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Category: Study Skills

Thursday Tip of the Day

Remember, tomorrow is the last day of classes- so start studying now if you haven’t already!


College Study Habits

We all know the popular saying about needing to study at least two hours a night, and what types of resources you should look for when researching online (not Wikepedia!). But do you know what professors think about all of this? Find out with today’s infographic:

Study Habits and Where to find help

Using Google Calendar

One thing I’ve heard repeatedly from numerous students is that they have a hard time keeping track of assignments and appointments. I average probably 4-5 missed advising appointments per week, with the student later telling me that they completely forgot about it. The reality is that I used to miss appointments and would lose track of when assignments were due. And then a friend introduced me to Google Calendar. It changed my life. And it can change yours, too.

All students (and employees, too!) at the University of Maine are provided a Google account. That’s actually what the account is. So there’s no legitimate excuse for any and all students to not use Google Calendar to help them organize their life.

First and foremost, Google Calendar can help you visually keep track of meetings and assignment due dates. You have three different viewing options for the calendar, either the daily view, the weekly view, or the monthly view. And you can easily switch between the views for whichever is most convenient at that time. You can use the daily view to keep track of appointments and meetings for that specific day. The weekly view lets you know what’s coming up throughout that week. And the monthly view puts all your assignments in perspective so that you can plan your time accordingly.

Another benefit is that you can create multiple calendars. For instance, you could create a new calendar for each course you are taking. You have the ability to have them all showing at the same time, however, and use different colours for each. Thus you could visually see the amount of work and due dates for each class.

Once you have your assignments and meetings in Google Calendar, you can set up reminders for each and every entry. These reminders can be either pop-ups (it shows up on your screen), text messages, or emails, and you can set them to be sent out a certain number of minutes, hours, days, or weeks in advance, or even a combination of those. For instance, if you have a paper due on a certain date, you could set up a reminder email or text to be sent to you a month in advance, two weeks in advance, one week in advance, three days in advance, one day in advance, and then 12 hours in advance. Then you’d have no excuse to forget about it or not get it done in time.

In addition to sending reminders, you can also receive daily agendas via your email. Once you set it up, Google Calendar will send you an email with your schedule for that day. And it can include any and all of your calendars. Once set, you will receive an email at about 5:30am that will include everything on your agenda for that day.

For the more advanced user, Google Calendar also gives you the option to share your calendars with other Google Calendar users. You can give them ability to simply read your calendar or give them progressively more rights, up through the ability to edit your calendar appointments and settings. This can be very useful in a group learning setting, so that everyone has access to the same due dates and the same reminders.

And for those students who use a smartphone or a tablet, you can sync the calendars directly with iCal on your Apple products or link to it directly on your Android phone, so you can access it any time you’d like.

So set up a Google Calendar for yourself and give it a try. Used correctly and consistently, you’ll find that you get assignments done in a more timely manner and you will not miss appointments. It will help you on your path to academic and career success.

Types of Learners and Tips for Studying

Last week’s infographic talked about the different types of learners and helped your figure out which one you are. This week, we focus on how to use that information to get the most out of your studying!

Types of learners and tips for studying

What’s Your Motivation?

Students attend university for various reasons, but the most common reason is that, on average, a student with a college education will make more money throughout his or her lifetime than a student without one. A college degree means increased earning power. Not only does it command more earning power but it can open the doors to many desirable opportunities and professions. According to the Institute for Higher Education, college graduates enjoy…

  • Higher savings levels
  • Improved work conditions
  • Increased personal and professional mobility
  • Improved health and life expectancy
  • Improved quality of life for offspring
  • Better consumer decision making
  • Increased personal status
  • More hobbies and leisure activities
  • Personal satisfaction and accomplishment
  • A More open-minded outlook

With all of these future benefits is should be easy to stay motivated while in school right? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, almost a third of first year students do not make it to their second year. The reasons for this can run the spectrum from personal issues to money problems, but undoubtedly the number one barrier to student success is lack of motivation! Student’s who experience Lack of Motivation (LOM) may exhibit various symptoms such as:

  • they arrive late to class, if they even show up
  • they turn in assignments late (perhaps sloppy quality) or not at all
  • they miss appointments with advisors or faculty
  • they ignore campus resources such as the writing center, the tutor center etc.
  • they do not participate in class activities or discussions

All of these symptoms can lead to a widespread outbreak of first year students vanishing from college within the first year.

