By Siddharth Bal, a current student at New Jersey Institute of Technology
It was the beginning of my first semester and I was scared of my initial exams- I spent many sleepless nights doing problem sets for hours. I spent many hours going over notes and covering homework assignments and I was purely focused on the information at hand. I had followed all the strategies that yielded success in high school; but, I hadn’t stopped to consider that college might be different.
Yet, my focus and drive were not enough. All around me students were clustering in groups avidly perusing their notes and going over their quizzes. I remember my uncle imploring me “to study in isolation; and avoid any collaborative study sessions”. I thought to myself, those people studying together are deluded. It turned out I was the one who was in need of re-education.
The exam period begins and I storm into my seat confidently grabbing the paper from the teaching assistant. I turn the page and began to look at the subject material; immediately my chest begins to pound. I struggle to chase my memory; but I can’t grasp any meaningful recollection of the exam material. I walk home from the lecture hall with sullen expression on my face.
My gloomy demeanor was justified by my exam results, I received a low D. I turn to my classmates that studied in teams and inquired how they performed. They passed with high C averages; but their strategies for success were what really surprised me. They did four things I had neglected to do:
1. Study in groups: They studied in groups of 3 to 4 students; but they came prepared beforehand. They studied by themselves and shared their concerns together as a group. The sharing of information allowed everyone to amplify their understanding of the material.
2. They visited the professor frequently: When any of the students had a problem with a concept; they visited the professor and discussed extensively their issues. I did this to a limited extend; but I believed that I was responsible for seeking out the correct information.
3. They made use of Supplemental Instruction: Supplemented instruction sessions are large groups of students that meet with a Teaching Assistant to discuss the topics discussed in class in a much more detailed fashion. This allowed students to take better notes and consequently reinforce their understanding of the material. I had chosen to disregard this resource because I felt it was for remediation. It clearly wasn’t!
4. Students made sure to get adequate sleep before the exam: I studied doggedly for nights; but I always stumbled to class with an exhausted expression on my face. I later realized that this inhibited me from performing well.
I adopted these changes in my studying habits, and the changes were quite telling. In my next Calculus Exam I obtained a high B.