We want you to be successful! Read the information carefully to learn researched-based academic strategies that will help you be a prepared student.
Steps to Success
Support Services and Resources
Befriending Professors (And Earning Letters of Recommendation)
Varying Class Sizes
Class size varies depending on the course. While most classes have fewer than 40 students, larger introductory classes may have anywhere from 15-400 students. Intro classes tend to have large class sizes while upper-division classes are smaller.
The Need for Critical Thinking Skills
In college you will be expected to understand and remember what you read. You will also be asked to draw conclusions, form opinions, and evaluate the ideas of others.
Strong Emphasis on Tests and Less Busywork
Students who succeed do their assignments and keep up with their reading.
The Need for Personal Responsibility
In college, you have a tremendous amount of freedom. No one is monitoring your progress. No one is checking to see if you are going to class, and no one knows whether or not you’re doing your assignments. You are responsible for your own academic progress.
UCSC has academic standards that students must meet in order to stay enrolled. Students may be placed on academic probation if their grades fall below a certain point. Students on probation must bring their grades up by a specified time. If they don’t, they are withdrawn from the university.
Less Time in Class and More Emphasis on Independent Study
In college, you are expected to do most of your learning on your own. The general rule is: For every one hour you spend in class, you should spend two hours out of class reading, studying, and completing assignments.
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STEPS TO SUCCESS
STEP ONE: ATTEND EVERY CLASS
If you want to succeed and become a more active learner, you must attend every class-- not almost every class, EVERY class.
The importance of regular class attendance cannot be emphasized enough. When you miss classes, you miss lectures, notes, class discussions, homework explanations, and assignments. You may also miss in-class quizzes and even tests.
It can be tempting to cut a class now and then, but don’t kid yourself into thinking that missing a class won’t make a difference, or that missing a class is okay as long as you get copies of the notes. Getting copies of someone’s notes is not the same as going to class, and it’s usually more of a hassle. You cannot make up what you miss, and you cannot get it from someone else.
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This section will give you several ideas about how to be organized.
Use an agenda or planner.
Take your assignment notebook to every class and record each assignment. When you’re given a large assignment, use your notebook to break down the assignment into smaller parts. For example, if a research paper is assigned on Feb. 1 and it’s due Feb. 21, give yourself deadlines like the ones listed below. Writing these deadlines in your assignment notebook will help keep you on track. It will also ensure that you do your big assignments over a period of time, not at the last minute.
- Feb. 5-- Complete research
- Feb. 9--Finish outline
- Feb. 15--Have a rough draft done
- Feb. 21-- Turn in final draft
Instructors will give students a course syllabus listing all of their assignments and their due dates. Having a syllabus is very helpful because you can see exactly what is expected of you for the entire quarter. Whenever you’re given a syllabus, immediately copy the assignments into your assignment notebook or planner. Also, make note of all major exams (mid-terms, finals) and note time and location.
Use three-ring binders for class notes.
Three-ring binders work well because you can easily insert handouts, and if you ever miss a class, you can copy someone else’s notes and insert them where they belong. Purchase a small three-hole puncher so that you can insert handouts into your binder as soon as you get them. Keep important information (your instructor’s office hours, the course syllabus, etc.) in the front of your notebook.
Keep returned papers, quizzes, and tests.
Keep all of your returned papers, quizzes, and tests in the same binder with your lecture notes. Old quizzes and tests can help you study for future tests; they can also come in handy if there is ever a question about your grade. Keep a record of all your grades for each class. Keeping a record of your grades eliminates surprises at the end of the term. If you are ever unsure as to how you are doing in a class, talk to your instructor.
Record phone numbers.
Make sure that you have a phone number or e-mail address of at least one person in each class. If you are absent, you will have someone you can contact to find out what you missed. Phone numbers and e-mail addresses are also helpful when you have a question about an assignment or an upcoming test.
Maintain a neat and organized study space.
Set up a desk or study area so that it has everything you need. Keep this area neat and organized so that materials can be easily located.
Before you go to bed, gather everything you’ll need for the following day, and put everything else back in its place. If there’s anything you need to remember to do, write yourself a note so you won’t forget.
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STEP THREE: MANAGE YOUR TIME WELL
Time management is important for all college students. It is, however, particularly important for students who have other commitments (a job, sports, etc.).
