A Student's Guide to Acing College: Tips, Tools, and Strategies for Academic Success

A Student's Guide to Acing College: Tips, Tools, and Strategies for Academic Success

by Jeffrey Vaske


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Are you nervous about the rigors of college academics? Does graduating from college seem like an impossible dream? If so, A Student's Guide to Acing College is for you!

This motivational and insightful guide walks you step-by-step along the path toward academic success.

Inside, you will find a multitude of tips, tools, and strategies designed to help you develop the essential skills necessary to succeed in college.

You will also be introduced to several resources unique to the college experience that can assist you in achieving top grades.

A Student's Guide to Acing College gives you the tools to conquer the world of college academics and fulfill your dreams!

"Directly from the trenches: after having successfully navigated two challenging academic programs simultaneously, Jeffrey Vaske has provided a succinct and extremely useful guide for college students. Essentially, he demystifies the academic skills that students need to do well. If you have a child starting college, get him or her this book."
- Dr. Katharina Tumpek-Kjellmark, Chair, History Department, Grand View University

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781462001200
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 03/22/2011
Pages: 112
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.23(d)

Read an Excerpt

A Student's Guide To Acing College

Tips, Tools, and Strategies for Academic Success
By Jeffrey Vaske

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2011 Jeffrey Vaske
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4620-0120-0

Chapter One

You Do Not Have to Be a Genius

A common misconception is that you have to be extraordinarily intelligent to achieve academic success in college. Some people might say that this accomplishment requires a photographic memory or a natural writing ability that puts one well above his or her peers. Certainly, both of these qualities help. However, for the vast majority of students, these abilities just do not exist. So let me be the first to tell you that you do not have to be a genius to achieve academic success in college.

You are probably thinking to yourself, "Sure, you might not be a genius or have a photographic memory, but you probably got a 33 on your ACT or a 2200 on your SAT." Once again, not true in my case. I took the ACT three times, and the highest score I earned was a 25, with an average score of 23.3. This score is nothing special and identifies me as being about average, so I must be an average student, right? Wrong again. I, and I am sure many other students along the way, have long felt that the standardized tests that colleges use to evaluate students for admission (i.e., the ACT and SAT) are flawed.

First of all, some students are simply not good at taking tests, especially when it comes to standardized tests. Standardized tests cover a broad range of material related to general topics like reading, science, and math. Even though I took preparatory courses and went over hundreds of practice questions, I found it very difficult to study for and do well on standardized tests. On the other hand, if given a pretty good idea of what to study, I could always prepare myself well enough to succeed on classroom tests as they related to specific course material.

The other issue I have with standardized tests is that many people falsely believe that they are a measure of intelligence. In reality, they are a measurement of one's educational development, not one's intellegence. Certainly some students are, by either nature or nurture, smarter than others and will score higher on standardized tests. However, what do you (and all other students) do when you do not know the answer to a particular question? You test the laws of probability and guess, hoping that luck will be on your side.

Now I do not know about you, but I can honestly say that I guessed on about 40 percent of the questions each time that I took the ACT. I am sure that I answered a few of those questions correctly, but the laws of probability would dictate that I answered the majority of them incorrectly. The only reason I raised my ACT score from a 21 to a 24 and then from a 24 to a 25 on the third attempt was probably because I just guessed a little better each time. So do not get discouraged if you did not score well on the ACT or SAT. They are not a true measure of your intelligence.

Finally and perhaps most noteworthy, is that standardized tests are not predictors of academic success. This is a tough pill to swallow for some admissions counselors who turn away very capable students every year due to low test scores on the ACT or SAT. In fact, I was discriminated against during my college application process because I only scored a 25 on the ACT. Reality check: just because someone scores a 33 on the ACT or a 2200 on the SAT, it does not guarantee that he or she will succeed in college academics. Certainly, there must be a process for colleges to evaluate potential students before admitting them, but I challenge all admissions counselors to focus less on these numbers and more on the individual profiles of each prospective student.

As I will discuss throughout this book, achieving academic success in college involves much more than simply scoring well on a standardized test. Academic success is achieved by constantly developing, improving, and properly utilizing a multitude of skills over the course of one's college career. Indeed, a student might have scored a 33 on their ACT, but he or she must still possess strong organizational and time management skills. That person must also 1) go to class every day, 2) establish sound relationships with their instructors, 3) practice good study habits, 4) improve his or her test-taking abilities, 5) work to become a proficient writer, 6) understand the dynamics of group projects, and 7) exploit valuable campus resources.

In conclusion, you do not have to be a genius to achieve academic success in college. Even if your high school grades were not the greatest or you scored low on the ACT or SAT, it does not mean that you cannot succeed at the highest level in college academics. Furthermore, do not let these perceived shortcomings deter you from pursuing a particular field of study or the profession that you desire most in life.

