How to Learn More and Get Better Grades in College!
by Heather E. Lorimer PhD

I wrote this as part of an effort to help my first year students at Youngstown State University do better in my Biology classes.  However, this information should be useful to other student as well.

First: About grades.  You should be aware that there are at least three diferent but common viewpoints about grades and learning in college.

1.  The student often is interested in getting a good grade  simply as a means of having a high GPA to get into medical school, graduate school, other post-college educational program, or to get a job interview.  For these people, the good grade is the end goal of taking the class.

2.  The instructor is often most interested in the student learning a specific body of information.  Tests are written with this goal in mind,  does the student know a specific peice of information or not?  For these people, the grade is a measure of specific information learned.

3.  Employers, graduate schools, and other post college institutions look at grades as a measurement of a student's educational background. Has the student learned about a specific subject?  Most importantly, can the student think, use information, and acquire more information as needed?  For these people the grade is a measurement of ability to work and learn, as well as familiarity with a specific subject.  Here is where the results of your college education are the most important.  Because of this, taking "easy" classes will not prepare you well for the future.  Neither will taking hard classes but not doing the work and learning the material.

Second:  About memory.  Memory can be categorized into three classes.

1.  Super short term memory.  This is the type of memory that you use when you read a phone number in the telephone book and then dial it.  By the time that you dial the last few numbers you may have forgotten the first.  You may use this kind of memory in class while you write your notes.  After your instructor says something, you may write it down.  By the time you finsih writing a phrase,  you may have forgotten the beginnings of the phrase.

2.  Short term memory.  This is information that you can remember for a few hours.  You have a limited amount of "space" in your short term memory.  If you pack too much information into it, you will lose some of what was in there before.  This is the kind of memory that you use when you first study information.  It is also what you use when you "cram" for a test.  It is temporary memory storage.

3.  Long term memory.  This is where you can hold and use information for a very long time, maybe even your lifetime.   You have plenty of space in your brain for long-term memory.  Long term memory is effectively permanent storage of information pulled from your short-term memory.  A student's goal should be to get information from classes into long term memory.

Conversion of information from short term memory into long term memory takes time.  When learning very new and/or difficult material, count on your short term memory holding only 30 to 45 minutes worth of material.

This means that you should be only studying very new and/or difficult material for 30-45 minutes at a time.

Converting information into your long term memory takes time.  It is very important that nothing else be inserted into your short term memory during that time, because you will lose what you studied.  So, after you study do not watch your favorite TV show, a  movie.  Don't have long conversations with your buddies, don't read other books.  If you do anything that could involve your short term memory after you study, you may lose the chance to move that information into yout long term memory.  Instead, you will remember the plot of the TV show, the conversation with your friend or whatever.

When should you study the hard stuff?  Optimally, right before you go to bed.  Other choices, before you take a shower, or before you excercise, or before you do something that will not involve learning or memory, such as menial chores or long routine drives.

Learning gets easier as you learn more because you start setting up a network of information in your long term memory.  This network gives your brain places to put new information.  You can think of your memory  as a filing system.  You have an in-box (short term memory) of a certain size.  When the box is full, stuff gets tossed in the trash.  To keep the information you need to take it from the inbox and put it into flies (long term memory).  To do that, the information needs to be sorted, then put in the right files in the right cabinets.  If the information is very new, cabinets will need to be labeled,  files inserted and labeled, and then the documents put in.  Once the files are all organized and labeled, slipping new info into a pre-existing file relatively easily.

Third:  In college classes, much less time is spent in class, and more responsibility for covering the material outside of class is yours. In general you should spend 2 to 3 hours studying for every hour of lecture. Be aware that the text and the lectures are tools to help you learn the material, but you are ultimately responsible for your learning.  Below are techniques that students have reported using succesfully in my classes. You may find many, if not all, of these techniques helpful. Everyone learns in their own individual way.  Pay attention to what works for you.  Take advantage of opportunities for help.

1. Go to class!

2. Before lecture, go over the chapter, note words highlighted in bold, look them up in the glossary.

3. Bring your book to class, highlight the material presented in lecture.

4. If you don't understand something in class, ask questions.

5. Take good notes, the professor emphasizes things she thinks are important, and if something is emphasized more than once, itís likely to show up on an exam.  If you can't take good notes, record the lecture.

6. After class, read the chapter in depth. You should do this within 24 hours of the lecture.

7. Rewrite your notes in light of reading the chapter carefully, again do this ASAP after the lecture.

8.  Study frequently, for short periods of time, ideally before going to bed or taking a nap.

9.  Get enough sleep!  being short of sleep drops your IQ (temporarily).

10. Come to office hours! These times are set aside by the professor just for the purpose of answering questions form students, clarifying lectures, and going over the book. If you canít make the office hour times, set up an appointment with Dr. Lorimer. She is here to help you learn the material.

11. There is FREE tutoring available for this course at Student Tutorial Services X 3197.

12. Make sure that you attend your lab and hand in your reports on time. Most people do, if you donít your grade can suffer enormously.

13. Write your lab reports according to the format required, do not leave things out, do not copy your lab partners report, that may seem obvious but every year some students get 0's for doing this.

14. Don't let yourself get behind!

Every year there are students who were A students in high-school who think that they won't need to worry, and don't follow the advice above and end up with D's or F's.

Don't let that happen to you!

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