Do not overextend yourself.
The first step in time management is to look at your life in order to make sure that you’re not overextended. If you feel that you are doing more than you can handle, look for ways to make your life more manageable, and try to make some changes.
Take a look at what you need to do, think about how you can get it done most efficiently, and then write out a plan. (Don’t plan out more than three days at a time). Revise your plans as needed, and check things off as you accomplish them.
Being organized is a tremendous time saver. When you’re organized, you know what you have to do, and you have the information and materials that you need.
Make efficient use of your time.
Consciously make choices about how you will use your time. For example, decide to limit yourself to one hour of TV or socializing on weeknights. Also look for ways to streamline and combine tasks (studying while you’re doing your laundry, get your exercise by jogging to the library, etc.).
See Time Management below for more tips and planning suggestions.
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STEP FOUR: BE SUCCESSFUL IN THE CLASSROOM
You’ll be more happy and successful in college if you follow these tips.
Learn how to adapt to different instructors.
One instructor may encourage discussions and the open exchange of ideas; another instructor may expect students to listen to the lecture and to take notes. Part of your education is to learn how to adapt to different personalities, teaching styles, and expectations.
Be prepared for each class.
You’ll get much more out of your classes if you have your assignments completed before you go to class. Lectures will be easier to follow; you’ll be able to understand class discussions, etc. As soon as each class begins, focus on the presentation or lecture. Of course, to be physically and mentally alert, you need to eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep.
Sit in the front of class whenever possible.
It’s easier to pay attention when you sit in the front of classrooms. With the rest of the class behind you, there are fewer distractions and it’s easier to hear the instructor. It’s also easier to ask questions and easier to see the board, television, and overheads. If you can choose your seat, sit up front. If you’ve been assigned a seat in the back of the classroom, ask your instructor if it would be possible for you to move to the front.
Communicate with your instructors.
Most instructors will give you their phone numbers, e-mail address, and/or office hours at the beginning of the quarter. Do not hesitate to contact an instructor whenever you have a concern, problem, or question. For example, if you have a paper to write and you’re having a difficult time determining how to approach the subject, talk to your instructor. While most instructors will be happy to help you, you must initiate the contact. You should, of course, respect your instructors’ privacy and personal time; talk to them after class, call or see them during their office hours, or send an e-mail.
Be on time to class.
Whenever possible, arrive early to class. You’ll be more relaxed, and you can use the time to look over your notes, and/or speak with your instructor. When you are late to a class, you miss announcements and introductory remarks. Your tardiness also tells your instructor that being on time to his/her class is not a priority for you.
Instructors often summarize the lecture and/or discuss assignments during the last 5-10 minutes of class. It is therefore important not to leave class early. If you must leave early, tell your instructor before class starts.
Participate in class.
Whenever there are discussions, projects, or labs, it is important to be an active and willing participant. The class will be more enjoyable and you’ll learn more. When you participate in class, you show your instructor that you know the material and that you’re interested in the course.
Be a good group member.
The number one reason people get fired from their jobs is because they cannot get along with their coworkers. It is therefore not surprising that businesses and industries encourage educators to teach students how to work together in small groups. Here are a few things to remember when you have to do a group project:
- Do your share of the work and do it well.
- Accept that everyone is different and be open to new ideas.
- Have a positive attitude, and support the other group members.
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STEP FIVE: TAKE GOOD NOTES
Tests usually cover material that the instructor has presented in class. It is therefore important to have good classroom notes from which to study.
Be an active listener.
In order to take good notes you must be an active listener. When you are actively listening in class, you don’t just hear the words the instructor is saying, you are also thinking about and trying to understand the information that is being presented.
Take notes to help you pay attention.
You can think faster than anyone can talk. This is one of the reasons that your mind sometimes wanders when you’re listening to lectures. When you take notes, however, your mind has something to focus on, and you don’t have time to think about anything else. Taking notes therefore helps you pay attention and to stay focused.
Recognize important information.
You often hear a change in your instructor’s voice when s/he says something that is important for you to know. Instructors often speak louder, speak slower, or they give verbal cues like “the most significant outcome,” “the main point,” “the most important reason,” “the three causes,” etc.
Anything your instructor takes the time to write on the board or overhead should be considered very important. Double-underline or put a star beside this information (or any information that’s very important) so that you’ll know to give it special attention when you’re studying later.