If you want to become a pharmacist, a lawyer, a teacher, a nurse, or anything else that your heart desires, pursue that goal with all of your might. Do not let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do, and do not settle for anything less than what you want. Finally, remember that college is a marathon, not a sprint, and that you must develop the right frame of mind to make it to the finish line.

Key Points:

• You do not have to be a genius to achieve academic success in college.

• Do not dwell upon standardized test scores: the ACT and SAT are not predictors of academic success.

• Do not settle for anything less than what you want in life.

Chapter Two

Mind Over Matter

With a goal of obtaining your associate's, bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree, the thought of spending the next several years of your life working toward a college degree can be very overwhelming. You might feel as if you are a hiker standing at the base of a large mountain, looking straight up at the peak. That peak is your goal and in this case, your goal is to earn a college degree.

The distance you must traverse to reach that goal will be long and difficult. Still, you must keep things in perspective and remain focused on the present. A very wise man once told me, "You cannot control the past and you cannot control the future, but you can control the present. So do not dwell upon the past and do not worry about the future. Focus on what you can control. Focus on the present."

The moral of the story is that you should remain focused on the present day, not the should haves of yesterday or the what ifs of tomorrow. Dwelling upon past events and contemplating potential future events will only make you more anxious in the present, which will negatively affect your performance in the present. Consequently, the strategy here is to set small, everyday goals that will help you achieve your mid- and long-term goals.

For example, sit down on Sunday evening and make a list of goals that you want to accomplish during the upcoming week. Likewise, when you get up each morning, take a moment to make a list of goals that you want to accomplish for that particular day. Consider any upcoming deadlines related to papers, projects, or tests, and prioritize your lists according to what must be completed first. Focusing on and achieving these little goals will do several things for you, both in terms of getting your work completed and in terms of attaining the right frame of mind to "climb the mountain."

First, it will help you stay focused on the present and will prevent your mind from anguishing about the past or the future. Remaining focused on the present will minimize your anxiety and therefore increase your productivity. Second, it will give you a sense of accomplishment each day as you systematically cross items off of your to-do list. This sense of accomplishment will give you valuable confidence in yourself and in your abilities to perform at the college-level. Finally, making daily and weekly lists of goals will help you adequately prioritize your work to get it completed on time. This will ensure that you are always well prepared for class and for any tests or projects that you might have during each week.

Making daily and weekly lists of goals will also assist you in achieving your overall goals for each semester and each academic year. You will discover that each semester builds upon one another and that the habits you develop early on will set the tone for your entire academic career. Being mindful of this is particularly important if you are in an associate's degree program and want to eventually get into a bachelor's degree program or if you are in a bachelor's program and want to ultimately get into a graduate or professional program (e.g., medical, dental, or law school). In order to achieve these things, it is imperative that you set short-, mid-, and long-term academic goals along the way.

Setting goals and remaining focused on the present are essential in achieving the psychological edge needed to "run the marathon" that is college academics. Once again, failing to do these things will only increase your anxiety and promote poor academic performance. Thus, I would argue that controlling your anxiety is one of the most important aspects of achieving academic success in college.

Even so, what is anxiety, exactly? There are numerous definitions for anxiety, but it is generally understood to be a fear of the unknown. In other words, it is apprehension about the future caused by the uncertainties of the present. Hence, in order to control, alleviate, and eventually eliminate anxiety altogether, you must first identify your fears and then take the necessary steps to prevent those fears from controlling your life.

In the end, you must understand the power of mind over matter. You, and you alone, can eliminate your anxiety with your actions: remain focused on the present, and set daily/weekly goals in order to achieve your short-, mid-, and long-term academic goals. As we will discuss in the next chapter, the key to achieving these goals is to get organized so that you are prepared for whatever comes your way. After all, in academics as in life, chance favors those who are well prepared!

Key Points:

• Always remain focused on the present: do not dwell upon the past and do not worry about the future.

• Set daily and weekly goals in order to achieve your short-, mid-, and long-term academic goals.

• Strive to minimize your anxiety so that you can maximize your productivity.

Chapter Three

Live an Organized Life

In the chaos and turmoil of our modern world, one of the most difficult things to do is to achieve some level of organization so that you can function normally on a daily basis. Perhaps the term normal ceases to have meaning in our advanced society with all of its distractions: cell phones, televisions, video games, computers, MP3 players, and so forth. Still, as a college student (particularly as a college freshman), one of the best things you can do to ensure academic success is to sort through all of these distractions. In other words, get organized: attain a level of structure that works best for you and that will set you up for success.

As a college student, you will have numerous commitments to keep and deadlines to meet. Accordingly, one of the most powerful weapons in the college student's arsenal is the academic planner. As you will soon find out, this handy little device will become your lifeline for staying organized on a day-to-day basis throughout your college career. Most notably, it will help you develop and adhere to a productive schedule.

