math tests require some special strategies because they are often problem based
rather than question based.
Do the following before the test:
• Attend all classes and complete all assignments. Pay special attention
to working on all assigned problems. After reviewing problems in class,
take careful notes about what you did incorrectly. Repeat the problem
and do a similar one as soon as possible. It is important that the last
solution to a problem in your mind is a correct solution.
• Think about how each problem solution might be applied in a realworld situation. This helps make even the most complex solutions
relevant and easier to learn.
• In your study group, take turns presenting solutions to problems and
observing and correcting everyone’s work.
• If you are having difficulty with a concept, get help right away.
Remember that math especially builds new material on previous
material, so if you are having trouble with a concept now, you are
likely to have trouble going forward. Make an appointment with your
instructor, your teaching assistant, or a skilled classmate. Check with
your college’s academic support office to see about a tutor. Don’t be
shy about asking for a tutor—tutoring is not just for students needing
remedial help; many successful students seek them out, too.
Do the following during the test:
• Review the entire test before you start and work the problems you feel
most confident with first.
• Approach each problem following three distinct steps:
1. Read the problem through twice: the first time to get the full
concept of the question, and the second time to draw out pertinent
information. After you read through the problem the first time, ask
yourself, “What is this problem about?” and “What is the answer
likely to look like?” The second time through, consider these
questions: “What facts do I have available?” “What do I know?”
“What measurable units must the answer be in?” Think about the
6.3 Taking Tests
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
operations and formulas you will need to use. Try to estimate a
ballpark answer.
2. Compute your answer. First, eliminate as many unknowns as
possible. You may need to use a separate formula for each
unknown. Use algebraic formulas as far as you can before plugging
in actual numbers; that will make it easier to cancel and combine
factors. Remember that you may need two or more tries before you
come up with the answer.
3. Check your work. Start by comparing your actual answer to the
estimate you made when you first read the problem. Does your
final answer sound likely? Check your arithmetic by opposite
operations: use multiplication to check division and addition to
check subtraction, and so on.
You should consider using these three steps whenever you are working with any
math problems, not just when you get problems on tests.
Science tests also are often problem based, but they also generally use the scientific
method. This is why science tests may require some specific strategies.
• Before the test, review your lab notes as well as your class notes and
assignments. Many exam questions build upon lab experience, so pay
close attention to your notes, assignments, and labs. Practice
describing the experimental process.
• Read the question carefully. What does the instructor expect you to
do? Prove a hypothesis? Describe an experiment? Summarize
research? Underline the words that state the objective of the question.
• Look carefully at all the diagrams given with the question. What do
they illustrate? Why are they included with the question? Are there
elements on the diagram you are expected to label?
• Many science questions are based on the scientific method and
experimental model. When you read the test question, identify the
hypothesis the problem is proposing; be prepared to describe an
experimental structure to prove a hypothesis. When you check your
work, make sure the hypothesis, experimental steps, and a summary of
results (or expected results) are clear. Some of these elements may be
part of the question, while others you may need to provide in your
6.3 Taking Tests
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
• There is no such thing as an unimportant quiz.
• In addition to studying, prepare for exams and quizzes by getting plenty
of rest, eating well, and getting some exercise the day before the exam.
• Cramming is seldom a good strategy.
• Before the exam, learn as much as you can about the kinds of questions
your instructor will be asking and the specific material that will be
• The first step to successful completion of any exam is to browse the
entire exam and develop a plan (including a “time budget”) for
completing the exam.
• Read questions carefully. Underline keywords in questions, particularly
in essay questions and science questions.
• Unless points are deducted for a wrong answer, it pays to take educated
6.3 Taking Tests
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
6.4 The Secrets of the Q and A’s
1. Understand the five principal types of questions.
2. Gain specific strategies for addressing each type of question.
You can gain even more confidence in your test-taking abilities by understanding
the different kinds of questions an instructor may ask and applying the following
proven strategies for answering them. Most instructors will likely use various
conventional types of questions. Here are some tips for handling the most common
Multiple-Choice Questions
• Read the instructions carefully to determine if there may be more than
one right answer. If there are multiple right answers, does the
instructor expect you to choose just one, or do you need to mark all
correct options?
• Read each question carefully and try to answer it in your head before
reading the answer options. Then consider all the options. Eliminate
first the options that are clearly incorrect. Compare the remaining
answers with your own answer before choosing one and marking your
• Look for clue words that hint that certain option answers might be
correct or incorrect. Absolute words like “never,” “always,” “every,” or
“none” are rarely found in a correct option. Less absolute words like
“usually,” “often,” or “rarely” are regularly found in correct options.
• Be on the lookout for the word “not” in the stem phrase and in the
answer choice options; it is an easy word to miss if you are reading too
quickly, but it completely changes the meaning of the possible
True-or-False Questions
• Most of the tips for multiple-choice questions apply here as well. Be
particularly aware of the words “never,” “always,” “every,” “none,”
and “not” because they can determine the correct answer.
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
• Answer the questions that are obvious to you first. Then go back to
statements that require more thought.
• If the question is stated in the positive, restate it to yourself in the
negative by adding the word “not” or “never.” Does the new statement
sound truer or more false?
• If you still are unsure whether a statement is true or false and must
guess, choose “true” because most tests include more true statements
than false (but don’t guess if a wrong answer penalizes you more than
one left blank).
Matching Columns
• Start by looking at the two columns to be matched. Is there an equal
number of items in both columns? If they are not equal, do you have to
match some items in the shorter column to two or more items in the
longer column, or can you leave some items unmatched? Read the
directions to be sure.
• If one column has a series of single words to be matched to phrases in
the other column, read all the phrases first, then all the single words
before trying to make any matches. Now go back and read each phrase
and find the word that best suits the phrase.
• If both columns have single words to be matched, look to cut down the
number of potential matches by grouping them by parts of speech
(nouns with nouns, verbs with verbs, etc.).
• As always, start by making the matches that are obvious to you, and
then work on the ones that require more thought. Mark off all items
you have already used so you can easily see which words or phrases
still remain to be matched.
Short Answer Questions
• Short answer questions are designed for
you to recall and provide some very specific
information (unlike essay questions, which
also ask you to apply critical thinking to
that information). When you read the
question, ask yourself what exactly the
instructor wants to know. Keep your
answers short and specific.
6.4 The Secrets of the Q and A’s
Figure 6.5
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
Essay Questions
An essay test requires careful
planning of what you want to
• Essay questions are used by instructors to
evaluate your thinking and reasoning
applied to the material covered in a course.
© Thinkstock
Good essay answers are based on your
thoughts, supported by examples from
classes and reading assignments.
• Careful planning is critical to answering
essay questions effectively. Note how many essay questions you have
to answer and how difficult each question seems. Then allocate your
time accordingly.
• Read the question carefully and underline or circle keywords. Watch
for words that describe the instructor’s expectations for your response
(see Table 6.1 "Words to Watch for in Essay Questions").
• If time allows, organize your thoughts by creating a quick outline for
your essay. This helps ensure that you don’t leave out key points, and if
you run out of time, it may pick up a few points for your grade. Jot
down specific information you might want to use, such as names,
dates, and places. Chapter 8 "Writing for Classes" discusses outlining
and other aspects of the writing process in more detail.
• Introduce your essay answer, but get right to the point. Remember that
the instructor will be grading dozens of papers and avoid “filler” text
that does not add value to your answer. For example, rather than
writing, “In our study of the Civil War, it is helpful to consider the
many facets that lead to conflict, especially the economic factors that
help explain this important turning point in our nation’s history,”
write a more direct and concise statement like this: “Economic factors
help explain the start of the Civil War.”
• Write neatly and watch your grammar and spelling. Allow time to
proofread your essay. You want your instructor to want to read your
essay, not dread it. Remember that grading essays is largely subjective,
and a favorable impression can lead to more favorable grading.
• Be sure to answer all parts of the question. Essay questions often have
more than one part. Remember, too, that essay questions often have
multiple acceptable answers.
Table 6.1 Words to Watch for in Essay Questions
6.4 The Secrets of the Q and A’s
What It Means
Break concept
into key parts
What the Instructor Is Looking For
Don’t just list the parts; show how they work together and
illustrate any patterns.
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
What It Means
What the Instructor Is Looking For
(and sometimes
between two or
more concepts
or ideas
Define the similarities and clearly describe how the items or
ideas are similar. Do these similarities lead to similar results
or effects? Note that this word is often combined with
“contrast.” If so, make sure you do both.
between two or
more concepts
or ideas
Define the differences and clearly describe how the items or
ideas are different. How do these differences result in
different outcomes? Note that this word is often combined
with “compare.” If so, make sure you do both.
Judge and
Explain what is wrong—and right—about a concept. Include
your own judgments, supported by evidence and quotes
from experts that support your point of view.
Describe the
meaning of a
word, phrase,
or concept
Define the concept or idea as your instructor did in
class—but use your own words. If your definition differs
from what the instructor presented, support your
difference with evidence. Keep this essay short. Examples
can help illustrate a definition, but remember that
examples alone are not a definition.
Explain or
Define the key questions around the issue to be discussed
and then answer them. Another approach is to define pros
and cons on the issue and compare and contrast them. In
either case, explore all relevant data and information.
Clarify, give
reasons for
Clarity is key for these questions. Outline your thoughts
carefully. Proofread, edit, proofread, and proofread again!
Good explanations are often lost in too many words.
Offer examples
Use examples from class material or reading assignments.
Compare and contrast them to other examples you might
come up with from additional reading or real life.
evidence and
arguments that
something is
Instructors who include this prompt in an exam question
have often proven the hypothesis or other concepts in their
class lectures. Think about the kind of evidence the
instructor used and apply similar types of processes and
Give a brief,
Summarize description of
an idea or
6.4 The Secrets of the Q and A’s
Keep it short, but cover all key points. This is one essay
prompt where examples should not be included unless the
instructions specifically ask for them. (For example,
“Summarize the steps of the learning cycle and give
examples of the main strategies you should apply in each
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
Test your test knowledge.
Figure 6.6
2. “Always,” “never,” and “every”
are words that usually indicate the
answer is ___________.
1. It helps to group words in
matching columns by
___________________ ___
3. A way to organize your thoughts
for an essay
4. Clarify, give reasons for something
6. Short answer questions require a
__________ answer.
5. Essay questions often have more
than one ________ answer.
8. Describe the meaning of a word
7. Show similarities and differences
9. Give a brief, precise description of
an idea or concept
12. Most common answer in true and
false questions
10. Type of question used to evaluate
thinking and reasoning
11. Since instructors need to read
many essays, it is important to write
6.4 The Secrets of the Q and A’s
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
6.5 The Honest Truth
1. Understand the importance of academic integrity and the consequences
of dishonesty.
2. Identify most common types of academic dishonesty.
Throughout this book we have focused on the active process of learning, not just on
how to get good grades. The attitude of some students that grades are the end-all in
academics has led many students to resort to academic dishonesty4 to try to get
the best possible grades or handle the pressure of an academic program. Although
you may be further tempted if you’ve heard people say, “Everybody does it,” or “It’s
no big deal at my school,” you should be mindful of the consequences of cheating:
4. Cheating or using any
unauthorized or unacceptable
material in academic activities
such as assignments and tests;
turning in work that is not
your own under your name.
• You don’t learn as much. Cheating may get you the right answer on a
particular exam question, but it won’t teach you how to apply
knowledge in the world after school, nor will it give you a foundation
of knowledge for learning more advanced material. When you cheat,
you cheat yourself out of opportunities.
• You risk failing the course or even expulsion from school. Each
institution has its own definitions of and penalties for academic
dishonesty, but most include cheating, plagiarism, and fabrication or
falsification. The exact details of what is allowed or not allowed vary
somewhat among different colleges and even instructors, so you
should be sure to check your school’s Web site and your instructor’s
guidelines to see what rules apply. Ignorance of the rules is seldom
considered a valid defense.
• Cheating causes stress. Fear of getting caught will cause you stress
and anxiety; this will get in the way of performing well with the
information you do know.
• You’re throwing away your money and time. Getting a college
education is a big investment of money and effort. You’re simply not
getting your full value when you cheat, because you don’t learn as
• You are trashing your integrity. Cheating once and getting away
with it makes it easier to cheat again, and the more you cheat, the
more comfortable you will feel with giving up your integrity in other
areas of life—with perhaps even more serious consequences.
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
• Cheating lowers your self-esteem. If you cheat, you are telling
yourself that you are simply not smart enough to handle learning. It
also robs you of the feeling of satisfaction from genuine success.
Technology has made it easier to cheat. Your credit card
and an Internet connection can procure a paper for you
Figure 6.7
on just about any subject and length. You can copy and
paste for free from various Web sites. Students have
made creative use of texting and video on their cell
phones to gain unauthorized access to material for
exams. But be aware that technology has also created
ways for instructors to easily detect these forms of
academic dishonesty. Most colleges make these tools
available to their instructors. Instructors are also
Resist the temptation to cheat by
modifying their testing approaches to reduce potential using material from the Internet.
academic misconduct by using methods that are harder
to cheat at (such as in-class essays that evaluate your
© Thinkstock
thinking and oral presentations).
If you feel uneasy about doing something in your college
work, trust your instincts. Confirm with the instructor that your intended form of
research or use of material is acceptable. Cheating just doesn’t pay.
6.5 The Honest Truth
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
Examples of Academic Dishonesty
Academic dishonesty can take many forms, and you should be careful to avoid
them. The following list from Northwestern University is a clear and complete
compilation of what most institutions will consider unacceptable academic
1. Cheating: using unauthorized notes, study aids, or information on
an examination; altering a graded work after it has been returned,
then submitting the work for regrading; allowing another person
to do one's work and submitting that work under one's own name;
submitting identical or similar papers for credit in more than one
course without prior permission from the course instructors.
2. Plagiarism: submitting material that in part or whole is not
entirely one's own work without attributing those same portions
to their correct source.
3. Fabrication: falsifying or inventing any information, data or
citation; presenting data that were not gathered in accordance
with standard guidelines defining the appropriate methods for
collecting or generating data and failing to include an accurate
account of the method by which the data were gathered or
4. Obtaining an Unfair Advantage: (a) stealing, reproducing,
circulating or otherwise gaining access to examination materials
prior to the time authorized by the instructor; (b) stealing,
destroying, defacing or concealing library materials with the
purpose of depriving others of their use; (c) unauthorized
collaboration on an academic assignment; (d) retaining,
possessing, using or circulating previously given examination
materials, where those materials clearly indicate that they are to
be returned to the instructor at the conclusion of the examination;
(e) intentionally obstructing or interfering with another student's
academic work; or (f) otherwise undertaking activity with the
purpose of creating or obtaining an unfair academic advantage
over other students' academic work.
5. Aiding and Abetting Academic Dishonesty: (a) providing
material, information, or other assistance to another person with
knowledge that such aid could be used in any of the violations
stated above, or (b) providing false information in connection with
any inquiry regarding academic integrity.
6.5 The Honest Truth
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
6. Falsification of Records and Official Documents: altering
documents affecting academic records; forging signatures of
authorization or falsifying information on an official academic
document, grade report, letter of permission, petition, drop/add
form, ID card, or any other official University document.
7. Unauthorized Access to computerized academic or administrative
records or systems: viewing or altering computer records,
modifying computer programs or systems, releasing or dispensing
information gained via unauthorized access, or interfering with
the use or availability of computer systems or
information.Undergraduate Academic Conduct Committee of
Northwestern University, “Definitions of Academic Violations,” (accessed July
13, 2010).
• Being dishonest can have major consequences that can affect not only
your college career but also your life beyond college.
• “Everybody does it” and “It’s no big deal at my school” are not valid
reasons for cheating.
• When you cheat, you are primarily cheating yourself.
6.5 The Honest Truth
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
1. What are the most common forms of academic dishonesty you
have heard about at your school? What should be done about
2. What resources do you have on campus to learn about correct
forms of referencing other people’s work in your own?
6.5 The Honest Truth
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
6.6 Using Test Results
1. Effectively evaluate your test results and correct your mistakes.
2. Use your test results as a study guide.
So far, we have focused on how to study for and take tests effectively. This section
discusses how to use test results to their greatest benefit. Some of your most
important learning begins when your graded test paper is returned to you. Your
first reaction, of course, is to see what grade you received and how you did
compared with your classmates. This is a natural reaction.
Make sure you listen to the instructor as the papers are returned. What is the
instructor saying about the test? Is there a particular point everyone had trouble
with? Does the instructor generally think everyone did well? The instructor’s
comments at this point may give you important information about what you should
study more, about the value of review sessions, and even about possible questions
for the next exam.
Although you may be tempted to throw away the exam, don’t. It is a very helpful
tool for the next phase of preparing for learning. This is a three-step process,
beginning with evaluating your results.
Evaluating Your Test Results
When you receive your test back, sit quietly and take a close look at it. What
questions did you get wrong? What kind of mistakes were they? (See Table 6.2
"Exam Errors and How to Correct Them".) Do you see a pattern? What questions did
you get right? What were your strengths? What can you learn from the instructor’s
Now think of the way in which you prepared for the exam and the extent to which
you applied the exam strategies described earlier in this chapter. Were you
prepared for the exam? Did you study the right material? What surprised you? Did
you read the entire test before starting? Did your time allocation work well, or were
you short of time on certain parts of the exam?
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
Table 6.2 Exam Errors and How to Correct Them
Type of
Study and
I did not study the material for
that question (enough).
Practice predicting possible questions
I ran out of time.
Join a study group.
I did not prepare enough.
Read the entire test before starting.
Allocate your time.
I did not read the directions
Allocate exam time carefully.
Focus Errors
I confused terms or concepts that I
actually know well.
I misread or misunderstood the
Corrective Steps
Give yourself time to read carefully
and think before answering a question.
I studied the material but couldn’t
make it work with the question
Seek additional help from the
I didn’t understand what the
instructor wanted.
Go to all classes, labs, and review
I confused terms or concepts.
Join a study group.
Check and practice your active reading
and listening skills.
Schedule regular study time for this
Slow down! Don’t rush through the
The instructor misread my writing. exam. Take the time to do things right
the first time.
I didn’t erase a wrong answer
completely (on a computer-graded
answer sheet).
I forgot to go back to a question I
had skipped over.
I miscopied some calculations or
facts from my worksheet.
Based on your analysis of your test, identify the kind of corrective steps you should
take to improve your learning and test performance. Implement those steps as you
begin your preparation for your next class. If you don’t learn from your mistakes,
6.6 Using Test Results
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
you are doomed to repeat them; if you don’t learn from your successes, it will be
harder to repeat them.
Correcting Your Mistakes
The second step in making your test work for you is to correct your wrong answers.
The last time you wrote the information (when you took the test), you created a link
to wrong information in your memory, so that must be corrected.
• For multiple-choice questions, write out the question stem with the
correct answer to form a single correct sentence or phrase.
• For true-or-false questions, write the full statement if it is true; if it is
false, reword it in such a way that it is true (such as by inserting the
word “not”). Then write the new statement.
• For math and science questions involving calculations, redo the entire
solution with the calculations written out fully.
• You need not rewrite an entire essay question if you did not do well,
but you should create a new outline for what would be a correct
answer. Make sure you incorporate any ideas triggered by your
instructor’s comments.
• When you have rewritten all your answers, read them all out loud
before incorporating your new answers in your notes.
Integrating Your Test into Your Study Guide
Your corrected quizzes and midterm exams are an important study tool for final
exams. Make sure you file them with your notes for the study unit. Take the time to
annotate your notes based on the exam. Pay particular attention to any gaps in your
notes on topics that appeared in the quiz or exam. Research those points in your
text or online and complete your notes. Review your exams throughout the term
(not just before the final) to be sure you cement the course material into your
When you prepare for the final exam, start by reviewing your quizzes and other
tests to predict the kinds of questions the instructor may ask on the final. This will
help focus your final studying when you have a large amount of coursework to
If You Don’t Get Your Test Back
If your instructor chooses not to return tests to students, make an appointment to
see the instructor soon after the test to review it and your performance. Take notes
6.6 Using Test Results
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
on what you had trouble with and the expected answers. Add these notes into your
study guide. Make sure you don’t lose out on the opportunity to learn from your
• Working with exams does not end when your instructor hands back
your graded test.
• Quizzes and midterms are reliable predictors of the kind of material that
will be on the final exam.
• When evaluating your test performance, don’t look only at the content
you missed. Identify the types of mistakes you commonly make and
formulate plans to prevent these mistakes in future assessments.
1. Take time to examine your notes for each course you are now taking.
Are your exams and quizzes part of that package? If not, include them
now. Review them this week.
2. Compare your exams across two or three courses. What kinds of
mistakes do you make on a regular basis? Is there a trend you
need to correct?
6.6 Using Test Results
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
6.7 Chapter Activities
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
1. What is test anxiety? What are the three causes of test anxiety
you would like to work on controlling?
2. When should you start studying for an exam?
3. Can you multitask while studying? Why or why not?
4. What are some of the most common distractions to your
5. Describe the characteristics of a successful study group.
6. What are the two types of assessment? Which of these forms
might be called the “student’s assessment”? Why?
6.7 Chapter Activities
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
7. Why would an instructor assign an open-book exam? What types
of things should you pay attention to if you are taking an openbook exam?
8. How might you predict the kinds of questions that will be on an
9. What should you do right after the instructor hands out the
10. List five words to watch for in multiple-choice and true-or-false
6.7 Chapter Activities
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
11. List five words to watch for in essay questions.
12. What forms of academic dishonesty are most prevalent on your
campus? What can you do to avoid them in your own academic
13. List the five most common types of errors made on exams.
14. What should you do with your exam after is has been graded and
returned to you?
6.7 Chapter Activities
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
The following test will allow you to practice the strategies for each question
type outlined in Chapter Review I:
I. Multiple-choice section (10 points)
1. All actions on this list are examples of academic dishonesty
copying from a classmate
using another author’s words without appropriate credit
chewing gum in class
creating fictitious data to support a point
2. To avoid running out of time on a test, you should
a. write quickly, even if it’s not so neat
b. stick with a difficult question until you get a right answer so
that you don’t have to come back to it later
c. spend time reviewing the entire test before you start to
budget your time
d. frequently ask your instructor to tell you how much time is
II. True-or-false section (10 points)
1. ____ You should never use examples when an essay question asks you to
2. ____ Beds are a good place to study because they are comfortable and
3. ____ It’s smart to schedule a specific and consistent time for studying
for each course.
4. ____ In true-or-false questions, it is safer to mark true than false if you
don’t know the answer.
5. ____ One advantage of studying in a group is that students will
encourage each other to do their best work.
III. Matching column section (10 points)
6.7 Chapter Activities
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
____ 1. Define
A. A type of formative assessment
____ 2. Study
B. To describe pros and cons and compare them
____ 3. Weekly
C. To describe the meaning of a word, phrase, or concept
____ 4. Discuss
D. Your own personalized study guide
E. Three or four students from a class who meet
____ 5. Class and
regularly to review class material and encourage each
assignment notes
IV. Short answer section (15 points)
1. List three things you should do before a test to prepare your
body to perform effectively.
2. Name at least three of the characteristics of successful study
3. List at least four steps you should take before you start writing
the answer to an essay question.
6.7 Chapter Activities
Chapter 6 Preparing for and Taking Tests
V. Essay section (Choose one; 55 points)
1. Compare and contrast effective studying and cramming.
2. Discuss academic dishonesty and its consequences.
Two things I
will do to…
Reduce my
testing anxiety
Improve my
By when I
expect to take
each action
How I will know I
accomplished each
Improve my
performance on
6.7 Chapter Activities
Chapter 7
Interacting with Instructors and Classes
Figure 7.1
© Thinkstock
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
Where Are You Now?
Assess your present knowledge and attitudes.
Often Sometimes Seldom
1. I talk with my college instructors
outside of class.
2. I participate in class discussions, ask
questions in class, and volunteer to
answer questions posed by my
3. I go to all my classes except when
prevented by illness or an emergency.
4. I prepare for classes and make an
active effort to pay attention and get the
most from class lectures.
5. In lecture classes, I read other
materials, check for phone messages or
e-mail, and talk with friends.
6. I don’t sign up for classes when I hear
other students say the instructor is
boring or difficult.
7. I talk to my instructors in their offices
only if I have a problem with a specific
8. I write effective, professional e-mails
to my instructors when appropriate.
9. I am comfortable giving presentations
in class and know how to prepare
10. When assigned to work with a group
to give a presentation, I take the lead
and help ensure everyone works
together well in his or her specific roles.
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
Where Do You Want to Go?
Think about how you answered the questions above. Be honest with yourself.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your interactions with your
instructors and other students at this time?
Not very effective
Very successful
In the following list, circle the three most important areas in which you think
you can improve:
Attending classes
Networking and studying with other students
Going to classes fully prepared
Interacting with instructors through e-mail and telephone calls
Paying attention in lecture classes
Resolving a problem with an instructor
Asking questions in class
Interacting with the instructor and students in an online course
Answering questions in class
Giving presentations in front of the class
Participating in class discussions
Creating and using visual aids in a presentation
Speaking with instructors outside of class
Working with a student group to give a presentation
Are there other areas also in which you can improve how you interact with
instructors and other students to get the most out of your college education?
Write down other things you feel you need to work on.
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
How to Get There
Here’s what we’ll work on in this chapter:
• Understanding why it is so important to interact well with your
instructors and participate in class
• Understanding why it is essential to attend classes and actively
engage in the learning process
• Preparing for and being comfortable participating in class
• Discovering the best communication practices for asking and
answering questions in class
• Staying active in lecture classes to increase your learning
• Adapting your learning style when an instructor has a different
teaching style
• Building a relationship with an instructor outside of class and
finding a mentor
• Writing professional e-mails to instructors and others
• Interacting with the instructor of an online course and coping with
its difficult issues
• Preparing for and delivering a successful class presentation
• Working with other students on a group presentation
Interacting with the College Experience
Throughout this text you have been reading about how success in college depends
on your active participation in the learning process. Much of what you get out of
your education is what you yourself put into it. This chapter considers how to
engage in the learning process through interactions with your instructors and
other students. Students who actively interact with others in the educational
experience are much more successful than passive students who do not.
Yet relatively few college students consistently interact with their instructors and
other students in class. Typically only five to seven students in a class, regardless of
the class’s size, do most of the participating. Why is that? If you’re just too shy, you
can learn to feel comfortable participating.
Interacting with instructors and participating in class discussions with other
students is among the most important steps you can take to make sure you’re
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
successful in college. The real essence of a college education is not just absorption
of knowledge and information but learning a way of thinking that involves actively
responding to the ideas of others. Employers seek graduates who have learned how
to think critically about situations and ideas, to solve new problems, and to apply
traditional knowledge in new circumstances. And these characteristics come from
active participation in the learning process.
Differences from High School
To understand why interaction is so important in college, let’s look again at some of
the typical differences between high school and college instructors:
1. The concept present in almost
all colleges that instructors are
free, within the boundaries of
laws and ethics, to pursue
studies and to teach topics they
deem appropriate within their
field, without interference
from administrators, officials,
or others.
• Many college classes focus more on how one thinks about a subject
than on information about the subject. While instructors in some
large lecture classes may still present information to students, as you
take more classes in your major and other smaller classes, you’ll find
that simply giving back facts or information on tests or in assigned
papers means much less. You really are expected to develop your own
ideas and communicate them well. Doing that successfully usually
requires talking with others, testing out your thoughts against those of
others, responding to instructors’ questions, and other interactions.
• Instructors are usually very actively involved in their fields. While
high school teachers often are most interested in teaching, college
instructors are often more interested in their own fields. They may be
passionate about their subject and want you to be as well. They can
become excited when a student asks a question that shows some
deeper understanding of something in the field.
• College instructors give you the responsibility for learning. Many
high school teachers monitor their students’ progress and reach out if
they see a student not doing well. In college, however, students are
considered adults in charge of their own learning. Miss some classes,
turn in a paper late, do poorly on an exam—and you will get a low
grade, but the instructor likely won’t come looking for you to offer
help. But if you ask questions when you don’t understand and actively
seek out your instructor during office hours to more fully discuss your
ideas for a paper, then the instructor will likely give you the help you
• Academic freedom is very important in college. High school
instructors generally are given a set curriculum and have little
freedom to choose what—or how—to teach. College instructors have
academic freedom1, however, allowing them to teach controversial
topics and express their own ideas—and they may expect you to
partake in this freedom as well. They have more respect for students
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
who engage in the subject and demonstrate their thinking skills
through participation in the class.
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
7.1 Why Attend Classes at All?
1. Describe reasons why it is important to attend classes.
2. Know what to do if you must miss a class.
3. Explain the benefits of participating in class for both students and
Among the student freedoms in college is the choice not to attend classes. Most
college instructors do not “grade” attendance, and some college students soon
develop an attitude that if you can get class notes from someone else, or watch a
podcast2 of a lecture, there’s no reason to go to every class at all. What’s wrong
with that?
It is in fact true that you don’t have to attend every single class of every course to
get a good grade. But thinking only in terms of grades and how much one can get
away with is a dangerous attitude toward college education. The real issue is
whether you’re trying to get the most out of your education. Let’s compare students
with different attitudes toward their classes:
2. An audio or video recording,
such as of a class lecture, made
available online; so named
because podcasts were
originally developed to be
downloaded and played on
Carla wants to get through college, and she knows she needs the degree to get a
decent job, but she’s just not that into it. She’s never thought of herself as a good
student, and that hasn’t changed much in college. She has trouble paying attention
in those big lecture classes, which mostly seem pretty boring. She’s pretty sure she
can pass all her courses, however, as long as she takes the time to study before
tests. It doesn’t bother her to skip classes when she’s studying for a test in a
different class or finishing a reading assignment she didn’t get around to earlier.
She does make it through her freshman year with a passing grade in every class,
even those she didn’t go to very often. Then she fails the midterm exam in her first
sophomore class. Depressed, she skips the next couple classes, then feels guilty and
goes to the next. It’s even harder to stay awake because now she has no idea what
they’re talking about. It’s too late to drop the course, and even a hard night of
studying before the final isn’t enough to pass the course. In two other classes, she
just barely passes. She has no idea what classes to take next term and is starting to
think that maybe she’ll drop out for now.
Karen wants to have a good time in college and still do well enough to get a good job
in business afterward. Her sorority keeps a file of class notes for her big lecture
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
classes, and from talking to others and reviewing these notes, she’s discovered she
can skip almost half of those big classes and still get a B or C on the tests. She stays
focused on her grades, and because she has a good memory, she’s able to maintain
OK grades. She doesn’t worry about talking to her instructors outside of class
because she can always find out what she needs from another student. In her
sophomore year, she has a quick conversation with her academic advisor and
chooses her major. Those classes are smaller, and she goes to most of them, but she
feels she’s pretty much figured out how it works and can usually still get the grade.
In her senior year, she starts working on her résumé and asks other students in her
major which instructors write the best letters of recommendation. She’s sure her
college degree will land her a good job.
Alicia enjoys her classes, even when she has to get up early after working or
studying late the night before. She sometimes gets so excited by something she
learns in class that she rushes up to the instructor after class to ask a question. In
class discussions, she’s not usually the first to speak out, but by the time another
student has given an opinion, she’s had time to organize her thoughts and enjoys
arguing her ideas. Nearing the end of her sophomore year and unsure of what to
major in given her many interests, she talks things over with one of her favorite
instructors, whom she has gotten to know through office visits. The instructor gives
her some insights into careers in that field and helps her explore her interests. She
takes two more courses with this instructor over the next year, and she’s
comfortable in her senior year going to him to ask for a job reference. When she
does, she’s surprised and thrilled when he urges her to apply for a high-level paid
internship with a company in the field—that happens to be run by a friend of his.
Think about the differences in the attitudes of these three students and how they
approach their classes. One’s attitude toward learning, toward going to class, and
toward the whole college experience is a huge factor in how successful a student
will be. Make it your goal to attend every class—don’t even think about not going.
Going to class is the first step in engaging in your education by interacting with the
instructor and other students. Here are some reasons why it’s important to attend
every class:
• Miss a class and you’ll miss something, even if you never know it. Even if
a friend gives you notes for the class, they cannot contain everything
said or shown by the instructor or written on the board for emphasis
or questioned or commented on by other students. What you miss
might affect your grade or your enthusiasm for the course. Why go to
college at all if you’re not going to go to college?
• While some students may say that you don’t have to go to every class
to do well on a test, that is very often a myth. Do you want to take that
7.1 Why Attend Classes at All?
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
• Your final grade often reflects how you think about course concepts,
and you will think more often and more clearly when engaged in class
discussions and hearing the comments of other students. You can’t get
this by borrowing class notes from a friend.
• Research shows there is a correlation between absences from class and
lower grades. It may be that missing classes causes lower grades or that
students with lower grades miss more classes. Either way, missing
classes and lower grades can be intertwined in a downward spiral of
• Your instructor will note your absences—even in a large class. In
addition to making a poor impression, you reduce your opportunities
for future interactions. You might not ask a question the next class
because of the potential embarrassment of the instructor saying that
was covered in the last class, which you apparently missed. Nothing is
more insulting to an instructor than when you skip a class and then
show up to ask, “Did I miss anything important?”
• You might be tempted to skip a class because the instructor is
“boring,” but it’s more likely that you found the class boring because
you weren’t very attentive or didn’t appreciate how the instructor was
• You paid a lot of money for your tuition. Get your money’s worth!
Attending the first day of class is especially critical.
There you’ll get the syllabus and other handouts, learn
the instructor’s policies and preferences for how the
class will function, and often take notes in an opening
Figure 7.2
In a large class, your instructor
will still notice if you are paying
© Thinkstock
7.1 Why Attend Classes at All?
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
If You Must Miss a Class…
• If you know that you will miss a class, take steps in advance. Tell
your instructor and ask if he or she teaches another section of the
course that you might attend instead. Ask about any handouts or
special announcements.
• Ask another student whose judgment you trust if you can copy his
or her notes. Then talk to them after you’ve read their notes to go
over things that may be unclear to you.
• It may not be necessary to see your instructor after missing a
lecture class, and no instructor wants to give you fifty minutes of
office time to repeat what was said in class. But if you are having
difficulty after the next class because of something you missed
earlier, stop and see your instructor and ask what you can do to
get caught up. But remember the worst thing you can say to an
instructor: “I missed class—did you talk about anything
The Value of Interaction in Class
As noted earlier, there are many good reasons to attend every class. But it’s not
enough just to be there—you need to interact with the the instructor and other
students to enjoy a full educational experience:
• Participating in class discussions is a good
way to start meeting other students with
Figure 7.3
whom you share an interest. You may form
a study group, borrow class notes if you
miss a class, or team up with other students
on a group project. You may meet students
with whom you form a lasting relationship,
developing your network of contacts for
other benefits in the future, such as
learning about internships or jobs.
In a small class, it’s easy to
• Asking the instructor questions, answering interact with the instructor.
the instructor’s questions in class, and
responding to other students’ comments is © Thinkstock
a good way to make an impression on your
instructor. The instructor will remember
7.1 Why Attend Classes at All?
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
you as an engaged student—and this matters if you later need extra
help or even a potential mentor.
• Paying close attention and thinking critically about what an instructor
is saying can dramatically improve your enjoyment of the class. You’ll
notice things you’d miss if you’re feeling bored and may discover your
instructor is much more interesting than you first thought.
• Students actively engaged in their class learn more and thus get better
grades. When you speak out in class and answer the instructor’s
questions, you are more likely to remember the discussion.
Are Podcasts and Recordings an Effective Alternative to
Attending Class?
Why not just listen to a recording of the lecture—or a video podcast, if
available—instead of going to class? After all, you hear and perhaps see the lecture
just as if you were there, and you can sleep late and “go” to this class whenever it’s
convenient for you. What could be wrong with that?
This issue has received considerable discussion in recent years because many
colleges and universities began videotaping class lectures and making them
available for students online or in podcasts. There was a lot of debate about
whether students would stop coming to class and simply watch the podcasts
instead. In fact, some students do cut class, as some always have, but most students
use podcasts and recordings as a way to review material they do not feel they grasp
completely. A video podcast doesn’t offer the opportunity to ask questions or
participate, and even if you pay close attention to watching a video, it’s still a
passive experience from which you’re likely to learn much less.
• The benefits of attending every class include not missing important
material, thinking more clearly about course topics, developing a better
relationship with the instructor, and being better prepared for tests.
• When possible, prepare in advance for missing a class by speaking with
your instructor and arranging to borrow and discuss someone’s notes.
• Students benefit in many ways from class interaction, including more
actively engaging in learning, developing a network with other students,
and forming a relationship with the instructor.
• Podcasts, lecture recordings, and similar learning methods can
supplement lectures but cannot replace all the benefits of attending
class in person.
7.1 Why Attend Classes at All?
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
1. Why is it more important to interact with your instructors in
college than it was in high school?
2. Give an example of something important you may miss in a class
from which you are absent—even if you read a friend’s notes and
hear a recording of the lecture.
3. List at least three potential benefits of forming a network with
other students.
4. What can you do as a student to be more engaged during a
lecture if you are finding it boring?
7.1 Why Attend Classes at All?
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
7.2 Participating in Class
1. Understand how to set yourself up for successful participation in class.
2. List guidelines for effectively asking and answering questions in class.
3. Describe how to interact successfully with an instructor in a large
lecture class.
4. Explain strategies for effective learning if your learning style is different
from your instructor’s teaching style.
We’ve already discussed the many benefits of participating in class as a form of
actively engaging in learning. Not everyone naturally feels comfortable
participating. Following some general guidelines makes it easier.
Guidelines for Participating in Classes
Smaller classes generally favor discussion, but often instructors in large lecture
classes also make some room for participation.
A concern or fear about speaking in public is one of the most common fears. If you
feel afraid to speak out in class, take comfort from the fact that many others do as
well—and that anyone can learn how to speak in class without much difficulty. Class
participation is actually an impromptu, informal type of public speaking, and the
same principles will get you through both: preparing and communicating.
• Set yourself up for success by coming to class fully prepared. Complete
reading assignments. Review your notes on the reading and previous
class to get yourself in the right mind-set. If there is something you
don’t understand well, start formulating your question now.
• Sit in the front with a good view of the instructor, board or screen, and
other visual aids. In a lecture hall, this will help you hear better, pay
better attention, and make a good impression on the instructor. Don’t
sit with friends—socializing isn’t what you’re there for.
• Remember that your body language communicates as much as
anything you say. Sit up and look alert, with a pleasant expression on
your face, and make good eye contact with the instructor. Show some
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
3. Another term for forms of
nonverbal communication,
including gestures, postures,
and facial expressions.
4. Use of relatively formal English
language with correct
grammar and syntax, avoiding
slang, colloquialisms, and
irregular phrasings and word
meanings that may be common
to a particular cultural group
but that differ from those
generally accepted by the
larger culture.
7.2 Participating in Class
• Pay attention to the instructor’s body language3, which can
communicate much more than just his or her words. How the
instructor moves and gestures, and the looks on his or her face, will
add meaning to the words—and will also cue you when it’s a good time
to ask a question or stay silent.
• Take good notes, but don’t write obsessively—and never page through
your textbook (or browse on a laptop). Don’t eat or play with your cell
phone. Except when writing brief notes, keep your eyes on the
• Follow class protocol for making comments and asking questions. In a
small class, the instructor may encourage students to ask questions at
any time, while in some large lecture classes the instructor may ask for
questions at the end of the lecture. In this case, jot your questions in
your notes so that you don’t forget them later.
• Don’t say or ask anything just to try to impress your instructor. Most
instructors have been teaching long enough to immediately recognize
insincere flattery—and the impression this makes is just the opposite
of what you want.
• Pay attention to the instructor’s thinking style. Does this instructor
emphasize theory more than facts, wide perspectives over specific
ideas, abstractions more than concrete experience? Take a cue from
your instructor’s approach and try to think in similar terms when
participating in class.
• It’s fine to disagree with your instructor when you ask or answer a
question. Many instructors invite challenges. Before speaking up,
however, be sure you can explain why you disagree and give
supporting evidence or reasons. Be respectful.
• Pay attention to your communication style. Use standard English4
when you ask or answer a question, not slang. Avoid sarcasm and
joking around. Be assertive when you participate in class, showing
confidence in your ideas while being respectful of the ideas of others.
But avoid an aggressive style that attacks the ideas of others or is
strongly emotional.
• When your instructor asks a question to the class:
◦ Raise your hand and make eye contact, but don’t call out or wave
your hand all around trying to catch his or her attention.
◦ Before speaking, take a moment to gather your thoughts and take a
deep breath. Don’t just blurt it out—speak calmly and clearly.
• When your instructor asks you a question directly:
◦ Be honest and admit it if you don’t know the answer or are not
sure. Don’t try to fake it or make excuses. With a question that
involves a reasoned opinion more than a fact, it’s fine to explain
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
why you haven’t decided yet, such as when weighing two opposing
ideas or actions; your comment may stimulate further discussion.
◦ Organize your thoughts to give a sufficient answer. Instructors
seldom want a yes or no answer. Give your answer and provide
reasons or evidence in support.
• When you want to ask the instructor a question:
◦ Don’t ever feel a question is “stupid.” If you have been paying
attention in class and have done the reading and you still don’t
understand something, you have every right to ask.
◦ Ask at the appropriate time. Don’t interrupt the instructor or jump
ahead and ask a question about something the instructor may be
starting to explain. Wait for a natural pause and a good moment to
ask. On the other hand, unless the instructor asks students to hold
all question until the end of class, don’t let too much time go by, or
you may forget the question or its relevance to the topic.
◦ Don’t ask just because you weren’t paying attention. If you drift off
during the first half of class and then realize in the second half that
you don’t really understand what the instructor is talking about
now, don’t ask a question about something that was already
◦ Don’t ask a question that is really a complaint. You may be
thinking, “Why would so-and-so believe that? That’s just crazy!”
Take a moment to think about what you might gain from asking
the question. It’s better to say, “I’m having some difficulty
understanding what so-and-so is saying here. What evidence did he
use to argue for that position?”
◦ Avoid dominating a discussion. It may be appropriate in some
cases to make a follow-up comment after the instructor answers
your question, but don’t try to turn the class into a one-on-one
conversation between you and the instructor.
7.2 Participating in Class
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
Lecture Hall Classes
While opportunities are fewer for student discussions in
large lecture classes, participation is still important. The
instructor almost always provides an opportunity to ask
questions. Because time is limited, be ready with your
question or comment when the opportunity arises—and
don’t be shy about raising your hand first.
Figure 7.4
Being prepared is especially important in lecture
classes. Have assigned readings done before class and
Don’t use your cell phone during
review your notes. If you have a genuine question about
class time.
something in the reading, ask about it. Jot down the
question in your notes and be ready to ask if the lecture
© Thinkstock
doesn’t clear it up for you.
Being prepared before asking a question also includes
listening carefully to the lecture. You don’t want to ask
a question whose answer was already given by the instructor in the lecture. Take a
moment to organize your thoughts and choose your words carefully. Be as specific
as you can. Don’t say something like, “I don’t understand the big deal about
whether the earth revolves around the sun or the sun around the earth. So what?”
Instead, you might ask, “When they discovered that the earth revolves around the
sun, was that such a disturbing idea because people were upset to realize that
maybe they weren’t the center of the universe?” The first question suggests you
haven’t thought much about the topic, while the second shows that you are
beginning to grasp the issue and want to understand it more fully.
Following are some additional guidelines for asking good questions:
• Ask a question or two early in the term, even on the first day of class.
Once the instructor has “noticed” you as a class participant, you are
more likely to be recognized again when you have a question. You
won’t be lost in the crowd.
• Speak deliberately and professionally, not as you might when talking
with a friend. Use standard English rather than slang.
• If you’re very shy about public speaking or worried you’ll say the
wrong thing, write down your question before asking. Rehearse it in
your mind.
• When you have the opportunity to ask questions in class, it’s better to
ask right away rather than saving a question for after class. If you
really find it difficult to speak up in a large class, this is an acceptable
7.2 Participating in Class
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
way to ask your question and participate. A private conversation with
an instructor may also be more appropriate if the question involves a
paper or other project you are working on for the course.