Go over your notes as soon as possible.
While the information is still fresh in your mind, go over your notes. Clarify anything that was confusing, and make sure that you have key words written in the margins of your notes. You might also want to highlight important points. Of course, while you are going over your notes, you are also fixing this information in your memory.
If you are serious about learning, completely rewrite your notes. Eliminate unimportant information, and rewrite the rest of your notes using your words. Your notes will be clearer, and as you rewrite them, you will also be learning the material. This is time consuming, but it pays off.
Get the lecture notes if you are absent.
When you miss a class, it is your responsibility to find out what you missed. Be sure to get copies of the class notes and handouts as soon as possible.
The Cornell Note-Taking System
Developed forty years ago at Cornell University, this system will keep your notes neat, complete, and well-organized, especially in math and sciences. It will also save you time when studying for exams.
- Draw a vertical line down the paper to divide the left hand CUE column (2 ½ inches), and the right hand LECTURE NOTES.
- Save the bottom 2 inches of the paper for SUMMARY space.
- During class record information only in the LECTURE NOTES area, and only on the front side of the paper.
- Leave blank areas where you are unsure. Ask questions in class or get clarification during instructors’ office hours.
- Within 24 hours review and recite from the notes. Use the CUE column to write study questions, key terms, or theorems, etc.
- In the SUMMARY space, reduce your page of notes into a one or two sentence summary or mnemonic trick.
- Quiz yourself during weekly review. Remove notepapers from binder and spread them on a table in sequential order. Line them up so you can see only the CUE columns. Check answers in LECTURE NOTES.
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STEP SIX: HOW TO READ A TEXTBOOK
When you know how to read a textbook, you are able to comprehend and remember what you read.
Textbook authors have already done a lot of your work for you. They’ve inserted boldface subtitles that tell you exactly what you are going to be reading. They’ve put all of the important words in bold or italic print, and they’ve added pictures, charts, graphs, lists of vocabulary words, summaries, and review questions. The textbook authors have done all of this to make it easier for you to learn and retain information.
In this section, you will discover how to use these “learning tools”. You will also learn how to 1)Scan, 2)Read, and 3)Review. Once you understand how to scan, read, and review, you’ll be able to comprehend and remember what you read in a textbook the first time through.
Scanning gives you a quick overview of the materials you’re going to read. To scan, read the title, the subtitles, and everything in bold and italic print. Look at all of the pictures, graphs, charts, and read the introduction, the review questions, and the summary.
Scanning provides you with a great deal of information in a very short amount of time. In addition to providing you with an excellent overview of the text, scanning also provides you with a kind of “information framework”. Having this framework of main ideas, vocabulary words, etc. makes it easier for you to read and understand the more detailed information.
When your reading has a purpose, your comprehension improves, it’s easier to stay focused, and you can identify important information. To give your reading a purpose, try turning each boldface subtitle into a question. Keep your question in mind as you continue to read. At the end of each section, see if you can answer it. Your question gives you something specific to look for, and helps keep your mind from wandering. Therefore, you can remember more of what you read.
Before you start to read a section, look to see if there are any vocabulary words, names, places, or events in bold or italic print, and then ask yourself, “Why is this word, person, place, or event important?” You should, of course, have an answer to that question when you finish reading the section.
Most students, after having scanned and read the material, will say, “I’m done,” and then they will close their book. Taking a few extra minutes for review, however, will make a huge difference in what you are able to remember later. When you review, you lock the information into your brain before it has a chance to evaporate.
To review, go back to the beginning and go through the same process you did when you scanned the material. This time, as you read the boldface subtitles, briefly restate the purpose of the point of the section to yourself using your own words. As you look at the vocabulary word and the words in bold or italic print, think about what they mean and why they are significant. If you really want to lock the information into your brain, review everything again a day or two later. When you sit down to study for the test, you’ll be amazed at how well you already know the material.
While it may take a little practice to get the scan, read, review process down, you’ll soon realize that this process does not mean more work. It just means better comprehension, better retention, and academic success.
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STEP SEVEN: STUDY SMART
Students who “study smart” find that they spend less time studying and get better grades.