The good news it you don’t have to be one of those students, you can improve your resistance to LOM and thrive in higher education! Successful students learn to create their own inner motivation, providing the drive to persist toward their goals. They design a life plan and commit to their dreams. Think about it, if your life was as good as it could be, what would it look like? Design a road map that takes you where you want to end up ten years down the road. Keep this map in mind as you make your way through the next four years. The most important thing about motivation is goal setting. So begin to set small goals for yourself such as earning an A on your first Math test, or meeting with your academic advisor early in the semester, or plan on turning all your papers in a day or two early. Once you tackle and master these little goals the larger ones seem more attainable.

It is also equally important to identify what type of motivation works for you, is it extrinsic or intrinsic motivation that keeps you going through the tough times? The primary difference between the two types is that extrinsic motivation arises from outside of the student while intrinsic motivation arises from within.

Examples of extrinsic motivators include:

  • Studying because you want to get a good grade
  • Attaining a high GPA in order to see your name on the Dean’s List
  • Participating in a sport in order to win awards
  • Competing in a contest in order to win a scholarship

These motivators are fine and usually work for students, however they often lack a much needed internal desire to participate in an activity for its own sake.

So What exactly is Intrinsic Motivation? Here’s how some experts define it:

“Intrinsic motivation refers to motivation to engage in an activity for its own sake. People who are intrinsically motivated work on tasks because they find them enjoyable.” –Paul R Pintrich & Dale H. Schunk, Motivation in Education

“Intrinsic motivation is the innate propensity to engage one’s interests and exercise one’s capacities, and, in doing so, to seek out and master optimal challenges.” –John Marshall Reeve, Motivating Others

“Intrinsic motivation is choosing to do an activity for no compelling reason, beyond the satisfaction derived from the activity itself–it’s what motivates us to do something when we don’t have to do anything.” –James P Raffini, 150 Ways to Increase Intrinsic Motivation in the Classroom

“Intrinsically motivated action is that which occurs for its own sake, action for which the only rewards are the spontaneous affects and cognitions that accompany it. Intrinsically motivated behaviors require no external supports or reinforcements for their sustenance.” –Raymond J. Wlodkowski, Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn

Intrinsic motivation is not only a harbinger for success, it is also more psychologically rewarding. Psychologist Edward Deci completed research with two groups of children to see the effect of extrinsic rewards on learning. Group one received an extrinsic reward (money) for solving a puzzle; the second group received no rewards. Afterwards, both groups were left alone and secretly watched. The group that was paid stopped playing; the group not paid kept playing. Deci summarized his findings: “Stop the pay, stop the play.” He concluded, “Monetary rewards undermined people’s intrinsic motivation…. Rewards seemed to turn the act of playing into something that was controlled from the outside: It turned play into work, and the player into a pawn…. Rewards and recognition are important, but as the research has so clearly shown and I have reiterated many times, when rewards or awards are used as a means of motivating people, they are likely to backfire.”(Edward Deci, Why We Do What We Do)

So what works for you? Immunize yourself against LOM, find what keeps you moving towards your goals and cultivate these actions. Know your motivators; whether they be extrinsic, intrinsic or a combination of both.

How to Manage Self-Management

University life requires that a student must accept the importance of effective use of time. How students choose to spend their time can make the difference between success and failure in their academic career. It is especially important to self-manage your time, even if you don’t feel like it, which, let’s face it, there are many times that we do not feel like doing the things we know we should.

There are various management methods that can be employed to make the best use of your time; each has its own unique benefits and purposes. The following are some ideas of time management tools that can be used on a daily basis to improve productivity and help you manage your limited time. Some students resist using a written self-management system and believe that they can store it all in their heads. If that is the case than they are probably not doing very much! Experiment with a few ideas from below and see what works for you. You might be surprised by how easy it is to design a useful self-management tool that works for you.