A note on technology in the lecture hall. Colleges are increasingly incorporating
new technology in lecture halls. For example, each student in the lecture hall may
have an electronic “clicker” with which the instructor can gain instant feedback on
questions in class. Or the classroom may have wireless Internet and students are
encouraged to use their laptops to communicate with the instructor in “real time”
during the lecture. In these cases, the most important thing is to take it seriously,
even if you have anonymity. Most students appreciate the ability to give feedback
and ask questions through such technology, but some abuse their anonymity by
sending irrelevant, disruptive, or insulting messages.
Teaching Style versus Learning Style
As you learned in Chapter 1 "You and Your College Experience", students have
many different learning styles5. Understanding your learning style(s) can help you
study more effectively. Most instructors tend to develop their own teaching style,
however, and you will encounter different teaching styles in different courses.
When the instructor’s teaching style matches your learning style, you are usually
more attentive in class and may seem to learn better. But what happens if your
instructor has a style very different from your own? Let’s say, for example, that
your instructor primarily lectures, speaks rapidly, and seldom uses visuals. This
instructor also talks mostly on the level of large abstract ideas and almost never
gives examples. Let’s say that you, in contrast, are more a visual learner, that you
learn more effectively with visual aids and visualizing concrete examples of ideas.
Therefore, perhaps you are having some difficulty paying attention in class and
following the lectures. What can you do?
5. A person’s preferred approach
to or way of learning most
7.2 Participating in Class
• Capitalize on your learning strengths, as you learned in Chapter 1 "You
and Your College Experience". In this example, you could use a visual
style of note taking, such as concept maps, while listening to the
lecture. If the instructor does not give examples for abstract ideas in
the lecture, see if you can supply examples in your own thoughts as you
• Form a study group with other students. A variety of students will
likely involve a variety of learning styles, and when going over course
material with other students, such as when studying for a test, you can
gain what they have learned through their styles while you contribute
what you have learned through yours.
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
• Use ancillary study materials. Many textbooks point students to online
resource centers or include a computer CD that offers additional
learning materials. Such ancillary materials usually offer an
opportunity to review course material in ways that may better fit your
learning style.
• Communicate with your instructor to bridge the gap between his or
her teaching style and your learning style. If the instructor is speaking
in abstractions and general ideas you don’t understand, ask the
instructor for an example.
• You can also communicate with the instructor privately during office
hours. For example, you can explain that you are having difficulty
understanding lectures because so many things are said so fast.
Finally, take heart that a mismatch between a student’s learning style and an
instructor’s teaching style is not correlated with lower grades.
• To prepare for class participation, come to class ready, sit in front, and
pay attention to the instructor’s words and body language.
• Use good communication techniques when asking or answering
questions in class.
• Take advantage of all opportunities to interact with your instructors,
even in large lecture classes.
• If your learning style does not match the instructor’s teaching style,
adapt your learning and study with other students to stay actively
7.2 Participating in Class
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
1. For each of the following statements about class participation,
circle T for true or F for false:
To avoid having to answer a question in class when you
T F don’t know the answer, sit in the back row and avoid
making eye contact with the instructor.
If you haven’t finished a reading assignment before
T F coming to a lecture class, bring the book along and try to
complete the reading during the lecture.
Although it is OK to disagree with something in your
T F textbook, never disagree with something the instructor
says in a lecture.
If you are asked a question but don’t know the answer,
it’s best to be honest and admit it.
Before raising your hand to ask a question, take a
T F moment to consider whether maybe it’s a stupid
Because you don’t want your instructor to form a poor
T F impression of you, wait a week or two into the term
before starting to ask questions in class.
T F If you’re shy, it’s best never to speak up in class at all.
If you are struggling with a class during the first two
T F weeks of the term, it’s always best to drop the class
immediately because the situation won’t improve.
2. List two things you can do if you are having difficulty
understanding what your instructor is talking about.
7.2 Participating in Class
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
7.3 Communicating with Instructors
1. Describe additional benefits for interacting with your instructor beyond
the value for that particular course.
2. List guidelines for successfully communicating individually with an
instructor, such as doing so during office hours.
3. Write e-mail messages to instructors and others that are polite,
professional, and effective.
4. Know how to graciously resolve a problem, such as a grade dispute, with
an instructor.
5. Understand the value of having a mentor and how interactions with
instructors, your academic advisor, and others may lead to a mentoring
6. Explain what is needed to succeed in an online course and how to
interact with an online instructor.
So far we’ve been looking at class participation and general interaction with both
instructors and other students in class. In addition to this, students gain very
specific benefits from communicating directly with their instructors. Learn best
practices for communicating with your instructors during office hours and through
Additional Benefits of Talking with Your Instructors
College students are sometimes surprised to discover that instructors like students
and enjoy getting to know them. After all, they want to feel they’re doing
something more meaningful than talking to an empty room. The human dimension
of college really matters, and as a student you are an important part of your
instructor’s world. Most instructors are happy to see you during their office hours
or to talk a few minutes after class.
This chapter has repeatedly emphasized how active participation in learning is a
key to student success. In addition, talking with your instructors often leads to
benefits beyond simply doing well in that class.
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
• Talking with instructors helps you feel more comfortable in college
and more connected to the campus. Students who talk to their
instructors are less likely to become disillusioned and drop out.
• Talking with instructors is a valuable way to learn about an academic
field or a career. Don’t know for sure what you want to major in, or
what people with a degree in your chosen major actually do after
college? Most instructors will share information and insights with you.
• You may need a reference or letter of recommendation for a job or
internship application. Getting to know some of your instructors puts
you in an ideal position to ask for a letter of recommendation or a
reference in the future when you need one.
• Because instructors are often well connected within their field, they
may know of a job, internship, or research possibility you otherwise
may not learn about. An instructor who knows you is a valuable part of
your network. Networking6 is very important for future job searches
and other opportunities. In fact, most jobs are found through
networking, not through classified ads or online job postings.
• Think about what it truly means to be “educated”: how one thinks,
understands society and the world, and responds to problems and new
situations. Much of this learning occurs outside the classroom. Talking
with your highly educated instructors can be among your most
meaningful experiences in college.
Guidelines for Communicating with Instructors
Getting along with instructors and communicating well begins with attitude. As
experts in their field, they deserve your respect. Remember that a college education
is a collaborative process that works best when students and instructors
communicate freely in an exchange of ideas, information, and perspectives. So
while you should respect your instructors, you shouldn’t fear them. As you get to
know them better, you’ll learn their personalities and find appropriate ways to
communicate. Here are some guidelines for getting along with and communicating
with your instructors:
6. The process of engaging others
in helping reach an objective.
7.3 Communicating with Instructors
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
• Prepare before going to the instructor’s
office. Go over your notes on readings and
Figure 7.5
lectures and write down your specific
questions. You’ll feel more comfortable,
and the instructor will appreciate your
being organized.
• Don’t forget to introduce yourself.
Especially near the beginning of the term,
don’t assume your instructor has learned
everyone’s names yet and don’t make him Your instructor can often help
or her have to ask you. Unless the
explain course topics.
instructor has already asked you to address
him or her as “Dr. ____,” “Ms. _____” or
© Thinkstock
Mr. _______,” or something similar, it’s
appropriate to say “Professor _______.”
• Respect the instructor’s time. In addition
to teaching, college instructors sit on
committees, do research and other professional work, and have
personal lives. Don’t show up two minutes before the end of an office
hour and expect the instructor to stay late to talk with you.
• Realize that the instructor will recognize you from class—even in a
large lecture hall. If you spent a lecture class joking around with
friends in the back row, don’t think you can show up during office
hours to find out what you missed while you weren’t paying attention.
• Don’t try to fool an instructor. Insincere praise or making excuses
for not doing an assignment won’t make it in college. Nor is it a good
idea to show you’re “too cool” to take all this seriously—another
attitude sure to turn off an instructor. To earn your instructor’s
respect, come to class prepared, do the work, participate genuinely in
class, and show respect—and the instructor will be happy to see you
when you come to office hours or need some extra help.
• Try to see things from the instructor’s point of view. Imagine that
you spent a couple hours making PowerPoint slides and preparing a
class lecture on something you find very stimulating and exciting.
Standing in front of a full room, you are gratified to see faces smiling
and heads nodding as people understand what you’re saying—they
really get it! And then a student after class asks, “Is this going to be on
the test?” How would you feel?
• Be professional when talking to an instructor. You can be cordial
and friendly, but keep it professional and on an adult level. Come to
office hours prepared with your questions—not just to chat or joke
around. (Don’t wear sunglasses or earphones in the office or check
your cell phone for messages.) Be prepared to accept criticism in a
professional way, without taking it personally or complaining.
7.3 Communicating with Instructors
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
• Use your best communication skills. In Chapter 9 "The Social World
of College", you’ll learn the difference between assertive
communication and passive or aggressive communication.
Part-Time and Returning Students
Students who are working and who have their own families and other
responsibilities may have special issues interacting with instructors. Sometimes
an older student feels a little out of place and may even feel “the system” is
designed for younger students; this attitude can lead to a hesitation to
participate in class or see an instructor during office hours.
But participation and communication with instructors is very important for all
students—and may be even more important for “nontraditional” students.
Getting to know your instructors is particularly crucial for feeling at home in
college. Instructors enjoy talking with older and other nontraditional
students—even when, as sometimes happens, a student is older than the
instructor. Nontraditional students are often highly motivated and eager to
learn. If you can’t make the instructor’s office hours because of your work
schedule, ask for an appointment at a different time—your needs will be
Part-time students, especially in community colleges where they may be taking
evening courses, often have greater difficulty meeting with instructors. In
addition, many part-time students taking evening and weekend classes are
taught by part-time faculty who, like them, may be on campus only small
amounts of time. Yet it is just as critical for part-time students to engage in the
learning process and have a sense of belonging on campus. With effort, you can
usually find a way to talk with your instructors. Don’t hesitate to ask for an
appointment at another time or to meet with your instructor over a cup of
coffee after class before driving home. Assert yourself: You are in college for
reasons just as good as those of other students, and you have the same rights.
Avoid the temptation to give up or feel defeated; talk with your instructor to
arrange a time to meet, and make the most of your time interacting together.
Use e-mail to communicate when you need to and contact your instructor when
you have any question you can’t raise in person.
7.3 Communicating with Instructors
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
E-mail Best Practices
Just as e-mail has become a primary form of communication in business and society,
e-mail has a growing role in education and has become an important and valuable
means of communicating with instructors. Virtually all younger college students
have grown up using e-mail and have a computer or computer access in college,
although some have developed poor habits from using e-mail principally with
friends in the past. Some older college students may not yet understand the
importance of e-mail and other computer skills in college; if you are not now using
e-mail, it’s time to learn how (see “Getting Started with E-mail”). Especially when it
is difficult to see an instructor in person during office hours, e-mail can be an
effective form of communication and interaction with instructors. E-mail is also an
increasingly effective way to collaborate with other students on group projects or
while studying with other students.
Getting Started with E-mail
• If you don’t have your own computer, find out where on-campus
computers are available for student use, such as at the library or
student center.
• You can set up a free Web-based e-mail account at Google, Yahoo!
or other sites. These allow you to send and receive e-mail from any
computer that is connected to the Internet.
• If you don’t have enough computer experience to know how to do
this, ask a friend for help getting started or check at your library
or student services office for a publication explaining how e-mail
• Once you have your account set up, give your e-mail address to
instructors who request it and to other students with whom you
study or maintain contact. E-mail is a good way to contact another
student if you miss a class.
• Once you begin using e-mail, remember to check it regularly for
messages. Most people view e-mail like a telephone message and
expect you to respond fairly soon.
• Be sure to use good e-mail etiquette when writing to instructors.
If your instructor gives you his or her e-mail addresses, use e-mail rather than the
telephone for nonurgent matters. Using e-mail respects other people’s time,
allowing them to answer at a time of their choosing, rather than being interrupted
by a telephone call.
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But e-mail is a written form of communication that is different from telephone
voice messages and text messages. Students who text with friends have often
adopted shortcuts, such as not spelling out full words, ignoring capitalization and
punctuation, and not bothering with grammar or full sentence constructions. This
is inappropriate in an e-mail message to an instructor, who expects a more
professional quality of writing. Most instructors expect your communications to be
in full sentences with correctly spelled words and reasonable grammar. Follow
these guidelines:
• Use a professional e-mail name. If you have a funny name you use with
friends, create a different account with a professional name you use
with instructors, work supervisors, and others.
• Use the subject line to label your message effectively at a glance. “May
I make an appointment?” says something; “In your office?” doesn’t.
• Address e-mail messages as you do a letter, beginning “Dear Professor
____.” Include your full name if it’s not easily recognizable in your email account.
• Get to your point quickly and concisely. Don’t make the reader scroll
down a long e-mail to see what it is you want to say.
• Because e-mail is a written communication, it does not express
emotion the way a voice message does. Don’t attempt to be funny,
ironic, or sarcastic, Write as you would in a paper for class. In a large
lecture class or an online course, your e-mail voice may be the primary
way your instructor knows you, and emotionally charged messages can
be confusing or give a poor impression.
• Don’t use capital letters to emphasize. All caps look like SHOUTING.
• Avoid abbreviations, nonstandard spelling, slang, and emoticons like
smiley faces. These do not convey a professional tone.
• Don’t make demands or state expectations such as “I’ll expect to hear
from you soon” or “If I haven’t heard by 4 p.m., I’ll assume you’ll
accept my paper late.”
• When you reply to a message, leave the original message within yours.
Your reader may need to recall what he or she said in the original
• Be polite. End the message with a “Thank you” or something similar.
• Proofread your message before sending it.
• With any important message to a work supervisor or instructor, it’s a
good idea to wait and review the message later before sending it. You
may have expressed an emotion or thought that you will think better
about later. Many problems have resulted when people sent messages
too quickly without thinking.
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Resolving a Problem with an Instructor
The most common issue students feel with an instructor involves receiving a grade
lower than they think they deserve—especially new students not yet used to the
higher standards of college. It’s depressing to get a low grade, but it’s not the end of
the world. Don’t be too hard on yourself—or on the instructor. Take a good look at
what happened on the test or paper and make sure you know what to do better next
time. Review the earlier chapters on studying habits, time management, and taking
If you genuinely believe you deserved a higher grade, you can talk with your
instructor. How you communicate in that conversation, however, is very important.
Instructors are used to hearing students complain about grades and patiently
explaining their standards for grading. Most instructors seldom change grades. Yet
it can still be worthwhile to talk with the instructor because of what you will learn
from the experience.
Follow these guidelines to talk about a grade or resolve any other problem or
disagreement with an instructor:
• First go over the requirements for the paper or test and the
instructor’s comments. Be sure you actually have a reason for
discussing the grade—not just that you didn’t do well. Be prepared with
specific points you want to go over.
• Make an appointment with your instructor during office hours or
another time. Don’t try to talk about this before or after class or with
e-mail or the telephone.
• Begin by politely explaining that you thought you did better on the
assignment or test (not simply that you think you deserve a better
grade) and that you’d like to go over it to better understand the result.
• Allow the instructor to explain his or her comments on the assignment
or grading of the test. Don’t complain or whine; instead, show your
appreciation for the explanation. Raise any specific questions or make
comments at this time. For example, you might say, “I really thought I
was being clear here when I wrote.…”
• Use good listening skills. Whatever you do, don’t argue!
• Ask what you can do to improve grade, if possible. Can you rewrite the
paper or do any extra-credit work to help make up for a test score?
While you are showing that you would like to earn a higher grade in
the course, also make it clear that you’re willing to put in the effort
and that you want to learn more, not just get the higher grade.
• If there is no opportunity to improve on this specific project, ask the
instructor for advice on what you might do on the next assignment or
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Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
when preparing for the next test. You may be offered some individual
help or receive good study advice, and your instructor will respect
your willingness to make the effort as long as it’s clear that you’re
more interested in learning than simply getting the grade.
Tips for Success: Talking with Instructors
When you have a question, ask it sooner rather than later.
Be prepared and plan your questions and comments in advance.
Be respectful but personable and communicate professionally.
Be open minded and ready to learn. Avoid whining and
• There is no such thing as a “stupid question.”
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Controlling Anger over Grades
If you’re going to talk with an instructor about your grade or any other
problem, control any anger you may be feeling. The GPS LifePlan project of the
Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System offers some insights into this
• Being upset about a grade is good because it shows you care and
that you have passion about your education. But anger prevents
clear thinking, so rein it in first.
• Since anger involves bodily reactions, physical actions can help
you control anger: try some deep breathing first.
• Try putting yourself in your instructor’s shoes and seeing the
situation from their point of view. Try to understand how grading
is not a personal issue of “liking” you—that they are really doing
something for your educational benefit.
• It’s not your life that’s being graded. Things outside your control
can result in not doing well on a test or assignment, but the
instructor can grade only on what you actually did on that test or
assignment—not what you could have done or are capable of doing.
Understanding this can help you accept what happened and not
take a grade personally.Adapted from “How to Communicate and
Problem Solve with Your Instructor,”
generic/pdf/how-to-communicate-with-professor.pdf (accessed
December 27, 2009).
Finding a Mentor
A mentor7 is someone who is usually older and more experienced than you who
becomes your trusted guide, advisor, and role model. A mentor is someone you may
want to be like in your future career or profession—someone you look up to and
whose advice and guidance you respect.
7. A trusted individual, often an
older and wiser role model,
who provides guidance and
Finding a mentor can be one of the most fulfilling aspects of college. As a student,
you think about many things and make many decisions, large and small, almost
daily: What do you want to do in the future? How can you best balance your studies
with your job? What should you major in? Should you take this course or that one?
What should you do if you feel like you’re failing a course? Where should you put
your priorities as you prepare for a future career? How can you be a better student?
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The questions go on and on. We talk about things like this with our friends and
often family members, but often they don’t have the same experience or
background to help us as a mentor can.
Most important, a mentor is someone who is willing to help you, to talk with you
about decisions you face, to support you when things become difficult, and to guide
you when you’re feeling lost. A mentor can become a valuable part of your future
network but also can help you in the here and now.
Many different people can become mentors: other students, family members,
people you know through work, your boss. As a college student, however, your best
mentor likely is someone involved in education: your advisor, a more experienced
student, or an instructor. Finding a mentor is another reason to develop good
relationships with your instructors, starting with class participation and
communication outside of class.
A mentor is not like a good friend, exactly—you’re not going to invite your
instructor to a movie—but it does involve a form of friendship. Nor is a mentor a
formal relationship: you don’t ask an instructor to become your mentor. The
mentor relationship is more informal and develops slowly, often without actively
looking for a mentor. Here’s an example of how one student “found” a mentor:
As a freshman taking several classes, Miguel particularly liked and admired one of
his instructors, Professor Canton. Miguel spoke up more in Canton’s class and
talked with him sometimes during office hours. When it was time to register for the
next term, Miguel saw that Canton was teaching another course he was interested
in, so he asked him about that course one day during office hours. Miguel was
pleased when Professor Canton said he’d like to have him in his class next term.
By the end of his first year of college, Miguel seemed to know Canton better than
any of his other instructors and felt very comfortable talking with him outside of
class. One day after talking about a reading assignment, Miguel said he was enjoying
this class so much that he was thinking about majoring in this subject and asked
Professor Canton what he thought about it. Canton suggested that he take a few
more classes before making a decision, and he invited Miguel to sit in on a seminar
of upper-level students he was holding.
In his second year, Miguel’s interests turned in another direction as he began to
think about his future job possibilities, but by then he felt comfortable enough
talking with Canton that he occasionally he stopped by the professor’s office even
though he was not taking a class with him. Sometimes he was surprised how much
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Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
Professor Canton knew about other departments and other faculty, and Canton
often shared insights about other courses he might be interested in that his advisor
had not directed him to. When Miguel learned about a summer internship in his
field and was considering applying, Canton not only volunteered to write him a
letter of recommendation but even offered to help Miguel with the essay part of the
application if he wanted.
Some colleges have more formal mentoring programs, and you should become
involved in one if you have this opportunity, but often a mentoring relationship
occurs informally as you get to know an instructor or another person over time. In
your first year, you don’t go searching frantically for a mentor, but you should
begin interacting with your instructors and other students in ways that may lead,
over time, to developing that kind of relationship.
Similarly, your academic advisor or a college counselor might become a mentor for
you if you share interests and you look up to that person as a role model and
trusted guide. Your advisor is so important for your college success that if you feel
you are not getting along well, you should ask the advising department to switch
you to a different advisor. Take the time to build a good relationship with your
advisor, the same as with instructors—following the same guidelines in this chapter
for communication and interaction.
Relating to an Instructor of an Online Course
Online courses have grown tremendously in recent years, and most colleges now
have at least some online courses. While online learning once focused on students
at a distance from campus, now many students enrolled in regular classes also take
some courses online. Online courses have a number of practical benefits but also
pose special issues, primarily related to how students interact with other students
and the instructor.
Some online courses do involve “face time” or live audio connections with the
instructor and other students, via Webcasts or Webinars, but many are self-paced
and asynchronous, meaning that you experience the course on your own time and
communicate with others via messages back and forth rather than communicating
in real time. All online courses include opportunities for interacting with the
instructor, typically through e-mail or a bulletin board where you may see
comments and questions from other students as well.
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Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
Many educators argue that online courses can involve
more interaction between students and the instructor
than in a large lecture class, not less. But two important
differences affect how that interaction occurs and how
successful it is for engaging students in learning. Most
communication is written, with no or limited
opportunity to ask questions face to face or during
office hours, and students must take the initiative to
interact beyond the requirements of online
Figure 7.6
Online courses let you study
when you want, where you want.
Many students enjoy online courses, in part for the
© Thinkstock
practical benefit of scheduling your own time. Some
students who are reluctant to speak in class
communicate more easily in writing. But other students
may have less confidence in their writing skills or may
never initiate interaction at all and end up feeling lost. Depending on your learning
style, an online course may feel natural to you (if you learn well independently and
through language skills) or more difficult (if you are a more visual or kinesthetic
learner). Online courses have higher drop-out and failure rates due to some
students feeling isolated and unmotivated.
Success in an online course requires commitment and motivation. Follow these
• Make sure you have the technology. If you’re not comfortable
reading and writing on a computer, don’t rush into an online course. If
you have limited access to a computer or high-speed Internet
connection, or have to arrange your schedule to use a computer
elsewhere, you may have difficulty with the course.
• Accept that you’ll have to motivate yourself and take
responsibility for your learning. It’s actually harder for some people
to sit down at the computer on their own than to show up at a set time.
Be sure you have enough time in your week for all course activities and
try to schedule regular times online and for assignments. Evaluate the
course requirements carefully before signing up.
• Work on your writing skills. If you are not comfortable writing, you
may want to defer taking online courses until you have had more
experience with college-level writing. When communicating with the
instructor of an online course, follow the guidelines for effective e-mail
outlined earlier.
• Use critical thinking skills. Most online courses involve assignments
requiring problem solving and critical thinking. It’s not as simple as
7.3 Communicating with Instructors
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
watching video lectures and taking multiple-choice tests. You need to
actively engage with the course material.
• Take the initiative to ask questions and seek help. Remember, your
instructor can’t see you to know if you’re confused or feeling
frustrated understanding a lecture or reading. You must take the first
step to communicate your questions.
• Be patient. When you ask a question or seek help with an assignment,
you have to wait for a reply from your instructor. You may need to
continue with a reading or writing assignment before you receive a
reply. If the instructor is online at scheduled times for direct contact,
take advantage of those times for immediate feedback and answers.
• Use any opportunity to interact with other students in the course.
If you can interact with other students online, do it. Ask questions of
other students and monitor their communications. If you know
another person taking the same course, try to synchronize your
schedules so that you can study together and talk over assignments.
Students who feel they are part of a learning community always do
better than those who feel isolated and on their own.
• Additional benefits of getting to know and networking with instructors
include receiving references and academic advice.
• Interacting with college instructors contributes to the growth and
intellectual maturity that are part of what it means to be “educated.”
• Prepare in advance before meeting with an instructor and communicate
respectfully, honestly, and sincerely. Your efforts will be repaid.
• It is especially important for part-time and nontraditional students to
make the effort to interact with instructors.
• Follow accepted guidelines for professional use of e-mail with
• It is worthwhile speaking with an instructor when you disagree about a
grade because of what you will learn in this interaction.
• Finding a mentor can be one of the most fulfilling experiences in college.
Getting to know your instructors may be the first step toward find a
• Online courses involve special issues for effective learning, but you must
make the effort to interact with the instructor and other students in a
way that encourages your success.
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Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
1. Name three benefits you might gain from talking with an
instructor weeks or months after the course has ended.
2. What should you do before going to see your instructor during
office hours?
3. For each of the following statements, circle T for true or F for
The instructor of a large lecture course will recognize
you even if you sit in the back and try not to be noticed.
Instructors appreciate it when you talk to them in the
kind of language you use with your best friends.
Whining and complaining is the best way to convince an
instructor to change your grade.
It is acceptable to ask an instructor if you can rewrite a
T F paper or do extra-credit work to help make up for a poor
4. Write an appropriate opening for an e-mail to an instructor.
5. Think for a few minutes about all the past instructors you have
had. Would you like to get to know any one of them better,
perhaps as a mentor? What personality traits does this person
have that would make him or her your ideal mentor? (If no
7.3 Communicating with Instructors
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
instructor you have met so far is your idea of a perfect mentor,
write down the traits you hope to find in an instructor in the
7.3 Communicating with Instructors
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
7.4 Public Speaking and Class Presentations
1. Know how to overcome nervousness and anxiety associated with public
speaking and giving class presentations.
2. Effectively use the six-step process to prepare for and deliver a class
3. Create effective visual aids for use in class presentations.
4. Work with a group to successfully plan and deliver a class presentation.
Public speaking—giving an oral presentation before a class or another group of
people—is a special form of interaction common in education. You will likely be
asked to give a presentation in one of your classes at some point, and your future
career may also involve public speaking. It’s important to develop skills for this
form of communication.
Public speaking is like participating in class—sharing your thoughts, ideas, and
questions with others in the group. In other ways, however, public speaking is very
different. You stand in front of the class to speak, rather than from your usual
seat—and for most students, that changes the psychology of the situation. You also
have time outside of class to prepare your presentation, allowing you to plan it
carefully—and, for many, giving more time to worry about it and experience even
more anxiety!
Overcoming Anxiety
Although a few people seem to be natural public speakers, most of us feel some
stage fright or anxiety about having to speak to a group, at least at first. This is
completely normal. We feel like everyone is staring at us and seeing our every flaw,
and we’re sure we’ll forget what we want to say or mess up. Take comfort from
knowing that almost everyone else is dreading giving class presentations the same
as you are! But you can learn to overcome your anxiety and prepare in a way that
not only safely gets you through the experience but also leads to success in your
presentation. The following are proven strategies for overcoming anxiety when
speaking in public:
• Understand anxiety. Since stage fright is normal, don’t try to deny
that you’re feeling anxious. A little anxiety can help motivate you to
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
prepare and do your best. Accept this aspect of the process and work to
overcome it. Anxiety is usually worst just before you begin and but
eases up once you’ve begun.
Understand that your audience actually wants you to succeed.
They’re not looking for faults or hoping you’ll fail. Other students and
your instructors are on your side, not your enemy. They likely won’t
even see your anxiety.
Reduce anxiety by preparing and practicing. The next section
discusses the preparation process in more detail. The more fully you
prepare and the more often you have practice, the more your anxiety
will go away.
Focus on what you’re saying, not how you’re saying it. Keep in
mind that you have ideas to share, and this is what your classmates
and instructors are interested in. Don’t obsess about speaking, but
focus on the content of your presentation. Think, for example, of how
easily you share your ideas with a friend or family member, as you
naturally speak your mind. The same can work with public speaking if
you focus on the ideas themselves.
Develop self-confidence. As you prepare, you will make notes you can
refer to during the presentation. You’re not going to forget what you
want to say. The more you practice, the more confident you’ll become.
Guidelines for Presentations
Preparing and delivering a presentation in class (or in business or other settings) is
a process very similar to the learning process discussed in Chapter 4 "Listening,
Taking Notes, and Remembering", Chapter 5 "Reading to Learn", and Chapter 6
"Preparing for and Taking Tests" and the writing process discussed in Chapter 8
"Writing for Classes". The process breaks down into these six basic steps:
Analyze your audience and goals
Plan, research, and organize your content
Draft and revise the presentation
Prepare speaking notes
Practice the presentation
Deliver the presentation
Step 1: Analyze Your Audience and Goals
Who will see and hear your presentation—and why? Obviously, other students and
the instructor. But you still need to think about what they already know, and don’t
know, about your topic. If your topic relates to subject matter in class lectures and
readings, consider what background information they already have and be careful
7.4 Public Speaking and Class Presentations
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
not to give a boring recap of things they already know. It may be important,
however, to show how your specific topic fits in with subjects that have been
discussed already in class, especially in the beginning of your presentation, but be
sure to focus on your new topic.
New terms and concepts may become familiar to you while doing your research and
preparation, but remember to define and explain them to other students. Consider
how much explanation or examples will be needed for your audience to grasp your
points. If your topic involves anything controversial or may provoke emotion,
consider your audience’s attitudes and choose your words carefully. Thinking about
your audience will help you find ways to get their attention and keep them
Be sure you are clear about the goals for the presentation. Are you primarily
presenting new information or arguing for a position? Are you giving an overview
or a detailed report? Review the assignment and talk with the instructor if you’re
unsure. Your goals guide everything in the presentation: what you say, how much
you say, what order you say it in, what visual aids you use, whether you use humor
or personal examples, and so forth.
Step 2: Plan, Research, and Organize Your Content
Starting with the assignment and your goals, brainstorm your topic. Jot notes on
specific topics that seem important. Often you’ll do reading or research to gather
more information. Take notes as you would with any reading. As you research the
topic at this stage, don’t worry at first about how much content you are gathering.
It’s better to know too much and then pick out the most important things to say
than to rush ahead to drafting the presentation and then realize you don’t have
enough material.
Organizing a presentation is similar to organizing topics in a class paper and uses
the same principles. Introduce your topic and state your main idea (thesis), go into
more detail about specific ideas, and conclude your presentation. Look for a logical
order for the specifics in the middle. Some topics work best in chronological (time)
order or with a compare-and-contrast organization. If your goal is to persuade the
audience, build up to the strongest reason. Put similar ideas together and add
transitions between different ideas.
While researching your topic and outlining your main points, think about visual
aids that may help the presentation.
7.4 Public Speaking and Class Presentations
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
Also start thinking about how much time you have for the presentation, but don’t
limit yourself yet in the outline stage.
Step 3: Draft and Revise the Presentation
Unless required by the assignment, you don’t need to actually write out the
presentation in full sentences and paragraphs. How much you write depends on
your own learning and speaking style. Some students speak well from brief phrases
written in an outline, while other students find it easier to write sentences out
completely. There’s nothing wrong with writing the presentation out fully like a
script if that helps you be sure you will say what you intend to—just so you don’t
actually get up and read from the script.
You can’t know for sure how long a presentation will last until you rehearse it later,
but you can estimate the time while drafting it. On the average, it takes two to three
minutes to speak what can be written on a standard double-spaced page—but with
visual aids, pauses, and audience interaction, it may take longer. While this is only a
rough guide, you can start out thinking of a ten-minute presentation as the
equivalent of a three to four-page paper.
Never wait until the last minute to draft your presentation. Arrange your time to
prepare the first draft and then come back to it a day or two later to ask these
• Am I going on too long about minor points? Could the audience get
• Do I have good explanations and reasons for my main points? Do I need
more data or better examples? Where would visual aids be most
• Am I using the best words for this topic and this audience? Should I be
more or less informal in the way I talk?
• Does it all hold together and flow well from one point to the next? Do I
need a better introduction or transition when I shift from one idea to
7.4 Public Speaking and Class Presentations
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
Visual Aids in Presentations
Except for very short informal presentations, most presentations gain from
visuals—and visual aids are often expected. If encouraged or allowed to include
visuals in your presentation, plan to do so. Consider all possible types:
Charts or graphs
Photos or other images
Video clips
Handouts (only when necessary—they can be distracting)
Use the available technology, whether it’s an overhead projector, PowerPoint8
slides, a flip chart, or posters. (Talk to your instructor about resources and
software for designing your visuals.) Follow these guidelines:
• Design your visuals carefully. Here are some basic rules:
8. The name of a specific software
presentation program (within
Microsoft Office) used in many
educational and business
settings to produce and deliver
“slides” containing text and
graphics to a group via a
projected computer screen.
7.4 Public Speaking and Class Presentations
◦ Use a simple, neutral background. A light-colored background
with text in a dark color works best for words; a dark
background used like matting works best for photos.
◦ Minimize the amount of text in visuals—more than eight
words per slide is usually too much. Avoid simply presenting
word outlines of what you are saying. Make sure text is large
enough for the audience to read.
◦ Don’t use more than two pictures in a slide, and use two only
to make a direct comparison. Montages are hard to focus on
and distract the viewer from what you’re saying. Use images
only when they support your presentation; don’t use clip art
just as decoration.
◦ Don’t put a table of numbers in a visual aid. If you need to
illustrate numerical data, use a graph. (Microsoft Excel can
make them for you easily.)
◦ Don’t use sound effects. Use a very brief recording only if
directly related to your main points.
◦ Don’t use visual special effects such as dissolves, spins, boxouts, or other transitions. They are distracting. Use animation
sparingly and only if it helps make a point.
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
• Don’t use so many visuals or move through them so quickly that
the audience gives all its attention to them rather than to you.
• Practice your presentation using your visual aids, because they
affect your timing.
• Explain visuals when needed but not when they’re obvious.
• Keep your eyes on your audience, only briefly glancing at visuals to
stay in synch with them.
• Don’t hand out a printout of your visuals. Your audience should
keep their eyes on you instead of fiddling around with paper.
Step 4: Prepare Speaking Notes
As mentioned earlier, it’s not a good idea to read your presentation from a written
page rather than deliver it. To keep your audience’s attention, it’s important to
make eye contact with them and to use a normal speaking voice—and you can’t do
this if you keep your eyes on a written script.
Speaking notes are a brief outline for your presentation. You might write them on
index cards or sheets of paper. Include important facts and data as well as keywords
for your main ideas, but don’t write too much. (If you forget things later when you
start practicing, you can always add more to your outline then.) Be sure to number
your cards or pages to prevent a last-minute mix-up.
Think especially about how to open and close your presentation, because these two
moments have the most impact of the whole presentation. Use the opening to
capture the audience’s attention, but be sure it is appropriate for your audience and
the goals. Here are some possibilities for your opening:
• A striking fact or example (illustrating an issue or a problem)
• A brief interesting or humorous anecdote (historical, personal, or
current event)
• A question to the audience
• An interesting quotation
Then relate the opening to your topic and your main point and move into the body
of the presentation.
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Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
Your closing mirrors the opening. Transition from your last point to a brief
summary that pulls your ideas together. You might end with a challenge to the
audience, a strong statement about your topic, or a personal reflection on what you
have been saying. Just make sure you have a final sentence planned so that you
don’t end up uncomfortably fumbling around at the end (“Well, I guess that ends
my presentation”).
Step 5: Practice the Presentation
Practice may be the most important step. It is also the best way to get over stage
fright and gain confidence.
Practice first in an empty room where you imagine people sitting, so that you can
move your eyes around the room to this “audience.” The first time through, focus
on putting your outlined notes into full sentences in your natural speaking voice.
Don’t read your notes aloud. Glance down at your notes only briefly and then look
up immediately around the room. Practice two or three times just to find the right
words to explain your points and feel more comfortable working with your notes.
Time yourself, but don’t obsess over your presentation being the exact length
required. If your presentation is much too long, however, adjust it now in your
notes so that you don’t start memorizing things that you might accidentally still say
later on even though you cut them from your notes.
Once you feel good speaking from your notes, practice to add some more polish to
your delivery. You might want to record or videotape your presentation or ask a
friend or roommate to watch your presentation. Pay attention to these aspects of
how you speak:
• Try to speak in your natural voice, not in a monotone as if you were
just reading aloud. If you will be presenting in a large room without a
microphone, you will need to speak louder than usual, but still try to
use a natural voice.
• In usual conversation, we speed up and slow down and vary the
intensity of our words to show how we feel about what we’re saying.
Practice changes in your delivery style to emphasize key points.
• Don’t keep looking at your notes. It’s fine if you use words that are
different from those you wrote down—the more you rehearse without
looking at your notes, the more natural sounding you will be.
• Be sure you can pronounce all new words and technical terms
correctly. Practice saying them slowly and clearly to yourself until you
can say them naturally.
7.4 Public Speaking and Class Presentations
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
• Don’t forget transitions. Listeners need a cue when you’re moving to a
new idea. Practice phrases such as “Another important reason for this
is…” or “Now let’s move on to why this is so.…”
• Watch out for all those little “filler” words people use so often, such as
“like,” “you know,” “well,” and “uh.” They’re very distracting to most
audiences. Listen to or watch your tape to see if you are using these
fillers or ask your friend to point it out.
• Pay attention to body language when practicing. Stand up straight and
tall in every practice session so that you become used to it. Unless you
have to stand at a podium to use a fixed microphone in your
presentation, practice moving around while you speak; this helps keep
the audience watching you. Use hand and arm gestures if they are
natural for you, but don’t try to make up gestures for the presentation
because they will look phony. Most important, keep your eyes moving
over the audience. Practice smiling and pausing at key points.
• Finally, it’s a good idea to be ready in case of an accident. Most likely
your presentation will go smoothly, you’ll stay on track with your
notes, and your PowerPoint slides will work fine, but sometimes a
mishap happens. Be ready to joke about it, rather than becoming
flustered. If the computer fails and you lose your visuals, say
something like, “Well, that’s a shame, I had some really great photos to
show you!” If you drop your index cards or notes, or accidentally skip
ahead in your presentation and then have to backtrack, make a joke:
“Sorry about that, I was so excited to get to my next point that I’m
afraid I lost control there for a moment!” Let your audience laugh with
you—they’ll still be on your side, and you can defuse the incident and
move on without becoming more nervous.
Step 6: Deliver the Presentation
Be sure to get enough sleep and eat a healthy breakfast. Don’t drink too much
caffeine or else you’ll become hyper and nervous. Wear your favorite—and
appropriate—clothing and comfortable shoes.
7.4 Public Speaking and Class Presentations
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
Remember, your audience is on your side! If you’re still
nervous before your turn, take a few deep breaths.
Figure 7.7
Rehearse your opening lines in your mind. Smile as you
move to the front of the room, looking at your audience.
You’ll see some friendly faces smiling back
encouragingly. As you start the presentation, move your
eyes among those giving you a warm reception—and if
you see some student looking bored or doing something
else, just ignore them. But don’t focus on any one
person in the audience for too long, which could make
You may use computerized visual
them nervous or cause them to look away.
aids when you give a
presentation to a class.
Don’t keep looking at your watch or a clock: If your
© Thinkstock
rehearsal times were close to your assigned time, your
presentation will be also. If you do notice that you’re
running behind schedule, it may be that you’re saying
too much out of nervousness. Use your notes to get back
on track and keep the pace moving. But it’s better to deliver your presentation
naturally and fluidly and be a bit long or short than to try to change your words and
end up sounding unnatural.
At the closing, deliver your last line with confidence, sweeping your eyes over the
audience. If appropriate, ask if there are any questions. When you’re done, pause,
smile, say “Thank you,” and walk back to your seat.
Later on, ask other students and your instructor for comments. Be open
minded—don’t just ask for praise. If you hear a suggestion for improvement, file
that in your memory for next time.
Group Presentations
You may be assigned to give a presentation in a small group. The six-step process
discussed previously works for group presentations, too, although group dynamics
often call for additional planning and shared responsibilities:
1. Schedule a group meeting as soon as possible to get started. Don’t let
another student put things off. Explain that you’re too busy and won’t
have time at the last minute.
2. Begin by analyzing your audience and your goals together as a group to
make sure everyone understands the assignment the same. Discuss
who should do what. While everyone should talk about what content to
include, from here onward, you will take on specialized roles. One or
7.4 Public Speaking and Class Presentations
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
7.4 Public Speaking and Class Presentations
more may begin research and gathering information. Others who are
good writers may volunteer to draft the presentation, while one or
more others may develop the visual aids. Those who have public
speaking experience may volunteer to do all or most of the speaking
(unless the assignment requires everyone to have a speaking role). You
also need a team leader to keep everyone on schedule, organize
meetings, and so on. The best team leader is an even-tempered student
with good social skills, who can motivate everyone to cooperate.
Steps 2 and 3 can likely be carried out individually with assigned tasks,
but group members should stay in touch. For example, the person
developing the visuals should be talking to those doing the researching
and drafting to see what visuals are needed and get started finding or
creating them.
Before preparing notes in step 4, meet again to go over the content and
plan for visuals. Everyone should be comfortable with the plan so far.
Make final decisions about who will do each section of the
presentation. Set the time for each segment. Then speakers should
prepare their own speaking notes. Let someone with strong speaking
skills open or close the presentation (or both), with others doing the
other parts.
The whole group should be present for practice sessions in step 5, even
if not everyone is speaking. Those not speaking should take notes and
give feedback. If one student is doing most of the presenting, an
alternate should be chosen in case the first choice is sick on the
scheduled day. The alternate also needs to practice.
During the delivery, especially if using technology for visual aids, one
student should manage the visuals while others do the presenting. If
several students present different segments, plan the transition from
one to another so that the presentation keeps flowing without pauses.
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
Additional Resources
For Class Presentations
Using PowerPoint. A step-by-step illustrated tutorial for learning how to
create effective visual presentations with PowerPoint.
“How to Give a Bad Talk.” A humorous look (with some very good advice) on
what not to do when preparing for and giving a class presentation.
Class presentations on YouTube. Search YouTube with the phrase “class
presentation” and look for video examples of actual students giving class
presentations. Observing and critiquing the presentations of other students are
good ways to get started preparing your own and learning from others. Here’s a
good example of a student group presentation on a topic we can all relate to
(how body language works):
(click to see video)
In this presentation, take note of
• how students make good eye contact with the audience;
• the first student’s natural speaking voice and tone, and how she
did not have to use her note cards very often (obviously she
practiced well);
• some differences among these students;
• the use of PowerPoint slides within the presentation (some better
than others);
• the appropriate occasional use of humor;
• the division of presentation responsibilities within the student
• each presenter’s interaction with the audience.
7.4 Public Speaking and Class Presentations
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
• Public speaking skills are important because you will likely give
presentations in class and perhaps in a future job.
• Overcome anxiety about public speaking by understanding your
feelings, preparing well and practicing your delivery, and focusing on
your subject.
• Follow a six-step process to prepare and deliver a presentation:
Analyze your audience and goals
Plan, research, and organize your content
Draft and revise the presentation
Prepare speaking notes
Practice the presentation
Deliver the presentation and seek feedback
• Use visual aids to support a presentation, creating visuals that are
relevant, attractive, and powerful.
• The success of a group presentation depends on effective group
meetings, successful division of roles, and repeated group practices.
7.4 Public Speaking and Class Presentations
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
1. If you have given a class presentation in the past, what worked
best for you? (If you have not given a presentation yet as a
student, what aspect do you think will be most difficult for you?)
2. Name the two most important things you can do to reduce
anxiety about a class presentation you will have to give.
3. For each of the following statements about class presentations,
circle T for true or F for false:
Although you are delivering the presentation to the class,
your real audience is your instructor, so you don’t need
to waste time defining terms and concepts he or she
already knows.
Organizing a presentation or speech is similar to
organizing topics in a paper you write for class.
When creating visual aids, put as many photos as you can
in each PowerPoint slide to have the strongest impact.
In case your memory goes blank while giving a
T F presentation, write the full presentation out so that you
can read it aloud.
4. Describe how best to use body language (facial expressions, eye
movements, gestures, etc.) when giving a presentation.
7.4 Public Speaking and Class Presentations
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
5. If you were assigned along with three other students to give a
group presentation in the class using this textbook, what would
be your preferred role in the preparation stages? Your least
preferred role? If you had to take your least preferred role, what
single thing would you want to work hardest on to make the
presentation successful?
7.4 Public Speaking and Class Presentations
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
7.5 Chapter Activities
Chapter Takeaways
• Actively engaging in your college education is essential for success, including attending classes,
participating, and communicating with your instructors.
• Students benefit in several important ways when they participate in class and feel free to ask
• Successful participation in class and interaction with your instructor begin with fully preparing for
class and working on communication skills.
• Networking with instructors has additional benefits for your future and may lead to finding a
helpful mentor.
• Both impromptu speaking in class and more formal class presentations help develop key skills.