Find a good place to study
Although it’s usually best to have one place to study regularly, it doesn’t matter where you study as long as the area is well-lit and comfortable and there’s a surface for writing. Before you start to study, figure out how to avoid or eliminate anything that could interrupt your concentration (loud music, telephone calls, the TV, etc.)
Some students need silence when they study; others can study with music playing. If you like to listen to music when you study, consider listening to classical music. Research has shown that classical music can actually improve your concentration.
The hardest part about studying is getting started. Don’t put your studying off until later, don’t make excuses, and don’t wait until you’re “in the mood”. Begin with something simple or a subject that you like, and just get started. We all learn differently. Think about how you learn and adjust how you study accordingly.
Know your learning style
Helpful Class Activities
Helpful Study Habits
|Visual||visualizing||films, pictures, video, reading, demonstrations, drawings||take notes, use flash cards, charts, diagrams, highlight important information|
|Auditory||hearing||lectures, discussions, video, films, music||read aloud, have discussions, tape record lectures in difficult classes, use memory tricks involving rhythm and rhyme|
|Kinesthetic||doing||role-playing, hands-on activities, computer aided activities, demonstrations||try moving around while you study, use tools and objects, write or type your notes|
|Interpersonal||discussing with others||discussion sections, organizing projects||ask questions, volunteer in class, peer tutoring|
|Intrapersonal||reflecting within||independent study courses||establish personal connections|
As a general rule, the more senses you involve and the wider variety of methods you use while studying, the more you remember.
William Glasser, author and expert in the field of education, says that, “Students learn 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, 50% of what they see and hear, 70% of what is discussed with others, 80% of what they experience personally, and 95% of what they teach to someone else.”
Organize your study time
- Before you start to study, make a plan. Decide exactly what you want to get done and the order in which you’ll do it. Make sure that your plan is realistic.
- If you have a lot to do, prioritize your work to make sure you have enough time for the things that are most important.
- If you have something to memorize, work on that first, and then go over it again at the end of your study session.
- Always allow more time than you think you’ll need.
- Study your least favorite subject first to get it out of the way.
- Alternate types of assignments (read English, do math, etc.).
- Know when and how to take breaks. Research has shown that students learn most during the first 20 minutes and 10 minutes of any study session. Try studying for 20 minutes then taking a short break (get a drink, get up to stretch, etc.).
Know how to study for tests
- From the beginning of the term, study a little everyday. Cramming is very stressful.
- Know what the test is going to cover. Test questions most often come from material that was presented in class; therefore, it is important to study your class notes as well as the text.
- For essay tests, it’s more important to understand the big picture and to know the main points and key facts. For fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice tests, you need to know more detailed information.
- Pay particularly close attention during the class before a test. Instructors often use this time to go over information that’s going to be on the test.
- Ask questions when you don’t understand something in class or in section.
- Take notes and refer to them often. It saves time and increases your understanding.
- If an instructor gives you a review sheet or study guide, study it until you know everything on it; then use it to come up with questions that you think will be on the test.
- Have all the required readings done before you start to study for the test. If your textbook has review questions at the end of the chapters, go over them and be sure that you know the answers.
- Try teaching the material to yourself or someone else.
- Form a study group, take turns leading a review of the important concepts, ideas, formulas, etc. Ask each other questions, share notes, and/or go over difficult material.
- When studying for an exam, go over old tests and quizzes.
Know how to remember information
- Use flash cards to memorize vocabulary words, facts, and lists.
- Write down what you want to memorize and concentrate on it. Close your eyes and try to see it in your mind. Say it, and then look at it again.
- Use as many senses as possible. For example, if you write out what you want to remember, and at the same time, say it out loud, you are simultaneously hearing it, seeing it, and physically involved in the writing of it.
- Look for ways to recognize information. Draw diagrams, graphs, and pictures; make outlines, lists, and charts.
- Right before you go to sleep, go over any information that you want to remember. Your brain will process this information and commit it to memory while you sleep.
- Use acronyms to help you memorize.
- Use the first letter of words you want to remember. For example, HOMES can help you remember the Great Lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior).
- Look for a logical or an easy connection. For example, to help yourself remember that Homer wrote the Odyssey, just think to yourself, “Homer is an odd name.”
- Use silly associations and ridiculous visual images to help trigger your memory.
- Review often. When you are reviewing, you move information from your short-term memory into your long-term memory. Review is the key to learning anything.