Make a To-Do List:

  • A to-do list will ensure that everything gets done, including things that might otherwise be forgotten.
  • Organize the to-do list in order of priority! This is key, understand the things in your life that are urgent such as studying for an exam the next day, or not urgent such as watching Netflix till 4:00 A.M.
  • If a task cannot be completed in one day, it can be put on the next day’s list. It’s important, however, to complete as many tasks as possible.
  • Studies show that creating a to-do list can significantly increase productivity.

Priorities and Deadlines:

  • Setting deadlines can help accomplish tasks that would otherwise be set aside or forgotten.
  • Make sure that you keep deadlines practical and accomplishable.
  • Organize priorities so that the tasks that must be delivered soonest are first on the list (again understand what is urgent and what is not).
  • Set deadlines so that you stay on track.
  • Set deadline appointments on your cellphone or laptop to remind you a day in advance of an upcoming due date.
  • Google Calendar is an excellent place to set deadlines, as every UMaine student is given a Google account.

Meeting those Deadlines:

  • In college, as well as in all of life, tasks usually need to be completed within a set time period, which makes meeting deadlines very important.
  • One way to help meet a deadline is to break a project down into pieces, which makes an larger task easier to accomplish. One great example of this comes from Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life where she writes:

”Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

Although it is not recommended that you try to get a report that you have been given three months to finish done overnight, the key concept is not to let a large project immobilize you.

  • Another way to meet deadlines is to schedule things so that extra time can be taken if necessary.

Set Goals:

  • Similar to creating a to-do list, goal-setting is another important part of time management, because doing so not only organize one’s day and helps accomplish tasks, but also provides a sense of accomplishment.
  • Ensure a goal isn’t too large or unreasonable by dividing complicated task into multiple, smaller goals.
  • Use a sheet of paper, or a computer program to track your progress.
  • Goals should be based on performance, not output.

Put Time and Effort into Achieving Those Goals:

  • Be practical and realistic with goals by giving a reasonable amount of time to complete them. You cannot do everything at once!
  • Set goals in accordance with priority, and tackle them one at a time. Each goal should be handled separately.
  • Giving undivided attention and time to complete each goal not only results in a faster completion time, but also a higher-quality product.
  • Putting time and effort into goals is an important part of time management, as it allows for both quality and efficiency.

Begin A Daily Routine:

  • Getting a daily routine down will go a long ways towards keeping you organized and on task.
  • Adding time to relax is also important. This not only provides something to look forward to, but may also satisfy things that would otherwise be distracting.
  • Eliminate or economize anything that may not need too much time to complete. (Procrastination comes in all shapes in sizes- thinking about doing a project can sometimes take longer than the project itself)
  • Organizing a daily routine is important because it not only helps to organize the entire day, but also allows time to satisfy distractions (schedule in a little time for Facebook or your favorite blog?) and recuperate!

Avoid Procrastination:

  • Always decide in favor of the things that are most important. Some things may need to be put off until later to accomplish the most important tasks.
  • Decide on what needs to be done first, and accomplish that task. Don’t give time to anything else. This will make you feel empowered to complete more tasks
  • Making right decisions is an important part of time management as it prevents procrastinating and helps to prioritize and give a sense of accomplishment when you are finished.

Guide to Good Study Habits, Part II


In our previous post, we talked about some study tips, including studying in a group, finding good places to do your work, and setting up a studying schedule. But studying is rarely a one-size-fits-all activity. What works for some may not work for all. So today we’re going to explore a few more study tips.

Many study tips seem rather obvious, but often obvious things get overlooked. For instance, one of the most important things you can do is keep up-to-date with the material you’re studying. Don’t fall behind. Falling behind and playing catch-up is a sure-fire way to add stress and frustration to your life. As I mentioned in the previous post, you need to create and follow a studying schedule. Another reason for this is that it breaks the studying up into smaller, more easily digested pieces. Instead of seeing a mountain of material that needs to be learned over the course of the semester, the month, or the week, you can focus on a few specific things for that study session. It makes studying more manageable and less intimidating. It keeps you on top of the material, so you can participate in class. And it means you won’t have to stay up all night cramming before an exam. Better, happier, healthier.