• Learning to work well in a group is an element of college success.
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
1. List as many benefits of participating in class as you can think of.
2. Consider the instructors in your current classes. Which
instructor have you spoken with the least (in or outside of class)?
Are you hesitant to speak up in this class—or to see the
instructor outside of class? Why?
When you have a question for this instructor about an
assignment or reading, which form of communication would be
most appropriate?
3. List ways to be prepared if you have a question to ask in a large
lecture class.
7.5 Chapter Activities
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
4. Think ahead through to the end of your college experience. If
you were to develop a mentoring relationship with one of your
present instructors, what sorts of things might you talk about in
the future with that instructor after the current class has ended?
5. Review the six stages for preparing and giving a class
presentation. Which stage(s) do you feel you personally need to
pay special attention to next time you are assigned a
What specifically can you plan to do to ensure your success in
those stages in your next presentation?
7.5 Chapter Activities
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
Choose your current class with the largest enrollment and decide to ask the
instructor a question in the next class or during office hours. Prepare by
carefully reviewing your class and reading notes and select a subject area
that you do not feel confident you fully understand. Focus in on a specific
topic and write down a question whose answer would help you better
understand the topic. Go to class prepared to ask that question if it is
relevant to the day’s discussion or lecture; if it is not relevant, visit your
instructor during office hours and ask the question. If this is your first time
talking with this instructor, remember to introduce yourself and explain
your interest in the topic as you ask the question. Remember that your
second goal is to begin establishing a relationship with this instructor.
7.5 Chapter Activities
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
Attending Class
I sometimes don’t go to class because
I’ll keep myself motivated to go to every class by
Participating in Class
I tend to participate most in this class:
I need to make an effort to participate more in this class:
I need to participate more because
I will take the following steps to be ready to ask a question:
Attending Lecture Classes
7.5 Chapter Activities
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
I tend to do these nonproductive things if I feel bored in a lecture:
I will work on staying more actively engaged in lectures in these ways:
Talking with Instructors Outside of Class
I have not yet spoken to this instructor outside of class:
Within the next two weeks, I will stop by during office hours to talk about
the following:
This instructor’s office hours are
Using E-mail
The following are my worst e-mail habits:
The following current instructors prefer student questions through e-mail:
7.5 Chapter Activities
Chapter 7 Interacting with Instructors and Classes
I will follow these professional e-mail practices:
Speaking Publicly
I am nervous about giving class presentations because
I realize that the best way to overcome my anxiety about public speaking
and succeed in class presentations is to
7.5 Chapter Activities
Chapter 8
Writing for Classes
Figure 8.1
© Thinkstock
Chapter 8 Writing for Classes
Where Are You Now?
Assess your present knowledge and attitudes.
Yes Unsure No
1. I enjoy writing and am a confident and
productive writer.
2. I know what my instructors expect in student
3. I understand the feedback I get from instructors
and accept their criticism.
4. I am comfortable sharing my writing with peers.
5. I begin working on papers early and always
revise my first full draft before turning in the
6. I have a consistent approach to the writing
process that works well for me.
7. I understand what plagiarism is and always cite
online and print sources as required.
8. I seek out help whenever needed as I work on
paper assignments.
9. I try to write all my college papers as if they were
written for my composition instructor.
Chapter 8 Writing for Classes
Where Do You Want to Go?
Think about how you answered the questions above. Be honest with yourself.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your level of confidence and your
attitude about writing?
Not very strong
Very strong
In the following list, circle the three areas you see as most important to your
improvement as a writer:
Using time effectively
Using sources effectively and appropriately
Understanding instructors’ expectations
Citing sources in the proper form
Being productive with brainstorming and other prewriting
Sharing my work in drafts and accepting feedback
Organizing ideas clearly and transitioning between ideas
Understanding the difference between proofreading and revision
Developing ideas fully
Drafting and redrafting in response to criticism
Using correct sentence mechanics (grammar, punctuation, etc.)
Using Web sites, reference books, and campus resources
Developing an academic “voice”
Think about the three things you chose: Why did you choose them? Have you
had certain kinds of writing difficulties in the past? Consider what you hope to
learn here.
Chapter 8 Writing for Classes
How to Get There
Here’s what we’ll work on in this chapter:
• Understanding why writing is vital to your success in college
• Learning how writing in college differs from writing in high school
• Understanding how a writing class differs (and doesn’t differ) from
other classes with assigned writing
• Knowing what instructors in college expect of you as a writer
• Knowing what different types of assignments are most common in
• Using the writing process to achieve your best work
• Identifying common errors and become a better editor of your own
• Responding to an instructor’s feedback on your work in progress
and on your final paper
• Using sources appropriately and avoiding plagiarism
• Writing an in-class essay, for an online course, and in group
writing projects
The Importance of Writing
Writing is one of the key skills all successful students must acquire. You might think
your main job in a history class is to learn facts about events. So you read your
textbook and take notes on important dates, names, causes, and so on. But however
important these details are to your instructor, they don’t mean much if you can’t
explain them in writing. Even if you remember the facts well and believe you
understand their meaning completely, if you can’t express your understanding by
communicating it—in college that almost always means in writing—then as far as
others may know, you don’t have an understanding at all. In a way, then, learning
history is learning to write about history. Think about it. Great historians don’t just
know facts and ideas. Great historians use their writing skills to share their facts
and ideas effectively with others.
History is just one example. Consider a lab course—a class that’s as much hands-on
as any in college. At some point, you’ll be asked to write a step-by-step report on an
experiment you have run. The quality of your lab work will not show if you cannot
describe that work and state your findings well in writing. Even though many
Chapter 8 Writing for Classes
instructors in courses other than English classes may not comment directly on your
writing, their judgment of your understanding will still be mostly based on what
you write. This means that in all your courses, not just your English courses,
instructors expect good writing.
In college courses, writing is how ideas are exchanged, from scholars to students
and from students back to scholars. While the grade in some courses may be based
mostly on class participation, oral reports, or multiple-choice exams, writing is by
far the single most important form of instruction and assessment. Instructors
expect you to learn by writing, and they will grade you on the basis of your writing.
If you find that a scary thought, take heart! By paying attention to your writing and
learning and practicing basic skills, even those who never thought of themselves as
good writers can succeed in college writing. As with other college skills, getting off
to a good start is mostly a matter of being motivated and developing a confident
attitude that you can do it.
As a form of communication, writing is different from oral communication in
several ways. Instructors expect writing to be well thought out and organized and
to explain ideas fully. In oral communication, the listener can ask for clarification,
but in written work, everything must be clear within the writing itself. Guidelines
for oral presentations are provided in Chapter 7 "Interacting with Instructors and
Note: Most college students take a writing course their first year, often in the first
term. Even if you are not required to take such a class, it’s a good idea for all
students to learn more about college writing. This short chapter cannot cover even
a small amount of what you will learn in a full writing course. Our goal here is to
introduce some important writing principles, if you’re not yet familiar with them,
or to remind you of things you may have already learned in a writing course. As
with all advice, always pay the most attention to what your instructor says—the
terms of a specific assignment may overrule a tip given here!
Chapter 8 Writing for Classes
8.1 What’s Different about College Writing?
1. Define “academic writing.”
2. Identify key differences between writing in college and writing in high
school or on the job.
3. Identify different types of papers that are commonly assigned.
4. Describe what instructors expect from student writing.
Academic writing1 refers to writing produced in a college environment. Often this
is writing that responds to other writing—to the ideas or controversies that you’ll
read about. While this definition sounds simple, academic writing may be very
different from other types of writing you have done in the past. Often college
students begin to understand what academic writing really means only after they
receive negative feedback on their work. To become a strong writer in college, you
need to achieve a clear sense of two things:
1. The academic environment
2. The kinds of writing you’ll be doing in that environment
Differences between High School and College Writing
Students who struggle with writing in college often conclude that their high school
teachers were too easy or that their college instructors are too hard. In most cases,
neither explanation is fully accurate or fair. A student having difficulty with college
writing usually just hasn’t yet made the transition from high school writing to
college writing. That shouldn’t be surprising, for many beginning college students
do not even know that there is a transition to be made.
In high school, most students think of writing as the subject of English classes. Few
teachers in other courses give much feedback on student writing; many do not even
assign writing. This says more about high school than about the quality of teachers
or about writing itself. High school teachers typically teach five courses a day and
often more than 150 students. Those students often have a very wide range of
backgrounds and skill levels.
1. Analytical or informative
nonfiction writing that is
assigned by college instructors.
Chapter 8 Writing for Classes
Thus many high school English instructors focus on specific, limited goals. For
example, they may teach the “five paragraph essay” as the right way to organize a
paper because they want to give every student some idea of an essay’s basic
structure. They may give assignments on stories and poems because their own
college background involved literature and literary analysis. In classes other than
English, many high school teachers must focus on an established body of
information and may judge students using tests that measure only how much of this
information they acquire. Often writing itself is not directly addressed in such
This does not mean that students don’t learn a great deal in high school, but it’s
easy to see why some students think that writing is important only in English
classes. Many students also believe an academic essay must be five paragraphs long
or that “school writing” is usually literary analysis.
Think about how college differs from high school. In many colleges, the instructors
teach fewer classes and have fewer students. In addition, while college students
have highly diverse backgrounds, the skills of college students are less variable than
in an average high school class. In addition, college instructors are specialists in the
fields they teach, as you recall from Chapter 7 "Interacting with Instructors and
Classes". College instructors may design their courses in unique ways, and they may
teach about specialized subjects. For all of these reasons, college instructors are
much more likely than high school teachers to
• assign writing,
• respond in detail to student writing,
• ask questions that cannot be dealt with easily in a fixed form like a
five-paragraph essay.
Your transition to college writing could be even more dramatic. The kind of writing
you have done in the past may not translate at all into the kind of writing required
in college. For example, you may at first struggle with having to write about very
different kinds of topics, using different approaches. You may have learned only
one kind of writing genre2 (a kind of approach or organization) and now find you
need to master other types of writing as well.
What Kinds of Papers Are Commonly Assigned in College Classes?
2. A kind or type of essay; an
approach or a specific form of
organization; a compare-andcontrast essay, for example, is
a genre often assigned by
college instructors.
Think about the topic “gender roles”—referring to expectations about differences
in how men and women act. You might study gender roles in an anthropology class,
a film class, or a psychology class. The topic itself may overlap from one class to
another, but you would not write about this subject in the same way in these
8.1 What’s Different about College Writing?
Chapter 8 Writing for Classes
different classes. For example, in an anthropology class, you might be asked to
describe how men and women of a particular culture divide important duties. In a
film class, you may be asked to analyze how a scene portrays gender roles enacted
by the film’s characters. In a psychology course, you might be asked to summarize
the results of an experiment involving gender roles or compare and contrast the
findings of two related research projects.
It would be simplistic to say that there are three, or four, or ten, or any number of
types of academic writing that have unique characteristics, shapes, and styles.
Every assignment in every course is unique in some ways, so don’t think of writing
as a fixed form you need to learn. On the other hand, there are certain writing
approaches that do involve different kinds of writing. An approach is the way you go
about meeting the writing goals for the assignment. The approach is usually
signaled by the words instructors use in their assignments.
When you first get a writing assignment, pay attention first to keywords for how to
approach the writing. These will also suggest how you may structure and develop
your paper. Look for terms like these in the assignment:
• Summarize. To restate in your own words the main point or points of
another’s work.
• Define. To describe, explore, or characterize a keyword, idea, or
• Classify. To group individual items by their shared characteristics,
separate from other groups of items.
• Compare/contrast. To explore significant likenesses and differences
between two or more subjects.
• Analyze. To break something, a phenomenon, or an idea into its parts
and explain how those parts fit or work together.
• Argue. To state a claim and support it with reasons and evidence.
• Synthesize. To pull together varied pieces or ideas from two or more
Note how this list is similar to the words used in examination questions that involve
writing. (See Table 6.1 "Words to Watch for in Essay Questions" in Chapter 6
"Preparing for and Taking Tests", Section 6.4 "The Secrets of the Q and A’s".) This
overlap is not a coincidence—essay exams are an abbreviated form of academic
writing such as a class paper.
Sometimes the keywords listed don’t actually appear in the written assignment, but
they are usually implied by the questions given in the assignment. “What,” “why,”
and “how” are common question words that require a certain kind of response.
8.1 What’s Different about College Writing?
Chapter 8 Writing for Classes
Look back at the keywords listed and think about which approaches relate to
“what,” “why,” and “how” questions.
• “What” questions usually prompt the writing of summaries,
definitions, classifications, and sometimes compare-and-contrast
essays. For example, “What does Jones see as the main elements of
Huey Long’s populist appeal?” or “What happened when you heated
the chemical solution?”
• “Why” and “how” questions typically prompt analysis, argument, and
synthesis essays. For example, “Why did Huey Long’s brand of
populism gain force so quickly?” or “Why did the solution respond the
way it did to heat?”
Successful academic writing starts with recognizing what the instructor is
requesting, or what you are required to do. So pay close attention to the
assignment. Sometimes the essential information about an assignment is conveyed
through class discussions, however, so be sure to listen for the keywords that will
help you understand what the instructor expects. If you feel the assignment does
not give you a sense of direction, seek clarification. Ask questions that will lead to
helpful answers. For example, here’s a short and very vague assignment:
Discuss the perspectives on religion of Rousseau, Bentham, and Marx. Papers should be four
to five pages in length.
Faced with an assignment like this, you could ask about the scope (or focus)3 of the
• Which of the assigned readings should I concentrate on?
• Should I read other works by these authors that haven’t been assigned
in class?
• Should I do research to see what scholars think about the way these
philosophers view religion?
• Do you want me to pay equal attention to each of the three
3. A deliberate and purposeful
narrowing of coverage. Writers
must define specific limitations
to work within to narrow the
scope or sharpen the focus of
their subject.
You can also ask about the approach the instructor would like you to take. You can
use the keywords the instructor may not have used in the assignment:
• Should I just summarize the positions of these three thinkers, or should
I compare and contrast their views?
8.1 What’s Different about College Writing?
Chapter 8 Writing for Classes
• Do you want me to argue a specific point about the way these
philosophers approach religion?
• Would it be OK if I classified the ways these philosophers think about
Never just complain about a vague assignment. It is fine to ask questions like these.
Such questions will likely engage your instructor in a productive discussion with
• Writing is crucial to college success because it is the single most
important means of evaluation.
• Writing in college is not limited to the kinds of assignments commonly
required in high school English classes.
• Writers in college must pay close attention to the terms of an
• If an assignment is not clear, seek clarification from the instructor.
8.1 What’s Different about College Writing?
Chapter 8 Writing for Classes
1. What kind(s) of writing have you practiced most in your recent
2. Name two things that make academic writing in college different
from writing in high school.
3. Explain how the word “what” asks for a different kind of paper
than the word “why.”
8.1 What’s Different about College Writing?
Chapter 8 Writing for Classes
8.2 How Can I Become a Better Writer?
Describe how a writing class can help you succeed in other courses.
Define what instructors expect of a college student’s writing.
Explain why learning to write is an ongoing task.
Understand writing as a process.
Develop productive prewriting and revision strategies.
Distinguish between revision and editing.
Access and use available resources.
Understand how to integrate research in your writing.
Define plagiarism.
Students are usually required to take at least one writing course in their first year
of college. That course is often crucial for your success in college. But a writing
course can help you only if you recognize how it connects to your other work in
college. If you approach your writing course merely as another hoop you need to
jump through, you may miss out on the main message: writing is vital to your
academic success at every step toward your degree.
What Do Instructors Really Want?
Some instructors may say they have no particular expectations for student papers.
This is partly true. College instructors do not usually have one right answer in mind
or one right approach to take when they assign a paper topic. They expect you to
engage in critical thinking and decide for yourself what you are saying and how to
say it. But in other ways college instructors do have expectations, and it is
important to understand them. Some expectations involve mastering the material
or demonstrating critical thinking. Other expectations involve specific writing
skills. Most college instructors expect certain characteristics in student writing.
Here are general principles you should follow when writing essays or student
“papers.” (Some may not be appropriate for specific formats such as lab reports.)
Title the paper to identify your topic. This may sound obvious, but it needs to be
said. Some students think of a paper as an exercise and write something like
“Assignment 2: History 101” on the title page. Such a title gives no idea about how
you are approaching the assignment or your topic. Your title should prepare your
reader for what your paper is about or what you will argue. (With essays, always
Chapter 8 Writing for Classes
consider your reader as an educated adult interested in your topic. An essay is not a
letter written to your instructor.) Compare the following:
Incorrect: Assignment 2: History 101
Correct: Why the New World Was Not “New”
It is obvious which of these two titles begins to prepare your reader for the paper
itself. Similarly, don’t make your title the same as the title of a work you are writing
about. Instead, be sure your title signals an aspect of the work you are focusing on:
Incorrect: Catcher in the Rye
Correct: Family Relationships in Catcher in the Rye
Address the terms of the assignment. Again, pay particular attention to words in
the assignment that signal a preferred approach. If the instructor asks you to
“argue” a point, be sure to make a statement that actually expresses your idea about
the topic. Then follow that statement with your reasons and evidence in support of
the statement. Look for any signals that will help you focus or limit your approach.
Since no paper can cover everything about a complex topic, what is it that your
instructor wants you to cover?
Finally, pay attention to the little things. For example, if the assignment specifies “5
to 6 pages in length,” write a five- to six-page paper. Don’t try to stretch a short
paper longer by enlarging the font (12 points is standard) or making your margins
bigger than the normal one inch (or as specified by the instructor). If the
assignment is due at the beginning of class on Monday, have it ready then or before.
Do not assume you can negotiate a revised due date.
In your introduction, define your topic and establish your approach or sense
of purpose. Think of your introduction as an extension of your title. Instructors
(like all readers) appreciate feeling oriented by a clear opening. They appreciate
knowing that you have a purpose for your topic—that you have a reason for writing
the paper. If they feel they’ve just been dropped into the middle of a paper, they
may miss important ideas. They may not make connections you want them to make.
Build from a thesis or a clearly stated sense of purpose. Many college
assignments require you to make some form of an argument. To do that, you
generally start with a statement that needs to be supported and build from there.
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Your thesis is that statement; it is a guiding assertion for the paper. Be clear in your
own mind of the difference between your topic and your thesis. The topic is what
your paper is about; the thesis is what you argue about the topic. Some assignments
do not require an explicit argument and thesis, but even then you should make
clear at the beginning your main emphasis, your purpose, or your most important
Develop ideas patiently. You might, like many students, worry about boring your
reader with too much detail or information. But college instructors will not be
bored by carefully explained ideas, well-selected examples, and relevant details.
College instructors, after all, are professionally devoted to their subjects. If your
sociology instructor asks you to write about youth crime in rural areas, you can be
sure he or she is interested in that subject.
In some respects, how you develop your paper is the most crucial part of the
assignment. You’ll win the day with detailed explanations and well-presented
evidence—not big generalizations. For example, anyone can write something broad
(and bland) like “The constitutional separation of church and state is a good thing
for America”—but what do you really mean by that? Specifically? Are you talking
about banning “Christmas trees” from government property—or calling them
“holiday trees” instead? Are you arguing for eliminating the tax-free status of
religious organizations? Are you saying that American laws should never be based
on moral values? The more you really dig into your topic—the more time you spend
thinking about the specifics of what you really want to argue and developing
specific examples and reasons for your argument—the more developed your paper
will be. It will also be much more interesting to your instructor as the reader.
Remember, those grand generalizations we all like to make (“America is the land of
the free”) actually don’t mean much at all until we develop the idea in specifics.
(Free to do what? No laws? No restrictions like speed limits? Freedom not to pay
any taxes? Free food for all? What do you really mean when you say American is the
land of the “free”?)
Integrate—do not just “plug in”—quotations, graphs, and illustrations. As you
outline or sketch out your material, you will think things like “this quotation can go
here” or “I can put that graph there.” Remember that a quotation, graph, or
illustration does not make a point for you. You make the point first and then use
such material to help back it up. Using a quotation, a graph, or an illustration
involves more than simply sticking it into the paper. Always lead into such
material. Make sure the reader understands why you are using it and how it fits in
at that place in your presentation.
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Build clear transitions at the beginning of every paragraph to link from one
idea to another. A good paper is more than a list of good ideas. It should also show
how the ideas fit together. As you write the first sentence of any paragraph, have a
clear sense of what the prior paragraph was about. Think of the first sentence in
any paragraph as a kind of bridge for the reader from what came before.
Document your sources appropriately. If your paper involves research of any
kind, indicate clearly the use you make of outside sources. If you have used those
sources well, there is no reason to hide them. Careful research and the thoughtful
application of the ideas and evidence of others is part of what college instructors
value. (We address specifics about documentation later on.)
Carefully edit your paper. College instructors assume you will take the time to
edit and proofread your essay. A misspelled word or an incomplete sentence may
signal a lack of concern on your part. It may not seem fair to make a harsh
judgment about your seriousness based on little errors, but in all writing,
impressions count. Since it is often hard to find small errors in our own writing,
always print out a draft well before you need to turn it in. Ask a classmate or a
friend to review it and mark any word or sentence that seems “off” in any way.
Although you should certainly use a spell-checker, don’t assume it can catch
everything. A spell-checker cannot tell if you have the right word. For example,
these words are commonly misused or mixed up:
there, their, they’re
its, it’s
effect, affect
complement, compliment
Your spell-checker can’t help with these. You also can’t trust what a “grammar
checker” (like the one built into the Microsoft Word spell-checker) tells
you—computers are still a long way from being able to fix your writing for you!
Turn in a clean hard copy. Some instructors accept or even prefer digital papers,
but do not assume this. Most instructors want a paper copy and most definitely do
not want to do the printing themselves. Present your paper in a professional (and
unfussy) way, using a staple or paper clip on the left top to hold the pages together
(unless the instructor specifies otherwise). Never bring your paper to class and ask
the instructor, “Do you have a stapler?” Similarly, do not put your paper in a plastic
binder unless the instructor asks you to.
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The Writing Process
Writing instructors distinguish between process4 and product5. The expectations
described here all involve the “product” you turn in on the due date. Although you
should keep in mind what your product will look like, writing is more involved with
how you get to that goal. “Process” concerns how you work to actually write a
paper. What do you actually do to get started? How do you organize your ideas?
Why do you make changes along the way as you write? Thinking of writing as a
process is important because writing is actually a complex activity. Even
professional writers rarely sit down at a keyboard and write out an article
beginning to end without stopping along the way to revise portions they have
drafted, to move ideas around, or to revise their opening and thesis. Professionals
and students alike often say they only realized what they wanted to say after they
started to write. This is why many instructors see writing as a way to learn. Many
writing instructors ask you to submit a draft for review before submitting a final
paper. To roughly paraphrase a famous poem, you learn by doing what you have to
How Can I Make the Process Work for Me?
No single set of steps automatically works best for everyone when writing a paper,
but writers have found a number of steps helpful. Your job is to try out ways that
your instructor suggests and discover what works for you. As you’ll see in the
following list, the process starts before you write a word. Generally there are three
stages in the writing process:
1. Preparing before drafting (thinking, brainstorming, planning, reading,
researching, outlining, sketching, etc.)—sometimes called “prewriting”
(although you are usually still writing something at this stage, even if
only jotting notes)
2. Writing the draft
3. Revising and editing
Involved in these three stages are a number of separate tasks—and that’s where you
need to figure out what works best for you.
4. Discovery, exploration,
development, and clarification
through a series of steps or
5. The outcome or end result of a
writing process; the finished
paper you submit.
Because writing is hard, procrastination is easy. Don’t let yourself put off the task.
Use the time management strategies described in Chapter 2 "Staying Motivated,
Organized, and On Track". One good approach is to schedule shorter time periods
over a series of days—rather than trying to sit down for one long period to
accomplish a lot. (Even professional writers can write only so much at a time.) Try
the following strategies to get started:
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• Discuss what you read, see, and hear. Talking with others about your
ideas is a good way to begin to achieve clarity. Listening to others helps
you understand what points need special attention. Discussion also
helps writers realize that their own ideas are often best presented in
relation to the ideas of others.
• Use e-mail to carry on discussions in writing. An e-mail exchange
with a classmate or your instructor might be the first step toward
putting words on a page.
• Brainstorm. Jot down your thoughts as they come to mind. Just write
away, not worrying at first about how those ideas fit together. (This is
often called “free writing.”) Once you’ve written a number of notes or
short blocks of sentences, pause and read them over. Take note of
anything that stands out as particularly important to you. Also
consider how parts of your scattered notes might eventually fit
together or how they might end up in a sequence in the paper you’ll
get to later on.
• Keep a journal in which you respond to your assigned readings. Set
aside twenty minutes or so three times a week to summarize important
texts. Go beyond just summarizing: talk back about what you have
been reading or apply the reading to your own experience. See Chapter
5 "Reading to Learn" for more tips on taking notes about your
• Ask and respond in writing to “what,” “why,” and “how”
questions. Good questions prompt productive writing sessions. Again,
“what” questions will lead to descriptions or summaries; “why” and
“how” questions will lead you to analyses and explanations. Construct
your own “what,” “why,” and “how” questions and then start
answering them.
• In your notes, respond directly to what others have written or said
about a topic you are interested in. Most academic writing engages
the ideas of others. Academic writing carries on a conversation among
people interested in the field. By thinking of how your ideas relate to
those of others, you can clarify your sense of purpose and sometimes
even discover a way to write your introduction.
All of these steps and actions so far are “prewriting” actions. Again, almost no one
just sits down and starts writing a paper at the beginning—at least not a successful
paper! These prewriting steps help you get going in the right direction. Once you
are ready to start drafting your essay, keep moving forward in these ways:
• Write a short statement of intent or outline your paper before
your first draft. Such a road map can be very useful, but don’t assume
you’ll always be able to stick with your first plan. Once you start
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writing, you may discover a need for changes in the substance or order
of things in your essay. Such discoveries don’t mean you made
“mistakes” in the outline. They simply mean you are involved in a
process that cannot be completely scripted in advance.
Write down on a card or a separate sheet of paper what you see as
your paper’s main point or thesis. As you draft your essay, look back
at that thesis statement. Are you staying on track? Or are you
discovering that you need to change your main point or thesis? From
time to time, check the development of your ideas against what you
started out saying you would do. Revise as needed and move forward.
Reverse outline your paper. Outlining is usually a beginning point, a
road map for the task ahead. But many writers find that outlining what
they have already written in a draft helps them see more clearly how
their ideas fit or do not fit together. Outlining in this way can reveal
trouble spots that are harder to see in a full draft. Once you see those
trouble spots, effective revision6 becomes possible.
Don’t obsess over detail when writing the draft. Remember, you
have time for revising and editing later on. Now is the time to test out
the plan you’ve made and see how your ideas develop. The last things
in the world you want to worry about now are the little things like
grammar and punctuation—spend your time developing your material,
knowing you can fix the details later.
Read your draft aloud. Hearing your own writing often helps you see
it more plainly. A gap or an inconsistency in an argument that you
simply do not see in a silent reading becomes evident when you give
voice to the text. You may also catch sentence-level mistakes by
reading your paper aloud.
What’s the Difference between Revising and Editing?
Some students think of a draft as something that they need only “correct” after
writing. They assume their first effort to do the assignment resulted in something
that needs only surface attention. This is a big mistake. A good writer does not write
fast. Good writers know that the task is complicated enough to demand some
patience. “Revision” rather than “correction” suggests seeing again in a new light
generated by all the thought that went into the first draft. Revising a draft usually
involves significant changes including the following:
6. A critical reflection of an early
draft that leads to significant
8.2 How Can I Become a Better Writer?
• Making organizational changes like the reordering of paragraphs
(don’t forget that new transitions will be needed when you move
• Clarifying the thesis or adjustments between the thesis and supporting
points that follow
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• Cutting material that is unnecessary or irrelevant
• Adding new points to strengthen or clarify the presentation
Editing and proofreading7 are the last steps following revision. Correcting a
sentence early on may not be the best use of your time since you may cut the
sentence entirely. Editing and proofreading are focused, late-stage activities for
style and correctness. They are important final parts of the writing process, but
they should not be confused with revision itself. Editing and proofreading a draft
involve these steps:
• Careful spell-checking. This includes checking the spelling of names.
• Attention to sentence-level issues. Be especially attentive to sentence
boundaries, subject-verb agreement, punctuation, and pronoun
referents. You can also attend at this stage to matters of style.
Remember to get started on a writing assignment early so that you complete the
first draft well before the due date, allowing you needed time for genuine revision
and careful editing.
What If I Need Help with Writing?
Writing is hard work. Most colleges provide resources that can help you from the
early stages of an assignment through to the completion of an essay. Your first
resource may be a writing class. Most students are encouraged or required to enroll
in a writing class in their first term, and it’s a good idea for everyone. Use
everything you learn there about drafting and revising in all your courses.
Tutoring services. Most colleges have a tutoring service that focuses primarily on
student writing. Look up and visit your tutoring center early in the term to learn
what service is offered. Specifically check on the following:
7. A close review of a revised
draft that leads to stylistic
refinements and sentence- or
word-level corrections.
8.2 How Can I Become a Better Writer?
1. Do you have to register in advance for help? If so, is there a
registration deadline?
2. Are appointments required or encouraged, or can you just drop in?
3. Are regular standing appointments with the same tutor encouraged?
4. Are a limited number of sessions allowed per term?
5. Are small group workshops offered in addition to individual
6. Are specialists available for help with students who have learned
English as a second language?
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Three points about writing tutors are crucial:
1. Writing tutors are there for all student writers—not just for weak or
inexperienced writers. Writing in college is supposed to be a challenge.
Some students make writing even harder by thinking that good writers
work in isolation. But writing is a social act. A good paper should
engage others.
2. Tutors are not there for you to “correct” sentence-level problems or
polish your finished draft. They will help you identify and understand
sentence-level problems so that you can achieve greater control over
your writing. But their more important goals often are to address
larger concerns like the paper’s organization, the fullness of its
development, and the clarity of its argument. So don’t make your first
appointment the day before a paper is due, because you may need
more time to revise after discussing the paper with a tutor.
3. Tutors cannot help you if you do not do your part. Tutors respond only
to what you say and write; they cannot enable you to magically jump
past the thinking an assignment requires. So do some thinking about
the assignment before your meeting and be sure to bring relevant
materials with you. For example, bring the paper assignment. You
might also bring the course syllabus and perhaps even the required
textbook. Most importantly, bring any writing you’ve done in response
to the assignment (an outline, a thesis statement, a draft, an
introductory paragraph). If you want to get help from a tutor, you need
to give the tutor something to work with.
Teaching assistants and instructors. In a large class, you may have both a course
instructor and a teaching assistant (TA). Seek help from either or both as you draft
your essay. Some instructors offer only limited help. They may not, for example,
have time to respond to a complete draft of your essay. But even a brief response to
a drafted introduction or to a question can be tremendously valuable. Remember
that most TAs and instructors want to help you learn. View them along with tutors
as part of a team that works with you to achieve academic success. Remember the
tips you learned in Chapter 7 "Interacting with Instructors and Classes" for
interacting well with your instructors.
Writing Web sites and writing handbooks. Many writing Web sites and
handbooks can help you along every step of the way, especially in the late stages of
your work. You’ll find lessons on style as well as information about language
conventions and “correctness.” Not only should you use the handbook your
composition instructor assigns in a writing class, but you should not sell that book
back at the end of the term. You will need it again for future writing. For more help,
become familiar with a good Web site for student writers. There are many, but one
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we recommend is maintained by the Dartmouth College Writing Center at
Plagiarism—and How to Avoid It
Plagiarism8 is the unacknowledged use of material from a source. At the most
obvious level, plagiarism involves using someone else’s words and ideas as if they
were your own. There’s not much to say about copying another person’s work: it’s
cheating, pure and simple. But plagiarism is not always so simple. Notice that our
definition of plagiarism involves “words and ideas.” Let’s break that down a little
Words. Copying the words of another is clearly wrong. If you use another’s words,
those words must be in quotation marks, and you must tell your reader where those
words came from. But it is not enough to make a few surface changes in wording.
You can’t just change some words and call the material yours; close, extended
paraphrase is not acceptable. For example, compare the two passages that follow.
The first comes from Murder Most Foul, a book by Karen Halttunen on changing ideas
about murder in nineteenth-century America; the second is a close paraphrase of
the same passage:
The new murder narratives were overwhelmingly secular works, written by a
diverse array of printers, hack writers, sentimental poets, lawyers, and even
murderers themselves, who were displacing the clergy as the dominant interpreters
of the crime.
The murder stories that were developing were almost always secular works that
were written by many different sorts of people. Printers, hack writers, poets,
attorneys, and sometimes even the criminals themselves were writing murder
stories. They were the new interpreters of the crime, replacing religious leaders
who had held that role before.
It is easy to see that the writer of the second version has closely followed the ideas
and even echoed some words of the original. This is a serious form of plagiarism.
Even if this writer were to acknowledge the author, there would still be a problem.
To simply cite the source at the end would not excuse using so much of the original
8. The unacknowledged use of
another writer’s words or
Ideas. Ideas are also a form of intellectual property. Consider this third version of
the previous passage:
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At one time, religious leaders shaped the way the public thought about murder. But
in nineteenth-century America, this changed. Society’s attitudes were influenced
more and more by secular writers.
This version summarizes the original. That is, it states the main idea in compressed
form in language that does not come from the original. But it could still be seen as
plagiarism if the source is not cited. This example probably makes you wonder if
you can write anything without citing a source. To help you sort out what ideas
need to be cited and what not, think about these principles:
Common knowledge. There is no need to cite common knowledge9. Common
knowledge does not mean knowledge everyone has. It means knowledge that
everyone can easily access. For example, most people do not know the date of
George Washington’s death, but everyone can easily find that information. If the
information or idea can be found in multiple sources and the information or idea
remains constant from source to source, it can be considered common knowledge.
This is one reason so much research is usually done for college writing—the more
sources you read, the more easily you can sort out what is common knowledge: if
you see an uncited idea in multiple sources, then you can feel secure that idea is
common knowledge.
Distinct contributions. One does need to cite ideas that are distinct
contributions10. A distinct contribution need not be a discovery from the work of
one person. It need only be an insight that is not commonly expressed (not found in
multiple sources) and not universally agreed upon.
Disputable figures. Always remember that numbers are only as good as the sources
they come from. If you use numbers like attendance figures, unemployment rates,
or demographic profiles—or any statistics at all—always cite your source of those
numbers. If your instructor does not know the source you used, you will not get
much credit for the information you have collected.
9. Knowledge that is generally
accepted as true and that can
be found easily in various
10. Knowledge or an idea that may
be disputed or that is not found
in many sources.
Everything said previously about using sources applies to all forms of sources. Some
students mistakenly believe that material from the Web, for example, need not be
cited. Or that an idea from an instructor’s lecture is automatically common
property. You must evaluate all sources in the same way and cite them as necessary.
Forms of Citation
You should generally check with your instructors about their preferred form of
citation when you write papers for courses. No one standard is used in all academic
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papers. You can learn about the three major forms or styles used in most any
college writing handbook and on many Web sites for college writers:
• The Modern Language Association (MLA) system of citation is widely
used but is most commonly adopted in humanities courses, particularly
literature courses.
• The American Psychological Association (APA) system of citation is
most common in the social sciences.
• The Chicago Manual of Style is widely used but perhaps most
commonly in history courses.
Many college departments have their own style guides, which may be based on one
of the above. Your instructor should refer you to his or her preferred guide, but be
sure to ask if you have not been given explicit direction.
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Checklists for Revision and Editing
When you revise…
Check the assignment: does your paper do what it’s supposed to do?
Check the title: does it clearly identify the overall topic or position?
Check the introduction: does it set the stage and establish the
Check each paragraph in the body: does each begin with a
transition from the preceding?
Check organization: does it make sense why each topic precedes or
follows another?
Check development: is each topic fully explained, detailed,
supported, and exemplified?
Check the conclusion: does it restate the thesis and pull key ideas
When you edit…
Read the paper aloud, listening for flow and natural word style.
Check for any lapses into slang, colloquialisms, or nonstandard
English phrasing.
Check sentence-level mechanics: grammar and punctuation (pay
special attention to past writing problems).
When everything seems done, run the spell-checker again and do a
final proofread.
Check physical layout and mechanics against instructor’s
expectations: Title page? Font and margins? End notes?
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• A writing course is central to all students’ success in many of their
future courses.
• Writing is a process that involves a number of steps; the product will not
be good if one does not allow time for the process.
• Seek feedback from classmates, tutors, and instructors during the
writing process.
• Revision is not the same thing as editing.
• Many resources are available to college writers.
• Words and ideas from sources must be documented in a form
recommended by the instructor.
1. For each of the following statements, circle T for true or F for
Intellectual freedom means that college instructors have
no specific expectations for student writing.
Since your instructor knows what you are writing about,
you do not need to worry about titling your paper.
The writing process begins when you start writing the
first paragraph of a paper.
If you discover at some point in the writing process that
you have to make significant organizational changes or
even change your thesis, then you must have
misunderstood the assignment.
8.2 How Can I Become a Better Writer?
Copying directly from another’s text is the only serious
form of plagiarism.
The Internet is a free zone of information; Web sources
need not be cited.
All college instructors expect citations to be made in
exactly the same way.
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8.3 Other Kinds of Writing in College Classes
1. Understand the special demands of specific writing situations,
including the following:
◦ Writing in-class essays
◦ Writing with others in a group project
◦ Writing in an online class
Everything about college writing so far in this chapter applies in most college
writing assignments. Some particular situations, however, deserve special
attention. These include writing in-class essays, group writing projects, and writing
in an online course.
Writing In-Class Essays
You might well think the whole writing process goes out the window when you
have to write an in-class essay. After all, you don’t have much time to spend on the
essay. You certainly don’t have time for an extensive revision of a complete draft.
You also don’t have the opportunity to seek feedback at any stage along the way.
Nonetheless, the best writers of in-class essays bring as much of the writing process
as they can into an essay exam situation. Follow these guidelines:
• Prepare for writing in class by making writing a regular part of your
study routine. Students who write down their responses to readings
throughout a term have a huge advantage over students who think
they can study by just reading the material closely. Writing is a way to
build better writing, as well as a great way to study and think about the
course material. Don’t wait until the exam period to start writing about
things you have been studying throughout the term.
• Read the exam prompt or assignment very carefully before you begin
to respond. Note keywords in the exam prompt. For example, if the
exam assignment asks for an argument, be sure to structure your essay
as an argument. Also look for ways the instructor has limited the scope
of your response. Focus on what is highlighted in the exam question
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itself. See Chapter 6 "Preparing for and Taking Tests" for more tips for
exam writing.
Jot notes and sketch out a list of key points you want to cover before
you jump into writing. If you have time, you might even draft an
opening paragraph on a piece of scratch paper before committing
yourself to a particular response. Too often, students begin writing
before they have thought about the whole task before them. When that
happens, you might find that you can’t develop your ideas as fully or as
coherently as you need to. Students who take the time to plan actually
write longer in-class essays than those who begin writing their answers
right after they have read the assignment. Take as much as a fourth of
the total exam period to plan.
Use a consistent approach for in-class exams. Students who begin inclass exams with a plan that they have used successfully in the past are
better able to control the pressure of the in-class exam. Students who
feel they need to discover a new approach for each exam are far more
likely to panic and freeze.
Keep track of the time. Some instructors signal the passing of time
during the exam period, but do not count on that help. While you
shouldn’t compulsively check the time every minute or two, look at
your watch now and then.
Save a few minutes at the end of the session for quick review of what
you’ve written and for making small changes you note as necessary.
A special issue in in-class exams concerns handwriting. Some instructors now allow
students to write in-class exams on laptops, but the old-fashioned blue book is still
the standard in many classes. For students used to writing on a keyboard, this can
be a problem. Be sure you don’t let poor handwriting hurt you. Your instructor will
have many exams to read. Be courteous. Write as clearly as you can.
Group Writing Projects
College instructors sometimes assign group writing projects. The terms of these
assignments vary greatly. Sometimes the instructor specifies roles for each member
of the group, but often it’s part of the group’s tasks to define everyone’s role. Follow
these guidelines:
• Get off to an early start and meet regularly through the process.
• Sort out your roles as soon as you can. You might divide the work in
sections and then meet to pull those sections together. But you might
also think more in terms of the specific strengths and interests each of
you bring to the project. For example, if one group member is an
experienced researcher, that person might gather and annotate
8.3 Other Kinds of Writing in College Classes
Chapter 8 Writing for Classes
materials for the assignment. You might also assign tasks that relate to
the stages of the writing process. For example, one person for one
meeting might construct a series of questions or a list of points to be
addressed, to start a discussion about possible directions for the first
draft. Another student might take a first pass at shaping the group’s
ideas in a rough draft. And so on. Remember that whatever you do, you
cannot likely keep each person’s work separate from the work of
others. There will be and probably should be significant overlap if you
are to eventually pull together a successful project.
• Be a good citizen. This is the most important point of all. If you are
assigned a group project, you should want to be an active part of the
group’s work. Never try to ride on the skills of others or let others do
more than their fair share. Don’t let any lack of confidence you may
feel as a writer keep you from doing your share. One of the great things
about a group project is that you can learn from others. Another great
thing is that you will learn more about your own strengths that others
• Complete a draft early so that you can collectively review, revise, and
finally edit together.
• See the section on group presentations in Chapter 7 "Interacting with
Instructors and Classes", Section 7.4 "Public Speaking and Class
Presentations" for additional tips.
Writing in Online Courses
Online instruction is becoming more and more common. All the principles
discussed in this chapter apply also in online writing—and many aspects are even
more important in an online course. In most online courses, almost everything
depends on written communication. Discussion is generally written rather than
spoken. Questions and clarifications take shape in writing. Feedback on
assignments is given in writing. To succeed in online writing, apply the same
writing process as fully and thoughtfully as with an essay or paper for any course.
8.3 Other Kinds of Writing in College Classes
Chapter 8 Writing for Classes
• Even in in-class essays, using an abbreviated writing process approach
helps produce more successful writing.
• Group writing projects require careful coordination of roles and
cooperative stages but can greatly help students learn how to improve
their writing.
• Writing for an online course puts your writing skills to the ultimate test,
when almost everything your instructor knows about your learning
must be demonstrated through your writing.
1. List three ways in which a process approach can help you write
an in-class essay.
2. Describe what you see as a strength you could bring to a group
writing project.
3. Explain ways in which writing in an online course emphasizes
the social dimension of writing.
8.3 Other Kinds of Writing in College Classes
Chapter 8 Writing for Classes
8.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter Takeaways
• Successful writers in all contexts think of writing as
◦ a process,
◦ a means to learn,
◦ a social act.
• Paying close attention to the terms of the assignment is essential for understanding the writing
approach the instructor expects and for shaping the essay.
• Using the writing process maximizes the mental processes involved in thinking and writing. Take
the time to explore prewriting strategies before drafting an essay in order to discover your ideas
and how best to shape and communicate them.
• Avoid the temptation, after writing a draft, to consider the essay “done.” Revision is almost always
needed, involving more significant changes than just quick corrections and editing.
• Virtually all college writing builds on the ideas of others; this is a significant part of the educational
experience. In your writing, be sure you always make it clear in your phrasing and use of citations
which ideas are your own or common knowledge and which come from other sources.
• College writing extends throughout the curriculum, from your first writing class through to your
last term, including writing in class on examinations, group projects, and online courses. Through
all this great variety of writing, however, the main principles of effective writing remain consistent.
Work to develop your college writing skills at this early stage, and you will be well served
throughout your education and into your career thereafter.
Chapter 8 Writing for Classes
1. Complete this sentence:
The main reason I am in college right now is
2. Look for abstract or general words in what you just wrote. (For example,
if you wrote, “I want a better job,” the key general word is “better.” If
you wrote, “I need a good education for my future,” the general words
are “good” and “education.” Circle the general word(s) in what you
3. Write a sentence that gives your personal definition of your
general words. (For example, if you wrote “I want a better job,”
what makes a job better to you personally?)
4. Now look at the why of what you’ve written. Why did you define
your reason for being in college in the way that you did? Why
this reason and not other reasons? Think about this for a minute,
and then jot down a statement about why this is important to
5. Now look at the what involved in your reasoning. What specifically
do you expect as a result of being in college? What are you
gaining? Try to come up with at least three or four specific
examples related to your reasoning so far.