- Teaching to others the material you are learning, is an extremely effective method of retaining information.
Know how to write a paper
The key to writing a paper is to have enough time to plan, write, and revise it. Writing a paper should be a process, not a one-time event. Writing tutors are available at various colleges, as well as at the Learning Center.
If you have a choice, choose a topic that you want to learn more about, a topic that is not too broad, and one that you already know something about. Once you have your topic, gather information, brainstorm, and when appropriate, take a position. Make an outline, and then write a rough draft. Rewrite your paper until you have it just the way you want it, and then write the final draft.
It’s important that you put your paper away once or twice during this process. When you take it out and reread it, you’ll see and hear things that you didn’t notice earlier; it will seem like you’re reading it for the first time. Before you write your final draft, have someone else read your paper to make corrections or suggestions.
To write a good paper, you need to:
- Follow the directions exactly.
- Make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors.
- Have someone else proofread your paper.
- Turn in a neat and clean final draft.
- Turn it in on time.
If you have difficulty writing papers, go to your college’s writing tutor.Use tricks when making a presentation or speech
- Use props whenever possible. Props, such as posters, pictures, books, or sorting equipment, give you something to look at and something to do with your hands. You can also put notes on the back of them.
- When you give a presentation or speech, pretend that you are telling your best friend something really important.
- Effective speakers make eye contact with those in their audience. If you find this difficult to do, look at their foreheads instead.
Additional Study Resources
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STEP EIGHT: USE TEST-TAKING STRATEGIES
In order to do well on any test or exam, you must study hard and be prepared. Having done that, you can further improve your test performance by using these test-taking strategies.
Get off to a good start
Arrive early for a test. Bring all of the necessary supplies. As soon as you get the exam, write anything you want to remember in light pencil at the top of your paper. Read or listen to all instructions carefully.
Develop a plan
Before you begin, look over the entire test and develop a plan. For example, if the test has 25 multiple choice questions and 2 essay questions, you might plan 15 minutes for the multiple-choice section and 15 minutes for each essay question. Allow yourself time to go over the test.
Mark questions that you want to review
After you have gone through all of the questions, go back to the ones you’ve marked and try them again. When you’re not sure about an answer, go with your first instinct. Don’t panic if you don’t know the answers to the first few questions. Sometimes it takes a few minutes for your brain to get in gear. Chances are you’ll know the answers when you come back to them.
Increase your odds on multiple-choice questions
- When you’re reading a multiple-choice question, try to come up with the answer in your head before you look at the choices.
- Read all of the choices. There will probably be a couple that sound like they could be correct; don't be tempted to mark the first one that sounds good.
- If you’re not sure, eliminate the choices you know are incorrect. Then make an educated guess.
- If two of the choices are similar or opposite, probably one of them is the correct answer.
Know how to approach essay questions
- Read each essay question and then start with the easiest one. This will help you gain confidence, and it will give you time to think about how to answer the harder question. Be sure to note how many points each essay is worth and adjust the time you allot to each question accordingly.
- Before you do any writing, brainstorm. Jot down key words, ideas, and the points that you want to cover in your answer. If you have time, organize these ideas/points into a simple outline, if not, just number them in the order you want to present them.
- Begin writing, making sure that you answer the question that’s been asked. Write legibly, and use clear, concise, complete sentences. In your opening paragraph, introduce your topic and tell the reader what s/he can expect to learn from your essay. In the middle paragraphs, present examples, details, evidence, and facts to support the points you are making. In the final paragraph, summarize the main points, your analysis, etc. Finally, reread your answer and make necessary corrections.
- If you don’t know the answer to an essay question, take a couple of minutes to write what you can about the subject. You might hit on something and get partial credit. If you run out of time, write a note explaining that you ran out of time and list key points that you would have covered.
Be prepared for open book tests
During an open book test, you must be able to locate information quickly. Put self-stick notes or bookmarks in your textbook to help you find specific information. Go through your notes and highlight important information. Also write down all of the information you know you’ll need on one sheet of paper.
Improve your math test scores
- As soon as you get your test write down formulas, equations, etc., that you might need to remember or use.
- Before you start solving a problem, try to estimate what the answer will be.
- Try drawing a picture or diagram.