You can usually purchase an annual academic planner from the college bookstore for less than five dollars (compared to the cost of your books, this is a drop in the bucket). Also, some colleges make deals with publishing companies to create individualized academic planners for their particular institutions. The value here is that key dates specific to your institution (e.g., holidays, scheduled breaks, midterms, and finals) will already be noted in the planner for each semester, which is a nice feature.

In light of today's technology, one might argue that a smart phone or some other electronic device is a much better choice for staying organized. If that is the case for you, then by all means use whatever fits your individual needs and preferences. The key point, however, is that you should use some method or tool to stay organized throughout the semester. Once you decide what that method is, be sure to keep a detailed record of the following: 1) class times and locations; 2) dates for all tests; and 3) deadlines for all assignments, such as readings, papers, and projects. It is also essential to highlight any holidays or scheduled breaks during the semester so that you can plan well in advance to get your work completed on time.

At the beginning of every semester, each of your instructors will give you a syllabus for his or her course. Each course syllabus will vary slightly but should include most, if not all, of the following: 1) the course description, 2) the desired course outcomes, 3) the guidelines for classroom conduct, 4) the policies for tardiness/ absence, 5) the grading scale, and 6) the course schedule or timeline, which will identify all important dates and deadlines. Also, if there are papers or projects required in the course, the syllabus will likely describe them in some detail.

After receiving each syllabus, the very first thing that you should do is highlight all pertinent dates or deadlines and then record them in your academic planner. Likewise, at the end of each class session, record any assignments or deadlines for the next time that particular course meets. Doing these basic things will ensure that you are always organized and well prepared for each and every class session.

Getting and maintaining an academic planner of some sort is certainly the easiest and best way to stay organized throughout each semester. Nonetheless, you must also possess the means and ability to manage your notes and paperwork from each course. This is best accomplished by having separate folders and notebooks for each individual course. Though, keep it simple and purchase a five-in-one binder or notebook. Multi-ring binders and notebooks are a great way to keep all of your notes separate yet organized in one convenient location. They are usually large enough to get you through the entire semester and have areas where you can store and organize paperwork from each course alongside your notes.

When taking notes, it is a good idea to date each entry for every individual class session and clearly identify when new chapters or units begin. This will greatly assist you when you go back to study for tests. Also, it is helpful to use different colors of ink when taking notes on paper. For instance, if your course meets on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, you could take in blue ink on Monday, green ink on Wednesday, and black ink on Friday. This will help keep your notes for each class session visibly separated by both date and time, as well as by content, which will further assist you when you study.

On the other hand, many students prefer to type class notes on a laptop computer. If this is your preference, then organizing your notes from each class session will be quite easy, as you can bold or italicize entries and separate content as needed. You can also format your notes to fit the needs of each individual course and then print off the notes later to study for tests. In either case, the importance of taking good notes cannot be overstated.

In terms of course-related documents, always keep the syllabus for each course readily available, perhaps on top of all the other papers and handouts for that course. This will force you to look at it frequently, which will constantly remind you of any deadlines and allow you to cross off assignments as you complete them. In addition, it is a good idea to date the papers and handouts that you receive in each course, and highlight all pertinent information to aid you when you prepare to write papers or study for tests.

These are just a few tips and strategies to assist you with organization during the academic year. I realize that some people really struggle with organization, but you must understand and accept the fact that it is a major key to achieving academic success in college. It might not be all that exciting and some of your friends might tease you about your efforts to stay organized, but you will have the last laugh. When your friends are trying to locate lecture notes from week three the night before the midterm, you will be able to flip right to that page of your notebook and share (or not share) the notes with them.


Excerpted from A Student's Guide To Acing College by Jeffrey Vaske Copyright © 2011 by Jeffrey Vaske. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: You Do Not Have to Be a Genius....................1
Chapter 2: Mind Over Matter....................5
Chapter 3: Live an Organized Life....................9
Chapter 4: Go to Class (and Apply Yourself)....................15
Chapter 5: Establish a Good Rapport with Your Instructors....................23
Chapter 6: Maximize Your Study Time....................31
Chapter 7: Succeed Under Pressure—Taking Tests....................37
Chapter 8: Write Great Papers....................47
Chapter 9: Take Charge of Group Projects....................55
Chapter 10: Understand Online Courses....................63
Chapter 11: If All Else Fails....................71
Chapter 12: Stay Active and Have Fun....................77
Chapter 13: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize....................81
Chapter 14: Life After College....................83
Closing Remarks....................87
Appendix A: Ten More Academic Tidbits....................89
Appendix B: Poem and Prayer....................93
Appendix C: Reference List....................97

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