8.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 8 Writing for Classes
6. Imagine you are assigned to write an essay for this prompt:
“Argue for a particular benefit of a college education.” Look back
at what you’ve written so far—is it headed in this direction?
Write down a tentative thesis statement for such an essay.
7. Look back at what you wrote for questions 5 and 6 to see if you
have the beginning of a list of topics you might discuss in an
assigned essay like this. Test out a possible outline by jotting
down a few key phrases in the order in which you might discuss
your ideas in the essay.
8. Think about what you have just been doing in the previous questions. If
you took this exercise seriously and wrote out your responses, you
might actually be ready to begin writing such an essay—at least as
prepared as you might be for an in-class exam essay. You have just gone
through the first step of the writing process although very quickly. If
you spent a few minutes thinking about your ideas, clarifying your
reasons and thinking of developing your thesis through examples and
explanations, you are in a better and stronger position to begin writing
8.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 8 Writing for Classes
than if you’d started immediately with the prompt. Your essay will be
much more successful.
8.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 8 Writing for Classes
1. Use this exercise for the next paper you write in any of your
college classes. Your goal is not merely to write a great paper in
that class but to learn what writing process techniques work best
for you. Plan to begin just as soon as you are given the
assignment. Try to use each and every one of these strategies
(review them in the chapter), even if some things seem
repetitious. Your goal is to find out which techniques work best
for you to stimulate the most thought and lead to the best
◦ Read the assignment and make sure you understand exactly
what is expected.
◦ Sit down with a piece of paper and jot some notes as you
brainstorm about your topic.
◦ Talk with another student in the class about what you’re
thinking about your topic and what you might say about it.
◦ Write a journal entry, written strictly to yourself, about what
you think you might do in your paper.
◦ Write down some questions to yourself about what your
paper will be covering. Start your questions with “why,”
“how,” and “what.”
◦ Send a classmate an e-mail in which you describe one of the
points you’ll make in your essay, asking them for their
opinion about it.
◦ When your classmate responds to your e-mail, think about
what they say and prepare a written response in your notes.
◦ Write a statement of purpose for the paper and a brief
outline listing key points.
◦ Show your outline to your instructor or TA and ask if you’re
on the right track for the assignment. (You can ask other
questions, too, if you have them, but try this step even if you
feel confident and have no questions at all. You might be
surprised by their response.)
◦ Write a fuller outline—and then go ahead and draft the
2. Return to this exercise after receiving the paper back from your
instructor. If you feel the paper was successful, think back to the
techniques you used and circle steps above that you felt were
particularly helpful and contributed to your success. If you are
8.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 8 Writing for Classes
dissatisfied with the paper, it’s time to be honest with yourself about
what happened. When unhappy about their grade on a paper, most
students admit they didn’t spend as much time on it as they should
have. Look back at the list above (and other writing strategies earlier in
this chapter): what should you have done more fully or more carefully to
make sure your paper got off to a good start?
8.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 8 Writing for Classes
Past Writing
My worst writing habits have been the following:
To overcome these bad habits in college, I will take these steps:
Sentence-Level Mechanics
I generally make the following specific errors (things my past teachers have
I can learn to correct errors like these when proofreading and editing by
Writing Process
I generally rush through the following stage: (circle one)
• Prewriting
• Drafting
• Revising/proofreading
I will spend this much time on this stage in my next college paper:
8.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 8 Writing for Classes
I will use these strategies to ensure that I successfully move through this
Seeking Help
I am most likely to need help in these areas of writing:
I will use these resources if I need help in these areas in my next course
8.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 9
The Social World of College
Figure 9.1
© Thinkstock
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
Where Are You Now?
Assess your present knowledge and attitudes.
Yes Unsure No
1. My interactions with students and others on
campus will contribute to my academic success.
2. I feel I would like to make more or different
friends in college.
3. I am sometimes shy about interacting with others
in social settings or feel lonely when by myself.
4. I make an effort to communicate well in social
interactions, especially to listen actively when
others are speaking.
5. I use social networking Web sites to actively
enhance social relationships.
6. When I get in an argument with someone, I work
to calm the situation and try to reach a compromise
solution we can both live with.
7. I am comfortable in situations interacting with
people who are different from me in age, race,
ethnicity, or cultural background.
8. I make an effort to meet and learn about others
different from me and to accept and respect their
9. When I see someone making a racist or sexist
joke or comment, I speak out against prejudice.
11. I am participating in some clubs and activities
on campus that interest me.
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
Where Do You Want to Go?
Think about how you answered the questions above. Be honest with yourself.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your college relationships and
interactions with people from different backgrounds at this time?
Not very healthy
Very strong
In the following list, circle the three most important areas of social interaction
in which you think you can improve:
Variety of friends and relationships
Ability to interact comfortably with strangers
Speaking skills
Listening skills
Assertive communication skills
Online social networking use
Conflict resolution
Comfort level around people of different race or ethnicity
Interacting with people of different cultural backgrounds
Understanding of different cultural groups
Ability to speak out against prejudice
Knowledge of campus clubs and activities
Participation in campus groups
Are there other areas in which you can improve your social relationships and
interactions with others to improve your college experience? Write down other
things you feel you need to work on.
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
How to Get There
Here’s what we’ll work on in this chapter:
• Understanding why social interaction is such an important part of
the college experience
• Developing new friendships on campus
• Improving communication skills for social interactions at all levels
• Knowing why and how to use online social networking
• Balancing your schoolwork and social life
• Resolving conflicts that may occur in social interactions
• Knowing what to do if you experience harassment
• Understanding the many kinds of diversity found on college
• Celebrating the benefits of diversity for all students
• Dealing with prejudice and discrimination
• Discovering the value of participating in organized campus groups
and activities
Social Life, College Life
New college students may not immediately realize that they’ve entered a whole new
world at college, including a world of other people possibly very different from
those they have known before. This is a very important dimension of
college—almost as important as the learning that goes on inside the classroom. How
you deal with the social aspects and diversity of college world has a large impact on
your academic success.
All the topics covered in this chapter relate to the social world of college. Here you
will gain some insight into the value of making new friends and getting along with
the wide variety of people you will encounter on campus. You will learn why and
how a broad diversity of people enriches the college experience and better prepare
you for the world after college.
Enter this new world with an open mind and you’ll gain many benefits. Even if you
are taking a course or two at night and do not spend much of your day on campus,
try to make the most of this experience. You’ll meet others who will challenge and
stimulate you and broaden your thinking and emotional experiences.
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
9.1 Getting Along with Others
1. Explain the benefits of social interactions with a variety of people in the
college environment.
2. List personal characteristics and skills that contribute to one’s ability to
get along well with others.
3. Improve your communication skills.
4. Use online social networking beneficially.
5. Balance your social life with your schoolwork.
6. Describe how to successfully resolve a conflict with another person.
Humans are social creatures—it’s simply in our nature. We continually interact with
other students and instructors, and we can learn a great deal from these
interactions that heighten the learning process. This frequent interaction with
others forms a state of interdependence. College students depend on their
instructors, but just as importantly, they depend on other students in many ways.
As important as our interactions with others are, we do not automatically possess
the skills that help us form good relationships and make the most of our
experiences. Consider how these two college students are different:
John often arrives just as class is beginning and leaves immediately afterward. He
makes little effort to talk with other students in the classroom, and after class he
goes off to study alone or to his part-time job, where he spends most of his time at a
computer screen. He is diligent in his studies and generally does well. After two
months, he has not gotten to know his roommate very well, and he generally eats
alone with a book in hand. He stops by to see his instructors in their offices only if
he missed a class due to illness, and on weekends and holidays he often hangs out at
his parents’ house or sees old friends.
Kim likes to get to class early and sits near others so they can talk about the reading
for class or compare notes about assignments. She enjoys running into other
students she knows from her classes and usually stops to chat. Although she is an
older working student who lives alone off campus, she often dines in a campus café
and asks students she meets in her classes to join her. After two months, with the
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
approach of midterms, she formed a study group with a couple other students. If
she feels she doesn’t understand an important lecture topic very well, she gets to
her instructor’s office a few minutes ahead of office hours to avoid missing out by
having to wait in line. A few weeks into the term, she spent a weekend with a
student from another country and learned much about a culture about which she
had previously known little.
These students are very different. Which do you think is more fully enjoying the
college experience? Which do you think is more likely to do well academically?
Most of us fall somewhere between these two extremes, but we can learn to be more
like Kim and more actively engage with others.
Recognize the Value of Social Interaction
Building good relationships is important for happiness and a successful college
experience. College offers the opportunity to meet many people you would likely
not meet otherwise in life. Make the most of this opportunity to gain a number of
• A growing understanding of diverse other people, how they think, and
what they feel that will serve you well throughout your life and in your
future career
• A heightened sense of your own identity, especially as you interact
with others with different personalities and from different
• Emotional comfort from friendship with someone who understands
you and with whom you can talk about your problems, joys, hopes, and
• An opportunity to grow with wider intellectual and emotional horizons
College often offers an opportunity to be stimulated and excited by new
relationships and interactions with people who will challenge your thinking and
help you become your best. Still, it can be difficult to get started with new
relationships in college.
Making New Friends
Some people just make friends naturally, but many first-year college students are
more shy or quiet and may need to actively seek new friends. Here are some
starting points:
9.1 Getting Along with Others
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
1. Keep all doors open for meeting new people. If you live in a dorm,
literally keep the door open. Try to sit with different people at meals so
you can get to know them better. Study in a common area or lounge
where you’ll be among others.
2. Be open in your interests. Don’t limit yourself to people who share
only certain interests. Meeting people by studying together is an
excellent way to get to know people with different interests.
3. Don’t try to get involved in everything going on around you.
Committing to too many activities or joining too many social groups
will spread your time too thin, and you may not spend enough time
with anyone to get to know them.
4. Let others see who you really are. Let people get to know the things
you’re interested in, your real passions. People who really know you
are more likely to become good friends.
5. Make an effort to get to know others, too. Show some interest. Don’t
talk just about your interests—ask them about theirs. Show others that
you’re interested, that you think they’re worth spending time with,
and that you really do want to get to know them.
6. Once a friendship has started, be a good friend. Respect your
friends for what they are and don’t criticize them or talk about them
behind their back. Give emotional support when your friends need it
and accept their support as well when you need it.
Are You Shy?
If you’re shy, try meeting and talking to people in situations where you can
interact one-to-one, such as talking with another student after class. Start with
what you have in common—“How’d you do on the test?”—and let the
conversation grow from there. Avoid the emotional trap of thinking everyone
but you is making new friends and start some conversations with others who
look interesting to you. You’ll soon find other “shy” or quiet people eager to
interact with you as well and get to know you.
Shy people may be more likely to feel lonely at times, especially while still
feeling new at college. Loneliness is usually a temporary emotional state,
however. For tips for how to overcome feelings of loneliness, see the section on
loneliness in Chapter 10 "Taking Control of Your Health", Section 10.6
"Emotional Health and Happiness".
9.1 Getting Along with Others
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
Communication Skills
Communication is at the core of almost all social interactions, including those
involved in friendships and relationships with your instructors. Communication
with others has a huge effect on our lives, what we think and feel, and what and
how we learn. Communication is, many would say, what makes us human.
Oral communication involves not only speech and listening, of course, but also
nonverbal communication1: facial expressions, tone of voice, and many other
body language2 signals that affect the messages sent and received. Many experts
think that people pay more attention, often unconsciously, to how people say
something than to what they are saying. When the nonverbal message is
inconsistent with the verbal (spoken) message, just as when the verbal message
itself is unclear because of poorly chosen words or vague explanations, then
miscommunication may occur.
Miscommunication is at the root of many misunderstandings among people and
makes it difficult to build relationships.
Chapter 7 "Interacting with Instructors and Classes"
discusses oral communication skills in general and
guidelines for communicating well with your
instructors. The same communication skills are
important for building and maintaining significant
Figure 9.2
Remember that communication is a two-way process.
Listening skills are critical for most college students
simply because many of us may not have learned how to Miscommunication is at the root
of many misunderstandings.
really listen to another person. Here are some
guidelines for how to listen effectively:
© Thinkstock
1. Communication that occurs
outside of the written and
spoken word, including
meanings inferred from facial
expressions and body
2. Another term for forms of
nonverbal communication,
including gestures, postures,
and facial expressions.
9.1 Getting Along with Others
• Talk less to listen more. Most people
naturally like to share their thoughts and
feelings, and some people almost seem
unable to stop talking long enough to ever listen to another person.
Try this: next time you’re in a conversation with another student,
deliberately try not to speak very much but give the other person a
chance to speak fully. You may notice a big difference in how much
you gain from the conversation.
• Ask questions. To keep the conversational ball rolling, show your
interest in the other person by asking them about things they are
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
saying. This helps the other person feel that you are interested in them
and helps build the relationship.
• Watch and respond to the other person’s body language. You’ll
learn much more about their feelings for what they’re saying than if
you listen only to their words.
• Show the other person that you’re really listening and that you
care. Make eye contact and respond appropriately with nods and brief
comments like “That’s interesting!” or “I know what you mean” or
“Really?” Be friendly, smile when appropriate, and encourage the
person to keep speaking.
• Give the other person feedback3. Show you understand by saying
things like “So you’re saying that…” or asking a question that
demonstrates you’ve been following what they’re saying and want to
know more.
As you learn to improve your listening skills, think also about what you are saying
yourself and how. Here are additional guidelines for effective speaking:
3. Evaluative information derived
from a person’s reaction or
response to a particular
activity, such as from a
listener’s response to a
9.1 Getting Along with Others
• Be honest, but don’t be critical. Strongly disagreeing may only put
the other person on the defensive—an emotion sure to disrupt the
hope for good communication. You can disagree, but be respectful to
keep the conversation from becoming emotional. Say “I don’t know, I
think that maybe it’s…” instead of “That’s crazy! What’s really going on
• Look for common ground. Make sure that your side of a conversation
relates to what the other person is saying and that it focuses on what
you have in common. There’s almost no better way to stop a
conversation dead in its tracks than to ignore everything the other
person has just said and launch into an unrelated story or idea of your
• Avoid sarcasm and irony unless you know the person well. Sarcasm
is easily misunderstood and may be interpreted as an attack on the
other person’s ideas or statements.
• Don’t try to talk like the other person, especially if the person is
from a different ethnic or cultural background or speaks with an
accent or heavy slang. The other person will feel that you are imitating
them and maybe even making fun of them. Be yourself and speak
• While not imitating the other person, relate to his or her
personality and style of thinking. We do not speak to our parents or
instructors the exact same way we speak to our closest friends, nor
should we speak to someone we’ve just met the same way. Show your
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
respect for the other person by keeping the conversation on an
appropriate level.
• Remember that assertive communication4 is better than passive or
aggressive communication. “Assertive” in this context means you are
honest and direct in stating your ideas and thoughts; you are confident
and clear and willing to discuss your ideas while still respecting the
thoughts and ideas of others. A passive communicator is reluctant to
speak up, seems to agree with everything others say, hesitates to say
anything that others might disagree with, and therefore seldom
communicates much at all. Passive communication5 simply is not a
real exchange in communication. Aggressive communication6, at the
other extreme, is often highly critical of the thoughts and ideas of
others. This communication style may be sarcastic, emotional, and
even insulting. Real communication is not occurring because others
are not prompted to respond honestly and openly.
• Choose your conversations wisely. Recognize that you don’t have to
engage in all conversations. Make it your goal to form relationships
and engage in interactions that help you learn and grow as a person.
College life offers plenty of opportunities for making relationships and
interacting with others if you keep open to them, so you needn’t try to
participate in every social situation around you.
Some students may have difficulty in the opposite direction: their social lives may
become so rich or so time consuming that they have problems balancing their social
lives with their schoolwork. Online social media, for example, may eat up a lot of
4. Communication that is selfassured, positive, and honest
but still tactful and
5. Communication characterized
by acceptance of things
expressed by others, without
taking an active or confident
role in sharing one’s own ideas
or thoughts.
6. One-sided communication in
which a speaker attacks what
others say or uses a pushy,
domineering style to express
ideas or thoughts.
7. The use of a Web site to
connect with people who share
personal or professional
9.1 Getting Along with Others
Online Social Networking
Most college students know all about Facebook, Twitter, blogging, chat rooms, and
other social networking7 sites. Current studies reveal that over 90 percent of all
college students use Facebook or MySpace regularly, although older students use
these sites less commonly. The media have often emphasized negative stories
involving safety concerns, obsessive behavior, a perceived superficiality of social
interaction online, and so on. But more recently, online social networking has been
found to have several benefits. Many of those who once criticized Facebook and
MySpace are now regularly networking among themselves via LinkedIn, Plaxo, and
other “professional” networking sites.
Following are some of the benefits of Facebook—some clear to those using it, others
revealed only recently by research in the social sciences:
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
• Facebook and other forms of online networking makes it easy to stay in
touch with friends and family at a geographical distance. College
students who have moved away from former friends seem to make the
transition more easily when they stay in touch. Maintaining past
relationships does not prevent most people from making new friends
at college.
• Facebook provides users with increased “social capital,” which is a sum
of resources gained through one’s relationships with people. Facebook
users gain information, opportunities for participation in activities and
groups, greater knowledge about others, some interaction skills, and so
forth. Social capital is also associated with self-esteem, success in some
endeavors, and general happiness.
• Facebook makes it easier for people who are shy or otherwise slow to
initiate or respond to interactions with others to participate socially in
a group. Online network sites also offer an outlet for self-expression
and sharing.
• For many college students, interactions on Facebook strengthen
personal relationships rather than detracting from them.
• Acknowledging that online social networking is a reality for most
college students, many college administrators and instructors also use
it to stay in better touch with students, to provide information and
encouragement, and to help students experience the full richness of
the college experience. Your college may have a Facebook page where
you can learn much about things happening around campus, and you
may even receive tweets about important announcements.
Figure 9.3
9.1 Getting Along with Others
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
Still, online social networking is not 100 percent beneficial for all college students.
Someone who becomes obsessed with constantly updating their profile or
attracting a huge number of friends can spend so much time at their computer that
they miss out on other important aspects of college life. Hopefully by now everyone
knows why you should never post compromising or inappropriate photos or
information about yourself anywhere online, even as a joke: many employers,
college admissions offices, and others may find this compromising material in the
future and deny you the job, internship, graduate program, or other position that
you want. It’s important also to protect your identity and privacy on online sites.
Overall, online networking in moderation can help enrich one’s life. When used to
build relationships, gain information, and stay in touch with a larger community, it
can contribute to success in college. Most college students use Facebook ten to
thirty minutes a day. If you’re spending more than that, you might ask yourself if
you’re missing out on something else.
Balancing Schoolwork and Social Life
If there’s one thing true of virtually all college students, it’s that you don’t have
enough time to do everything you want. Once you’ve developed friendships within
the college community and have an active social life, you may feel you don’t have
enough time for your studies and other activities such as work. For many students,
the numerous social opportunities of college become a distraction, and with less
attention to one’s studies, academic performance can drop. Here are some tips for
balancing your social life with your studies:
• Keep working on your time management skills, as you learned in
Chapter 2 "Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track". You can’t just
“go with the flow” and hope that, after spending time with friends, you
have enough time (and energy) left over for studying. Make a study
schedule that provides enough time for what you need to do. Study
first; socialize after.
• Keep working on your study skills, as you learned in Chapter 4
"Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering", Chapter 5 "Reading to
Learn", and Chapter 6 "Preparing for and Taking Tests". When you
have only a limited amount of time for studying, be sure you’re using
that time as effectively as possible as you read assignments and
prepare for class, organize your notes after class, and prepare for tests.
• If you can’t resist temptations, reduce them. If you are easily
distracted by the opportunity to talk with your roommate, spouse, or
family members because you study where you live, then go to the
library to study.
9.1 Getting Along with Others
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
• Make studying a social experience. If your studying keeps you so
busy that you feel like you don’t have much of a social life, form a
study group. You will learn more than you would alone by gaining
from the thoughts of others, and you can enjoy interacting with others
without falling behind.
• Keep your social life from affecting your studying. Simply
scheduling study time doesn’t mean you’ll use it well. If you stayed up
late the night before, you may not today be able to concentrate well as
you study for that big test. This is another reason for good time
management and scheduling your time well, looking ahead.
• Get help if you need it. If you’re still having difficulty balancing your
study time with other activities, talk with your academic advisor or a
counselor. Maybe something else is keeping you from doing your best.
Maybe you need some additional study skills or you need to get some
extra help from a tutor or campus study center. Remember, your
college wants you to succeed and will try to help those who seek help.
A Note on Greek Life
Fraternities and sororities appeal to many students on many campuses. You meet a
lot of people quickly and have a social life provided for you almost automatically,
with many events and parties as well as usually an active house life. Many people
have formed lasting, even lifelong relationships with their fraternity and sorority
friends. On the other hand, this living and social experience may limit the kinds of
people you meet and present fewer opportunities to interact with others outside
the Greek system. If there are frequent activities, it may be important to learn to
say no at time when studying becomes a priority. If you are interested in but not yet
committed to this life, it’s worthwhile to find out what the houses at your school
are really like, consider what your life would likely be like in a fraternity or
sorority, and think about how it may impact your college goals.
Overcoming Difficulties and Resolving Conflicts
Conflicts among people who are interacting are natural. People have many
differences in opinions, ideas, emotions, and behaviors, and these differences
sometimes cause conflicts. Here are just a few examples of conflicts that may occur
among college students:
• Your roommate is playing loud music in your room, and you need some
quiet to study for a test.
• You want to have a nice dinner out, but your spouse wants to save the
money to buy new furniture.
9.1 Getting Along with Others
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
• Your instructor gave you a C on a paper because it lacks some of the
required elements, but you feel it deserves a better grade because you
think it accomplished more important goals.
• Others at your Greek house want to invite only members of other
fraternities and sororities to an upcoming party, but you want the
party to be more inclusive and to invite more diverse students.
• Your partner wants to have sex with you, but you want to wait until
you get protection.
So how can such conflicts be resolved? Two things are necessary for conflict
resolution8 that does not leave one or more of the people involved feeling negative
about the outcome: attitude and communication.
A conflict cannot be resolved satisfactorily unless all people involved have the right
• Respect the options and behaviors of others. Accept that people are
not all alike and learn to celebrate your differences. Most situations do
not involve a single right or wrong answer.
• Be open minded. Just because at first you are sure that that you are
right, do not close the door to other possibilities. Look at the other’s
point of view. Be open to change—even when that means accepting
constructive criticism.
• Calm down. You can’t work together to resolve a conflict while you’re
still feeling strong emotions. Agree with the other to wait until you’re
both able to discuss it without strong emotions.
• Recognize the value of compromise. Even if you disagree after calmly
talking over an issue, accept that as a human reality and understand
that a compromise may be necessary in order to get along with others.
With the right attitude, you can then work together to resolve the issue. This
process depends on good communication:
8. A step-by-step process
designed to resolve a dispute
or disagreement.
9.1 Getting Along with Others
• Listen. Don’t simply argue for your position, but listen carefully to
what the other says. Pay attention to their body language as you try to
understand their point of view and ask questions to ensure that you do.
Paraphrase what you think you hear to give the other a chance to
correct any misunderstanding.
• Use “I statements” rather than “you statements.” Explain your
point of view about the situation in a way that does not put the other
person on the defensive and evoke emotions that make resolution
more difficult. Don’t say, “You’re always playing loud music when I’m
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
trying to study.” Instead, say, “I have difficulty studying when you play
loud music, and that makes me frustrated and irritable.” Don’t blame
the other for the problem—that would just get emotions flowing again.
• Brainstorm together to find a solution that satisfies both of you.
Some compromise is usually needed, but that is usually not difficult to
reach when you’re calm and have the right attitude about working
together on a solution. In some cases, you may simply have to accept a
result that you still do not agree with, simply in order to move on.
The process of conflict resolution is discussed more fully in Chapter 10 "Taking
Control of Your Health". In most cases, when the people involved have a good
attitude and are open to compromise, conflicts can be resolved successfully.
Yet sometimes there seems to be no resolution. Sometimes the other person may
simply be difficult and refuse to even try to work out a solution. Regrettably, not
everyone on or off campus is mature enough to be open to other perspectives. With
some interpersonal conflicts, you may simply have to decide not to see that person
anymore or find other ways to avoid the conflict in the future. But remember, most
conflicts can be solved among adults, and it’s seldom a good solution to run away
from a problem that will continue to surface and keep you from being happy with
your life.
Roommate Issues
At many colleges students just out of high school must live in a campus residence
hall. Other students may live in a shared apartment with new roommates. This is
the first time many students have had to share a room, suite, or apartment with
others who were not family members, and this situation may lead to conflicts and
strong feelings that can even affect your academic success.
As in other interactions, the keys to forming a good relationship with a roommate
are communication and attitude. From the beginning, you should talk about
everyone’s expectations of the other(s) and what matters most to you about where
you live. Don’t wait until problems happen before talking. It’s often good to begin
with the key practical issues: agreeing on quiet hours for study (limiting not only
loud music but also visits from others), time for lights out, neatness and cleaning
up, things shared and private things not to touch.
Show respect for the other’s ideas and possessions, respect their privacy, and try to
listen more than you talk. Even if your roommate does not become a close friend,
you can have a harmonious, successful relationship that makes your residence a
good home for both of you. Millions of college students before you have learned to
9.1 Getting Along with Others
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
work this out, and if both (or all) of you respect each other and keep
communication open and nonconfrontational, you will easily get through the small
bumps in the road ahead, too. Follow these guidelines to help ensure you get along
• Anticipate problems before they happen. Think about things that
you consider essential in your living environment and talk with a new
roommate about these essentials now.
• Deal with any problem promptly. Don’t wait until a behavior is well
established before speaking up, as if the other person will somehow
catch on that it aggravates you. It may be as simple as a roommate
using your coffee cup or borrowing your toothpaste without asking,
but if you say nothing, trying to be polite, the habit may expand to
other things.
• Be patient, flexible, and willing to compromise. It may take a while
for each of you to get used to each other and to establish a
communication pattern of openness so that you can be honest with
each other about what really matters.
• Be warm, use humor, and be sensitive. Telling someone that they’re
doing something bothersome can be very difficult for many people.
Think before speaking, looking for the best way to communicate what
you feel. Remember, you’ll be spending a lot of time around this
person, so do you really want them to think of you as bossy or
• Get out more. Sometimes it helps to spend more time elsewhere on
campus, studying in the library or another quiet place. You just might
need a certain amount of time a day alone. That’s fine, but don’t expect
your roommate to have to leave just to give you that time alone!
But What If You Really Have a Roommate Problem?
In some situations and with some people who will not compromise and do not
respect you and your needs, a roommate can be a serious problem. In some
circumstances, you may able to move to a different room. Room changes usually are
not granted simply because you “don’t get along,” but certain circumstances may
justify a change. The following are some examples:
• Your roommate smokes in the room.
• Your roommate uses illegal drugs, drinks alcohol underage, or
conducts other illegal activities in the room.
• Your roommate repeatedly refuses to limit activities at any hour to
allow you to sleep.
9.1 Getting Along with Others
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
• Your roommate does anything that threatens your physical well-being
or safety.
• Your roommate denies you your rights to practice your religion or
other basic rights.
If you have a problem like this, first talk with your resident advisor (RA) or other
residence hall authority. They will explain the process for a room change, if
warranted, or other ways for managing the problem,
Dealing with Harassment
Although college campuses are for the most part safe, secure, and friendly places
where social and intellectual interaction is generally mature and responsible,
harassment can occur in any setting. Harassment9 is a general term referring to
behavior that is intended to disturb or threaten another person in some way, often
psychologically. Typically the person or people doing the harassment target their
victim because of a difference in race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, sex, age,
sexual orientation, or disability.
Acts of harassment may be verbal, physical, psychological, or any other behavior
intended to disturb another person. Bullying behavior, name-calling, belittling,
gesturing obscenely, stalking, mobbing—any action intended to torment or
deliberately make another person uncomfortable or feel humiliated is harassment.
Harassment may also be intended to manipulate a targeted person to act in some
specific way.
Sexual harassment is a special term referring to persistent, unwanted sexual
behaviors or advances. Sexual harassment may begin with words but progress to
unwanted touching and potentially even rape. Sexual harassment is discussed in
more detail in Chapter 10 "Taking Control of Your Health".
Many types of harassment are illegal. In the workplace, a supervisor who tells offcolor sexual jokes around an employee of the opposite gender may be guilty of
sexual harassment. Students who deliberately malign members of another race may
be guilty of committing a hate crime. Physically tormenting another student in a
hazing may be judged assault and battery. Any discrimination in the workplace
based on race, religion, age, sex, and so on is illegal. On a college campus, any
harassment of a student by a faculty member or college employee is expressly
forbidden, unethical, and also possibly illegal.
9. Actions or words meant to
disturb, belittle, or torment
another person.
9.1 Getting Along with Others
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
Harassment of any type, at any time, of any person, is wrong and unacceptable. You
will know it if you are harassed, and you should know also that it is your basic right
to be free of harassment and that your college has strict policies against all forms of
harassment. Here’s what you should do if you are being harassed:
1. Tell the person to stop the behavior—or if you feel at any risk of harm,
get out of the situation immediately.
2. Document the incident, particularly with ongoing harassment. Keep
notes of the details. Tell someone you trust about the situation.
3. Report the harassment to the appropriate college authority. If you are
unsure which to go to, go to the dean of students first.
Changing Family Relationships
The college years are a time of many changes, including one’s relationships with
parents, siblings, and one’s own children and partners. Any time there is change,
issues may arise.
As in other relationships, try to understand the other’s
perspective. Honesty is particularly important—but
with tact and understanding. Here are some tips for
getting along:
Figure 9.4
• Understand that your parents may not
change their attitudes toward you as
quickly as you yourself may be changing.
They may still think of you as a younger
person in need of their continued guidance. A video communication program
like Skype makes it easy to stay
They will worry about you and fear that
in touch with friends and family.
you might fall in with the wrong crowd or
engage in risky behavior. Be patient. Take
© Thinkstock
the time to communicate, and don’t close
yourself off. Let them gradually accept you
as a more mature person who can make
your own decisions wisely.
• Stay in touch. You may be busier than ever and feel you haven’t time
for a phone call or e-mail, but communication is very important for
parents—especially if they are now empty nesters without other
children at home. Even if they seem to want too much involvement in
your life and to make decisions for you, realize that this at least in part
is simply a desire to stay in touch with you—and to feel they still
matter in your life.
9.1 Getting Along with Others
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
• Use your best listening skills. Understanding what they’re really
feeling, which is often simply a concern for you born of their love for
you, will usually help you know best to respond.
• Be assured that over time your parents and other family members will
get used to your being on your own and will accept your ability to
make your own decisions. Time itself often solves issues.
• With your own family, now that you are busier than ever with classes
and work, you may need to pay special attention to ensuring you stay
active in family relationships. Schedule times for family outings and
make room in your days for casual interactions. But remember, it’s not
how much time you spend together but the quality of that time, so give
your family your full attention when you are together.
• A rich, diverse social life is an important dimension of the college
experience that contributes also to academic success.
• Getting along with others involves communication skills and a
willingness to interact with different people in a number of different
• Effective listening skills are as important as expressing yourself well
verbally and nonverbally.
• Online social networking used in moderation can be beneficial.
• Balancing one’s social life with schoolwork requires time management
skills as well as good study skills.
• Because social interactions frequently involve conflicting values,
behaviors, or ideas, it’s important to respect others, stay open minded,
be open to compromise, and understand how to resolve conflicts.
• Acknowledge that family relationships will likely change after you enter
college and work to ease the transition for everyone.
9.1 Getting Along with Others
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
1. List three or four guidelines for interacting successfully with
2. You are talking after class with another student with whom
you’d like to be friends, but you’re distracted by a test you have
to study for. If you’re not careful, what nonverbal
communication signals might you accidentally send that could
make the other person feel you are not friendly? Describe two or
three nonverbal signals that could give the wrong impression.
3. What are the best things to say when you’re actively engaged in
listening to another?
4. For each of the following statements about effective
communication, circle T for true or F for false:
9.1 Getting Along with Others
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
Avoid eye contact until you’ve gotten to know the person
T F well enough to be sure they will not misinterpret your
Using the same slang or accent as other people will make
them see you respect them as they are.
Communicating your ideas with honesty and confidence
T F is usually more effective than just agreeing with what
others are saying.
Communicating with people online is seldom as effective
T F as calling them on the telephone or seeing them in
It’s usually best to accept spontaneous opportunities for
T F social interaction, because you’ll always have time later
for your studies.
5. You are upset because your roommate (or a family member)
always seems to have several friends over just when you need to
study most. Write in the space below what you might say to this
person to explain the problem, using “I statements” rather than
“you statements.”
6. If another person is acting very emotionally and is harassing you,
what should you not do at that moment?
9.1 Getting Along with Others
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
9.2 Living with Diversity
1. Define diversity and explain the benefits of a diverse college campus for
all students.
2. List ten or more ways in which different groups of people can have
significant differences, experiences, and perspectives.
3. Explain why all college students are more successful academically in a
diverse environment and list several additional benefits of diversity for
all students.
4. Describe the valuable characteristics of “nontraditional” older college
5. Explain what students can do to foster multiculturalism and celebrate
diversity on campus. For students who have few experiences with
diversity in the past, outline steps that can be taken to gain cultural
sensitivity and a multicultural outlook.
6. Describe how instructors help create a positive, inclusive learning
environment in the classroom.
Ours is a very diverse society—and increasingly so. Already in many parts of the
country, non-Hispanic whites comprise less than 50 percent of the population, and
by 2020 an estimated one in three Americans will be a person of color, as will be
about half of all college students. But “diversity” means much more than a variety
of racial and ethnic differences. As we’ll use the term here, diversity10 refers to the
great variety of human characteristics—ways that we are different even as we are
all human and share more similarities than differences. These differences are an
essential part of what enriches humanity.
We’ll look first at some of the ways that people differ and explore the benefits of
diversity for our society generally and for the college experience. While we should
all celebrate diversity, at the same time we need to acknowledge past issues that
grew from misunderstandings of such differences and work together to bring
change where needed.
10. A condition of having
differences, generally referring
to meaningful differences
among various groups of
What Diversity Really Means
Differences among people may involve where a person was born and raised, the
person’s family and cultural group, factual differences in personal identity, and
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
chosen differences in significant beliefs. Some diversity is primarily cultural
(involving shared beliefs and behaviors), other diversity may be biological (race,
age, gender), and some diversity is defined in personal terms (sexual orientation,
religion). Diversity generally involves things that may significantly affect some
people’s perceptions of others—not just any way people happen to be different. For
example, having different tastes in music, movies, or books is not what we usually
refer to as diversity.
When discussing diversity, it is often difficult to avoid seeming to generalize about
different types of people—and such generalizations can seem similar to dangerous
stereotypes11. The following descriptions are meant only to suggest that
individuals are different from other individuals in many possible ways and that we
can all learn things from people whose ideas, beliefs, attitudes, values, backgrounds,
experiences, and behaviors are different from our own. This is a primary reason
college admissions departments frequently seek diversity in the student body.
Following are various aspects of diversity:
11. A simplified and standardized
image of what a certain type or
group of people is like, often
held in common by members of
a different group.
12. A human group with biological
differences, typically referring
to skin color and appearance.
13. A set of cultural and sometimes
physical characteristics of a
group of people with a shared
cultural background and
14. In anthropology, culture is the
total of characteristic ways in
which a group of people live
and interact, transmitted from
one generation to another;
more generally, culture is the
behaviors and beliefs
characteristic of a particular
social, ethnic, or age group.
9.2 Living with Diversity
• Diversity of race. Race12 refers to what we generally think of as
biological differences and is often defined by what some think of as
skin color. Such perceptions are often at least as much social as they
are biological.
• Diversity of ethnicity. Ethnicity13 is a cultural distinction that is
different from race. An ethnic group is a group of people who share a
common identity and a perceived cultural heritage that often involves
shared ways of speaking and behaving, religion, traditions, and other
traits. The term “ethnic” also refers to such a group that is a minority
within the larger society. Race and ethnicity are sometimes
interrelated but not automatically so.
• Diversity of cultural background. Culture14, like ethnicity, refers to
shared characteristics, language, beliefs, behaviors, and identity. We
are all influenced by our culture to some extent. While ethnic groups
are typically smaller groups within a larger society, the larger society
itself is often called the “dominant culture.” The term is often used
rather loosely to refer to any group with identifiable shared
• Diversity of educational background. Colleges do not use a cookiecutter approach to admit only students with identical academic skills.
Diversity of educational background helps ensure a free flow of ideas
and challenges those who might become set in their ways.
• Diversity of geography. People from different places within the
United States or the world often have a range of differences in ideas,
attitudes, and behaviors.
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
• Diversity of socioeconomic background. People’s identities are
influenced by how they grow up, and part of that background often
involves socioeconomic factors. Socioeconomic diversity can
contribute a wide variety of ideas and attitudes.
• Diversity of gender roles15. Women have virtually all professional and
social roles, including those once dominated by men, and men have
taken on many roles, such as raising a child, that were formerly
occupied mostly by women. These changing roles have brought diverse
new ideas and attitudes to college campuses.
• Diversity of age. While younger students attending college
immediately after high school are generally within the same age range,
older students returning to school bring a diversity of age. Because
they often have broader life experiences, many older students bring
different ideas and attitudes to the campus.
• Diversity of sexual orientation. Gays and lesbians make up a
significant percentage of people in American society and students on
college campuses. Exposure to this diversity helps others overcome
stereotypes and become more accepting of human differences.
• Diversity of religion. For many people, religion is not just a Sunday
morning practice but a larger spiritual force that infuses their lives.
Religion helps shape different ways of thinking and behaving, and thus
diversity of religion brings a wider benefit of diversity to college.
• Diversity of political views. A diversity of political views helps
broaden the level of discourse on campuses concerning current events
and the roles of government and leadership at all levels. College
students are frequently concerned about issues such as
environmentalism and civil rights and can help bring about change.
• Diversity of physical ability. Some students have athletic talents.
Some students have physical disabilities. Physical differences among
students brings yet another kind of diversity to colleges—a diversity
that both widens opportunities for a college education and also helps
all students better understand how people relate to the world in
physical as well as intellectual ways.
• Diversity of extracurricular abilities. As you remember from your
college applications, colleges ask about what you do outside of
class—clubs, activities, abilities in music and the arts, and so on. A
student body with diverse interests and skills benefits all students by
helping make the college experience full and enriching at all levels.
15. The roles that society or a
cultural group traditionally
assigns to males and females
based on their gender.
9.2 Living with Diversity
These are just some of the types of diversity you are likely to encounter on college
campuses and in our society generally.
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
The Benefits of Diversity
The goal of many college admissions departments is to
attract diverse students from a broad range of
backgrounds involving different cultural,
socioeconomic, age, and other factors—everything in
the preceding list. But why is diversity so important?
There are many reasons:
Figure 9.5
• Experiencing diversity at college
prepares students for the diversity they Diversity in the classroom is a
goal of college admissions offices.
will encounter the rest of their lives.
Learning to understand and accept people
different from ourselves is very important © Thinkstock
in our world. While many high school
students may not have met or gotten to
know well many people with different
backgrounds, this often changes in college. Success in one’s career and
future social life also requires understanding people in new ways and
interacting with new skills. Experiencing diversity in college assists in
this process.
• Students learn better in a diverse educational setting.
Encountering new concepts, values, and behaviors leads to thinking in
deeper, more complex, and more creative ways, rather than furthering
past ideas and attitudes. Students who experience the most racial and
ethnic diversity in their classes are more engaged in active thinking
processes and develop more intellectual and academic skills (and have
higher grade point averages) than others with limited experience of
• Attention to diversity leads to a broader range of teaching
methods, which benefits the learning process for all students. Just
as people are different in diverse ways, people from different
backgrounds and experiences learn in different ways. College teaching
has expanded to include many new teaching techniques. All students
gain when instructors make the effort to address the diverse learning
needs of all students.
• Experiencing diversity on campus is beneficial for both minority
and majority students. Students have more fulfilling social
relationships and report more satisfaction and involvement with their
college experience. Studies show all students on campus gain from
diversity programs. All the social and intellectual benefits of diversity
cited in this list hold true for all students.
• Diversity experiences help break the patterns of segregation and
prejudice that have characterized American history.
9.2 Living with Diversity
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
Discrimination16 against others—whether by race, gender, age, sexual
orientation, or anything else—is rooted in ignorance and sometimes
fear of people who are different. Getting to know people who are
different is the first step in accepting those differences, furthering the
goal of a society free of all forms of prejudice and the unfair treatment
of people.
• Students of a traditional college age are in an ideal stage of
development for forming healthy attitudes about diversity.
Younger students may not yet have reached a point at which they can
fully understand and accept very different ideas and behaviors in
others. The college years are a time of growth and maturation
intellectually, socially, and emotionally, and a sustained experience of
diversity is an opportunity to heighten this process.
• Experiencing diversity makes us all better citizens in our
democracy. When people can better understand and consider the
ideas and perspectives of others, they are better equipped to
participate meaningfully in our society. Democratic government
depends on shared values of equality and the public good. An attitude
of “us versus them,” in contrast, does not further the public good or
advance democratic government. Studies have shown that college
graduates with a good experience of diversity generally maintain
patterns of openness and inclusivity in their future lives.
• Diversity enhances self-awareness. We gain insights into our own
thought processes, life experiences, and values as we learn from people
whose backgrounds and experiences are different from our own.
16. Treatment of a person based on
some group, class, or category
to which that person belongs
rather than on individual
17. Accepting, respecting, and
preserving different cultures
or cultural identities within a
unified society.
9.2 Living with Diversity
While all the benefits described have been demonstrated repeatedly on campuses
all across the country in study after study, and while admissions and retention
programs on virtually all campuses promote and celebrate diversity, some problems
still remain. Society changes only slowly, and sadly, many students in some
areas—including gay and lesbian students, students with disabilities, and many
minority students—still feel marginalized in the dominant culture of their
campuses. Even in a country that elected an African American president, racism
exists in many places. Gays and lesbians are still fighting for equal rights under the
law and acceptance everywhere. Women still earn less than men in the same jobs.
Thus society as a whole, and colleges in particular, need to continue to work to
destroy old stereotypes and achieve a full acceptance of our human differences.
Multiculturalism17 is not political correctness. We’ve all heard jokes about
“political correctness,” which suggests that we do or say certain things not because
they are right but because we’re expected to pay lip service to them. Unfortunately,
some people think of colleges’ diversity programs as just the politically correct
thing to do. Use your critical thinking skills if you hear such statements. In the
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
world of higher education, truth is discovered through investigation and
research—and research has shown repeatedly the value of diversity as well as
programs designed to promote diversity.
Older “Nontraditional” Students and Diversity
Sometimes overlooked among the types of diversity on most college campuses
are older students, often called nontraditional students18, who are returning
to education usually after working a number of years. While many college
students are younger and enroll in college immediately after high school, these
older students help bring a wider range of diversity to campuses and deserve
special attention for the benefits they bring for all students. As a group, older
students often share certain characteristics that bring unique value to the
college experience overall. Older students often
• have well-established identities and broader roles and
responsibilities on which to base their thinking;
• more fully represent the local community and its values;
• have greater emotional independence and self-reliance;
• have well-developed problem-solving, self-directing, and decisionmaking skills;
• can share important life lessons and insights not found in
• have relationships and experience with a greater variety of people;
• can be positive role models for younger students with less
experience and maturity.
In many ways, these “nontraditional” students benefit the campus as a whole
and contribute in meaningful ways to the educational process. Both instructors
and “traditional” students gain when older students share their ideas and
feelings in class discussions, study groups, and all forms of social interaction.
18. A general term for college
students who do not attend
college within a year or so after
graduating high school and
who therefore are usually older
than seventeen to nineteen
years of age and have
significant work or other
noneducational experiences.
9.2 Living with Diversity
Accepting and Celebrating Diversity and Working for Change
More than anything, multiculturalism is an attitude. Multiculturalism involves
accepting and respecting the ideas, feelings, behaviors, and experiences of people
different from oneself—all the forms of diversity described earlier. America is not
actually a “melting pot” in the sense that people from diverse backgrounds
somehow all become the same. America has always included a great diversity of
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
ideas, attitudes, and behaviors. For example, the constitutional separation of
church and state, a fundamental principle present since early days in the United
States, guarantees that people of all religion have the same freedoms and rights for
worship and religious behavior. People of diverse religious backgrounds are not
expected to “melt” together into one religion. Other laws guarantee the equal rights
of all people regardless of skin color, gender, age, and other differences—including
more recently, in some states, equality under the law for those with diverse sexual
orientation. The United States does not even have an official national
language—and many government and other publications in various geographical
areas are offered in a variety of languages as well. In short, America as a nation has
always recognized the realities and benefits of diversity.