- Don’t spend too much time on one problem; come back to it if necessary.
- Show all of your work. Show every step.
Check your answers
Check all of your answers, even the ones you know are correct. You may have read the question wrong or made a careless mistake. If you’re unsure, don’t change your answer. Use all of your testing time to answer questions and to check your responses.
Review returned tests
When your test is returned to you, go over each question you missed and, if possible, write in the correct answer. You may see one or more of these types of questions on your final exam. Also check to make sure your test was graded correctly (mistakes happen). Keep a record of your test scores, and keep all of your returned tests in a file or folder.
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STEP NINE: REDUCE TEST ANXIETY
While a little anxiety before a test improves concentration and alertness, excessive worry, or test anxiety, will lower one’s scores.
It’s possible for students with test anxiety to get themselves so worked up that they can’t think clearly. The brain is like a computer in that it contains a great deal of information. This information is useless, however, if you’re not able to access it when you need it. Having test anxiety is like having the password to your computer. The information is there, but you can’t access it.
To reduce test anxiety, study enough to feel confident that you know the material. Then try to replace the worry and negative thinking with thoughts that are positive and relaxing. Some of the following suggestions will help you.
- Start studying early. The night before a test, review the material and get a good night’s sleep. Cramming increases anxiety.
- Mentally practice going through the test taking experience. Close your eyes and see yourself walking confidently into the test, answering the questions correctly, and receiving the grade you want.
- Walk into the test with your head high and your shoulders back. How you walk can affect how you feel, and if you act confident, you just may feel more confident.
Try these common relaxation techniques:
- Take a deep breath, hold it, and then slowly release your breath along with the tension.
- Start at the top of your head, flexing and then relaxing each part of your body.
- Close your eyes and visualize warm sunshine washing over you, melting away all the tension and relaxing all of your muscles.
- Close your eyes and let your arms hang down at your sides. As you relax, visualize the tension from your head, neck, and shoulders flowing down your arms and out your fingertips.
- Think of where you feel very relaxed and calm. Close your eyes and visualize being in that place.
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Schedule Fixed Blocks of Time
Start with class time and work time, for instance. These time periods are usually determined in advance and other activities may be scheduled around them. Then schedule essential activities like sleeping and eating. Be realistic about the time you need for these essential functions.
Include Time for Errands
The time we spend buying toothpaste, paying bills, and doing laundry can be easily ignored when planning your schedule. Overlooking these time consuming activities can destroy a tight schedule and make you feel rushed and hurried all week. Plan for them.
Schedule Time for Fun!
Fun is important. It is important to rest your brain and let it digest all the information you process in college. Einstein went sailing or played the violin. Take time to do the things you enjoy.
Set Realistic Goals
Don’t set yourself up for failure by telling yourself you can do a four-hour job in two hours.
Allow Flexibility in Your Schedule
Recognize that unexpected things will happen and don’t schedule every hour. Give yourself
time to get between places, etc.
To Do List
Keep a To Do List with your time plan. Rank the items with an A,B,C as to their importance and urgency.
2 Day Example of a Daily Time Grid/Plan
|Shower, Eat, Dress||Wake-Up||Call Mom|
|Library for Review||Shower, Eat||Clean Room|
|Bio 1||Econ Section|
|Work||Errands at Safeway|
|Work||Eng Lit Reading|
|Work||Eng Lit Reading|
|Study for Bio Test||Econ Paper|
|Study for Bio Test||Econ Paper|
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Support Services and Resources
It is not unusual for even the best high school students to find themselves struggling in college. UCSC provides several academic support programs to help students succeed. A student should seek assistance as soon as they feel they receive poor grades or feel that they are falling behind. If all the other students seem to know what they are doing and you are still confused by the third or fourth class, it is time to take action. In the end, it is the truly smart students who seek help!
Academic Excellence Program (A.C.E.)
Offers academic support in selected math, science, and Jack Baskin School of Engineering (BSOE) courses and other opportunities. Small workshop-style discussion sections are facilitated by professional section leaders.
Educational Opportunity Programs (EOP)
EOP provides a variety of academic and personal support programs designed to enhance students’ academic achievement and advancement at the University. EOP students are first generation college students.