Colleges similarly make commitments to ensure they respect and value differences
among people and promote a wide understanding of such differences. Most colleges
now have formal diversity programs to help all students not only accept and
understand differences among students of varied backgrounds but also celebrate
the benefits for all.
What Students Can Do
While diversity exists in most places, not everyone automatically understands
differences among people and celebrates the value of those differences. Students
who never think about diversity and who make no conscious effort to experience
and understand others gain less than others who do. There are many ways you can
experience the benefits of diversity on your college campus, however, beginning
with your own attitudes and by taking steps to increase your experiences with
diverse individuals.
Acknowledge your own uniqueness, for you are diverse, too. Diversity doesn’t
involve just other people. Consider that you may be just as different to other people
as they are to you. Don’t think of the other person as being the one who is different,
that you are somehow the “norm.” Your religion may seem just as odd to them as
theirs does to you, and your clothing may seem just as strange looking to them as
theirs is to you—until you accept there is no one “normal” or right way to be. Look
at yourself in a mirror and consider why you look as you do. Why do you use the
slang you do with your friends? Why did you just have that type of food for
breakfast? How is it that you prefer certain types of music? Read certain books?
Talk about certain things? Much of this has to do with your cultural background—so
it makes sense that someone from another cultural or ethnic background is
different in some ways. But both of you are also individuals with your own tastes,
preferences, ideas, and attitudes—making you unique. It’s only when you realize
your own uniqueness that you can begin to understand and respect the uniqueness
of others, too.
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Consider your own (possibly unconscious) stereotypes. A stereotype is a fixed,
simplistic view of what people in a certain group are like. It is often the basis for
prejudice and discrimination: behaving differently toward someone because you
stereotype them in some way. Stereotypes are generally learned and emerge in the
dominant culture’s attitudes toward those from outside that dominant group. A
stereotype may be explicitly racist and destructive, and it may also be a simplistic
generalization applied to any group of people, even if intended to be flattering
rather than negative. As you have read this chapter so far, did you find yourself
thinking about any group of people, based on any kind of difference, and perhaps
thinking in terms of stereotypes? If you walked into a party and saw many different
kinds of people standing about, would you naturally avoid some and move toward
others? Remember, we learn stereotypes from our cultural background—so it’s not
a terrible thing to admit you have inherited some stereotypes. Thinking about them
is a first step in breaking out of these irrational thought patterns.
Examples of Cultural Differences in Body Language
While we should be careful not to stereotype individuals or whole cultures, it is
important to be aware of potential differences among cultures when
interacting with other people. For example, body language often has different
meanings in different cultures. Understanding such differences can help you
better understand your interaction with others. Here are a few examples:
• Some Americans clap their hands together to emphasize a point,
while some French clap to end a conversation.
• Many Americans cross their legs when seated and thus may point
the bottom of their shoe toward another person; many Japanese
find this gesture offensive.
• Many Americans may wave their index fingers at someone else to
make a point, but this gesture is often offensive to Mexicans and
Somali, who may use that gesture only for dogs.
• In America, men and women shake hands with each other, but in
some other cultures, handshakes across genders are not
• In America, eye contact is generally considered polite and a sign of
interest, whereas in many Asian cultures, people show their
respect for others by bowing their head slightly and consider
steady eye contact aggressive.
9.2 Living with Diversity
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
Read each of the following scenarios quickly and respond immediately
without stopping to think. There are no right or wrong answers.
Scenario 1. You are walking home down a dark sidewalk when ahead you
see three people standing around. Something about the way they are
hanging out makes you a little frightened to walk past them.
Be honest with yourself: what did you just imagine these people looked like?
Why do think you might have associated this particular mental picture with
the emotion of feeling frightened?
Scenario 2. In a café on campus, you see a student from another country
sitting alone—someone you know casually from a class—and you walk over
and are just about to ask if you can join him, when two other students also
from his country appear and sit down with him. You hesitate.
Would you have hesitated if this person had the same cultural background
as you? What makes this situation different?
As you hesitate, you overhear them conversing in a language other than
Be honest with yourself: how does that make you feel now?
Scenario 3. A couple you know invites you to join them and one of their
friends, whom you have not met, on a “double date”—a movie and dinner
after. When you meet them outside the theater, you see that their friend,
your date, is of a race different from your own.
Are you surprised or shocked? What is your first reaction?
9.2 Living with Diversity
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
Do you anticipate any more difficulty making conversation with your date
than with anyone else whom you have just met?
Should your friends have told you in advance? Why or why not?
If they had told you, would that have made any difference? Explain.
Now think for a minute about how you responded in these scenarios. Did your
mental image in the first scenario involve a negative stereotype? What
images in the media or society might have contributed to that response? The
second and third scenarios involve simple situations in which you couldn’t
help but note some difference between you and another person. What might
you feel in such situations in real life? Again, there is no “right” answer, and
an awareness of differences is normal and natural even if it may cause some
discomfort at first. On the other hand, if you have had significant
experiences with diverse others, you might have read these scenarios and
simply wondered, “So what? What’s the big deal?” It’s worthwhile thinking
about what that means.
Do not try to ignore differences among people. Some people try so hard to avoid
stereotyping that they go to the other extreme and try to avoid seeing any
differences at all among people. But as we have seen throughout this chapter,
people are different in many ways, and we should accept that if we are to
experience the benefits of diversity.
Don’t apply any group generalizations to individuals. As an extension of not
stereotyping any group, also don’t think of any individual person in terms of group
characteristics. People are individuals first, members of a group second, and any
given generalization simply may not apply to an individual. Be open minded and
treat everyone with respect as an individual with his or her own ideas, attitudes,
and preferences.
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Develop cultural sensitivity for communication. Realize that your words may not
mean quite the same thing in different cultural contexts or to individuals from
different backgrounds. This is particularly true of slang words, which you should
generally avoid until you are sure the other person will know what you mean. Never
try to use slang or expressions you think are common in the cultural group of the
person you are speaking with. Similarly, since body language often varies among
different cultures, avoid strong gestures and expressions until the responses of the
other person signify he or she will not misinterpret the messages sent by your body
Take advantage of campus opportunities to increase your cultural awareness.
Your college likely has multiculturalism courses or workshops you can sign up for.
Special events, cultural fairs and celebrations, concerts, and other programs are
held frequently on most campuses. There may also be opportunities to participate
in group travel to other countries or regions of cultural diversity.
Take the initiative in social interactions. Many students just naturally hang out
with other students they are most like—that almost seems to be part of human
nature. Even when we’re open minded and want to learn about others different
from ourselves, it often seems easier and more comfortable to interact with others
of the same age, cultural group, and so on. If we don’t make a small effort to meet
others, however, we miss a great opportunity to learn and broaden our horizons.
Next time you’re looking around the classroom or dorm for someone to ask about a
class you missed or to study together for a test or group project, choose someone
different from you in some way. Making friends with others of different
backgrounds is often one of the most fulfilling experiences of college students.
Work through conflicts as in any other interaction. Conflicts simply occur
among people, whether of the same or different background. If you are afraid of
making a mistake when interacting with someone from a different background, you
might avoid interaction altogether—and thus miss the benefits of diversity. Nothing
risked, nothing gained. If you are sincere and respect the other, there is less risk of
a misunderstanding occurring. If conflict does occur, work to resolve it as you
would any other tension with another person, as described earlier.
Take a Stand against Prejudice and Hate
Unfortunately prejudice and hate still exist in America, even on college campuses.
In addition to racial prejudice, some people are also prejudiced against women,
people with disabilities, older adults, gays and lesbians—virtually all groups that
can be characterized as “different.” All campuses have policies against all forms of
prejudice and discriminatory behaviors. But it is not enough for only college
9.2 Living with Diversity
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
administrators to fight prejudice and hate—this is a responsibility for all good
citizens who take seriously the shared American value of equality for all people. So
what can you as a college student do?
• Decide that it does matter. Prejudice threatens us all, not just the
particular group being discriminated against in a specific incident.
Don’t stand on the sidelines or think it’s up to the people who may be
victimized by prejudice or hate to do something about it. We can all do
• Talk with others. Communication has great value on campuses. Let
others know how you feel about any acts of prejudice or hatred that
you witness. The more everyone openly condemns such behavior, the
less likely it is to reappear in the future. This applies even if you hear
another student telling a racist joke or putting down the opposite
sex—speak up and tell the person you find such statements offensive.
You don’t want that person to think you agree with them. Speaking up
can be difficult to do, but it can be done tactfully. People can and do
learn what is acceptable in a diverse environment.
• Report incidents you observe. If you happen to see someone spraypainting a hateful slogan, for example, be a good citizen and report it
to the appropriate campus office or the police.
• Support student groups working for change. America has a great
tradition of college students banding together to help solve social
problems. Show your support for groups and activities that celebrate
diversity and condemn prejudice. Even if you are a shy, quiet person,
your attendance at a parade or gathering lends support. Or you can
write a letter to the editor in a student newspaper, help hand out
leaflets for an upcoming rally, or put up posters on campus. Once you
become aware of such student activities on campus, you’ll find many
ways you can help take a stand.
• Celebrate diversity. In many ways, you can learn more about diversity
through campus programs and activities. The more all students
participate, the closer the campus will come to being free of prejudice
and hate. Be a role model in how you act and what you say in relation
to diversity, and you may have more effect on others than you realize.
Dealing with Prejudice
If you yourself experience prejudice or discrimination related to your race or
ethnicity, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, religion, or any other aspect of
diversity, don’t just try to ignore it or accept it as something that cannot be
changed. As discussed earlier, college students can do much to minimize
intolerance on campus. Many overt forms of discrimination are frankly illegal and
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against college policies. You owe it to yourself, first and foremost, to report it to the
appropriate college authority.
You can also attack prejudice in other ways. Join a campus organization that works
to reduce prejudice or start a new group and discuss ways you can confront the
problem and work for a solution. Seek solidarity with other groups. Organize
positive celebrations and events to promote understanding. Write an article for a
campus publication explaining the values of diversity and condemning intolerance.
What if you are directly confronted by an individual or group making racist or
other discriminatory remarks? In an emotionally charged situation, rational
dialogue may be difficult or impossible, and a shouting match or name-calling
seldom is productive. If the person may have made an offensive remark
inadvertently or because of a misunderstanding, then you may be able to calmly
explain the problem with what they said or did. Hopefully the person will apologize
and learn from the experience. But if the person made the remark or acted that way
intentionally, confronting this negative person directly may be difficult and not
have a positive outcome. Most important, take care that the situation does not
escalate in the direction of violence. Reporting the incident instead to college
authorities may better serve the larger purpose of working toward harmony and
If you are in the dominant cultural group on your campus, write a paragraph
describing values you share with your cultural group. Then list things that
students with a different background may have difficulty understanding
about your group. If your racial, ethnic, or cultural background is different
from the dominant cultural group on your campus, write a paragraph
describing how students in the dominant culture seem to differ from your
own culture.
Look back at what you just wrote. Did you focus on characteristics that seem
either positive or negative? Might there be any stereotypes creeping into
your thinking?
Write a second paragraph focusing on yourself as a unique individual, not a
part of a group. How would others benefit from getting to know you better?
9.2 Living with Diversity
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
• Diversity refers to a great variety of human characteristics, and ways in
which people differ.
• Diversity in the college environment has many benefits for all students,
faculty, and others. Students learn more in a diverse setting, are better
prepared for the future, and contribute more fully in positive ways to
• Nontraditional students bring many unique characteristics to the
college environment that help enrich all students’ social and
educational experiences.
• Multiculturalism involves respecting the ideas, feelings, behaviors, and
experiences different from oneself in any way. Colleges promote both
diversity in the student body and multiculturalism among all students.
• As an individual, each of us can gain the benefits of diversity as we
challenge our own stereotypes, understand and celebrate differences in
others, and learn to interact well with others different from ourselves.
Take advantage of campus opportunities to increase your cultural
awareness and to form social relationships with diverse others.
• Although we would hope that all college campuses would be free of hate
and discrimination, it can become necessary to take a stand against
9.2 Living with Diversity
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
1. List as many types of diversity as you can think of.
2. Write a description of someone who is of a different race from
yourself but who may not be different ethnically.
3. List several characteristics of your own cultural background that
may be different from the cultural background of some others on
your campus.
4. For each of the following statements about diversity, circle T for
true or F for false:
A diverse educational environment is primarily good for
students from minority groups.
Students of traditional college age are usually already too
T F old to be open to new ideas and attitudes learned from
others with diverse backgrounds.
9.2 Living with Diversity
We gain insights into ourselves when we learn from
others who are different from ourselves.
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
You can better understand an individual from a cultural
T F group other than your own if you apply generalizations
about that other culture to the person.
The best way to avoid a conflict that may arise from
cultural differences is to interact only politely and in
superficial ways with people who seem different from
5. Is it a cultural observation or a stereotype to say, for example,
that Mexicans are more relaxed about time commitments than
Americans? (Think a minute before answering. How would you
justify and explain your answer if challenged? Could both
answers be right in some way?)
6. List at least three ways you may be able to increase your cultural
awareness and understanding of diversity on your campus.
9.2 Living with Diversity
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
9.3 Campus Groups
1. Describe several benefits of participating in campus life by joining
organized groups and participating in campus activities.
2. Identify how participation in organized activities can promote
multiculturalism and a better understanding of diversity.
3. List several ways you can learn about groups and activities on your own
The college social experience also includes organized campus groups and activities.
Participating in organized activities requires taking some initiative—you can’t be
passive and expect these opportunities to come knocking on your door—but is well
worthwhile for fully enriching college interactions. The active pursuit of a
stimulating life on campus offers many benefits:
• Organized groups and activities speed your transition into your
new life. New students can be overwhelmed by their studies and every
aspect of a new life, and they may be slow to build a new life. Rather
than waiting for it to come along on its own, you can immediately
begin broadening your social contacts and experiences by joining
groups that share your interests.
• Organized groups and activities help you experience a much
greater variety of social life than you might otherwise. New
students often tend to interact more with other students their own age
and with similar backgrounds—this is just natural. But if you simply go
with the flow and don’t actively reach out, you are much less likely to
meet and interact with others from the broader campus diversity:
students who are older and may have a perspective you may otherwise
miss, upper-level students who have much to share from their years on
campus, and students of diverse heritage or culture with whom you
might otherwise be slow to interact.
• Organized groups and activities help you gain new skills, whether
technical, physical, intellectual, or social. Such skills may find their
way into your résumé when you next seek a job or your application for
a scholarship or other future educational opportunity. Employers and
others like to see well-rounded students with a range of proficiencies
and experiences.
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
• Organized groups and activities are fun and a great way to stay
healthy and relieve stress. As Chapter 10 "Taking Control of Your
Health" discusses, exercise and physical activity are essential for
health and well-being, and many organized activities offer a good way
to keep moving.
Participating in Groups and Activities
College campuses offer a wide range of clubs, organizations, and other activities
open to all students. College administrators view this as a significant benefit and
work to promote student involvement in such groups. When you made your
decision to attend your college, you likely received printed materials or studied the
college’s Web site and saw many opportunities. But you may have been so busy
attending to academic matters that you haven’t thought of these groups since. It’s a
good time now to check out the possibilities:
• Browse the college Web site, where you’re
likely to find links to pages for student
Figure 9.6
clubs and organizations.
• Watch for club fairs, open houses, and
similar activities on campus. Especially
near the beginning of the year, an activity
fair may include tables set up by many
groups to provide students with
information. Talk with the representatives
from any group in which you may be
• Look for notices on bulletin boards around
campus. Student groups really do want new
students to join, so they usually try to post
information where you can find it.
• Stop by the appropriate college office, such
Check bulletin boards on campus
as the student affairs or student activities
to learn about cultural events.
office or cultural center.
• If you are looking for a group with very
© Thinkstock
specialized interests, check with the
academic offices of departments where
many students with that interest may be
• Consider a wide variety of types of organizations. Some are primarily
social; some are political or activist; some are based on hobbies
(photography, chess, equestrianism, bird watching, videogaming,
computer programming); some involve the arts (instrumental music,
9.3 Campus Groups
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
choral singing, painting, poetry writing, drama club); some are forms
of physical recreation (rock-climbing, ballroom dancing, archery, yoga,
table tennis, tai chi, team sports); some focus on volunteerism
(tutoring other students, community service projects, food drives); and
others are related to academic or intellectual pursuits (nursing club,
math club, chess club, engineering club, debate club, student literary
• Consider other forms of involvement and roles beyond clubs. Gain
leadership experience by running for office in student government or
applying for a residence hall support position. If you are looking for a
job, consider what kinds of people you’ll have the opportunity to
interact with. Chapter 11 "Taking Control of Your Finances" will give
you more tips for finding a job.
• If your campus doesn’t have a group focused on a particular activity
you enjoy yourself, think about starting a new club. Your college will
help you get started; talk with the student activities or affairs office.
Whatever your interests, don’t be shy about checking out a club or organization.
Take chances and explore. Attending a meeting or gathering is not a
commitment—you’re just going the first time to see what it’s like, and you have no
obligation to join. Keep an open mind as you meet and observe other students in the
group, especially if you don’t feel at first like you fit in: remember that part of the
benefit of the experience is to meet others who are not necessarily just like
everyone you already know.
9.3 Campus Groups
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
Write things you may be interested in doing with others in each of these
Clubs Related to
Hobbies and
Personal Interests
9.3 Campus Groups
Interests Related to
Your Major Area of
Purely for
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
Bridging the Generation Gap
Is there still a “generation gap” in our society? Maybe not in the same sense as
when that phrase came into being in the 1960s, but it remains generally true
that most people naturally gravitate toward others of similar age. Even in the
open, accepting environment of most colleges, many students interact
primarily with others of similar age—which, sadly, misses a great opportunity
for both older and younger students to learn from each other.
Younger, “traditional” students just out of high school usually live in residence
halls and immediately meet other students of the same age. New students who
are just a few years older, who usually have spent some time in the workforce
before returning to their education, are more likely to live in a house or
apartment and probably spend less time on campus interacting with other
students. Some students may be decades older than both traditional and most
untraditional students, returning to college sometimes with the desire to
change careers or simply to take classes of special interest; their lives may be so
well settled in other respects that they have little interest at all in the social
world of college. Students in all of these groups may be slow to initiate
interactions with each other.
This is one of the great benefits of organized campus groups and activities,
however. Regardless of your age or background, you can attend a meeting of
those with similar interests and have the opportunity to meet people you
simply would not have crossed paths with otherwise. Age barriers rapidly break
down when people share the same interests.
When and How to Say No
For all the benefits of an active social and campus life, too much of any good thing
can also cause trouble. If you join too many groups, or if you have limited time
because of work and family commitments, you may spend less time with your
studies—with negative results. Here are some guidelines for finding a good balance
between social life and everything else you need to do:
• Don’t join too many organizations or clubs. Most advisors suggest that
two or three regular activities are the maximum that most students
can handle.
9.3 Campus Groups
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
• Work on your time management skills, as described in Chapter 2
"Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track". Plan ahead for study
time when you don’t have schedule conflicts. If you have a rich social
life, study in the library or places where you won’t be tempted by
additional social interaction with a roommate, family member, or
others passing by.
• Don’t be afraid to say no. You may be active in a club and have plenty
of time for routine activities, but someone may ask you to spend extra
time organizing an upcoming event just when you have a major paper
deadline coming up. Sometimes you have to remember the main
reason you’re in college and just say you can’t do it because you have
to get your work done.
• If you really can’t resolve your time conflicts, seek help. Talk with your
advisor or a college counselor. They’ll help you get back on track.
• College students with an active social life and who interact with the
campus community are generally more successful academically as well.
• Organized groups and activities promote a more varied and diverse
social experience.
• Students participating in organized groups and activities gain skills that
may become important for job and other professional applications.
• Most campuses offer a large variety of opportunities for involvement in
clubs, associations, and other activities.
• Take the initiative to find organizations and activities you will most
• To balance your social life and academic studies, avoid joining too many
organizations and use your time management skills.
9.3 Campus Groups
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
1. List two specific skills (technical, intellectual, or social) that you
personally may gain or improve by participating in a campus
club or organization.
2. What events or campus groups have you noticed on a campus
bulletin board or poster recently that caught your eye?
3. What academic subject might you major in? Imagine yourself
joining a club formed by students in that major. What kinds of
things might you do or talk about in such a club? (Use your
imagination as you consider how you can have fun with others in
such a club.)
9.3 Campus Groups
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
9.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter Takeaways
• An active social life and social interaction with a variety of people on campus contribute to college
students’ well-being and overall academic success.
• Successfully interacting with diverse others requires effective communication skills, including both
listening skills and assertive communication rather than passive or aggressive communication.
• Social interaction can be heightened by productive and moderate online networking.
• Time management and study skills help one avoid problems when balancing social life and
academic studies.
• To prevent or resolve conflicts that may occur in any social interaction, maintain an attitude of
respect for others, be open minded and willing to compromise, and know how to work together
calmly to resolve conflicts.
• Diversity on campus is beneficial for all students, not just those from ethnic or minority groups.
The wider perspectives of students from different backgrounds and the greater variety of teaching
methods help everyone gain more fully in educational experiences. Socially, students develop a
more mature worldview and are better prepared for interacting with a diverse world in the future.
• Multiculturalism involves an attitude of respect for the ideas, feelings, behaviors, and experiences
of others who differ from oneself in any way. Colleges promote both diversity in the student body
and multiculturalism among all students.
• To gain a multicultural perspective, challenge your own learned stereotypes while you learn more
about other cultural groups. Understanding what can be learned from others leads to celebrating
the diversity found on most campuses.
• Take a personal responsibility both for broadening your own social world and for speaking out
against prejudice and discrimination wherever encountered.
• Take advantage of campus opportunities to increase your cultural awareness and to form social
relationships with diverse others. Organized campus groups and events can help you broaden your
horizons in many beneficial ways.
• Participation in campus clubs and other organizations is not only fun and a good way to reduce
stress but also helps develop social, intellectual, and technical skills that may serve you well in your
future career or other endeavors.
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
1. List at least three benefits of social interaction with a variety of
different people on your college campus.
2. Describe what is involved in being a “good friend” to someone
you have just recently met.
3. What can you do to demonstrate that you are really listening to
the other person in a conversation?
4. Mark each of the following communication strategies as passive,
assertive, or aggressive:
◦ Showing your very critical reaction to another’s ideas:
◦ Agreeing with everything another person says:
◦ Hesitating to say something the other may disagree with:
◦ Being honest and confident when expressing your ideas:
◦ Joking sarcastically about something the other says:
◦ Offering your opinion while respecting other opinions:
9.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
5. True or false: Interactions on Facebook can strengthen one’s personal
relationships with others and make it easier to participate socially in a
6. Give two examples of how you can use time management skills to
ensure you get your studies done while still maintaining an
active social life.
7. Write an “I statement” sentence you might say to prevent a
heated argument with another student who has just told a sexist
8. Imagine this scenario: eight white college students between the
ages of eighteen and twenty from a large U.S. city are spending a
summer in a poverty-stricken rural Indonesian village in a
volunteer project. Describe several behavioral characteristics of
these students as an ethnic minority group that may not be
understood by the villagers.
9. Imagine yourself working in your chosen career five years from
now. Describe two experiences you may have in that career for
which your current experience with diverse people on campus
may help prepare you.
9.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
10. What insights into your own attitudes, behaviors, or values have
you gained through interactions with others different from
yourself? Think of specific aspects of yourself that you have
come to view in a new light.
11. What’s wrong with the following statement? “People are what
they are and you can’t change them. The best thing you can do
when someone’s showing their prejudice is just walk away and
don’t let it bother you.”
12. As you read the chapter section on clubs and organizations and
all the possibilities that are likely on your campus, what thoughts
did you have about your own interests? What kind of club would
be ideal for you? If your college campus happens not to have that
club at present, would you get together with others with similar
interests to start one?
13. Read this case study and answer the following questions:
The International Student Office is sponsoring South Asian Night,
a celebration in which students from this region will be
showcasing their cultures and ethnic foods. Two groups of
students, from India and Pakistan, have had disagreements
during the planning and rehearsals. They have argued about how
much time each group is allotted for their performances and how
high on the evening’s agenda their performances are scheduled.
The conflict escalates and threatens cancellation of the whole
9.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
celebration, which the school and the campus community have
been looking forward to.
a. If you were the director of the International Student
Office, how would you handle this situation?
b. What would you say to these two groups of students?
What process would you use?
1. Visit your college’s Web site and look for a section on student activities
and organizations. Try to identify two or three groups you might be
interested to learn more about.
2. Next time you walk across campus or through the student center, stop
to look at bulletin boards and posters. Look for upcoming events that
celebrate cultural diversity in some way. Read the information in detail
and imagine how much fun the event might be while you also learn
something new. Then ask a friend to go with you.
3. Go to—a
Web site of the American Anthropological Association—and take the
short online sports quiz. Many things have been said about why certain
races or people from certain geographic areas excel at certain sports.
People often talk about differences in biology and other differences
among ethnic groups as related to sports. How much is true, partly true,
or blatantly false? How much do you know about what are real or not
real differences?
9.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
Sometimes I’m not as good a friend as I could be because I
I will work on the following things to be a better friend:
Social Interaction
Sometimes I have difficulty interacting well with these people:
I will use these communication techniques for more successful interactions
in the future:
Communication Style
Sometimes I am too passive when talking with these people:
I can do these things to be more assertive in my communication:
9.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
Balance of Studies and Social Life
I sometimes don’t get enough studying done because I am busy doing the
I will ensure I have enough time for studying by taking these steps:
Family Life
Since I am so busy with college now, I may have ignored my relationship(s)
I will do better to stay in touch by
Diversity on Campus
I admit to knowing very little about these groups of people I often see on
9.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 9 The Social World of College
By this time next year, I hope to be more culturally aware as a result of
doing these things more often:
Campus Activities
I would really enjoy doing the following one thing more often with other
To participate in this activity with a variety of people, I will look on campus
for a club or group such as the following:
I can do these things to learn more about this club:
9.4 Chapter Activities
Chapter 10
Taking Control of Your Health
Figure 10.1
© Thinkstock
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Where Are You Now?
Assess your present knowledge and attitudes.
Yes Unsure No
1. I usually eat well and maintain my weight at an
appropriate level.
2. I get enough regular exercise to consider myself
3. I get enough restful sleep and feel alert
throughout the day.
4. My attitudes and habits involving smoking,
alcohol, and drugs are beneficial to my health.
5. I am coping in a healthy way with the everyday
stresses of being a student.
6. I am generally a happy person.
7. I am comfortable with my sexual values and my
knowledge of safe sex practices.
8. I understand how all of these different health
factors interrelate and affect my academic success
as a student.
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Where Do You Want to Go?
Think about how you answered the questions above. Be honest with yourself.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your level of personal health at this
Not very healthy
Very healthy
In the following list, circle the three most important areas of health in which
you think you can improve:
Weight control
Alcohol use
Drug use
Stress reduction
Emotional health
Romantic relationships
Sexual health
Are there other areas in which you can improve your physical, emotional, and
mental health and become happier? Write down other things you feel you need
to work on.
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
How to Get There
Here’s what we’ll work on in this chapter:
• Eating well to stay healthy and at a weight you feel good about
• Finding regular physical activities you enjoy that will make you
healthier and cope better with the stresses of being a student
• Determing how much sleep your body and mind really need—and
how to get it
• Developing an appropriate and healthy attitude toward smoking,
alcohol, and drugs and learning how to change your habits if
• Understanding why everyone feels stressed at times and what you
can do about it
• Knowing what to do if you’re feeling lonely or anxious about
school or your personal life and how to stay balanced emotionally
• Feeling good about your sexuality, having safe sex, and protecting
against unwanted pregnancy and sexual assault
Health and wellness are important for everyone—students included. Not only will
you do better in school when your health is good, but you’ll be happier as a person.
And the habits you develop now will likely persist for years to come. That means
that what you’re doing now in terms of personal health will have a huge influence
on your health throughout life and can help you avoid many serious diseases.
Considerable research has demonstrated that the basic elements of good
health—nutrition, exercise, not abusing substances, stress reduction—are important
for preventing disease. You’ll live much longer and happier than someone without
good habits. Here are a few of the health problems whose risks can be lowered by
healthful habits:
• Cardiovascular issues such as heart attacks and strokes (the numbers
one and three causes of death)
• Some cancers
• Diabetes (currently reaching epidemic proportions)
• Lung diseases related to smoking
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
• Injuries related to substance abuse
Wellness is more than just avoiding disease. Wellness involves feeling good in every
respect, in mind and spirit as well as in body. Good health habits also offer these
benefits for your college career:
More energy
Better ability to focus on your studies
Less stress, feeling more resilient and able to handle day-to-day stress
Less time lost to colds, flu, infections, and other illnesses
More restful sleep
This chapter examines a wide range of topics, from nutrition, exercise, and sleep to
substance abuse and risks related to sexual activity. All of these involve personal
attitudes and behaviors. And they are all linked together to one of the biggest
problems students face: stress.
Everyone knows about stress, but not everyone knows how to control it. Stress is
the great enemy of college success. But once you’ve learned how to reduce it where
you can and cope with unavoidable stress, you’ll be well on the road to becoming
the best student you can be.
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
10.1 Nutrition and Weight Control
Explain why good nutrition is important.
List health problems related to being overweight and obesity.
Explain the general principles of good nutrition.
Make good choices about foods to emphasize in meals and snacks.
Most Americans have a real problem with food. Overeating causes health problems,
but what and how you eat can also affect how well you do as a student.
Why Are So Many Americans Overweight?
Americans are eating too much—much more so than in the past. One-third of all
Americans twenty years or older are obese. Another third of all adults are
overweight. That means that two-thirds of us are not eating well or getting enough
exercise for how we eat. There are many intertwined causes of this problem in
American culture.
Why are being overweight1 and obesity2 a problem? Obesity is associated with
many medical conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some
cancers. Although some health problems may not appear until later in life, diabetes
is increasing rapidly in children and teenagers. Worse, the habits young adults may
already have or may form during their college years generally continue into later
But it’s not just about body weight. Good nutrition is still important even if you
don’t have a health problem. What you eat affects how you feel and how well you
function mentally and physically. Food affects how well you study and how you do
on tests. Doughnuts for breakfast can lower your grades!
1. Having more body fat than is
optimally healthy, often
defined as a body mass index
between 25 and 29.9.
2. Condition in which body fat
has accumulated to the point of
having adverse health effects,
often defined as a body mass
index of 30 or greater.
Why Do Students Find It So Tough to Eat Healthily?
If Americans have trouble eating well in an environment that encourages
overeating, college students often have it even worse. It seems like food is
everywhere, and students are always snacking between classes. Fast food
restaurants abound. There may not be time to get back to your dorm or apartment
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
for lunch, and it’s just so easy to grab a quick pastry at the coffee spot as you pass
by between classes.
It’s the eating by habit, or mindlessly, that usually gets us in trouble. If we’re
mindful instead, however, it’s easy to develop better habits. Take the Nutrition SelfAssessment to evaluate your present eating habits.
Check the appropriate boxes.
Usually Sometimes Seldom
1. I take the time to eat breakfast before
starting my day.
2. I eat lunch rather than snack throughout
the day.
3. When I’m hungry between meals, I eat
fruit rather than chips or cookies.
4. I consciously try to include fruit and
vegetables with lunch and dinner.
5. There is food left on my plate at the end
of a meal.
6. I try to avoid overeating snacks at night
and while studying.
7. Over the last year, my eating habits have
kept me at an appropriate weight.
8. Overall, my eating habits are healthy.
Eating Well: It’s Not So Difficult
3. The basic unit of food energy;
consuming more calories in
one’s diet than are used leads
to weight gain.
The key to a good diet is to eat a varied diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, and
whole grains and to minimize fats, sugar, and salt. The exact amounts depend on
your calorie requirements and activity levels, but you don’t have to count calories3
or measure and weigh your food to eat well. Following are the U.S. Department of
Agriculture’s (USDA) general daily guidelines for a two-thousand-calorie diet.
10.1 Nutrition and Weight Control
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
• Grains (6 ounces)
◦ Eat whole grain cereals, breads, rice, or pasta.
• Vegetables (2.5 cups)
◦ Eat more dark green veggies like broccoli and spinach
◦ Eat more orange vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes
◦ Eat more beans and peas
• Fruits (2 cups)
◦ Eat a variety of fruit
◦ Minimize fruit juices
• Milk (3 cups)
◦ Choose low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, and other milk products
◦ If you don’t drink milk, chose lactose-free products or other
calcium sources such as fortified foods
• Meat and beans (5.5 ounces)
◦ Choose low-fat or lean meats and poultry
◦ Roast, broil, or grill the meat
◦ Vary protein sources, including more fish, beans, peas, and nuts
• Minimize these (check food labels):
◦ Solid fats like butter and margarine and foods that contain them
(avoid saturated and trans fats)
◦ Watch out for high-sodium foods
◦ Minimize added sugars
• Exercise
◦ Be physically active for at least thirty minutes most days of the
10.1 Nutrition and Weight Control
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Figure 10.2 The USDA MyPyramid emphasizes healthful food choices.United States Department of Agriculture,
“MyPyramid: Steps to a Healthier You,” (accessed July
13, 2010).
If You Need to Lose Weight
If you need to lose weight, don’t try to starve yourself. Gradual steady weight loss is
healthier and easier. Try these guidelines:
4. A measure of a person’s weight
in relation to height, used
medically to determine
whether a person is
underweight, of normal
weight, overweight, or obese.
10.1 Nutrition and Weight Control
1. Check your body mass index (BMI)4 to see the normal weight range
for your height (see “Additional Resources” below for more
2. Go to for help determining your ideal
caloric intake for gradual weight loss.
3. Set your goals and make a plan you can live with. Start by avoiding
snacks and fast foods. Try to choose foods that meet the guidelines
listed earlier.
4. Stay active and try to exercise frequently.
5. Keep a daily food journal and write down what you eat. Simply writing
it down helps people be more aware of their habits and motivated to
eat better.
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
6. Visit the student health center on your campus and ask for more
information about weight loss programs.
7. Remember, no one plan works for everyone. Visit the online resources
listed later for a variety of approaches for weight loss.
Avoiding the Freshman Fifteen
The “freshman fifteen” refers to the weight gain many students experience in their
first year of college. Even those whose weight was at an appropriate level often
gained unwanted pounds because of changes in their eating habits.
Start by looking back at the boxes you checked in the Nutrition Self-Assessment. Be
honest with yourself. If your first choice for a snack is cookies, ice cream, or chips,
think about that. If your first choice for lunch is a burger and fries, have you
considered other choices?
Tips for Success: Nutrition
• Eat a variety of foods every day.
• Take a multivitamin every day.
• Take an apple or banana with you for a snack in case you get
hungry between meals.
• Avoid fried foods.
• Avoid high-sugar foods. After the rush comes a crash that can
make you drowsy, and you’ll have trouble paying attention in
class. Watch out for sugary cereals—try other types with less sugar
and more fiber.
• If you have a soft drink habit, experiment with flavored seltzer and
other zero- or low-calorie drinks.
• Eat when you’re hungry, not when you’re bored or just because
others are eating.
• If you find yourself in a fast food restaurant, try a salad.
• Watch portion sizes and never “supersize it”!
Eating Disorders
The most common eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating.
10.1 Nutrition and Weight Control
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Anorexia5 is characterized by excessive weight loss and self-starvation. The
individual usually feels “fat” regardless of how thin she or he becomes and may
continue to eat less and less. If your BMI is lower than the bottom of the normal
range, you may be developing anorexia.
Bulimia6 is characterized by frequent binge eating followed by an attempt to
compensate for or “undo” the overeating with a behavior such as self-induced
vomiting or laxative abuse.
Binge eating7 disorder is characterized by frequent binge eating without
compensatory behavior to “undo” the overeating. Binge eating usually leads to
weight gain and eventual obesity.
More than ten million Americans suffer from an eating disorder. The causes are
complex, and the individual usually needs help to overcome their obsession. Eating
disorders hurt one’s health in a variety of ways and can become life threatening.
The signs of a possible eating disorder include the following:
Eating secretly when others can’t see
Having a strong fear of being overweight or gaining weight
Only eating a limited number of foods
Exercising obsessively
Lacking a monthly menstrual period
Getting Help for Eating Disorders
5. An eating disorder involving a
loss of the desire to eat, often
as a result of psychological
problems related to how a
person perceives her or his
Don’t feel ashamed if you obsess over food or your weight. If your eating habits are
affecting your life, it’s time to seek help. As with any other health problem,
professionals can provide help and treatment. Talk to your doctor or visit your
campus student health center.
6. An eating disorder involving
frequent binge eating followed
by compensatory behaviors
such as vomiting.
7. An eating disorder involving
frequent binge eating not
followed by compensatory
10.1 Nutrition and Weight Control
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Additional Resources
BMI calculator. Find out how your weight compares with normal ranges at
Diet planning. How much should you eat to maintain the same weight? What if
you want to lose weight? Find out at
Calorie counter, nutritional database, and personal diet log. If you’re really
serious about losing weight and want to keep a daily log of your progress, try
this online tool:
Eating disorders. For information about causes and treatment of eating
disorders, go to
• Good nutrition and an appropriate body weight are important for health
and wellness. You’re also more successful academically.
• Eating well does not require counting calories or obsessing over
everything you eat. Focus on whole grains, lots of fruits and vegetables,
and low-fat meats and dairy products. Minimize processed snacks and
foods high in saturated fats, trans fats, sodium, and sugar.
• If you need to control your weight, a variety of healthful plans are
available to help you eat foods you like and still lose weight without
suffering unduly.
10.1 Nutrition and Weight Control
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
1. What health problems may result from obesity?
2. List three or more snacks that are healthier than cookies, chips,
ice cream, and doughnuts.
3. How many cups of fruit and vegetables should you eat every day?
10.1 Nutrition and Weight Control
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
10.2 Activity and Exercise
1. List the physical and mental health benefits of regular exercise.
2. Plan a program of regular exercise that you enjoy and can maintain.
Does Exercise Really Matter?
Exercise is good for both body and mind. Indeed, physical activity is almost
essential for good health and student success. The physical benefits of regular
exercise include the following:
8. Having a healthy heart and
blood vessels.
9. The body system, involving
many different organs and
body tissues, responsible for
defending the body against
infection and disease.
10. A fat-like substance, made by
the body and found naturally
in animal foods, that when in
excess levels in the body
contributes to cardiovascular
11. A disease in which the body has
high levels of sugar in the
blood because of an inability to
manage blood glucose; diabetes
is associated with a range of
serious health problems.
Improved fitness for the whole body, not just the muscles
Greater cardiovascular fitness8 and reduced disease risk
Increased physical endurance
Stronger immune system9, providing more resistance to disease
Lower cholesterol10 levels, reducing the risks of cardiovascular disease
Lowered risk of developing diabetes11
Weight maintenance or loss
Perhaps more important to students are the mental and psychological benefits:
Stress reduction
Improved mood, with less anxiety and depression
Improved ability to focus mentally
Better sleep
Feeling better about oneself
For all of these reasons, it’s important for college students to regularly exercise or
engage in physical activity. Like good nutrition and getting enough sleep, exercise
is a key habit that contributes to overall wellness12 that promotes college success.
First, use the Exercise and Activity Self-Assessment to consider your current habits
and attitudes.
12. A state of physical, emotional,
mental, and social well-being,
not merely the absence of
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Check the appropriate boxes.
Usually Sometimes Seldom
1. I enjoy physical activity.
2. Exercise is a regular part of my life.
3. I get my heart rate up for twenty to
thirty minutes several times a week.
4. I enjoy exercising or engaging in
physical activities or sports with others.
Write your answers.
5. What physical activities do you enjoy?
6. How often each week do you engage in a physical activity?
7. If you feel you’re not getting much exercise, what stands in your
8. Overall, do you think you get enough exercise to be healthy?
10.2 Activity and Exercise
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
9. Do you feel a lot of stress in your life?
10. Do you frequently have trouble getting to sleep?
How Much Exercise and What Kind?
With aerobic exercise13, your heart and lungs are working hard enough to improve
your cardiovascular fitness. This generally means moving fast enough to increase
your heart rate and breathing. For health and stress-reducing benefits, try to
exercise at least three days a week for at least twenty to thirty minutes at a time. If
you really enjoy exercise and are motivated, you may exercise as often as six days a
week, but take at least one day of rest. When you’re first starting out, or if you’ve
been inactive for a while, take it gradually, and let your body adjust between
sessions. But the old expression “No pain, no gain” is not true, regardless of what
some past gym teacher may have said! If you feel pain in any activity, stop or cut
back. The way to build up strength and endurance is through a plan that is
consistent and gradual.
13. Brisk physical activity that
requires the heart and lungs to
work harder to meet the body’s
increased oxygen needs.
14. The level of heartbeat that
gives you the best workout:
about 60 to 85 percent of your
maximum heart rate, which is
typically calculated as 220
minus your age.
10.2 Activity and Exercise
For exercise to have aerobic benefits, try to keep your heart rate in the target
heart rate14 zone for at least twenty to thirty minutes. The target heart rate is 60
percent to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate, which can be calculated as 220
minus your age. For example, if you are 24 years old, your maximum heart rate is
calculated as 196, and your target heart rate is 118 to 166 beats per minute. If you
are just starting an exercise program, stay at the lower end of this range and
gradually work up over a few weeks. “Additional Resources” below includes an
online calculator that estimates your target heart rate depending on your present
level of fitness.
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Enjoy It!
Most important, find a type of exercise or activity that you enjoy—or else you won’t
stick with it. This can be as simple and easy as a brisk walk or slow jog through a
park or across campus. Swimming is excellent exercise, but so is dancing. Think
about what you like to do and explore activities that provide exercise while you’re
having fun.
Do whatever you need to make your chosen activity enjoyable. Many people listen
to music and some even read when using workout equipment. Try different
activities to prevent boredom. You also gain by taking the stairs instead of
elevators, walking farther across campus instead of parking as close to your
destination as you can get, and so on.
Exercise with a friend is more enjoyable, including jogging or biking together. Some
campuses have installed equipment for students to play Dance Dance Revolution.
Many Nintendo Wii games can get your heart rate up.
You may stay more motivated using exercise equipment. An inexpensive pedometer
can track your progress walking or jogging, or a bike computer can monitor your
speed and time. A heart rate monitor makes it easy to stay in your target zone;
many models also calculate calories burned. Some devices can input your exercise
into your computer to track your progress and make a chart of your improvements.
The biggest obstacle to getting enough exercise, many students say, is a lack of
time. Actually, we all have the time, if we manage it well. Build exercise into your
weekly schedule on selected days. Eventually you’ll find that regular exercise
actually saves you time because you’re sleeping better and concentrating better.
Time you used to fritter away is now used for activity that provides many benefits.
Campus Activities Can Help
Most campuses have resources to make exercise easier and more enjoyable for their
students. Take a look around and think about what you might enjoy. A fitness
center may offer exercise equipment. There may be regularly scheduled aerobic or
spin classes. You don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy casual sports such as playing
tennis or shooting hoops with a friend. If you like more organized team sports, try
intramural sports.
10.2 Activity and Exercise
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Additional Resources
Exercise guidelines and more information. See
Target heart rate calculator. Find your target heart rate to experience the
benefits of aerobic exercise (based on age only) at
Target heart rate calculator based on age and current fitness level. See
• Regular exercise has many benefits for your body and mind. You’ll also
be a better student.
• It is easier to make exercise a regular part of your life if you explore
your interests and join activities with others. The time you spend
exercising will be made up for with increased ability to concentrate
when it’s time to study.
1. It is recommended that college students get _________ minutes of
aerobic exercise at least ________ times a week.
2. List at least two ways to make exercise more fun.
10.2 Activity and Exercise
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
10.3 Sleep
1. Explain why students need adequate sleep to succeed in college.
2. Determine how much sleep you need.
3. Change your habits and routines in ways to ensure you get the sleep you
Like good nutrition and exercise, adequate sleep is crucial for wellness and success.
Sleep is particularly important for students because there seem to be so many time
pressures—to attend class, study, maintain a social life, and perhaps work—that
most college students have difficulty getting enough. Yet sleep is critical for
concentrating well. First, use the Sleep Self-Assessment to consider your current
habits and attitudes.
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Check the appropriate boxes.
Usually Sometimes Seldom
1. I usually get enough sleep.
2. I feel drowsy or unfocused during the
3. I take a nap when I need more sleep.
4. I have fallen asleep in class or had
trouble staying awake.
5. I have fallen asleep while studying.
6. I have pulled an “all-nighter” when
studying for a test or writing a class paper.
Write your answers.
7. How many hours of sleep do you usually get on weeknights?
8. How many hours of sleep do you usually get on weekends?
9. How would you rank the importance of sleep in relation to
studying, working, spending time with friends, and other
10.3 Sleep
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
10. How many hours of sleep do you think you ideally need?
11. Generally, do you believe you are getting as much sleep as you
think you need?
The Importance of a Good Night’s Sleep
You may not realize the benefits of sleep, or the problems associated with being
sleep deprived, because most likely you’ve had the same sleep habits for a long
time. Or maybe you know you’re getting less sleep now, but with all the changes in
your life, how can you tell if some of your stress or problems studying are related to
not enough sleep?
On the positive side, a healthy amount of sleep has the following benefits:
Improves your mood during the day
Improves your memory and learning abilities
Gives you more energy
Strengthens your immune system
Promotes wellness of body, mind, and spirit
In contrast, not getting enough sleep over time can lead to a wide range of health
issues and student problems. Sleep deprivation15 can have the following
15. A chronic lack of sufficient
restorative sleep.
16. A natural response of the body
and mind to a demand or
challenge, often associated
with feelings of tension and
negative emotions.
10.3 Sleep
• Affects mental health and contributes to stress16 and feelings of
anxiety, depression, and general unhappiness
• Causes sleepiness, difficulty paying attention in class, and ineffective
• Weakens the immune system, making it more likely to catch colds and
other infections
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
• Increases the risk of accidents (such as while driving)
• Contributes to weight gain
How Much Sleep Is Enough?
College students are the most sleep-deprived population group in the country. With
so much to do, who has time for sleep?
Most people need seven to nine hours of sleep a night, and the average is around
eight. Some say they need much less than that, but often their behavior during the
day shows they are actually sleep deprived. Some genuinely need only about six
hours a night. New research indicates there may be a “sleep gene” that determines
how much sleep a person needs. So how much sleep do you actually need?
There is no simple answer, in part because the quality of sleep is just as important
as the number of hours a person sleeps. Sleeping fitfully for nine hours and waking
during the night is usually worse than seven or eight hours of good sleep, so you
can’t simply count the hours. Do you usually feel rested and alert all day long? Do
you rise from bed easily in the morning without struggling with the alarm clock? Do
you have no trouble paying attention to your instructors and never feel sleepy in a
lecture class? Are you not continually driven to drink more coffee or caffeine-heavy
“power drinks” to stay attentive? Are you able to get through work without feeling
exhausted? If you answered yes to all of these, you likely are in that 10 percent to 15
percent of college students who consistently get enough sleep.
How to Get More and Better Sleep
You have to allow yourself enough time for a good night’s sleep. Using the time
management strategies discussed in Chapter 2 "Staying Motivated, Organized, and
On Track", schedule at least eight hours for sleeping every night. If you still don’t
feel alert and energetic during the day, try increasing this to nine hours. Keep a
sleep journal, and within a couple weeks you’ll know how much sleep you need and
will be on the road to making new habits to ensure you get it.
10.3 Sleep
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Myths about Sleep
• Having a drink or two helps me get to sleep better. False:
Although you may seem to fall asleep more quickly, alcohol makes
sleep less restful, and you’re more likely to awake in the night.
• Exercise before bedtime is good for sleeping. False: Exercise
wakes up your body, and it may be some time before you unwind
and relax. Exercise earlier in the day, however, is beneficial for
• It helps to fall asleep after watching television or surfing the
Web in bed. False: Rather than helping you unwind, these activities
can engage your mind and make it more difficult to get to sleep.
Tips for Success: Sleep
17. A habit-forming stimulant
found in tobacco, which raises
blood pressure, increases heart
rate, and has toxic effects
throughout the body.
18. A stimulant found in coffee,
tea, many soft drinks, and
other foods and drinks that
increases alertness and
wakefulness but also may have
adverse effects in large
10.3 Sleep
• Avoid nicotine17, which can keep you awake—yet another reason
to stop smoking.
• Avoid caffeine18 for six to eight hours before bed. Caffeine remains
in the body for three to five hours on the average, much longer for
some people. Remember that many soft drinks contain caffeine.
• Don’t eat in the two to three hours before bed. Avoid alcohol
before bedtime.
• Don’t nap during the day. Napping is the least productive form of
rest and often makes you less alert. It may also prevent you from
getting a good night’s sleep.
• Exercise earlier in the day (at least several hours before bedtime).
• Try to get to bed and wake about the same time every day—your
body likes a routine.
• Make sure the environment is conducive to sleep: dark, quiet,
comfortable, and cool.
• Use your bed only for sleeping, not for studying, watching
television, or other activities. Going to bed will become associated
with going to sleep.
• Establish a presleep winding-down routine, such as taking a hot
bath, listening to soothing music, or reading (not a textbook). Try
one of the relaxation techniques described in Chapter 10 "Taking
Control of Your Health", Section 10.5 "Stress".
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
If you can’t fall asleep after ten to fifteen minutes in bed, it’s better to get up and do
something else rather than lie there fitfully for hours. Do something you find
restful (or boring). Read, or listen to a recorded book. Go back to bed when you’re
If you frequently cannot get to sleep or are often awake for a long time during the
night, you may be suffering from insomnia19, a medical condition. Resist the
temptation to try over-the-counter sleep aids. If you have tried the tips listed here
and still cannot sleep, talk with your health-care provider or visit the student
health clinic. Many remedies are available for those with a true sleep problem.
• Getting enough sleep is very important for wellness and success in
college. It’s easy to determine if you’re getting enough sleep.
• Don’t fall for popular myths about sleep. It’s worthwhile to get enough
sleep, which gives you an improved ability to focus and apply yourself
more efficiently in your studies and work.
1. List at least three things you should not do before going to bed in
order to get a good night’s sleep.
2. Identify one or two things you can do as a regular presleep
routine to help you relax and wind down.
19. An inability to sleep; chronic
10.3 Sleep
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
10.4 Substance Use and Abuse
1. Define the terms “substance,” “abuse,” and “addictive.”
2. Describe physical and mental effects associated with smoking and
frequent or heavy drinking.
3. List the risks of using drugs.
4. Know how to get help if you have a substance use habit to break.
Substance20 is the word health professionals use for most things you might take
into your body besides food. When people talk about substances, they often mean
drugs21—but alcohol and nicotine are also drugs and are considered substances.
20. A drug or other chemical
typically used in an
overindulgent manner for its
effects on the body or mind.
21. A substance used for treating,
curing, or preventing disease
(prescription and over-thecounter drugs) or used without
medical reason to alter the
body or mind (illegal drugs or
prescription drugs used
without prescription).
Substances—any kind of drug—have effects on the body and mind. People use these
substances for their effects. But many substances have negative effects, including
being physically or psychologically addictive22. What is important with any
substance is to be aware of its effects on your health and on your life as a student,
and to make smart choices. Use of any substance to the extent that it has negative
effects is generally considered abuse23.
First, consider your own habits and attitudes with the Substance Use SelfAssessment.
22. Having the characteristic of
becoming physically or
psychologically habit forming,
causing cravings; the person
becomes dependent on the
substance and suffers adverse
effects on withdrawal.
23. The use of illegal drugs or the
use of prescription or over-thecounter drugs or alcohol for
other than their intended
purposes or in excessive
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Check the appropriate boxes.
Daily Sometimes Never
1. I smoke cigarettes or use smokeless tobacco.
2. I drink beer or other alcohol.
3. I have missed a class because I was hung over
from drinking the night before.
4. I have taken a medication that was not
prescribed for me.
5. I have used an illegal drug.
Write your answers.
6. If you smoke cigarettes, how many a day do you usually smoke?
7. If you drink alcohol (including beer), on how many days in a
typical week do you have at least one drink?
8. If you drink at parties or when out with friends, how many
drinks (or beers) do you typically have at one time?
9. If you use a pharmaceutical or illegal drug, how often do you take
10.4 Substance Use and Abuse
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
10. Are your habits of smoking, drinking, or using other drugs
affecting your studies or grades?
Smoking and Tobacco: Why Start, and Why Is It So Hard to Stop?
Everyone knows smoking is harmful to one’s health. Smoking causes cancer and
lung and heart disease. Most adult smokers continue smoking not because they
really think it won’t harm them but because it’s very difficult to stop.
If you have never smoked or used smokeless tobacco, feel good about your choices.
But read this section anyway because you may have friends now or in the future
who smoke, and it’s important to understand this behavior. If you do smoke, even
only rarely as a “social smoker,” be honest with yourself—wouldn’t you like to stop
if you thought you could without suffering? Simply by being in college now, you’ve
shown that you care about your future and your life. You likely care about your
health, too.
Many young smokers think there is plenty of time to quit later. Social smokers, who
may have a cigarette only occasionally with a friend, usually think they won’t
develop a habit. But smokers are fooling themselves. Nicotine24 is one of the most
addictive drugs in our society today. Admitting this to yourself is the first step
toward becoming smoke free.
24. A habit-forming stimulant
found in tobacco, which raises
blood pressure, increases heart
rate, and has toxic effects
throughout the body.
25. A heart disease caused by
damage to the arteries that
supply blood and oxygen to the
10.4 Substance Use and Abuse
First, the good news. Stopping smoking brings immediate health benefits, and the
benefits get better over time. Just twenty minutes after quitting, your heart rate
drops. After two weeks to three months, your heart attack risk begins to drop and
your lung function begins to improve. After one year, your added risk of coronary
heart disease25 is half that of a smoker’s. And every year your health continues to
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Tips for Stopping Smoking
Stopping isn’t easy. Many ex-smokers say it was the hardest thing they ever did.
Still, over 45 million adults in the United States once smoked and then successfully
You know it’s worth the effort. And it’s easier if you think it through and make a
good plan. There’s lots of help available. Before you quit, the National Cancer
Institute suggests you START with these five important steps:
S = Set a quit date.
T = Tell family, friends, and coworkers that you plan to quit.
A = Anticipate and plan for the challenges you’ll face while quitting.
R = Remove cigarettes and other tobacco products from your home,
car, and work.
5. T = Talk to your doctor about getting help to quit.
To get ready, download the booklet “Clearing the Air: Quit Smoking Today” at The table of contents of that booklet (Figure 10.3)
outlines the basic steps that will help you be successful.
Figure 10.3
10.4 Substance Use and Abuse
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
“Clearing the Air,” a downloadable booklet available at, presents a plan for stopping
smoking that works for many smokers.
When You Really Crave a Cigarette
Remember that the urge to smoke will come and go. Try to wait it out. Use
these tips:
• Keep other things around instead of cigarettes. Try carrots,
pickles, sunflower seeds, apples, celery, raisins, or sugar-free gum.
• Wash your hands or the dishes when you want a cigarette very
badly. Or take a shower.
• Learn to relax quickly by taking deep breaths.
Take ten slow, deep breaths and hold the last one.
Then breathe out slowly.
Relax all of your muscles.
Picture a soothing, pleasant scene.
Just get away from it all for a moment.
Think only about that peaceful image and nothing else.
• Light incense or a candle instead of a cigarette.
• Where you are and what is going on can make you crave a
cigarette. A change of scene can really help. Go outside or go to a
different room. You can also try changing what you are doing.
• No matter what, don’t think, “Just one won’t hurt.” It will hurt. It
will undo your work so far.
• Remember that trying something to beat the urge is always better
than trying, “Quit Guide: Quitting,” (accessed July 13, 2010).
26. The use of a nicotine product
(in gum, patches, etc.) intended
to replace nicotine obtained
from smoking, thereby making
it easier for the person to stop
27. The general term for any of
many different programs
developed to help people stop
smoking, including use of
medications, counseling, group
therapy and support, hypnosis,
and other programs.
10.4 Substance Use and Abuse
Get Help to Stop Smoking
A lot of people are not able to stop smoking by themselves, so don’t feel bad if you
aren’t successful the first try. Ask your doctor about other ways to stop. Maybe
nicotine-replacement therapy26 is what you need. Maybe you need prescription
medication. Stop by your college’s student health center and learn about smoking
cessation27 programs. Your doctor and other health professionals at your school
have a lot of experience helping people—they can help you find what works for you.
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
What’s the Big Deal about Alcohol?
Of all the issues that can affect a student’s health and success in college, drinking
causes more problems than anything else. Everyone knows what happens when you
drink too much. Your judgment is impaired and you may behave in risky ways. Your
health may be affected. Your studies likely are affected.
Most college students report drinking at least some alcohol at some time—and even
those who do not drink are often affected by others who do. Here are a few facts
about alcohol use among college students from the National Institute on Alcohol
Abuse and Alcoholism:
• Death. Each year, 1,700 college students between the ages of 18 and 24
die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, and 599,000 students
are injured.
• Assault. More than 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are
assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
• Sexual abuse. More than 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and
24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.
• Academic problems. About 25 percent of college students report
academic consequences of their drinking, including missing class,
falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower
grades overall.
• Health problems. More than 150,000 students develop an alcoholrelated health problem.
• Alcohol abuse and dependence. In the past twelve months, 31
percent of college students met criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol abuse
and 6 percent for a diagnosis of alcohol dependence28.National
Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “A Snapshot of Annual
High-Risk College Drinking Consequences,” College
Drinking—Changing the Culture,
snapshot.aspx (accessed July 13, 2010).
So why is drinking so popular if it causes so many problems? You probably already
know the answer to that: most college students say they have more fun when
drinking. They’re not going to stop drinking just because someone lectures them
about it.
28. Being abnormally tolerant to
and dependent on something
that is psychologically or
physically habit forming
(especially alcohol or narcotic
drugs); addiction.
10.4 Substance Use and Abuse
Like everything else that affects your health and happiness—eating, exercise, use of
other substances—drinking is a matter of personal choice. Like most decisions we
all face, there are trade-offs. The most that anyone can reasonably ask of you is to
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
be smart in your decisions. That means understanding the effects of alcohol and
deciding to take control.
10.4 Substance Use and Abuse
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Myths about Alcohol
Myth: I can drink and still be in control.
Fact: Drinking impairs your judgment, which increases the likelihood that you
will do something you’ll later regret such as having unprotected sex, being
involved in date rape, damaging property, or being victimized by others.
Myth: Drinking isn’t all that dangerous.
Fact: One in three 18- to 24-year-olds admitted to emergency rooms for serious
injuries is intoxicated. And alcohol is also associated with homicides, suicides,
and drownings.
Myth: I can sober up quickly if I have to.
Fact: It takes about three hours to eliminate the alcohol content of two drinks,
depending on your weight. Nothing can speed up this process—not even coffee
or cold showers.
Myth: I can manage to drive well enough after a few drinks.
Fact: About one-half of all fatal traffic crashes among 18- to 24-year-olds
involve alcohol. If you are under 21, driving after drinking is illegal and you
could lose your license.
Myth: Beer doesn’t have as much alcohol as hard liquor.
Fact: A 12-ounce bottle of beer has the same amount of alcohol as a standard
shot of 80-proof liquor (either straight or in a mixed drink) or 5 ounces of
wine.National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Alcohol Myths,”
College Drinking—Changing the Culture,
alcoholMyths.aspx (accessed July 13, 2010).
10.4 Substance Use and Abuse
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
College Alcohol Awareness Programs
Colleges have recognized the problems resulting from underage and excessive
alcohol use, and in recent years they have designed programs to help students
become more aware of the problems. If you are a new student, you may be in such a
program now. Two popular online programs, AlcoholEdu and My Student Body, are
used at many schools.
Figure 10.4 The AlcoholEdu Online Alcohol Awareness Program from Outside the Classroom
The goal of these courses is not to preach against drinking. You’ll learn more about
the effects of alcohol on the body and mind. You’ll learn about responsible drinking
versus high-risk drinking. You’ll think about your own attitudes and learn coping
strategies to help prevent or manage a problem. These courses are designed for
you—to help you succeed in college and life. They’re worth taking seriously.
How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?
There’s no magic number for how many drinks a person can have and how often. If
you’re of legal drinking age, you may not experience any problems if you have one
or two drinks from time to time. “Moderate drinking” is not more than two drinks
per day for men or one per day for women. More than that is heavy drinking.
10.4 Substance Use and Abuse
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
As with most things that can affect your health and your well-being as a student,
what’s important is being honest with yourself. You’re likely drinking too much or
too often if
• you have missed classes or work because you were hung over or
overslept after drinking;
• your friends or family members have hinted that you drink too much,
or you’ve hidden your drinking from others;
• your drinking is causing trouble in a relationship;
• you can’t remember what you did or said while drinking;
• you need to drink to have a good time at a party or with friends;
• you’ve driven a car when you know you shouldn’t have after drinking;
• you binge drink (consume five or more drinks at a time).
Did you know that one night of heavy drinking can affect how well you think for
two or three weeks afterward? This can really affect how well you perform as a
Pressures to Party
Most of us can remember times when we were influenced by our friends and others
around us to behave in some way we might not have otherwise. Say, for example, I
have a big test tomorrow, and I’ve been studying for hours, and just when I knock
off to relax for a while, a friend stops by with a six-pack of beer. I’d planned to get
to bed early, but my friend pops open a beer and sticks it in my hand, saying it will
help me relax. So I tell myself just one, or maybe two—after all, that’s not really
drinking. And let’s say I stop after two (or three) and get to bed. Maybe I don’t sleep
quite as well, but I still pass the test in the morning. So—was that peer pressure or
my decision?
There are no easy answers! What matters is that you think about your own habits
and choices and how to take control of your own life.
Read this case study about a student who joins a college fraternity and feels
pressured to drink. You may be very different from him—maybe you’re older and
work full time and are taking night courses—but you still should be able to relate to
his issues. As you answer the questions about his situation, think about how the
same questions might also apply to someone in your own situation.
10.4 Substance Use and Abuse
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Pressured to Drink
When John decided to pledge a fraternity in college, he knew there would
likely be drinking in the house. He had had a few beers at parties through
high school but had never binged and felt there was nothing wrong with
that as long as he kept it under control. But he was surprised how much
alcohol flowed through the fraternity house, and not just at parties—and the
house advisor just seemed to look the other way. He wanted to fit in, so he
usually had a few whenever his roommate or others called him away from
studying. One night he definitely drank too much. He slept late, missed his
first two classes, and felt rotten most of the day. He told himself he’d drink
only on weekends and only in moderation. Being underage didn’t bother
him, but his grades hadn’t been all that great in high school, and he didn’t
want to screw up his first year in college. But it was only one day before
some of the older fraternity brothers interrupted his studying again and
stuck a beer in his hand. He didn’t know what to do.
1. Is John at risk for developing any problems if he tries to fit in
with the drinkers while promising himself he would drink only
moderately? Why or why not?
2. If John decides to hold firm and drink only on weekends when he
didn’t have to study, is he still at any risk for developing a
problem? Why or why not, depending on what circumstances?
3. If John decides to tell his fraternity brothers he does not want to
drink, what should he say or do if they continue to pressure him?
10.4 Substance Use and Abuse
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
What to Do
If you think you may be drinking too much, then you probably are. Can you stop—or
drink moderately if you are of age—and still have fun with your friends? Of course.
Here are some tips for enjoying yourself in social situations when others are
• Drink only moderately (if above legal age) and slowly. Your body
processes alcohol at a rate of about one drink an hour—drinking faster
than that leads to problems. Sip slowly. Set yourself a limit and stick to
• Drink a mixer without the alcohol. It tastes just as good or better.
Alternate alcoholic drinks with nonalcoholic ones to slow down the
• Rather than just standing around with others who are drinking, stay
active: move about and mingle with different people, dance, and so on.
• If someone tries to make you uncomfortable for not drinking, go talk to
someone else.
Because drinking is a serious issue in many places, it’s a good idea to know what to
do if you find yourself with a friend who has had too much to drink:
• Stay with the person if there is any risk of him hurting himself
(driving, biking) or passing out. Take away his keys if necessary.
• If he passes out after drinking a great deal of alcohol fast and cannot be
awakened, get medical help.
• An intoxicated person who falls asleep or passes out on his back is at
risk of choking on vomit—roll him on his side or face down.
• Do not try to give him food or other substances in an effort to sober
him up.
• Don’t put him in a cold shower, which could cause unconsciousness.
If You Feel You Need Help
Visit the student health center or talk with your college counselor. They
understand how you feel and have a lot of experience with students feeling the
same way. They can help.
10.4 Substance Use and Abuse
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Prescription and Illegal Drugs
People use drugs for the same reasons people use alcohol. They say they enjoy
getting high. They may say a drug helps them relax or unwind, have fun, enjoy the
company of others, or escape the pressures of being a student. While alcohol is a
legal drug for those above the drinking age, most other drugs—including the use of
many prescription drugs29 not prescribed for the person taking them—are illegal.
They usually involve more serious legal consequences if the user is caught. Some
people may feel there’s safety in numbers: if a lot of people are using a drug, or
drinking, then how can it be too bad? But other drugs carry the same risks as
alcohol for health problems, a risk of death or injury, and a serious impact on your
ability to do well as a student.
As with alcohol, the choice is yours. What’s important is to understand what you’re
doing and make smart choices. What’s the gain, and what are the risks and costs?
While society may seem to condone drinking, and the laws regarding underage
drinking or being drunk in public may not seem too harsh, the legal reality of being
caught with an illegal drug can impact the rest of your life. Arrest and conviction
may result in being expelled from college—even with a first offense. A conviction is
a permanent legal record that can keep you from getting the job you may be going
to college for.
Although the effects of different drugs vary widely, a single use of a drug can have
serious effects and consequences. Even if you’re told that a pill is a prescription
medication whose effects are mild or safe, can you really be sure of the exact
ingredients and strength of that pill? Do you fully understand how it can affect you
with repeated use? Can it be addictive? Could it show up on an unexpected random
drug test at work?
Table 10.1 "Common Prescription and Illegal Drugs on Campuses" lists some of the
possible effects of drugs used by college students. Good decisions also involve being
honest with oneself. Why do I use (or am thinking about using) this drug? Am I
trying to escape some aspect of my life (stress, a bad job, a boring class)? Could the
effects of using this drug be worse than what I’m trying to escape?
29. A drug prescribed to a specific
person for a specific medical
condition by a health-care
provider; many prescription
drugs are illegal when used by
someone other than the person
for whom it was prescribed.
10.4 Substance Use and Abuse
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Table 10.1 Common Prescription and Illegal Drugs on Campuses
Drug and
Common Names
10.4 Substance Use and Abuse
Adverse Effects
Anabolic Steroids
Liver cancer, sterility, masculine
traits in women and feminine
traits in men, aggression,
depression, mood swings
feelings of
Addiction; slowed pulse and
breathing; lowered blood pressure; Coma,
poor concentration; fatigue;
confusion; impaired coordination, arrest, death
memory, and judgment
Vicodin, Demerol
Pain relief,
Addiction, nausea, constipation,
confusion, sedation, respiratory
coma, death
Pain relief,
Addiction, slurred speech,
impaired vision, respiratory
failure, coma,
Pain relief,
Addiction, drowsiness, nausea,
constipation, confusion, sedation,
respiratory depression
coma, death
feelings of
Fever, severe headaches, paranoia,
excessive repetition of movements
and meaningless tasks, tremors,
muscle twitching
feelings of
Addiction, irritability, anxiety,
increased blood pressure,
paranoia, psychosis, depression,
aggression, convulsions, dizziness,
Cocaine, Crack
Addiction, paranoia,
hallucinations, aggression,
Seizures, heart
insomnia, and depression, elevated
attack, death
blood pressure and heart rate,
increased respiratory rate,
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Drug and
Common Names
Adverse Effects
feelings of
insomnia, anxiety, restlessness,
Panic, anxiety, depression,
paranoia, nausea, blurred vision,
increased heart rate,
hallucinations, fainting, chills,
sleep problems
vomiting, heart
attack, death
Marijuana, Hash
Impaired or reduced
comprehension, altered sense of
time; reduced ability to perform
tasks requiring concentration and
coordination; paranoia; intense
anxiety attacks; impairments in
learning, memory, perception, and
judgment; difficulty speaking,
listening effectively, thinking,
retaining knowledge, problem
altered states
of perception
and feeling
Elevated blood pressure,
sleeplessness, tremors, chronic
recurring hallucinations
Resources for Help
If you have questions or concerns related to drug use, your doctor or student health
center can help. Check these Web sites for additional information:
• Drug Information Online:
• National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information:
• Drug and Alcohol Treatment Hotline: 1-800-662-HELP
10.4 Substance Use and Abuse
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
• Excessive drinking or substance abuse is a common—but
unhealthy—response to the stresses of college life. While the decisions
are yours, it’s important to understand the effects of tobacco, alcohol,
and drugs and how they impact your life.
• Quitting smoking is hard, but it’s clearly worth it—and lots of help is
available. If you’re a smoker, make this the year you become proud of
yourself for quitting.
• If you like to drink, be honest with yourself. How much does drinking
enrich your life, and how much do the effects of drinking interfere with
your life? Make smart decisions so that you live your life to its fullest
without regrets about losing control.
• Avoiding drugs can be a complicated issue, certainly not as simple as
simply deciding to say no. But you’ve already made the decision to
attend college, and that’s a smart decision. Make smart choices in other
areas of your life as well.
10.4 Substance Use and Abuse
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
1. “Social smoking”—having a cigarette just every now and then
with a friend—may not have significant health effects, but why is
this still a problem?
2. For each of the following statements about drinking, circle T for
true or F for false:
After a few drinks, you can sober up more quickly by
eating or drinking coffee.
A fourth of college students experience academic
consequences from their drinking.
A 12-ounce beer has about half the alcohol of a standard
shot of 80-proof liquor.
Moderate drinking is defined as no more than four drinks
a day for men or two drinks a day for women.
A night of heavy drinking affects your thinking ability for
up to two weeks afterward.
3. If smoking marijuana relaxes you, can it minimize the stress you
may feel over time in your life? Why or why not?
10.4 Substance Use and Abuse
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
10.5 Stress
List common causes of stress for college students.
Describe the physical, mental, and emotional effects of persistent stress.
List healthy ways college students can manage or cope with stress.
Develop your personal plan for managing stress in your life.
We all live with occasional stress. Since college students often feel even more stress
than most people, it’s important to understand it and learn ways to deal with it so
that it doesn’t disrupt your life.
Stress30 is a natural response of the body and mind to a demand or challenge. The
thing that causes stress, called a stressor31, captures our attention and causes a
physical and emotional reaction. Stressors include physical threats, such as a car we
suddenly see coming at us too fast, and the stress reaction likely includes jumping
out of the way—with our heart beating fast and other physical changes. Most of our
stressors are not physical threats but situations or events like an upcoming test or
an emotional break-up. Stressors also include long-lasting emotional and mental
concerns such as worries about money or finding a job. Take the Stress SelfAssessment.
30. A natural response of the body
and mind to a demand or
challenge, often associated
with feelings of tension and
negative emotions.
31. Anything, such as an event or
situation, that causes a person
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Check the appropriate boxes.
Daily Sometimes Never
1. I feel mild stress that does not disrupt my
everyday life.
2. I am sometimes so stressed out that I have
trouble with my routine activities.
3. I find myself eating or drinking just because
I’m feeling stressed.
4. I have lain awake at night unable to sleep
because I was feeling stressed.
5. Stress has affected my relationships with
other people.
Write your answers.
6. What is the number one cause of stress in your life?
7. What else causes you stress?
8. What effect does stress have on your studies and academic
10.5 Stress
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
9. Regardless of the sources of your own stress, what do you think
you can do to better cope with the stress you can’t avoid?
What Causes Stress?
Not all stressors are bad things. Exciting, positive things also cause a type of stress,
called eustress32. Falling in love, getting an unexpected sum of money, acing an
exam you’d worried about—all of these are positive things that affect the body and
mind in ways similar to negative stress: you can’t help thinking about it, you may
lose your appetite and lie awake at night, and your routine life may be momentarily
But the kind of stress that causes most trouble results from negative stressors. Life
events that usually cause significant stress include the following:
Serious illness or injury
Serious illness, injury, or death of a family member or loved one
Losing a job or sudden financial catastrophe
Unwanted pregnancy
Divorce or ending a long-term relationship (including parents’ divorce)
Being arrested or convicted of a crime
Being put on academic probation or suspended
Life events like these usually cause a lot of stress that may begin suddenly and
disrupt one’s life in many ways. Fortunately, these stressors do not occur every day
and eventually end—though they can be very severe and disruptive when
experienced. Some major life stresses, such as having a parent or family member
with a serious illness, can last a long time and may require professional help to cope
with them.
Everyday kinds of stressors are far more common but can add up and produce as
much stress as a major life event:
32. A positive and stimulating kind
or level of stress.
10.5 Stress
• Anxiety about not having enough time for classes, job, studies, and
social life
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Worries about grades, an upcoming test, or an assignment
Money concerns
Conflict with a roommate, someone at work, or family member
Anxiety or doubts about one’s future or difficulty choosing a major or
Frequent colds, allergy attacks, other continuing health issues
Concerns about one’s appearance, weight, eating habits, and so on.
Relationship tensions, poor social life, loneliness
Time-consuming hassles such as a broken-down car or the need to find
a new apartment
Take a moment and reflect on the list above. How many of these stressors have you
experienced in the last month? The last year? Circle all the ones that you have
experienced. Now go back to your Stress Self-Assessment and look at what you
wrote there for causes of your stress. Write any additional things that cause you
stress on the blank lines above.
How many stressors have you circled and written in? There is no magic number of
stressors that an “average” or “normal” college student experiences—because
everyone is unique. In addition, stressors come and go: the stress caused by a
midterm exam tomorrow morning may be gone by noon, replaced by feeling good
about how you did. Still, most college students are likely to circle about half the
items on this list.
But it’s not the number of stressors that counts. You might have circled only one
item on that list—but it could produce so much stress for you that you’re just as
stressed out as someone else who circled all of them. The point of this exercise is to
start by understanding what causes your own stress as a base for learning what to
do about it.
What’s Wrong with Stress?
Physically, stress prepares us for action: the classic “fight-or-flight” reaction when
confronted with a danger. Our heart is pumping fast, and we’re breathing faster to
supply the muscles with energy to fight or flee. Many physical effects in the body
prepare us for whatever actions we may need to take to survive a threat.
But what about nonphysical stressors, like worrying about grades? Are there any
positive effects there? Imagine what life would feel like if you never had worries,
10.5 Stress
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
never felt any stress at all. If you never worried about grades or doing well on a test,
how much studying would you do for it? If you never thought at all about money,
would you make any effort to save it or make it? Obviously, stress can be a good
thing when it motivates us to do something, whether it’s study, work, resolving a
conflict with another, and so on. So it’s not stress itself that’s negative—it’s
unresolved or persistent stress that starts to have unhealthy effects. Chronic (longterm) stress is associated with many physical changes and illnesses, including the
• Weakened immune system33, making you more likely to catch a cold
and to suffer from any illness longer
• More frequent digestive system problems, including constipation or
diarrhea, ulcers, and indigestion
• Elevated blood pressure34
• Increased risk of diabetes35
• Muscle and back pain
• More frequent headaches, fatigue, and insomnia36
• Greater risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular problems over
the long term
Chronic or acute (intense short-term) stress also affects our minds and emotions in
many ways:
33. The body system, involving
many different organs and
body tissues, responsible for
defending the body against
infection and disease.
34. The pressure blood exerts on
the walls of blood vessels,
resulting from complex
processes in the body; high
blood pressure is associated
with several diseases and
health problems.
35. A disease in which the body has
high levels of sugar in the
blood because of an inability to
manage blood glucose; diabetes
is associated with a range of
serious health problems.
• Difficulty thinking clearly or concentrating
• Poor memory
• More frequent negative emotions such as anxiety, depression,
frustration, powerlessness, resentment, or nervousness—and a general
negative outlook on life
• Greater difficulty dealing with others because of irritability, anger, or
No wonder we view stress as such a negative thing! As much as we’d like to
eliminate all stressors,however, it just can’t happen. Too many things in the real
world cause stress and always will.
Unhealthy Responses to Stress
Since many stressors are unavoidable, the question is what to do about the resulting
stress. A person can try to ignore or deny stress for a while, but then it keeps
building and starts causing all those problems. So we have to do something.
36. An inability to sleep; chronic
10.5 Stress
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Consider first what you have typically done in the past when you felt most stressed;
use the Past Stress-Reduction Habits Self-Assessment.
10.5 Stress
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
On a scale of 1 to 5, rate each of the following behaviors for how often you
have experienced it because of high stress levels.
10.5 Stress
Stress Response
Never Seldom Sometimes Often Usually Always
1. Drinking
2. Drinking lots of
3. Sleeping a lot
4. Eating too
5. Eating too little
6. Smoking or
7. Having
8. Sitting around
9. Watching
television or
surfing the Web
10. Complaining
to friends
11. Exercising,
jogging, biking
12. Practicing
yoga or tai chi
13. Meditating
14. Using
15. Talking with
an instructor or
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Total your scores for questions 1–10: _______________
Total your scores for questions 11–15: _______________
Subtract the second number from the first: _______________
Interpretation: If the subtraction of the score for questions 11 to 15 from the
first score is a positive number, then your past coping methods for dealing
with stress have not been as healthy and productive as they could be. Items
1 to 10 are generally not effective ways of dealing with stress, while items 11
to 15 usually are. If you final score is over 20, you’re probably like most
beginning college students—feeling a lot of stress and not yet sure how best
to deal with it.
What’s wrong with those stress-reduction behaviors listed first? Why not watch
television or get a lot of sleep when you’re feeling stressed, if that makes you feel
better? While it may feel better temporarily to escape feelings of stress in those
ways, ultimately they may cause more stress themselves. If you’re worried about
grades and being too busy to study as much as you need to, then letting an hour or
two slip by watching television will make you even more worried later because then
you have even less time. Eating too much may make you sluggish and less able to
focus, and if you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll now feel just that much more
stressed by what you’ve done. Alcohol, caffeine, smoking, and drugs all generally
increase one’s stress over time. Complaining to friends? Over time, your friends will
tire of hearing it or tire of arguing with you because a complaining person isn’t
much fun to be around. So eventually you may find yourself even more alone and
Yet there is a bright side: there are lots of very positive ways to cope with stress
that will also improve your health, make it easier to concentrate on your studies,
and make you a happier person overall.
Coping with Stress
Look back at your list of stressors that you circled earlier. For each, consider
whether it is external (like bad job hours or not having enough money) or internal,
originating in your attitudes and thoughts. Mark each item with an E (external) or
an I (internal).
You may be able to eliminate many external stressors. Talk to your boss about
changing your work hours. If you have money problems, work on a budget you can
10.5 Stress
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
live with (see Chapter 11 "Taking Control of Your Finances"), look for a new job, or
reduce your expenses by finding a cheaper apartment, selling your car, and using
public transportation.
What about other external stressors? Taking so many classes that you don’t have
the time to study for all of them? Keep working on your time management skills
(Chapter 2 "Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track"). Schedule your days
carefully and stick to the schedule. Take fewer classes next term if necessary. What
else can you do to eliminate external stressors? Change apartments, get a new
roommate, find better child care—consider all your options. And don’t hesitate to
talk things over with a college counselor, who may offer other solutions.
Internal stressors, however, are often not easily resolved. We can’t make all
stressors go away, but we can learn how to cope so that we don’t feel so stressed out
most of the time. We can take control of our lives. We can find healthy coping
All the topics in this chapter involve stress one way or another. Many of the healthy
habits that contribute to our wellness and happiness also reduce stress and
minimize its effects.
Get Some Exercise
Exercise, especially aerobic exercise37, is a great way to help reduce stress. Exercise
increases the production of certain hormones38, which leads to a better mood and
helps counter depression and anxiety. Exercise helps you feel more energetic and
focused so that you are more productive in your work and studies and thus less
likely to feel stressed. Regular exercise also helps you sleep better, which further
reduces stress.
Get More Sleep
37. Brisk physical activity that
requires the heart and lungs to
work harder to meet the body’s
increased oxygen needs.
38. A substance produced in the
body that has physical, mental,
or emotional effects.
10.5 Stress
When sleep deprived, you feel more stress and are less able to concentrate on your
work or studies. Many people drink more coffee or other caffeinated beverages
when feeling sleepy, and caffeine contributes further to stress-related emotions
such as anxiety and nervousness.
Manage Your Money
Worrying about money is one of the leading causes of stress. Try the financial
management skills in Chapter 11 "Taking Control of Your Finances" to reduce this
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Adjust Your Attitude
You know the saying about the optimist who sees the glass as half full and the
pessimist who sees the same glass as half empty. Guess which one feels more stress?
Much of the stress you feel may be rooted in your attitudes toward school, your
work—your whole life. If you don’t feel good about these things, how do you
change? To begin with, you really need to think about yourself. What makes you
happy? Are you expecting your college career to be perfect and always exciting,
with never a dull class or reading assignment? Or can you be happy that you are in
fact succeeding in college and foresee a great life and career ahead?
Maybe you just need to take a fun elective course to balance that “serious” course
that you’re not enjoying so much. Maybe you just need to play an intramural sport
to feel as good as you did playing in high school. Maybe you just need to take a brisk
walk every morning to feel more alert and stimulated. Maybe listening to some
great music on the way to work will brighten your day. Maybe calling up a friend to
study together for that big test will make studying more fun.
No one answer works for everyone—you have to look at your life, be honest with
yourself about what affects your daily attitude, and then look for ways to make
changes. The good news is that although old negative habits can be hard to break,
once you’ve turned positive changes into new habits, they will last into a brighter
Learn a Relaxation Technique
Different relaxation techniques39 can be used to help minimize stress. Following
are a few tried-and-tested ways to relax when stress seems overwhelming. You can
learn most of these through books, online exercises, CDs or MP3s, and DVDs
available at your library or student health center. Practicing one of them can have
dramatic effects.
39. Any specific physical or mental
practice developed to help a
person calm the mind, relax
the body, or both to lower
stress and promote rest or
10.5 Stress
• Deep breathing. Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight.
Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose, filling your lungs
completely. Exhale slowly and smoothly through your mouth.
Concentrate on your breathing and feel your chest expanding and
relaxing. After five to ten minutes, you will feel more relaxed and
• Progressive muscle relaxation. With this technique, you slowly tense
and then relax the body’s major muscle groups. The sensations and
mental concentration produce a calming state.
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
• Meditation. Taking many forms, meditation may involve focusing on
your breathing, a specific visual image, or a certain thought, while
clearing the mind of negative energy. Many podcasts are available to
help you find a form of meditation that works best for you.
• Yoga or tai chi. Yoga, tai chi, and other exercises that focus on body
position and slow, gradual movements are popular techniques for
relaxation and stress reduction. You can learn these techniques
through a class or from a DVD.
• Music and relaxation CDs and MP3s. Many different relaxation
techniques have been developed for audio training. Simply play the
recording and relax as you are guided through the techniques.
• Massage. Regular massages are a way to relax both body and mind. If
you can’t afford a weekly massage but enjoy its effects, a local massage
therapy school may offer more affordable massage from students and
beginning practitioners.
Get Counseling
If stress is seriously disrupting your studies or your life regardless of what you do to
try to reduce it, you may need help. There’s no shame in admitting that you need
help, and college counselors and health professionals are there to help.
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Tips for Success: Stress
• Pay attention to, rather than ignore, things that cause you stress
and change what you can.
• Accept what you can’t change and resolve to make new habits that
will help you cope.
• Get regular exercise and enough sleep.
• Evaluate your priorities, work on managing your time, and
schedule restful activities in your daily life. Students who feel in
control of their lives report feeling much less stress than those
who feel that circumstances control them.
• Slow down and focus on one thing at a time—don’t check for email or text messages every few minutes! Know when to say no to
• Break old habits involving caffeine, alcohol, and other substances.
• Remember your long-range goals and don’t obsess over short-term
• Make time to enjoy being with friends.
• Explore new activities and hobbies that you enjoy.
• Find a relaxation technique that works for you and practice
• Get help if you’re having a hard time coping with emotional stress.
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Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
All college students feel some stress. The amount of stress you feel depends
on many factors, including your sleeping habits, your exercise and activity
levels, your use of substances, your time management and study skills, your
attitude, and other factors. As you look at your present life and how much
stress you may be feeling, what short-term changes can you start making in
the next week or two to feel less stressed and more in control? By the end of
the semester or term, how would you ideally like your life to be
different—and how can you best accomplish that? Write your thoughts here.
• Everyone feels stress, and many of the things that cause stress won’t go
away regardless of what we do. But we can examine our lives, figure out
what causes most of our stress, and learn to do something about it.
• Stress leads to a lot of different unhealthy responses that actually
increase our stress over the long term. But once we understand how
stress affects us, we can begin to take steps to cope in healthier ways.
10.5 Stress
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
1. Why should it not be your goal to try to eliminate stress from
your life completely?
2. List three or more unhealthful effects of stress.
3. Name at least two common external stressors you may be able to
eliminate from your life.
4. Name at least two common internal stressors you may feel that
you need to learn to cope with because you can’t eliminate them.
5. List at least three ways you can minimize the stress you feel.
10.5 Stress
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10.6 Emotional Health and Happiness
1. Explain the common causes of anxiety, depression, and other negative
emotions in college-age people.
2. Describe changes you can make in your life to achieve or maintain
emotional balance.
3. List characteristics of healthy relationships.
4. Describe the steps of conflict resolution.
Your emotional health is just as important as your physical health—and maybe
more so. If you’re unhappy much of the time, you will not do as well as in
college—or life—as you can if you’re happy. You will feel more stress, and your
health will suffer.
Still, most of us are neither happy nor unhappy all the time. Life is constantly
changing, and our emotions change with it. But sometimes we experience more
negative emotions than normally, and our emotional health may suffer. Use the
Emotional Self-Assessment to evaluate your emotional health.
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Check the appropriate boxes.
Daily Sometimes Never
1. I sometimes feel anxious or
depressed—without disruption of my everyday
2. I sometimes feel so anxious or depressed that
I have trouble with routine activities.
3. I sometimes feel lonely.
4. I sometimes feel that I have little control
over my life.
5. I have sometimes just wanted to give up.
6. Negative emotions have sometimes kept me
from studying or getting my work done.
7. Negative emotions have affected my
relationships with others.
Write your answers.
8. Describe your emotional mood on most days.
9. Describe what you’d ideally like to feel like all the time.
10. What specific things are keeping you from feeling what you’d
ideally like to feel like most of the time?
10.6 Emotional Health and Happiness
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
11. Are you happy with your relationships with others?
12. What do you think you can do to be a happier person?
Problematic Emotions
When is an emotion problematic? Is it bad to feel anxious about a big test coming up
or to feel sad after breaking up a romantic relationship?
It is normal to experience negative emotions. College students face so many
demands and stressful situations that many naturally report often feeling anxious,
depressed, or lonely. These emotions become problematic only when they persist
and begin to affect your life in negative ways. That’s when it’s time to work on your
emotional health—just as you’d work on your physical health when illness strikes.
Anxiety40 is one of the most common emotions college students experience, often
as a result of the demands of college, work, and family and friends. It’s difficult to
juggle everything, and you may end up feeling not in control, stressed, and anxious.
40. Feelings of worry, tension, and
nervousness with or without a
specific focus of concern;
severe or persistent anxiety
can be a mental disorder.
41. A natural response of the body
and mind to a demand or
challenge, often associated
with feelings of tension and
negative emotions.
Anxiety typically results from stress41. Some anxiety is often a good thing if it leads
to studying for a test, focusing on a problem that needs to be resolved, better
management your time and money, and so on. But if anxiety disrupts your focus
and makes you freeze up rather than take action, then it may become problematic.
Using stress-reduction techniques often helps reduce anxiety to a manageable level.