Services for Transfer and Re-Entry Students (STARS)
Located at the ARCenter
Stars provides academic and personal support services for transfer and re-entry students
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Befriending Professors (And Earning Letters of Recommendation)
Here is some advice for developing strong relationships with your professors:
Go to office hours! Don’t be shy! They set aside time for their students to come talk to them and they do not like spending that time alone at their desks. Take advantage of the chance to meet one on one with your professor. Professors love to talk to their students outside the classroom!
A good time to make contact with your professor is right before or right after a paper or problem set is due in a course. You’ll have specific questions to ask and a topic to discuss at this time. It is also fine to just pop in and say hi! A one on one conversation will help your professor learn your name early on in the quarter. It will also help you get a sense for your professor’s personality and interests.
Professors love to interact with involved and engaged students.
Take Advantage of E-mail
You can write to a professor at one in the morning and not worry about disturbing him/her outside of their office hours. Also, e-mails have the advantage of allowing you to organize your thoughts before expressing them, which our busy professors appreciate.
Letters of Recommendation
If a professor knows you by name and remembers you favorably, you can expect an excellent letter of recommendation. Ask for the letter in person. It is a great compliment to a professor to hear a student say, “I really enjoyed your course. Would you please write a letter for me?”. Make sure to send a thank you card soon after your request. It is common courtesy and will also remind the professor to write the letter.
I was having a conversation with a client, the CEO of a Fortune 100 organization, and he cited something I hear from many leaders and executives, “My people come to me with problems, they don’t come to me with solutions.”
There was more to it, but the comment reminded my of something a manager/mentor in IBM gave me many years ago. It was a short document called, “The Doctrine Of Completed Staff Work.” I’ve traced it to two sources, Brigadier General G.E.R. Smith, of the Canadeian Army (08/09/1943) and Brigadier General George A. Rehm, US Army, 1942-1943.
Some may be put off by the military rigidity of this paper, I find it a useful tool to remind professionals and leaders about the importance of “doing your homework.” In today’s world, where speed seems to overcome quality of thinking, the article is a provocative reminder.
It is reprinted below:
The Doctrine Of Completed Staff Work
Completed staff work is the study of a problem, and presentation of a solution, by a staff member, in such form that all that remains to be done on the part of the commander is to indicate approval or disapproval of the completed action. The words “completed action” are emphasized because the more difficult the problem is, the more the tendency is to present the problem to the commander in a piecemeal fashion.
It is your duty as a staff member to work out the details. You should not consult your commander in the determination of those details, no matter how perplexing they may be. You may and should consult other staff members. The product, whether it involves the pronouncement of a new policy or affects an established one, when presented to the commander for approval or disapproval, must be worked out in a finished form.
The impulse, which often comes to the inexperienced staff member, to ask the commander what to do, recurs more often when the problem is difficult. It is accompanied by a feeling of mental frustration. It is easy to ask the commander what to do, and it appears too easy for the commander to answer. Resist the impulse. You will succumb to it only if you do not know your job.
It is your job to advise your commander what she or he ought to do, not to ask what you ought to do. The commander needs answers, not questions. Your job is to study, write, restudy, and rewrite until you have evolved a single proposed action–the best one of all you have considered. Your commander merely approves or disapproves.
Do not worry your commander with long explanations and memos. Writing a memo to your commander does not constitute completed staff work. But writing a memo for your commander to send to someone else does. Your views should be placed before the commander in finished form so that the commander can make them his or her views simply by signing the document. In most instances, completed staff work results in a single document prepared for the signature of the commander without accompanying comment. If the proper result is reached, the commander will usually recognize it at once. If the commander wants comment or explanation, she or he will ask for it.
The theory of completed staff work does not preclude a rough draft, but the rough draft must not be a half-baked idea. It must be complete in every respect except that it lacks the requisite number of copies and need not be neat. But a rough draft must not be an excuse for shifting to the commander the burden of formulating the action.
The completed staff work theory may result in more work for the staff member but it results in more freedom for the commander. This is as it should be. Further, it accomplishes two things:
The commander is protected from half-baked ideas, voluminous memos, and immature oral presentations.
The staff member who has a real idea to sell is enabled more readily to find a market.
When you have finished your completed staff work the final test is this:
If you were the commander would you be willing to sign the paper you have prepared, and stake your professional reputation on its being right?
If the answer is no, take it back and work it over, because it is not yet completed staff work.
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