Anxiety is easier to deal with when you know its cause. Then you can take steps to
gain control over the part of your life causing the anxiety. But anxiety can become
10.6 Emotional Health and Happiness
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excessive and lead to a dread of everyday situations. There are five types of more
serious anxiety:
1. Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by chronic anxiety,
exaggerated worry and tension, even when there is little or nothing to
provoke it. The person may have physical symptoms, especially
fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, muscle aches, difficulty
swallowing, trembling, twitching, irritability, sweating, and hot
2. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by recurrent,
unwanted thoughts (obsessions), repetitive behaviors (compulsions),
or both. Repetitive behaviors such as hand washing, counting,
checking, or cleaning are often performed with the hope of preventing
obsessive thoughts or making them go away.
3. Panic disorder is characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes
of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms that may include
chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or
abdominal distress.
4. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after exposure to a
terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or
was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include
violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters,
accidents, or military combat.
5. Social phobia (or social anxiety disorder) is a persistent, intense,
and chronic fear of being watched and judged by others and being
embarrassed or humiliated by one’s own actions. Their fear may be so
severe that it interferes with work or school, and other ordinary
activities. Physical symptoms often accompany the intense anxiety of
social phobia and include blushing, profuse sweating, trembling,
nausea, and difficulty talking.
These five types of anxiety go beyond the normal anxiety everyone feels at some
times. If you feel your anxiety is like any of these, see your health-care provider.
Effective treatments are available to help you regain control.
42. An emotional state of sadness
and feeling isolated from or
not connected to others.
Loneliness42 is a normal feeling that most people experience at some time. College
students away from home for the first time are likely to feel lonely at first. Older
students may also feel lonely if they no longer see their old friends. Loneliness
involves not feeling connected with others. One person may need only one friend to
not feel lonely; others need to feel more connected with a group. There’s no set
pattern for feeling lonely.
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If you are feeling lonely, there are many things you can do to meet others and feel
connected. Don’t sit alone in your room bemoaning the absence of friends. That will
only cause more stress and emotional distress. You will likely start making new
friends through going to classes, working, studying, and living in the community.
But you can jump-start that process by taking active steps such as these:
• Realize you don’t have to be physically with friends in order to stay
connected. Many students use social Web sites to stay connected with
friends at other colleges or in other locations. Telephone calls, instant
messaging, and e-mail work for many.
• Understand that you’re not alone in feeling lonely. Many others like
you are just waiting for the opportunity to connect, and you will meet
them and form new friendships fast once you start reaching out.
• Become involved in campus opportunities to meet others. Every
college has a wide range of clubs for students with different interests.
If you’re not the “joiner” type, look for individuals in your classes with
whom you think you may have something in common and ask them if
they’d like to study for a test together or work together on a class
• Remember that loneliness is a temporary thing—it’s only a matter of
time until you make new friends.
If your loneliness persists and you seem unable to make friends, then it’s a good
idea to talk with your counselor or someone at the student health center. They can
Depression43, like anxiety and loneliness, is commonly experienced by college
students. It may be a mild sadness resulting from specific circumstances or be
intense feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Many people feel depressed from
time to time because of common situations:
43. A despondent emotional state
with feelings of pessimism and
sometimes feelings of
inadequacy; severe or
persistent depression affecting
one’s daily life can be a mental
10.6 Emotional Health and Happiness
• Feeling overwhelmed by pressures to study, work, and meet other
• Not having enough time (or money) to do the things you want to do
• Experiencing problems in a relationship, friendship, or work situation
• Feeling overweight, unhealthy, or not in control of oneself
• Feeling that your new life as a student lacks some of the positive
dimensions of your former life
• Not having enough excitement in your life
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Depression, like stress, can lead to unhealthy consequences such as poor sleep,
overeating or loss of appetite, substance abuse, relationship problems, or
withdrawal from activities that formerly brought joy. For most people, depression
is a temporary state. But severe depression can have crippling effects. Not everyone
experiences the same symptoms, but the following are most common:
Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
Irritability or restlessness
Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
Fatigue and decreased energy
Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
Insomnia, early morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
Overeating or appetite loss
Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems
If you have feelings like this that last for weeks at a time and affect your daily life,
your depression is more severe than “normal,” temporary depression. It’s time to
see your health-care provider and get treatment as you would for any other illness.
Suicidal Feelings
Severe depression often makes a person feel there is no hope—and therefore many
people with depression do not seek help. In reality, depression can be successfully
treated, but only if the person seeks help.
Suicidal feelings, which can result from severe depression, are more common in
college students than in the past. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death
in American college students (after accidents). In most cases, the person had severe
depression and was not receiving treatment. Recognizing severe depression and
seeking treatment is crucial.
Depression can strike almost anyone at any age at any kind of college. It is a myth
that high-pressure colleges have higher suicide rates or that students who feel
compelled to excel because of college pressures are more likely to commit suicide.
In reality, anyone can be ill with severe depression and, if not treated, become
Following are risk factors for suicide:
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Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
• Depression and other mental disorders or a substance-abuse disorder
(more than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have these risk
• Prior suicide attempt
• Family history of mental disorder, substance abuse, or suicide
• Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
• Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others, such as family members,
peers, or media figures
Warning Signs for Suicide
• Being depressed or sad most of the time
• Having feelings of worthlessness, shame, or hopelessness about the
• Withdrawing from friends and family members
• Talking about suicide or death
• Being unable to get over a recent loss (broken relationship, loss of
job, etc.)
• Experiencing changes in behavior, sleep patterns, or eating habits
If you or a friend is in a crisis and needs help at any time, call the National
Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Call for yourself or for
someone you care about. All calls are confidential.
If you think someone is suicidal, do not leave him or her alone. Try to get the
person to seek immediate help by calling the hotline number. Many campuses also
have twenty-four-hour resources. In an emergency, call 911. Try to ensure that the
person does not have access to a firearm or other potential tool for suicide,
including medications.
Achieving Emotional Balance
44. A state of physical, emotional,
mental, and social well-being,
not merely the absence of
Emotional balance is an essential element of wellness44—and for succeeding in
college. Emotional balance doesn’t mean that you never experience a negative
emotion, because these emotions are usually natural and normal. Emotional balance
means we balance the negative with the positive, that we can be generally happy
even if we’re saddened by some things.
10.6 Emotional Health and Happiness
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Emotional balance starts with being aware of our emotions and understanding
them. If you’re feeling angry, stop and think about the real cause of your anger. Are
you really angry because your friend said something about one of your bad habits,
or are you angry because you haven’t been able to break that habit? Are you feeling
anxiety because you’re worried you might not be cut out for college, or are you just
anxious about that test tomorrow?
See the “Tips for Success” for other ways you can achieve and maintain a healthy
emotional balance.
Tips for Success: Emotional Health
• Accept that most emotions can’t be directly controlled. But the
things you do—such as getting exercise, using a relaxation
technique, trying the various stress-reduction methods discussed
in this chapter—do improve your emotional state.
• Connect with others. Your emotional state is less likely to change
when you keep to yourself and “stew over” the feeling.
• Develop your empathy for others. Empathy involves recognizing
the emotions that others are feeling. You’ll find yourself in better
emotional balance as a result, and your relationships will improve.
• Be honest in your relationships. If you try to hide your feelings, the
other person will know something is wrong and may react the
wrong way.
• Understand that negative emotions are temporary. You may be
feeling bad now, but it will pass in time. But if a negative feeling
does last a long time, recognize that you likely need help resolving
it—and that help is available.
• If you’ve just become a college student, know that the first term is
usually the hardest. Hang in there. Once you’ve developed effective
study habits and time management skills, each term will be easier
and happier than the one before.
Romantic relationships are often as much a part of a rich emotional life for college
students as for anyone else. But the added challenges of college, especially while
also working and maintaining a family life, often stress these relationships. You
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may have to give extra attention to a relationship to keep it healthy and avoid
conflicts that lead to unhappiness and other problems.
Building Relationships
Ideally, a healthy relationship should have these characteristics:
• Both partners should respect each other as individuals with unique
interests and personality traits. Don’t expect your partner to be just
like you; embrace rather than reject differences. Both partners should
be supportive of each other.
• Both partners should trust each other and be honest with each other.
You must feel that you can open up emotionally to the other without
fear of rejection. Starting out with deceptions is certain to cause
eventual problems.
• Both partners should be understanding and have empathy45 for each
other. Good communication is essential. Many relationship problems
are rooted in misunderstandings, such as when one partner doesn’t
make the effort to understand what the other wants or needs.
These positive characteristics of a good relationship don’t happen overnight. The
relationship may begin with romantic attraction and only slowly develop into a
trusting, mutually supportive friendship as well. The following signs may indicate
that a dating relationship is not developing well:
• Your partner is pressuring you for sex when you’re not ready
• Your partner seems angry or abusive when you disagree about
• Your partner seems possessive when others want to spend time with
• Your partner treats you unequally in any way
• Your partner is emotionally or physically abusive (whether it happens
once or many times)
If you recognize that any of these things are happening with someone you’re
dating, it may be time to reconsider, even if you still feel attracted. Any relationship
that begins this way is not likely to end well.
45. The ability to understand and
share the feelings of another
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Resolving Conflicts
In any friendship or relationship, conflict will eventually happen. This is just
natural because people are different. If a conflict is ignored, or the partners just
argue without resolving it, it may simmer and continue to cause tension, eventually
weakening the relationship. It’s better to take steps to resolve it.
Conflict resolution46 is a process of understanding what’s really going on and then
finding a solution. The same general steps of conflict resolution can work to solve a
relationship conflict or a conflict between any people or groups because of a
disagreement about anything. Following are the general principles of conflict
46. A step-by-step process
designed to resolve a dispute
or disagreement.
10.6 Emotional Health and Happiness
1. Allow things to cool off. It’s difficult to resolve a conflict while either
party is still emotional. Wait a few minutes or agree to talk about it
2. Using “I statements” rather than “you statements,” each party
explains what bothers him or her about the cause of the conflict.
For example, don’t say, “You’re always playing loud music when I’m
trying to study.” Instead, say, “I have difficulty studying when you play
loud music, and that makes me frustrated and irritable.” “You
statements” put the other person on the defensive and evoke emotions
that make resolution more difficult.
3. Listen carefully to what the other person says. Then restate the
message in your own words to give the other a chance to clarify their
thoughts and feelings. Each party should listen to the other and restate
the other’s message to ensure the real issue is out on the table for
4. Accept responsibility for your role in the conflict, instead of
blaming the other. A good example of accepting responsibility is to
say, “I know I’m always studying and need the quiet. I guess that makes
it hard for you to listen to your music.”
5. Brainstorm together to find a solution that satisfies both of you.
Some compromise is usually needed, but that is usually not difficult to
reach when you’re calm and are working together on a solution. In this
example, you might compromise by going elsewhere to study at
selected times when the other has friends over and wants to listen to
music, and the other may compromise by agreeing to use headphones
at other times and never to play music aloud after 10 p.m.
6. Apologize, thank, and forgive. After reaching a resolution, emotional
closure is needed to restore your relationship and end on a positive,
affirming note. When appropriate, apologize for your past anger or
arguing. Thank the other for being willing to compromise to resolve
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
the conflict. In your mind, forgive the person for past
misunderstandings and actions so that you do not carry any grudge
into the future.
Online and Long-Distance Relationships
Can your relationship survive if you and your partner are living at a distance?
This is a common issue for young people going off to college at different
schools—and for older college students, too, who may move because of work or
school. Sometimes the relationship survives, and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s
important, if you’re making an effort to stay together, for both partners to
accept that being apart will add new pressures on the relationship. Accept also
that both of you will be changing in many ways. You may naturally grow apart
and decide to break up.
Yet often long-distance relationships do survive successfully. If you do decide
to work to keep your relationship alive and vibrant, there are things you can
• Acknowledge that you are both changing, and accept and celebrate
your new lives.
• Don’t feel guilty about being excited by your new life, and don’t try
to pretend to your partner that you’re always miserable because
you’re separated.
• Don’t be upset or jealous when your partner tells you about new
friends and activities—be happy that he or she seems happy. Talk
about these changes and be happy for each other.
• If your relationship is solid, it is already based on trust and mutual
support, which should continue to give you strength when apart.
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• Emotional health is just as important as physical health. We can take
steps to reduce the negative emotions that plague us from time to time
and gain control over our emotional health.
• Emotional balance results from a variety of things in our lives. We need
to connect with others, to be honest and empathetic in our
relationships, and to resolve conflicts that can cause bad feelings and
threaten our daily happiness. We can learn skills in these areas just as in
other areas of our lives.
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1. For each of the following statements about emotional health,
circle T for true or F for false:
T F Anxiety is always a mental health disorder.
It’s normal to feel depressed sometimes about the
T F pressures of studying, working, and other obligations in
your life.
When you’re feeling depressed or anxious, it’s best to
T F keep to yourself and not try to connect with others until
after these feelings pass.
If someone says he is feeling suicidal, he is only seeking
attention and is unlikely to actually try to kill himself.
2. List at least two things you can do to make new friends at college.
3. Describe three characteristics of a good relationship.
4. List the six steps for effective conflict resolution.
10.6 Emotional Health and Happiness
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
10.7 Sexual Health
1. Explain the importance of understanding your sexual values and making
wise decisions regarding your sexuality.
2. Describe guidelines for sexually active college students to protect
themselves against sexually transmitted infections and unwanted
3. List actions some can take to protect against sexual assault.
Sexuality is normal, natural human drive. As an adult, your sexuality is your own
business. Like other dimensions of health, however, your sexual health depends on
understanding many factors involving sexuality and your own values. Your choices
and behavior may have consequences. Learning about sexuality and thinking
through your values will help you make responsible decisions. Begin with the
Sexual Health Self-Assessment.
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Check the appropriate boxes.
Often Sometimes Never
1. I think about issues related to sexuality.
2. I have experienced unwanted sexual
advances from another.
3. If I am sexually active, I protect myself from
the risk of sexually transmitted infections.
4. If I am sexually active, I protect myself from
the risk of unwanted pregnancy.
5. I am proud of the choices I have made
regarding sexual activity.
6. I am concerned about the possibility of
sexual assault including date rape.
7. I have been in situations involving some risk
of date rape.
Write your answers.
8. How comfortable are you with your past and present decisions
related to sexual behavior?
9. If you are not presently sexually active, do you feel prepared to
make responsible decisions about sexual activity if you become
active in the near future?
10.7 Sexual Health
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
10. If you are sexually active, how well protected are you against the
risks of sexually transmitted infection? If you are not active now,
how well do you understand protections needed if you become
11. If you are sexually active, how well protected are you against the
risk of unwanted pregnancy? If you are not active now, how well
do you understand the different types of protection available if
you become active?
12. If you suddenly found yourself in a situation with a potential for
sexual assault, including date rape, would you know what to do?
Sexual Values and Decisions
It’s often difficult to talk about sexuality and sex. Not only is it a very private
matter for most people, but the words themselves are often used loosely, resulting
in misunderstandings. Surveys have shown, for example, that about three-fourths
of college students say they are “sexually active”—but survey questions rarely
specify exactly what that phrase means. To some, sexual activity includes
passionate kissing and fondling, while to others the phrase means sexual
intercourse. Manual and oral sexual stimulation may or may not be included in an
individual’s own definition of being sexually active.
47. A general term for how people
experience and express
themselves as sexual beings,
including feelings, thoughts,
and actions.
10.7 Sexual Health
We should therefore begin by defining these terms. First, sexuality is not the same
as sex. Human sexuality47 is a general term for how people experience and express
themselves as sexual beings. Since all people are sexual beings, everyone has a
dimension of human sexuality regardless of their behavior. Someone who practices
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
complete abstinence from sexual behavior still has the human dimension of
Sexuality involves gender identity48, or how we see ourselves in terms of maleness
and femaleness, as well as sexual orientation49, which refers to the gender
qualities of those to whom we are attracted. The phrase sexual activity50 is usually
used to refer to behaviors between two (or more) people involving the genitals—but
the term may also refer to solo practices such as masturbation or to partner
activities that are sexually stimulating but may not involve the genitals. For the
purposes of this chapter, with its focus on personal health, the term sexual activity
refers to any behavior that carries a risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted disease.
This includes vaginal, oral, and anal intercourse51. The term sexual intercourse52
will be used to refer to vaginal intercourse, which also carries the risk of unwanted
pregnancy. We’ll avoid the most confusing term, sex, which in strict biological
terms refers to reproduction but is used loosely to refer to many different
48. A person’s sense of self in
terms of being male or female.
49. A sexual preference or choice
that determines whether one
chooses a member of the same
or the opposite sex, or both, for
sexual satisfaction.
50. Any behavior involving genital
stimulation, including vaginal,
oral, and anal intercourse, that
carries the risk of acquiring a
sexually transmitted disease.
51. An act of physical sexual
contact between individuals
that involves the genitalia of at
least one person, typically with
penetration of the vagina,
mouth, or anus.
There is a stereotype that sexual activity is very prominent among college students.
One survey found that most college students think that other students have had an
average of three sexual partners in the past year, yet 80 percent of those answering
said that they themselves had zero or one sexual partner. In other words, college
students as a whole are not engaging in sexual activity nearly as much as they think
they are. Another study revealed that about 20 percent of eighteen- to twenty-fouryear-old college students had never been sexually active and about half had not
been during the preceding month.
In sum, some college students are sexually active and some are not. Misperceptions
of what others are doing may lead to unrealistic expectations or feelings. What’s
important, however, is to be aware of your own values and to make responsible
decisions that protect your sexual health.
Information and preparation are the focus of this section of the chapter. People
who engage in sexual activity in the heat of the moment—often under the influence
of alcohol—without having protection and information for making good decisions
are at risk for disease, unwanted pregnancy, or abuse.
52. As used here, referring to
heterosexual intercourse in
which the penis penetrates the
10.7 Sexual Health
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Alcohol and Sexual Activity
Almost all college students know the importance of
Figure 10.5
protection against sexually transmitted infections and
unwanted pregnancy. So why then do these problems
occur so often? Part of the answer is that we don’t
always do the right thing even when we know
it—especially in the heat of the moment, particularly
when drinking or using drugs. Some four hundred
thousand eighteen- to twenty-four-year-old college
students a year engage in unprotected sexual activity
after drinking, and one hundred thousand report having Drinking alcohol increases the
likelihood of having unprotected
been too intoxicated to know if they had consented to
sexual activity.
the sexual activity.
What’s “Safe Sex”?
© Thinkstock
It has been said that no sexual activity is safe because
there is always some risk, even if very small, of
protections failing. The phrase “safer sex53” better describes actions one can take
to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy.
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
53. The use of protective actions or
devices during sexual activity
to minimize the risk of sexually
transmitted infections and
unwanted pregnancy.
54. Any infection predominantly
transmitted through sexual
activity between two
individuals, usually through
direct contact with the genitals
or an exchange of body fluids.
55. Virus transmitted via body
fluids during sexual activity
and by other means such as
drug needle sharing; the cause
of AIDS, a fatal disease.
56. In general, any fluid within the
body, but more specifically
used for those fluids that may
carry a sexually transmitted
disease: blood, semen, and
vaginal secretions.
10.7 Sexual Health
About two dozen different diseases can be transmitted through sexual activity.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)54 range from infections that can be easily
treated with medications to diseases that may have permanent health effects to
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)55, the cause of AIDS, a fatal disease. Despite
decades of public education campaigns and easy access to protection, STIs still
affect many millions of people every year. Often a person feels no symptoms at first
and does not realize he or she has the infection and thus passes it on unknowingly.
Or a person may not use protection because of simple denial: “It can’t happen to
Table 10.2 "Common Sexually Transmitted Infections" lists facts about common
STIs for which college students are at risk. Although there are some differences, in
most cases sexual transmission involves an exchange of body fluids56 between two
people: semen, vaginal fluids, or blood (or other body fluids containing blood).
Because of this similarity, the same precautions to prevent the transmission of HIV
will prevent the transmission of other STIs as well.
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Although many of these diseases may not cause dramatic symptoms, always see a
health-care provider if you have the slightest suspicion of having acquired an STI.
Not only should you receive treatment as soon as possible to prevent the risk of
serious health problems, but you are also obligated to help not pass it on to others.
Table 10.2 Common Sexually Transmitted Infections
HIV (Human
new HIV
Virus) Causing
per year
Over 1
new cases
more not
6.2 million
Genital HPV
new cases
(Human Papilloma
a year
Virus) Causing
Genital Warts
10.7 Sexual Health
Contact with
blood, semen,
or vaginal
during any
sexual act
(and needle
Usually no symptoms
treatment can
for years or decades.
only slow but
Later symptoms include
not cure AIDS,
swollen glands, weight
the disease is
loss, and susceptibility
to infections.
Vaginal, anal,
or oral sex
with infected
In women,
disease may
Often no symptoms.
result, with
Symptoms may occur
1–3 weeks after
damage to
exposure, including
burning sensation when tissues,
urinating and abnormal possibly
discharge from vagina
sterility. In
or penis.
men, infection
may spread
and cause pain,
fever, and
rarely sterility.
contact, most
often during
vaginal and
anal sex
Of the 40 types
of HPV, many
Most infected people
cause no
have no symptoms at all health
and unknowingly pass
on the virus. Warts may Some types
appear in weeks or
cause genital
warts; others
can lead to
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Vaccine is now
for girls and
young women
and protects
against cancercausing HPV.
Genital Herpes
10.7 Sexual Health
45 million
have had
Genitalgenital or
Direct contact
with the
penis, vagina,
mouth, or
does not have
to occur
new cases
each year
7.4 million
contact, most
new cases
often during
each year
vaginal sex
Often no symptoms.
First outbreak within 2
weeks of contact may
cause sores and flu-like
symptoms. Outbreaks
occur less frequently
over time.
Many adults
painful genital
sores and
Genital herpes
in a pregnant
woman puts
the infant at
risk during
Often no recognized
symptoms. Burning
sensation when
urinating. Abnormal
discharge from vagina
or penis. Rectal
infection symptoms
include itching,
soreness, or bleeding.
If untreated, it
may cause
disease in
women with
damage to
tissues and
sterility in
both men and
Most men have no
symptoms or may have
slight burning after
urination or mild
discharge. Some women
have vaginal discharge
makes an
woman more
susceptible to
HIV infection if
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
with strong odor and
irritation or itching of
genital area.
Syphilis Bacteria
exposed to the
is easily
treated with
Because the
Direct contact Often no recognized
person may
with a
symptoms for years.
feel no
syphilis sore, Primary stage symptom
symptoms, the
which occurs (a small painless sore)
risk of
mainly on the appears in 10–90 days
transmission is
but heals without
great. Syphilis
treatment. Secondary
is easy to treat
vagina, anus, stage symptoms (skin
in the early
or in the
rashes, fever, headache,
reported a
stages, but
rectum but
muscle aches) may also
treatment in
can also occur resolve without
late stages
on the lips
treatment. Late-stage
cannot repair
and in the
symptoms occur after
damage that
10–20 years, including
has already
severe internal organ
vaginal, anal, damage and nervous
or oral sex
system effects.
syphilis is
often fatal.
The following are guidelines to protect yourself against STIs if you are sexually
57. Not engaging in sexual activity.
10.7 Sexual Health
• Know that only abstinence57 is 100 percent safe. Protective devices can
fail even when used correctly, although the risk is small. Understand
the risks of not always using protection.
• Talk with your partner in advance about your sexual histories and
health. Agree that regardless of how sure you both are about not
having an STI, you will use protection because you cannot be certain
even if you have no symptoms.
• Avoid sexual activity with casual acquaintances whose sexual history
you do not know and with whom you have not talked about health
issues. Sexual activity is safest with a single partner in a long-term
• Use a latex condom for all sexual activity. A male condom is about 98
percent effective when used correctly, and a female condom about 95
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
percent effective when used correctly. With both, incorrect use
increases the risk. If you are unsure how to use a condom correctly and
safely, do some private online reading. Good information can be found
article_em.htm. You can watch a video demonstration of how to use
condoms correctly at
• If you are sexually active with multiple partners, see your health-care
provider twice a year for an STI screening even if you are not
experiencing symptoms.
Preventing Unwanted Pregnancy
Heterosexual couples who engage in vaginal intercourse are also at risk for an
unwanted pregnancy. There are lots of myths about how a woman can’t get
pregnant at a certain time in her menstrual cycle or under other conditions, but in
fact, there’s a risk of pregnancy after vaginal intercourse at any time. All couples
should talk about protection before reaching the stage of having intercourse and
take appropriate steps.
58. A relationship involving a
single mate for a significant
period of time.
59. A surgical procedure that
causes a man to be sterile and
permanently incapable of
reproducing unless the
procedure is later reversed.
60. A drug, device, or procedure
used for the deliberate
prevention of pregnancy.
61. Contraceptive measures, such
as a drug, used to prevent
pregnancy after sexual
intercourse has already
10.7 Sexual Health
While a male condom is about 98 percent effective, that 2 percent failure rate could
lead to tens of thousands of unintended pregnancies among college students. When
not used correctly, condoms are only 85 percent effective. In addition, a couple that
has been healthy and monogamous58 in their relationship for a long time may be
less faithful in their use of condoms if the threat of STIs seems diminished. Other
methods of birth control should also therefore be considered. With the exception of
the male vasectomy59, at present most other methods are used by the woman. They
include intrauterine devices (IUDs), implants, injected or oral contraceptives60 (the
“pill”), hormone patches, vaginal rings, diaphragms, cervical caps, and sponges.
Each has certain advantages and disadvantages.
Birth control methods vary widely in effectiveness as well as potential side effects.
This is therefore a very personal decision. In addition, two methods can be used
together, such as a condom along with a diaphragm or spermicide, which increases
the effectiveness. (Note that a male and female condom should not be used
together, however, because of the risk of either or both tearing because of friction
between them.) Because this is such an important issue, you should talk it over with
your health-care provider, or a professional at your student health center or an
agency such as Planned Parenthood.
In cases of unprotected vaginal intercourse, or if a condom tears, emergency
contraception61 is an option for up to five days after intercourse. Sometimes called
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
the “morning after pill” or “plan B,” emergency contraception is an oral hormone
that prevents pregnancy from occurring. It is not an “abortion pill.” Planned
Parenthood offices around the country can provide more information and
confidential contraceptive services including emergency contraception.
Sexual Assault and Date Rape
Sexual assault is a serious problem in America generally and among college
students in particular:
• About a third of all dating relationships involve some physical
• One in six women and one in ten men will be sexually assaulted in their
• About a fourth of sexual assault victims are in the typical college age
range of eighteen to twenty-four years old.
• As many as one in four women experience unwanted sexual
intercourse while attending college.
• In more than three fourths of rape cases, the victim knows the
Sexual assault62 is any form of sexual contact without voluntary consent. Rape63 is
usually more narrowly legally defined as forced sexual intercourse, a specific type
of sexual assault. Both are significant problems among college students. Although
men can also be victims of sexual assault and rape, the problem usually involves
women, so this section focuses primarily on the issue for women in college. Men
must also understand what is involved in sexual assault and help build greater
awareness of the problem and how to prevent it.
62. Any form of coerced sexual
contact or sexual activity
without the other person’s
voluntary consent.
63. Unlawful sexual intercourse
with or sexual penetration of
another person without that
person’s consent, typically
with force or threat of force.
10.7 Sexual Health
Sexual assault is so common in our society in part because many people believe in
myths about certain kinds of male-female interaction. Common myths include “It’s
not really rape if the woman was flirting first” and “It’s not rape unless the woman
is seriously injured.” Both statements are not legally correct. Another myth or
source of confusion is the idea that “Saying no is just playing hard to get, not really
no.” Men who really believe these myths may not think that they are committing
assault, especially if their judgment is impaired by alcohol. Other perpetrators of
sexual assault and rape, however, know exactly what they’re doing and in fact may
plan to overcome their victim by using alcohol or a date rape drug.
College administrators and educators have worked very hard to promote better
awareness of sexual assault and to help students learn how to protect themselves.
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Yet colleges cannot prevent things that happen at parties and behind closed doors.
Students must understand how to protect themselves.
Perpetrators of sexual assault fall into three categories:
1. Strangers
2. Acquaintances
3. Dating partners
Among college students, assault by a stranger is the least common because campus
police departments take many measures to help keep students safe on campus.
Nonetheless, use common sense to avoid situations where you might be alone in a
vulnerable place. Walk with a friend if you must pass through a quiet place after
dark. Don’t open your door to a stranger. Don’t take chances. For more information
and ways to reduce your risk of sexual assault, see
Most sexual assaults are perpetrated by acquaintances or date partners. Typically,
an acquaintance assault begins at a party. Typically, both the man and the woman
are drinking—although assault can happen to sober victims as well. The interaction
may begin innocently, perhaps with dancing or flirting. The perpetrator may
misinterpret the victim’s behavior as a willingness to share sexual activity, or a
perpetrator intent on sexual activity may simply pick out a likely target. Either way,
the situation may gradually or suddenly change and lead to sexual assault.
Prevention of acquaintance rape begins with the awareness of its likelihood and
then taking deliberate steps to ensure you stay safe at and after the party:
• Go with a friend and don’t let someone separate you from your friend.
Agree to stick together and help each other if it looks like things are
getting out of hand. If your friend has too much to drink, don’t leave
her or him alone. Plan to leave together and stick to the plan.
• Be especially alert if you become separated from your friend, even if
you are only going off alone to look for the bathroom. You may be
• Be cautious if someone is pressuring you to drink heavily.
• Trust your instincts if someone seems to be coming on too
aggressively. Get back to your friends.
• Know where you are and have a plan to get home if you have to leave
10.7 Sexual Health
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
These preventions can work well at a party or in other social situations, but they
don’t apply to most dating situations when you are alone with another person.
About half of sexual assaults on college students are date rape64. An assault may
occur after the first date, when you feel you know the person better and perhaps
are not concerned about the risk. This may actually make you more vulnerable,
however. Until you really get to know the person well and have a trusting
relationship, follow these guidelines to lower the risk of sexual assault:
• Make it clear that you have limits on sexual activity. Take care that
your body language or appearance does not send a message that you
might be “easy.” If there is any question that your date may not
understand your limits, talk about your values and limits.
• If your date initiates unwanted sexual activity of any sort, do not resist
passively. The other may misinterpret passive behavior as consent.
• Be careful if your date is drinking heavily or using drugs. Avoid
drinking yourself, or drink very moderately.
• Stay in public places where there are other people. Do not invite your
date to your home before your relationship is well established.
• Trust your instincts if your date seems to be coming on too strong. End
the date if necessary.
• Pay attention for signs of an unhealthy relationship (described in
Chapter 10 "Taking Control of Your Health", Section 10.6 "Emotional
Health and Happiness").
If you are sexually assaulted, always talk to someone. Call a rape crisis center, your
student health center, or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE
for a confidential conversation. Even if you do not report the assault to law
enforcement, it’s important to talk through your feelings and seek help if needed to
prevent an emotional crisis.
64. The rape of a person by
someone whom the person is
10.7 Sexual Health
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
Date Rape Drugs
In addition to alcohol, sexual predators use certain commonly available drugs
to sedate women for sexual assault. They are odorless and tasteless and may be
added to a punch bowl or slipped into your drink when you’re not looking.
These drugs include the sedatives GHB, sometimes called “liquid ecstasy,” and
Rohypnol, also called “roofies.” Both cause sedation in small doses but can have
serious medical effects in larger doses. Date rape drugs are typically used at
parties. Use the following tips to protect yourself against date rape drugs:
• Don’t put your drink down where someone else may get to it. If
your drink is out of your sight for even a moment, don’t finish it.
• Never accept an open drink. Don’t accept a mixed drink that you
did not see mixed from pure ingredients.
• Never drink anything from a punch bowl, even if it’s nonalcoholic.
You can’t know what may have been added into the punch.
• If you experience unexpected physical symptoms that may be the
result of something you drank or ate, get to an emergency room
and ask to be tested.
• Sexual health is an important dimension of wellness and something we
should all think about to affirm our values and make responsible
• Your time in college and your overall health and well-being would be
seriously impacted if you were to acquire a sexually transmitted
infection or experience an unwanted pregnancy. You owe it to
yourself—and anyone with whom you are in a relationship—to have the
facts and know how to protect yourself.
• The huge number of sexual assaults that occur every year is one of our
society’s “dirty little secrets.” This problem is as rampant on college
campuses as in society in general. You need to know what’s
involved—and what to do to protect yourself from the pain of becoming
a victim.
10.7 Sexual Health
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
1. For each of the following statements about sexual health, circle T
for true or F for false:
As long as you always use a condom, you don’t have to
worry about an STI from sexual activity.
You may have a very serious STI without feeling any
symptoms at all.
Abstinence is the only 100 percent effective method of
birth control.
It’s not rape if a man has sexual intercourse with a
woman after she says no as long as he does not use force.
2. List at least three things a woman can do at a party to ensure she
does not become a victim of sexual assault.
3. Describe a first date scenario in which a woman is well protected
from the risk of sexual assault. List at least three things she
should make sure of.
10.7 Sexual Health
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
10.8 Chapter Activities
Chapter Takeaways
• Good health helps you be more successful in college.
• For good nutrition, eat a varied diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and minimize
fats, sugar, and salt.
• Regular exercise is not only important for good health but is a great way to reduce stress in your
• Sleep is one of the first areas where college students cut back when they find themselves too busy
with classes, work, and other activities. Taking the time to get enough sleep, however, makes you so
much more efficient when studying that it can actually save you time.
• Substance use and abuse not only takes its toll on the body but also contributes to problems in
college, at work, and in the future. You may need to make a smart decision between short-term
pleasures and long-term success.
• Since many stressors are unavoidable in life, we all need to find good ways to minimize their
effects. The best stress-reducers over time become good habits that will increase our wellness and
help us succeed in college and careers.
• If you are having an emotional or relationship problem that persists and affects your life, don’t
hesitate to seek help. Most colleges have counselors and health professionals trained to help you
get through any crisis.
• Sexual health is your own business—except that sexuality usually affects and is affected by others.
Smart choices focus on protecting yourself from potential problems, regardless of your choices
about sexual activity.
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
1. Whose fault is it if I’m overweight now? ______________________
2. Whose fault is it if I’m overweight two years from now?
3. Whom can I talk to if I want to find a weight loss program that
will work best for me?
4. Complete these sentences:
a. What I think most needs change in my diet is
b. The main reason I don’t get enough exercise is
c. When I feel stressed, I often
_____________________________________ (How healthy is
that? Should you choose healthier activities instead?)
d. The first step in resolving a conflict you are having with
someone else is to
5. How do you know if you’re drinking too much or too often?
6. As a college student, why should you care about how much stress
you feel and what you do about it?
10.8 Chapter Activities
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
7. If you have a friend who has seemed very depressed lately, what
signs should you look for that might indicate he or she is
becoming suicidal?
8. If you do see signs of suicide in your friend, what should you do?
9. If you are sexually active, can you be certain you are at zero risk
for acquiring HIV? If so, when? If not, why not?
10.8 Chapter Activities
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
1. Choose a friend you enjoy spending time with and see if he or she
will help you with an “experiment.” Together, make a list of fun
things to do together in the next week that will help minimize
your stress. Choose activities that are different from your usual
habits. Following are some ideas, but be creative and try to
include your own healthy ideas:
◦ Cook a healthy meal together (if you have a kitchen) or shop
together for snacks you can carry with you for when you’re
hungry between classes.
◦ Go for a jog, bike ride, or long walk at least three times
during the week.
◦ Study together early in the evening, with snacks and drinks
that won’t slow you down or keep you up, and then get to
bed on time.
At the end of the week, talk about the experiment and how you
felt during and afterward. Did you have fun? Did you get some
ideas for other or better things to do? Plan to keep doing some of
these activities.
2. Spend twenty to thirty minutes online getting more ideas about
healthy ways to minimize the stress you feel as a student. Start
by typing the phrase “stress reduction” into your search engine.
Look for specific ideas and activities not already covered in this
chapter. Write them down here to share with other students and
your instructor.
3. Go to and take the
ten-question stress quiz to see how much you now understand about
stress-related topics. (The Web site also has a lot of
good information for students who speak English as a second language.)
10.8 Chapter Activities
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
My worst eating habits are
My action plan to eat better includes the following:
I don’t get enough exercise because
I’ll try to do these things to become more active:
I sometimes/often don’t get enough sleep because
I can better manage my time to get enough sleep in the following ways:
10.8 Chapter Activities
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
I tend to overuse or abuse these substances:
My action plan to avoid substance problems includes the following:
These things cause me the most stress:
I will take these steps to better cope with these stresses:
Emotional Health
I am happiest when I
10.8 Chapter Activities
Chapter 10 Taking Control of Your Health
I’ll be happier if I make these changes:
Sexual Health
I am/might be putting myself at risk when/if I do these things:
What I should always do to reduce these risks is to
10.8 Chapter Activities
Chapter 11
Taking Control of Your Finances
Figure 11.1
© Thinkstock
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
Where Are You Now?
Assess your present knowledge and attitudes.
Yes Unsure No
1. I am confident I will make it through college
without any financial hardships.
2. I realize that while in college I won’t have as
much money to spend on things as in the past.
3. I plan to avoid debt as much as possible while in
college so I don’t have large loans to pay back after
4. I am willing to make sacrifices and spend less on
some things while in college.
5. I keep track of all my expenditures and maintain
a budget so that I know when I am spending too
6. I believe I can have a happy and fulfilling life
while a student without having a lot of money.
7. I know the best kinds of jobs to seek while in
8. I always pay off the full balance on my credit
cards when the statement arrives.
9. I have applied for every possible form of financial
aid to help pay for college.
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
Where Do You Want to Go?
Think about how you answered the questions above. Be honest with yourself.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your financial health at this time?
In financial trouble
Very financially secure
In the following list, circle the three most important financial areas in which
you think you may need to improve:
Making more money
Finding the best job
Spending less money
Living more cheaply
Paying bills on time
Avoiding overdraft and late-payment fees
Making a budget
Sticking to a budget
Controlling credit card spending
Getting help with personal finances
Saving money
Keeping good financial records
Building a good credit history
Applying for financial aid
Are there other areas in which you can improve your financial well-being and
avoid potential money problems while in college? Write down other things you
feel you need to work on.
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
How to Get There
Here’s what we’ll work on in this chapter:
• Setting realistic financial goals for your college years
• Choosing between making more money and spending less money
• Accepting the financial realities of college and being happy with
your financial choices
• Discovering what kinds of jobs are more fulfilling while in college
and how to find them
• Tracking spending using a budget and managing your budget to
stay on track
• Spending less while still having fun, eating well, and having a
social life
• Using a credit card without getting into debt
• Avoiding future financial problems while building a good credit
history now
• Getting all the financial aid you can
What is a chapter on personal finances doing in a book on student success? If you’re
a new college student you may not yet have money problems or issues—but most
college students soon do. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a “traditional” college
student enrolled in college just after high school or a “nontraditional” student
returning to school.
Younger students are likely to confront money issues for several reasons:
• If you are living away from home for the first time, you may have less
experience setting and sticking to a budget and handling money in
• Because you need more time for studying and other aspects of college
life, you may have less time to work and make money.
• Even if you receive financial support from your family, your funds are
not unlimited, and you’ll need to learn to live within a budget.
• You will have many new expenses including tuition and fees, room and
board or housing and food bills, books and supplies, and so on.
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
Nontraditional students who have worked or started a family before attending
college may have already learned to manage their money well but usually still
confront some financial issues:
• Because you need more time for studying and college, you likely have
less time to work and make money.
• You will have many new expenses including tuition and fees, books and
supplies, and so on.
• You are more likely to have to juggle a budget that may include a
family, mortgage, and other established expenses.
Almost everyone eventually has money issues at college, and they can impact your
academic success. Money problems are stressful and can keep you from
concentrating on your studies. Spending too much may lead you to work more
hours than you might otherwise, giving you less time to study. Or you might take
fewer classes and thus spend more years in college than needed. Worse yet, money
problems cause many students to drop out of college entirely.
But it doesn’t have to be this hard. Like other skills, financial skills can be learned,
and they have lifelong value. This chapter will help you
set financial goals,
consider jobs and making money,
learn how to spend less and manage a budget,
avoid credit card debt,
determine how best to finance your college expenses.
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
11.1 Financial Goals and Realities
1. Set your financial goals to match your realities.
2. Establish financial priorities appropriate for your college years.
3. Make choices between spending less and making more.
It’s expensive to go to college. College tuition has risen for decades at virtually all
schools, and very few students are fortunate enough to not have to be concerned
with this reality. Still, there are things you can do to help control costs and manage
your finances while in college. Begin by thinking about your financial goals.
What Are Your Financial Goals?
Whatever it is you plan to do in your future, whether work or other activities, your
financial goals in the present should be realistic to enable you to fulfill your plan.
Consider these scenarios:
Keri entered college planning to major in business. Her family was not able to give
her much financial support, but she chose to attend an expensive private college
because she thought it would help her get into a good graduate business school. She
had to take large loans to pay her tuition, but she wasn’t concerned about a budget
because she assumed she’d make a lot later on and be able to easily pay off the
loans. Yet when she graduated and had to begin making payments on her private
bank loans, she discovered she couldn’t afford to go straight to business school after
all. She put her dream on hold for a few years and took a job she didn’t much like.
Jorge had worked a few years after high school but finally decided that he needed a
college degree to get the kind of job he wanted. He was happy with his life
otherwise and kept his nice apartment and car and enrolled in a couple night
classes while continuing to work full time during the day. He was surprised how
much he had to study, however, and after a couple months he felt he was
struggling. He just didn’t have enough time to do it all—so he dropped first one
class and then, a couple weeks later, the other. He told himself that he’d try it again
in a year or two, but part of him wondered how anyone could ever get through
college while working.
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
What Keri and Jorge have in common is a conflict between their financial goals and
realities. Both were motivated to succeed in college, and both had a vision for their
future. But both were unsuccessful in finding ways to make their dreams come
true—because of money issues.
Could they have done things differently? Maybe Keri could have gone to a less
expensive school and still reached her goal, or maybe she could have avoided such
heavy student loans by working summers and part time during the school year.
Maybe Jorge could have reduced his living expenses and cut back his work hours to
ensure he could balance school and work better. Maybe both were spending
thousands of dollars a year on things they could have done without if only they’d
thought through their goals and learned to live within a budget.
Taking control of your personal finances begins with thinking about your goals and
deciding what really matters to you. Here are some things to think about:
• Is it important for you to graduate from college without debt? Is it
acceptable to you, or necessary, to take some student loans?
• What are your priorities for summers and other “free time”? Working
to earn money? Taking nonpaying internships1 or volunteering to
gain experience in your field? Enjoying social activities and time with
• How important is it to take a full load of classes so that your college
education does not take longer than necessary?
• How important is it to you to live in a nice place, or drive a nice car, or
wear nice clothes, or eat in nice restaurants? How important in
comparison to your educational goals?
There are no easy answers to such questions. Most people would like enough money
to have and do what they want, low enough expenses that they don’t have to work
too much to stay on budget, and enough financial freedom to choose activities
without being swayed by financial concerns. Few college students live in that world,
however. Since you will have to make choices, it’s important first to think about
what really matters to you—and what you’re willing to sacrifice for a while in order
to reach your goals.
1. A paid or unpaid position in a
formal program designed for a
student to gain practical
experience in a career field.
2. An organized plan for
coordinating income and
Make More or Spend Less?
That often becomes an issue for college students. You begin by setting up a realistic
budget and sticking to it. A budget2 is simply the best way to balance the money
that comes in with the money that goes out.
11.1 Financial Goals and Realities
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
For most college students, the only way to increase the “money coming in” side of
the budget is to work. Even with financial support from your family, financial aid3
from the college, your savings from past jobs, and the like, you will still need to
work if all your resources do not equal the “money going out” side of the budget.
The major theme of this chapter is avoiding debt except when absolutely
necessary to finance your education. Why is that so important? Simply because
money problems and debt cause more people to drop out of college than any other
single factor.
This chapter includes discussion of how students can earn money while in college
and the benefits of working. But working too much can have a negative impact by
taking up time you might need for studying. It’s crucial, therefore, whenever you
think about your own financial situation and the need to work, to also think about
how much you need to work—and consider whether you would be happier spending
less if that meant you could work less and enjoy your college life and studies more.
As we’ll see later, students often spend more than they actually need to and are
often happier once they learn to spend less.
• Almost every college student faces money issues, but you can learn to
take control of your finances.
• Being able to complete your college career should be a key priority when
setting financial goals.
• Since college students need time for classes and studying, it is generally
more important to spend less money rather than work more hours.
1. What is the leading reason some students have to drop out of
3. Funds or a tuition waiver in a
formal program designed to
help students pay for college;
forms of financial aid include
scholarships, grants, student
loans, and work study
11.1 Financial Goals and Realities
2. List three or more things you would be willing to give up or cut
back on in order to be able to finance your college education.
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
11.2 Making Money
1. Understand the value of different kinds of jobs while you’re in college.
2. List questions to consider when considering a particular job possibility.
3. Be able to perform an effective job search.
Most college students work while in school. Whether you work summers only or
part time or full time all year, work can have both benefits and drawbacks. The
difference may result as much from the type of job you work as from the number of
hours you work.
A Job Can Help or Hurt
In addition to helping pay the bills, a job or internship while in school has other
• Experience for your résumé4
• Contacts for your later job search network
• Employment references for your résumé
Work or internship experience related to your future career has significant value.
Not all students can find such opportunities in their community, however. But even
a job or volunteering outside your field can have value and say something about
you to future employers. Your job may demonstrate that you have initiative, are
responsible, are a team player or can work independently, and can take on financial
responsibility. Potential future employers will check your work references. Having
an employer from your college years say you did a good job, were always on time to
work, and were honest and responsible in doing your job definitely gives you an
advantage over students who graduate without having worked at all.
4. A document used to summarize
the experience of a person.
At the same time, some jobs contribute more to your overall college experience.
Remember, you’re in college for an education and to gain a wide range of skills—not
just for the degree. The best student jobs help you engage more deeply in the
college experience, while the wrong kind of job gets in the way of that experience.
Here are some factors to consider as you look for a job:
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
• What kinds of people will you be interacting with? Other students,
instructors, researchers? Interacting with others in the world of
college can broaden your college experience, help motivate you to
study, and help you feel part of a shared experience. You may work
with or meet people who in the future can refer you to employers in
your field. On the other hand, working in a business far from campus,
for example, may offer a steady paycheck but can separate you from
the academic community and detract from a positive college
• Is the job flexible enough to meet a college student’s needs? Will
you be able to change your work hours during final exam week or
when a special project is due? A rigid work schedule may cause
difficulty at times when you really need to focus on your classes.
• What will you be able to say about your work in your future
résumé? Does it involve any skills—including people skills or financial
or managerial responsibilities—that your employer can someday praise
you for? Will working this job help you get a different, better job next
These factors can make a job ideal for college students, but in the real world many
students will have to work less-than-ideal jobs. Working at a fast food restaurant or
overnight shipping company may not seem very glamorous or offer the benefits
described previously, but it may be the only job available at present. Don’t
despair—things can always change. Make the money you need to get by in college
but don’t become complacent and stop looking for more meaningful work. Keep
your eyes and ears open for other possibilities. Visit the campus student
employment office frequently (or check online) for new postings. Talk to other
At the same time, even with a dull job, do your best and keep a good attitude.
Remember that your boss or supervisor may someday be a work reference who can
help (or hurt) your chances of getting a job you really want.
Student Jobs
The number of hours college students work per week varies considerably, from five
to ten hours a week to full time and everywhere in between. Before deciding how
much you need to work, first make a detailed budget as described later. Your goal
should be to make as much as you need, and hopefully a little more to save, but first
you need to know your true need. Remember your goals in college and stay focused
on your education. Cut back on your optional spending so that you don’t have to
work so many hours that your studies are impacted.
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Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
Where to Find a Job
Start at your campus financial aid office or student employment office. If they don’t
have anything right for you at first, check back frequently for new job postings.
For off-campus jobs, check the classified ads in your local newspaper and
Craigslist5. Many jobs are never advertised, however, so ask friends, family
members, and other students. Visit appropriate companies in your area and ask if
they have openings.
If you applied for financial aid when you applied to your college, you probably
already know whether you qualify for a work study program. Often these jobs are
ideal because they are designed for students. If your financial circumstances
change, be sure to check in with the financial aid office because your eligibility may
have changed.
Many government agencies also have summer jobs or internships for college
students. This work may be an ideal way to gain experience related to your chosen
field. (See “Additional Resources” below for more information.)
Go to Work for Yourself
If you have energy and initiative, you can create your own work. While it may take
some time to get started, flexibility and being your own boss can make up for this
drawback. Students often make money in ways like these:
• Tutor classmates in a subject you are good in.
• Sell your technical skills to help others set up new computer hardware,
teach software skills such as PowerPoint or Excel, or design Web sites.
• Sell things you no longer need (video games, DVDs, textbooks) on eBay
or Craigslist. Earn a commission by helping others sell their stuff
• Provide services to faculty members and residents in the nearby
community: lawn mowing, snow shoveling, housecleaning, babysitting,
pet sitting, dog walking, and so on.
5. A free online listing of
classified ads, organized by
city, useful for job searches;
access through
11.2 Making Money
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
Additional Resources
Campus jobs and work study. Check with your campus student employment
or financial aid office.
Broad listing of links for federal government jobs and internships for
students. See and
Student Opportunities at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). See
Student Opportunities at the U.S. Department of Defense. See
Student Opportunities at the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services. See
Student Opportunities at the National Science Foundation. See
Student Internships at the State Department. See
Balancing the Job You Have with Your Ideal Job
A growing percentage of students are working full time when they return to school,
and many continue in the same jobs. If you’re in this situation, you know that
balancing work and college is one of the most difficult things you’ve ever done.
You’re used to working—but not used to finding time for class and studying at the
same time. You likely feel harried and frustrated at times, and you may even start
to wonder if you’re cut out for college. The time may come when you start thinking
about dropping classes or leaving college altogether. It may be hard to stay
If you start feeling this way, focus on your big goals and don’t let the day-to-day
time stresses get you down. As difficult as it may be, try to keep your priorities, and
11.2 Making Money
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
remember that while you face temporary difficulties now, a college degree is
• Acknowledge that sacrifice and compromise may be needed.
• Reduce your expenses, if you can, so you can cut back on the number of
hours you work. This may mean temporarily giving up some things you
enjoy in order to reach your goals.
• If you cannot cut your expenses and work hours and simply do not
have the time to do well in your classes, you may have to cut back on
how many classes you take per term. Try everything else first, but
know that it’s better to succeed a little at a time than to push too hard
and risk not succeeding. If you do have to cut back, keep a positive
attitude: you’re still working toward your future ideal.
If you ever feel the temptation to quit, see your college counselor to explore all your
options. Resources may be available that you don’t know about.
• The best student jobs have value for your college experience and future
résumé and network, while the wrong kinds of jobs may detract from
your college experience.
• How much you work should be based on a realistic budget and your
financial goals and needs.
• To find the best job for you, use all the resources available.
11.2 Making Money
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
1. What are the primary benefits of a student job on campus? (List
as many as you can.)
2. Considering your abilities and interests, what would be your
ideal job while a college student?
11.2 Making Money
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
11.3 Spending Less
1. Identify how you are spending your money and what optional
expenditures you can cut back on.
2. Develop a positive attitude for spending less while still enjoying a full
college experience.
3. Create and manage a workable budget by tracking expenditures to reach
your financial goals.
4. Recognize if you are getting in financial trouble and know what to do
about it.
5. List the benefits of saving money even while in college.
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
Where Does the Money Go?
Most people aren’t really sure where a lot of their money goes. Take this survey
to see how much you remember about how you have spent money recently.
Do your best to remember how much you have spent in the last thirty days
in each of the following categories:
Amount in Dollars (Per
Coffee, soft drinks, bottled water
Newspapers, magazines
Movies, music concerts, sports events, night
Fast food lunches, snacks, gum, candy,
cookies, and so on
Social dining out with friends (lunch,
Music, DVDs, other personal entertainment
Ringtones and mobile phone applications
Bank account fees, ATM withdrawal fees
Credit card finance charges
Lottery tickets
Cigarettes, smokeless tobacco
Beer, wine, liquor purchased in stores
Beer, wine, liquor purchased in restaurants
and bars
Gadgets, video or computer games, and so
Travel, day trips
11.3 Spending Less
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
Amount in Dollars (Per
Now be honest with yourself: is this really all you spent on these items? Most of
us forget small, daily kinds of purchases or underestimate how much we spend
on them—especially when we pay with cash.
You’ll notice also that this list does not include essential spending for things
like room and board or an apartment and groceries, utilities, college tuition and
books, and so on. The greatest potential for cutting back on spending is in the
area of optional things.
Spending on Essentials, Spending on Optionals
More people get into financial trouble because they’re spending too much than
because they’re making (or receiving) too little. While spending may seem a simple
matter—“I need to buy this, I’d like to buy that”—it’s actually very complex.
America is a consumer society, and we’re deluged by advertisements promising that
we’ll be happier, more successful, better liked by more people, sexier, and
everything else if only we buy this. Companies have spent billions of dollars
researching how to manipulate our buying behavior. No wonder it’s so tough to
resist these pressures!
Why does a person feel compelled to buy fast food for lunch, or a new CD with a
song they just heard on the radio, or a new video game a friend says is so good, or a
new article of clothing? We owe it to ourselves to try to understand our own
attitudes about money and spending. Here’s a good place to start:
• Having money or not having money doesn’t define who you are.
Your real friends will think no less of you if you make your own lunch
and eat it between classes or take the bus to campus rather than drive
a new car. You are valued more by others for who you are as a person,
not for what things you have.
• You don’t have to spend as much as your friends to be one of the
group. Some people always have more money than others and spend
more. Resist any feeling that your friends who are big spenders are the
norm. Don’t feel you have to go along with whatever expensive
activities they propose just so you fit in.
11.3 Spending Less
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
• A positive attitude leads to success. Learn to relax and not get
stressed out about money. If you need to make changes in how you
spend money, view this as an exciting accomplishment, not a
depressing fact. Feel good about staying on a budget and being smart
about how you spend your money.
• Be realistic about what you can accomplish. Most students have
financial problems, and they don’t just go away by waving a magic
wand of good intentions. If your budget reveals you don’t have enough
money even while working and carefully controlling your spending,
you may still need a student loan or larger changes in your lifestyle to
get by. That’s OK—there are ways to deal with that. But if you
unrealistically set your sights so high about spending less and saving a
lot, you may become depressed or discouraged if you don’t meet your
Before you can make an effective budget, you need to look at what you’re spending
money on now and consider what’s essential and what’s optional. Essential costs are
the big things:
Room and board or rent/mortgage, utilities, and groceries
College tuition, fees, textbooks, supplies
Insurance (health insurance, car insurance, etc.)
Dependent care if needed
Essential personal items (some clothing, hygiene items, etc.)
These things are sometimes called fixed costs, but that term can be misleading. If
you have the option to move to a less expensive apartment that is smaller or a few
blocks farther away, you can partly control that cost, so it’s not really “fixed.” Still,
for most people, the real savings come from spending less on optional things.
Look back at the amounts you wrote in the earlier exercise “Where Does the Money
Go?” These things are “optional” expenses—you can spend more or less on them as
you choose. Most people spend by habit, not really thinking about where their
money goes or how quickly their spending adds up. If you knew you were spending
more than a thousand dollars a year on coffee you buy every day between classes,
would that make you think twice? Or another thousand on fast food lunches rather
than taking a couple minutes in the morning to make your lunch? When people
actually start paying attention to where their money goes, most are shocked to see
how the totals grow. If you can save a few thousand dollars a year by cutting back
on just the little things, how far would that go to making you feel much better
about your finances?
11.3 Spending Less
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
Following are some general principles for learning to spend less. The “Tips for
Success” then lists specific ways you can try to follow these principles in your daily
life. Remember, spending money doesn’t define who you are!
• Be aware of what you’re spending. Carry a small notebook and write
down everything—everything—you spend for a month. You’ll see your
habits and be able to make a better budget to take control.
• Look for alternatives. If you buy a lot of bottled water, for example,
you may feel healthier than people who drink soft drinks or coffee, but
you may be spending hundreds of dollars a year on something that is
virtually free! Carry your own refillable water bottle and save the
• Plan ahead to avoid impulse spending. If you have a healthy snack in
your backpack, it’s much easier to not put a dollar in a vending
machine when you’re hungry on the way to class. Make a list before
going grocery shopping and stick to it. Shopping without a list usually
results in buying all sorts of unneeded (and expensive) things that
catch your eye in the store.
• Be smart. Shop around, compare prices, and buy in bulk. Stopping to
think a minute before spending is often all it takes.
11.3 Spending Less
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
Tips for Success: Spending Less
Make your own lunches and snacks.
Read newspapers and magazines online or in the library.
Cancel cable television and watch programs online for free.
Use free campus and local Wi-Fi spots and cancel your home highspeed Internet connection.
Buy generic6 products instead of name brands.
Shop at thrift stores and yard sales.
Pay with cash instead of a credit card.
Cancel your health club membership and use a free facility on
Compare prices online.
Avoid ATM fees by finding a machine on your card’s network (or
change banks); avoid checking account monthly fees by finding a
bank with free checking.
Get cash from an ATM in small amounts so you never feel “rich.”
With larger purchases, postpone buying for a couple days (you may
find you don’t “need” it after all).
Look for free fun instead of movies and concerts—most colleges
have frequent free events.
If you pay your own utility bills, make it a habit to conserve: don’t
leave lights burning or your computer on all night.
Use good study skills to avoid failing a class—paying to retake a
course is one of the quickest ways to get in financial trouble!
Figure 11.2
6. Any product commonly
marketed under a brand name
that is sold in a package
without a brand.
11.3 Spending Less
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
Paying with cash rather than a
credit card helps you stay aware
of your spending habits.
© Thinkstock
Managing a Budget
Budgeting involves analyzing your income and expenses so you can see where your
money is going and making adjustments when needed to avoid debt. At first
budgeting can seem complex or time consuming, but once you’ve gone through the
basics, you’ll find it easy and a very valuable tool for controlling your personal
Why create and manage a budget? Going to college changes your financial situation.
There are many new expenses, and you likely don’t know yet how your spending
needs and habits will work out over the long term. Without a budget, it’s just
human nature to spend more than you have coming in, as evidenced by the fact that
most Americans today are in debt. Debt is a major reason many students drop out of
college. So it’s worth it to go to the trouble to create and manage a budget.
Managing a budget involves three steps:
1. Listing all your sources of income on a monthly basis.
2. Calculating all your expenditures on a monthly basis.
3. Making adjustments in your budget (and lifestyle if needed) to ensure
the money isn’t going out faster than it’s coming in.
Tracking Income
Many college students receive money or financial assistance from a number of
sources. To track income in a monthly budget, consider all your sources of funds
and convert them to a monthly number. For example, you may receive a student
loan once during the year or you may work more in the summer and save up money
then. To calculate your monthly projected income, add up your income sources and
divide that number by the number of months you will be using the income. For
example, if you have saved $4,800 that you can spend over two years of college,
11.3 Spending Less
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
divide the $4,800 by twenty-four months to arrive at a monthly income of $200 from
those savings. Do the same with scholarship grants, student loans, monetary gifts,
and so on.
If some of your college costs are being paid directly by parents or others, do not
include that money in your budget as either income or an expense. Base your
monthly budget on just those funds and expenses that involve you directly.
Use Table 11.1 "Monthly Income and Funds" to record and total all your income on
a monthly basis. If you must estimate some sources, estimate low rather than high;
it’s a bad trap to assume you’ll have more money coming in than you actually
do—that’s a real budget buster.
Table 11.1 Monthly Income and Funds
Source of Income/Funds
Amount in Dollars
Job income/salary (take-home amount)
Funds from parents/family/others
Monthly draw from savings
Monthly draw from financial aid
Monthly draw from student/other loans
Other income source: ________________
Other income source: ________________
Other income source: ________________
Total Monthly Incoming:
Tracking Expenses
Tracking expenditures is more difficult than tracking income. Some fixed expenses
(tuition, rent, etc.) you should already know, but until you’ve actually written down
everything you spend in a typical month, it’s hard to estimate how much you’re
really spending on cups of coffee or smoothies between class, groceries,
entertainment, and the like. The best way to itemize this side of your budget is to
write down everything you spend—everything, every bottle of water and cookie,
coins into parking meters, and so forth—for a full month. Then you can total up the
different categories of expenses more realistically. We urge you to immediately
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Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
start writing everything down in a small notebook you carry with you. You may be
astonished how small purchases add up.
While you’re writing this down for a month, go ahead and work through the
expenditure half of your budget, using Table 11.2 "Monthly Expenditures". Set aside
an hour or two to look through your past financial records, checkbook register and
debit card7 transactions, past utility bills, credit card statements, and so on to get
the numbers to put in your expenses budget. Make estimates when you have to, but
be honest with yourself and don’t underestimate your usual spending. There will be
plenty of time down the road to adjust your budget—but don’t start out with an
unrealistic plan. Write “est” (for estimated”) next to numbers in your budget that
you’re guessing at.
Once you have listed your routine expenditures using Table 11.2 "Monthly
Expenditures", write out your own budget categories that fit how you actually spend
money. Everyone is unique, and you want your budget to be easy to use for your
own life and habits.
As noted previously with income, if some of your expenses are paid directly by
others, do not include them here. Base your monthly budget on just those funds and
expenses that involve you directly.
Table 11.2 Monthly Expenditures
Amount in
Tuition and fees (1/12 of annual)
Textbooks and supplies (1/12 of annual)
Housing: monthly mortgage, rent, or room and board
Home repairs
Renter’s insurance
Property tax
Average monthly utilities (electricity, water, gas, oil)
7. A card like a credit card that
functions like a check and
through which a purchase or
cash withdrawal from an
automated teller machine
(ATM) is made directly from
the holder’s bank account.
11.3 Spending Less
Optional utilities (cell phone, Internet service, cable television)
Dependent care, babysitting
Child support, alimony
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
Amount in
Meals and snacks out (including coffee, water, etc.)
Personal expenses (toiletries, cosmetics, haircuts, etc.)
Auto expenses (payments, gas, tolls) plus 1/12 of annual insurance
premium—or public transportation costs
Loan repayments, credit card pay-off payments
Health insurance (1/12 of annual)
Prescriptions, medical expenses
Entertainment (movies, concerts, nightlife, sporting events, purchases of
CDs, DVDs, video games, etc.)
Bank account fees, ATM withdrawal fees, credit card finance charges
Newspapers, magazines, subscriptions
Travel, day trips
Cigarettes, smokeless tobacco
Beer, wine, liquor
Major purchases (computer, home furnishings) (1/12 of annual)
Clothing, dry cleaning
Memberships (health clubs, etc.)
Pet food, veterinary bills, and so on
Other expenditure:
Other expenditure:
Other expenditure:
Other expenditure:
Other expenditure:
Total Monthly Outgoing:
11.3 Spending Less
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
Balancing Your Budget
Now comes the moment of truth: compare your total monthly incoming with your
total monthly outgoing. How balanced is your budget at this point? Remember that
you estimated some of your expenditures. You can’t know for sure until you
actually track your expenses for at least a month and have real numbers to work
What if your spending total is higher than your income total? The first step is to
make your budget work on paper. Go back through your expenditure list and see
where you can cut. Remember, college students shouldn’t try to live like working
professionals. Maybe you are used to a nice haircut every month or two—but maybe
you can go to a cheaper place or cut it yourself. There are dozens of ways to spend
less, as suggested earlier. The essential first step is to make your budget balance
on paper.
Then your job is to live within the budget. It’s normal to have to make adjustments
at first. Just be sure to keep the overall budget balanced as you make adjustments.
For example, if you find you must spend more for textbooks, you may decide you
can spend less on eating out—and subtract the amount from that category that you
add to the textbook category. Get in the habit of thinking this way instead of
reaching for a credit card when you don’t have enough in your budget for
something you want or need.
Don’t be surprised if it takes several months to make the budget process work. Be
flexible, but stay committed to the process and don’t give up because it feels like to
too much work to keep track of your money. Without a budget, you may have
difficulty reaching your larger goal: taking control of your life while in college.
11.3 Spending Less
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
Budgeting on Your Computer
If you are good at Excel or another spreadsheet program, you can create your
own budget in a spreadsheet that allows you to monitor your income and
expenditures month to month, with the calculations done for you. Other budget
calculators can be found online. Figure 11.3 "Simple Online Budget Calculator"
shows a simple online budget calculator. The categories are general, but you
can add up your numbers from Table 11.2 "Monthly Expenditures" in these
categories and enter them in the online budget form, which then does the
calculations for you.
Figure 11.3
Simple Online Budget CalculatorFederal Student Aid, “Budget Calculator,” Federal Student Aid Direct Loans, (accessed July 13, 2010).
Most college students can do well with a simple budget that helps you track
monthly income and expenditures so that you can make adjustments as needed.
If your financial life is more complicated or you would enjoy full financial
tracking and control using your computer, a software program like Quicken has
all the power you need and can download your banking and credit card records
11.3 Spending Less
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
to easily track categories of expenses over time. A free online budget and
tracking system is available at
What If Your Budget Doesn’t Work?
Your budget may be unbalanced by a small amount that you can correct by
reducing spending, or it may have a serious imbalance. If your best efforts fail to cut
your expenditures to match your income, you may have a more serious problem,
unless you plan in advance to manage this with student loans or other funds.
First, think about how this situation occurred. When you decided to go to college,
how did you plan to finance it? Were you off in your calculations of what it would
cost, or did you just hope for the best? Are you still committed to finding a way to
continue in college?
If you are motivated to reach your college goal, good! Now look closely at your
budget to determine what’s needed. If you can’t solve the budget shortfall by
cutting back on “optional” expenses, then you need more dramatic changes. Are
you paying a high rent because your apartment is spacious or near campus? Can
you move a little farther away and get by temporarily in a smaller place, if the
difference in rent makes a big difference in your overall finances? If you’re
spending a lot on your car, can you sell it and get by with public transportation for
a year or two? Play with the numbers for such items in your budget and see how
you can cut expenses to stay in college without getting deeply in debt. If you worry
you won’t be as happy if you change your lifestyle, remember that money problems
are a key source of stress for many college students and that stress affects your
happiness as well as how well you do in college. It’s worth the effort to work on
your budget and prevent this stress.
If all else fails, see a financial aid counselor at your college. Don’t wait until you’re
in real financial trouble before talking to someone who may be able to offer help.
11.3 Spending Less
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
Why People Spend Too Much, Even on a Budget
• Old habits die hard. Keep monitoring your spending habits and
watch for things you’re spending money on without really
thinking about it.
• Credit cards. Never use them if at all possible. They make it easy
to spend too much or not see how much you’re spending. Save
them for emergencies.
• Easy access to cash. Just put your card in an ATM and get some
cash! It’s so easy to do, and an automatic habit for so many, that
it’s easy to bust your budget with small amounts daily.
• Temptations are everywhere. Even when we’re careful, we’re
often easily influenced by friends to go out or spend in other ways.
Remember why you made your budget in the first place and keep
your priorities in mind. The guilt you’ll feel tomorrow about
spending a whole week’s food budget on one expensive dinner out
probably isn’t worth the pleasure of it!
• We buy things to feel good. If that’s been a longtime habit for
you, it will be hard to break. Often it’s better to find small things
that make you feel good rather than trying to go without
everything. Rewarding yourself with an ice cream treat for a
week’s budgeting success won’t break your budget.
What If You Get in Financial Trouble?
People often don’t admit to themselves that they have a problem until it becomes
unmanageable. We human beings are very good at rationalizing and making
excuses to ourselves! Here are some warning signs of sliding into financial trouble:
• For two or three months in a row, your budget is unbalanced because
you’re spending more than you are bringing in.
• You’ve begun using your savings for routine expenses you should be
able to handle with your regular budget.
• You’ve missed a deadline for a bill or are taking credit card cash
advances or overdrawing your checking account.
• You have a big balance on your credit card and have paid only the
required minimum payment for the last two months.
• You have nothing in the bank in case of an emergency need.
• You don’t even know how much total debt you have.
11.3 Spending Less
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
• You’re trying to cut expenses by eliminating something important,
such as dropping health insurance or not buying required textbooks.
If you are experiencing any of these warning signs, first acknowledge the problem.
It’s not going to solve itself—you need to take active steps before it gets worse and
affects your college career.
Second, if you just cannot budget your balance, admit that you need help. There’s
no shame in that. Start with your college counselor or the financial aid office; if
they can’t help you directly, they can refer you to someone who can. Take your
budget and other financial records with you so that they can see what’s really
involved. Remember that they’re there to help—their goal is to ensure you succeed
in college.
Balance Your Checkbook!
Lots of people don’t balance their checkbook every month, thinking it’s just too
much trouble. But it’s important to keep your checkbook balanced for several
• Banks sometimes make errors, and you can’t catch one without
checking your record against your monthly bank statement.
• If you make a math error or forget to record a check or ATM
withdrawal, you may have to pay overdraft fees.
• If you balance your checkbook only every few months, it can take
many hours to examine records and find a problem.
If you’re not sure how exactly to balance your checkbook, ask a teller at your
bank or get instructions online. This takes only a few minutes each month and
is well worth it to avoid the stress and lost hours caused by an inevitable
Saving for the Future
If you’re having problems just getting by on your budget, it may seem pointless to
even think about saving for the future. Still, if you can possibly put aside some
money every month into a savings plan, it’s worth the effort:
11.3 Spending Less
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
• An emergency or unexpected situation may occur suddenly. Having the
savings to cope with it is much less stressful than having to find a loan
or run up your credit cards.
• Saving is a good habit to develop. Saving for the future will prepare
you well for the increasing financial complexities of life after
• You may need your savings to help launch your career after
graduation. If you’re broke when you graduate, you may feel you have
to take the first job that comes along, but with some savings you may
have time to find the job that’s perfect for you.
• You may change your mind about future plans. Maybe you now think
that you’ll go to work at a good job right after graduation, so you’re not
concerned about saving—but maybe in a couple years you’ll decide to
go to graduate school, law school, or business school—or to start your
own business, or to join a volunteer program. Your savings may allow
you to pursue a new goal.
Start by saving in a savings account at your bank or credit union8. You can have a
certain amount transferred from your checking account every month into a savings
account—that makes it easier and more routine. A savings account allows
withdrawal anytime but pays lower interest than other accounts. Ask at your bank
about money market9 accounts and certificates of deposit (CDs)10, which
generally pay higher interest but have restrictions on minimum balances and
withdrawals. Savings bonds are another option. All of these options are federally
insured, so your money stays safe. Risky investments like the stock market are
generally not appropriate for college students on a budget.
8. A cooperative association that
offers banking services to
employees and often students
at a particular college, possibly
at rates more competitive than
a private bank.
9. A specific type of investment
and spending account offered
at many banks that may pay a
higher interest rate.
10. A bank deposit, usually made
for a fixed term, at a specified
interest rate that is typically
higher than the rate of a
regular savings account,
involving a penalty for early
11.3 Spending Less
• Financial success while in college depends on understanding and
controlling your expenditures.
• There are many ways you can spend less on optional expenses, and even
essentials, and still have a full life and enjoy your college experience.
• A detailed monthly budget that lists all income sources and
expenditures makes it easier to track expenses and avoid sliding into
financial trouble.
• Spending too much can quickly lead to financial problems. If you see the
signs that you’re starting to have money problems, take steps quickly to
prevent trouble before it snowballs out of control.
• While it may seem difficult just to make ends meet, make it a goal also to
attempt to save something for future needs.
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
1. List the top three optional expenditures you usually make every
2. List three tips for spending less that you feel you will be able to
use routinely to avoid running out of money while in college.
3. For each of the following statements, circle T for true or F for
It’s OK to miss a deadline for paying your phone bill as
long as you pay on time at least half of the time.
There’s really nothing wrong with not having any money
T F in the bank as long as you have a credit card for
emergencies and major purchases.
You should balance your checkbook every month when
you receive your bank statement.
A good way to save money is to try to get by without
buying expensive textbooks.
You only need to write up a budget if you’ve gotten
T F deeply into debt and need to see a financial advisor to get
out of debt.
11.3 Spending Less
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
11.4 Credit Cards
Identify the benefits of having a credit card and choosing one wisely.
Set personal limits for your credit card use to minimize your debt.
Describe steps to take to avoid overusing a credit card.
Understand the importance of a good credit history and how to obtain
and review your credit report.
Credit cards are such a big issue because they are easy to get, easy to use—and for
many people, addictive. Until new regulations in 2009 and 2010, many college
students got deeply in debt and experienced financial disaster. The new regulations
set limits to prevent such serious problems for students under age twenty-one, but
older students may still experience problems from overuse.
Credit cards do have legitimate purposes:
• In an emergency, you may need funds you cannot obtain otherwise.
• You generally need a credit card for travel, for hotels, and other needs.
• Often it’s less expensive to make significant purchases online, and to
do that you usually need a credit card. (Many ATM debit cards also
function like a credit card for online purchases.)
• If you are young, responsible use of a credit card is a good way to start
building a credit rating11—but only if you use the credit card
responsibly and always make sufficient payments on time.
Even though federal regulations require banks to disclose all fees and make it more
difficult to increase fees or rates without warning credit card holders in advance,
many people overuse credit cards and pay high interest rates and fees for making
late payments. The average American household has credit card debt of $5,000 to
$8,000 (reports vary). College students reportedly are more likely to be late with
payments and incur additional fees.
11. The classification of credit risk
based on a person’s financial
resources, past payment
pattern, and personal history
of debts.
Your first goal with a credit card is to understand what you’re getting into and how
you are charged. Read the fine print on your monthly statements. You should
understand about rate increases and know what happens if you miss a payment, pay
less than the minimum, or pay late. It also pays to shop around. Two good Web
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
sites— and—compare rates of
many credit cards and provide more information about how credit cards work.
Setting Limits
All credit cards come with a limit, the maximum total amount you can charge, but
this is not the same as the limit you should set for how you use the card based on
your budget. If you bought something that cost $400, for example, would your
monthly budget let you pay it off when the bill comes? If it will take you two or
three months to have that much available in your budget, are you also including the
interest you’ll be paying? What if an unexpected need then arises and you need to
charge more?
Set your personal use limit by calculating how much your budget allows you to
charge. If you are using the card just for convenience, such as to pay for meals or
regular purchases, be sure you have enough in those categories in your budget left
at the end of the month to make the payment. If tempted to buy a significant item
with your credit card, do the calculations in advance.
Avoiding Debt
If your credit card debt is not limited by your age, that balance can rapidly rise.
Before the 2010 regulations, the average student had accumulated a debt estimated
as high as $3,000. Following are tips that will help you avoid slipping into credit
card debt:
12. The act of withdrawing (or
purchasing with a debit card)
more funds from an account
than are in the account at the
11.4 Credit Cards
• Pay with cash when you can. Use your budget as a guide for how
much cash to carry with you. A good way is to plan how much you’ll
need for a week (lunches, parking meters, snacks or drinks between
classes) and start the week with that amount from an ATM. Carrying
that exact amount helps you stay informed of how you’re doing on
your budget and keeps you from “accidentally” spending too much on
a whim.
• When possible, use a debit card instead of a credit card. A debit
card is taken just like a credit card in most places, so you can use it
instead of cash, but remember that a purchase is subtracted
immediately from your account. Don’t risk overdraft12 fees by using a
debit card when you don’t have the balance to back it up. Record a
debit card purchase in your checkbook register as soon as possible.
• Make it a priority to pay your balance in full every month. If you
can’t pay it all, pay as much as you can—and then remember that
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
balance will still be there, so try not to use the card at all during the
next month.
Don’t get cash advances on your credit card. With most cards, you
begin paying interest from that moment forward—so there will still be
an interest charge even if you pay the bill in full at the end of the
month. Cash advance interest rates are often considerably higher than
purchase rates.
Don’t use more than one credit card. Multiple cards make it too easy
to misuse them and lose track of your total debt.
Get and keep receipts for all credit card purchases. Don’t throw
them away because you’ll see the charges on your monthly statement.
Write the amounts down in your spending budget. You also need the
receipts in case your monthly statement has an error.
Stop carrying your credit card. If you don’t have enough willpower
to avoid spontaneous purchases, be honest with yourself. Don’t carry
the card at all—after all, the chances of having an emergency need for
it are likely to be very small. Having to go home to get the card also
gives you a chance to consider whether you really need whatever it is
that you were about to buy.
Credit History and Reports
Many younger college students are just beginning to develop a credit history13.
Older students likely have had credit cards for years, as well as automobile and
other types of loans, possibly a mortgage, and other financial transactions that add
up to a credit history. But everyone needs to understand what a credit history is
and how your monetary habits now can affect your future financial well-being and
your future options. For example, frequent overdrafts on a debit card can prevent
you from being approved for a credit card, or late credit card payments can prevent
you in the future from obtaining a car loan.
Credit bureaus collect financial data on everyone. The credit report14 they issue is
a detailed history of many years of your financial habits (Figure 11.4 "First Page of a
Typical Credit Report"). It includes the following:
13. A general term referring to a
person’s past use of credit and
payment patterns.
14. A written report, compiled by a
credit bureau, listing the
details of a person’s credit
history, possibly including a
credit rating, FICO score, or
11.4 Credit Cards
Current and past credit accounts (credit cards and store charge cards)
History of balances and credit payments
History of late or missed payments
Inquiries into your credit status (e.g., if you’ve applied for a number of
credit cards, this is recorded even if you did not receive the cards)
• Bankruptcy or mortgage foreclosure proceedings
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
All this information remains in your credit report for up to seven to ten years. What
you do today can really come back to haunt you!
Figure 11.4 First Page of a Typical Credit ReportAmerican DataBank, “Trans Union Sample Credit Report,” (accessed July 15, 2010).
Reviewing Your Credit History
If you have ever had a loan or credit card, you already have a credit history. It can
be important to know what is in your report. Errors are common in credit histories
and, if not corrected, can hurt you in the future.
You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report every year, and ideally you
should check it every year for possible errors. To obtain a copy online, go to This is a government Web site, and the report
is free.
You may also visit the Web site of any of the three main credit bureaus, but be
aware that each has for-fee services they may attempt to sell you while obtaining
your report.
11.4 Credit Cards
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
• Experian:
• TransUnion:
• Equifax:
Once you receive your credit report, go over it carefully to make sure its
information is accurate. If you have paid off and closed an account, for example, it
should not be listed as still open. Make sure all accounts listed actually belong to
you and that the balances listed are correct. If you do find an error, report it
promptly, following the procedure on the credit bureau’s Web site.
It’s also important to keep good financial records. Don’t immediately throw away
your credit card statements or loan papers. You may need these to prove an error in
your credit history.
Your FICO Credit Score
To sum up your creditworthiness, credit bureaus analyze all your data to come up
with a single number, called your credit score or FICO score15. (FICO is short for the
Fair Isaac Credit Organization, which created this method of analyzing data.) The
calculations of each credit bureau differ somewhat. The score may be anywhere
between 250 and 336 (poor credit risk) and 843 and 900 (excellent credit risk). The
score is based on the following:
15. A standard credit score often
included in a credit report
generated by a credit bureau,
used to measure a person’s
credit risk; an acronym for the
Fair Isaac Credit Organization,
which devised the basic
formula for calculating this
16. A fraudulent use of someone’s
identifying or personal data or
documents, such as a credit
11.4 Credit Cards
The length of your credit history
The total amount you owe
Your payment history
The types of credit you have
Credit bureaus are not required to tell you the FICO score that they report to a
lender who inquires about your credit history. Check with any of the individual
credit bureaus listed earlier, if you need to know your score. Or you may be able to
get this information from a lender with whom you have a loan. Most students have
no need to know their credit score, except to understand how banks and other
lenders make their decisions if you are applying for any type of loan.
Protecting Your Financial Identity
Identity theft is a serious and growing problem. Identity theft16 is someone else’s
use of your personal information—usually financial information—to make an illegal
gain. A criminal who has your credit card number or bank account information may
be able to make purchases or transfer funds from your accounts. Someone with the
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
right information about you, such as your social security number along with birth
date and other data, can even pretend to be you and open new credit accounts that
you don’t know about—until the bank or collection agency tries to recover amounts
from you. Although innocent, you would spend a lot of time and effort dealing with
the problem.
Follow these guidelines to prevent identity theft:
• Never put in the trash any document with personal or financial
information (e.g., your social security number, credit card number).
Shred it first.
• Carefully review bank statements, credit card bills, and the like when
you receive them. If the balance seems incorrect or you do not
recognize charges, contact the bank or credit card company
• Never give your social security number, credit card number, or other
sensitive data when requested by telephone or e-mail. Many schemes
are used to try to trick people to reveal this information, but legitimate
companies do not make such requests.
• Do not use online banking or make online purchases with a credit card
using a public computer or an unsecured Wi-Fi connection. Your data
can be picked up by others lurking within the Wi-Fi signal range.
11.4 Credit Cards
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
Maria’s Financial Dilemma
When Maria decided to attend a community college after working full time a
few years, she was confident she could afford it. She had saved enough
money to pay tuition for two years, and she cut back to part-time work that
paid enough, she calculated, to live on. With great enthusiasm she registered
for the fall term.
Her money problems began in November when her car broke down on the
way to her job. The mechanic said her transmission had to be rebuilt and her
car also really needed new rear shocks The bill was well over a thousand
dollars. She paid with her Visa card. At the end of the month, she didn’t
have enough in her checking account to pay the credit card bill in full. She
almost decided just to pay the minimum, but then she checked her
statement and saw the 18 percent interest rate and decided to pay the full
balance from her savings. She wouldn’t need that money for tuition until
next year anyway, and that gave her a long time to save it up.
The first week in December, she slipped on an icy sidewalk and sprained her
ankle. She had student health insurance, though she had to make a
copayment. Unfortunately, she couldn’t do her job on crutches, so she lost
two weeks’ pay.
Still, “that’s life,” she thought, although she was so worried about money
now that she almost decided to register for just two courses the next term.
But college was her priority, so she took a full load and increased her work
hours for a couple months to help her get caught up financially. But then as
midterm exams grew closer, she felt unprepared because she hadn’t had
enough time for studying. Because of the stress she wasn’t sleeping well, and
one day she fell asleep in class. Always rushing around, she was eating more
junk food than ever and feeling too guilty to even get on the scale to see if
she was gaining weight, too. She found herself daydreaming about the
coming summer and being free of classes. To feel better, she took long drives
in her car on the weekends.
She did pass her midterms, though she did not do as well as she’d hoped. She
still hadn’t been able to save enough for next year’s tuition but felt that she
had the summer to work full time and make up for it.
11.4 Credit Cards
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
In April, her boss told her that business was too slow to be able to increase
her hours to full time for the summer. He was very sorry, but she could keep
working part time if she wanted.
Now Maria really doubted if she’d be able to make it. Her family could spare
no money to help her out. She had enough for rent, food, and her car, but
that was about it. If she didn’t figure something out, she couldn’t afford
tuition in the fall. Even with an installment plan to break up tuition
payments, she just wasn’t making enough to cover it. She didn’t know what
to do.
1. What is the first step Maria should take to start sorting out her
financial situation and learn about her options?
2. Maria’s financial planning was based on making enough to cover
what she spends and using her savings for tuition. If she were to
make a monthly budget and analyze every expenditure, might
she be able to cut back and save more for unexpected expenses
that come up? List areas in which she would likely be able to
spend less if she used a budget.
3. Maria’s attitude toward her credit card is a healthy indicator that
she wants to avoid debt. If this proved to be the only solution,
however, should she consider a student loan to cover the tuition
for her second year? Why or why not?
11.4 Credit Cards
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
4. If Maria was considering not attending college the second year
but instead looking for a new full-time job that would allow her
to save up tuition money again, what advice might you give her?
• Credit cards have several important benefits when used carefully,
including building a credit history and having emergency funds
• Don’t charge purchases up to the credit card’s limit but set your own
personal limit that allows you to pay the balance in full every month.
• Avoid high credit card balances by using the card minimally, paying
cash when you can, and avoiding cash advances.
• How you manage your credit and finances now affects your credit
history and creditworthiness in the future.
11.4 Credit Cards
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
1. What is the best number of credit cards to have and carry with
2. For each of the following statements, circle T for true or F for
The more credit cards you have, and the larger the
balances you keep, the better is your credit rating as long
as you make the minimum payments every month on
T F Most credit cards charge the same interest rate.
An overdraft on an ATM cash advance won’t cost you
anything as long as you pay it off at the end of the month.
Your credit history begins only after graduation from
T F college, so it doesn’t matter much how you manage
money while still in school.
T F Identity theft happens only to senior citizens.
3. How often can one obtain a free credit report?
11.4 Credit Cards
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
11.5 Financing College and Looking Ahead
1. Understand the importance of researching and applying for financial aid
every year even if you don’t think you qualify for assistance.
2. Identify key differences among scholarships and grants, student loans,
and work study programs.
3. Avoid excessive student loans and setting yourself up for future
financial difficulties.
You may already be receiving financial aid or understand what types of financial aid
are available. Even if you are not receiving financial aid, however, you should
understand the basics because your financial situation may change and you may
need help paying for college. You owe it to yourself to learn about potential types of
aid you might receive.
17. A sum of money or other
financial aid granted to a
student based on academic
merit or other ability, intended
to help meet the expenses of
attending college.
18. A sum of money or other
financial aid given to a student
usually based on demonstrated
financial need or other criteria,
intended to help meet the
expenses of attending college.
19. A special kind of loan, typically
with a lower interest rate and
other characteristics, intended
to help qualified students meet
the expenses of attending
college; may include both
private bank loans and
subsidized, low-interest federal
20. A type of financial aid in which
a student works part time to
earn funds for financing the
costs of attending college; may
include a federally subsidized
or another work study
Every college has a financial aid office that can give you information about standard
financial aid programs. Certain kinds of financial aid, however, such as private
scholarships17, are not administered by the college, so you may need to do some
research. There are three main categories of financial aid:
1. Scholarships and grants18 (money or tuition waivers that do not need
to be repaid)
2. Student loans19 (money that does need to be repaid, usually starting
after graduation)
3. Work study20 programs (money that is earned for tuition or other
These three types of aid are described in the following sections. Remember that this
section only introduces these types of financial aid—be sure to get more
information from your college’s financial aid office and the online sources listed
Applying for Financial Aid
For financial aid administered by your college, often only one general application
form is required, along with detailed information on your financial situation (and
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
those of your parents or guardians, if you are receiving their support) provided by
filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)21. If you have
not already done this application, learn more at Virtually
all colleges require the FAFSA.
Outside loans and scholarships are generally applied for separately. Follow these
general rules to ensure you receive any aid for which you are qualified:
1. Apply to your college for financial aid every year, even if you do not
receive financial aid in your first year or term. Your situation may
change, and you want to remain eligible at all times in the future by
filing the application.
2. Talk to the financial office immediately if you (or your family) have
any change in your circumstances.
3. Complete your application accurately, fully, and honestly. Financial
records are required to verify your data. Pay attention to the deadlines
for all applications.
4. Research possible outside financial aid based on other criteria. Many
private scholarships or grants are available, for example, for the
dependents of employees of certain companies, students pursuing a
degree in a certain field, or students of a certain ethnic status or from a
certain religious or geographical background, and the like.
5. Do not pay for financial aid resource information. Some online
companies try to profit from the anxieties of students about financial
aid by promising to find financial aid for you for a fee. Legitimate
sources of financial aid information are free.
Scholarships and Grants
21. A detailed financial application
form including a college
student’s (and often his or her
parents’ or guardians’) detailed
financial information such as
income; required by almost all
U.S. colleges as part of applying
for financial aid.
Scholarships and grants are “free” money—you do not have to pay them back,
unlike student loans. A scholarship is generally based on merit rather than
demonstrated financial need—based on past grades, test scores, achievements, or
experiences, including personal qualifications such as athletic ability, skills in the
arts, community or volunteer experiences, and so on. Don’t make the mistake of
thinking scholarships go only to students with high grades. Many scholarships, for
example, honor those with past leadership or community experience or the
promise of future activities. Even the grades and test scores needed for academic
scholarships are relative: a grade point average (GPA) that does not qualify for a
scholarship at one college may earn a scholarship at another. Never assume that
you’re not qualified for any kind of scholarship or grant.
11.5 Financing College and Looking Ahead
Chapter 11 Taking Control of Your Finances
A grant also does not need to be paid back. Most grants are based on demonstrated
financial need. A grant may be offered by