Another obvious tip is to ask for help if you need it. If you don’t understand something in the lecture or the textbook, ask the professor in class. Odds are, other students don’t understand it as well. Or if you don’t want to ask in class, go see the professor during his/her office hours. The vast majority of faculty would be thrilled to have students come see them with questions during their office hours. If the class has a teaching assistant, you can go see them for questions, too. You can also contact the Tutor Program, see if they have Drop-In Tutoring or semester-long Group Tutoring available. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, as some students seem to view it. Instead, it’s a sign of intelligence, that you know where to look for answers, and shows that you’re not afraid to use the resources at hand to find the answer.

Good studying means good organization. And the basis of good organization is making lists. Write down everything that you have to do and then prioritize the list. List by day, week, month, and for the whole semester. Convert each task into real time. That is, if you have to read 20 pages, figure out how long it’ll take to read 20 pages. Once you’ve figure out a total time amount for your list, it’s a good rule of thumb to add an extra 20% longer. There’s almost always a hiccup along the way, something that takes longer than you assumed. Then go through the list, checking things off as you do them. But you’ll also be adding things to the list as you get more items to do. It’s a constant, on-going process, and mastering it in college will benefit you once you get out into the work world.

Here’s another counterintuitive tip. Common sense would say that if you want to become an expert in a topic you should immerse yourself in it. After all, as I mentioned before, it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to master something. However, according to this New York Times article, immersion is not the best method. Instead, studies show that varying the material studied within a single session actually increases retention. So don’t just sit and study for one particular class in one particular way. Change it up, study different things in different orders. You’ll learn more and retain more, which sets you up for greater success.

One key to college success is time management. You have classes and the necessary studying that goes along with it. You have family and social engagements to think about. There’s campus events to go to and organizations to get involved in. And many people have part-time (or even full-time) jobs. The reality is that when people talk about college students finally getting real jobs after they graduate, they miss the truth that going to college is a job. As a college student you are employing your time in gaining an education. So treat going to college as a job.

When you treat college as your job, you make different decisions. One popular method is to get to campus at the same time every day. Don’t assume you can just sleep in if you have a later class that day. Give yourself a set amount of time on campus every day, putting in the work. Optimally, you’ll be spending roughly 35-40 hours per week in class or studying. Though that might seem like a lot, you’ll be surprised how much you retain when you put that time in. By setting a work-like schedule, you’ll then have the rest of your time free to socialize or get involved in campus activities without the stress of thinking about how much you still have to do. It lowers your stress and allows you to relax, which is an incredibly important component of college success.

As I said above, studying is rarely one-size-fits-all. Some of these tips will work for you, others won’t. But to find out, you’ll have to give them a try. You might be surprised at how much success you experience when you do.

Guide to Good Study Habits, Part I

By the time the average student reaches college, they have generally had over twelve years of experience in school. That’s probably in the range of 15,000 hours in school, not counting time spent on homework. And that’s well past the 10,000 hours normally required to become an expert on something. So you’d think that a college student should be an expert on going to school, studying, taking tests, and so forth. Unfortunately, that’s often not the case. Many students arrive at college completely unprepared for the rigor of the college experience. Despite all the hours they have logged, they haven’t ever developed solid study skills. This blog will provide some tips on how students can overcome this skill deficit and become successful at studying.

The first thing you’ll want to do is go to class. This might seem very obvious, but unfortunately it’s not. By mid-semester, many courses, especially lower level ones, can witness a 30-40% drop in attendance. That means that on any given day, only 60-70% of students show up for class. Going to class is the single most important thing you, as a student, can do. It gives you a better grasp of the expectations of the professor, a basis on which to begin the process of reviewing the material, and can give you hints as to what to expect on the exams.

Another great way to aid in studying is to participate in a study group. As long as you are focusing on the material and not merely socializing, working in a group can give your study time a serious boost. Check out the following percentages. We retain:

  • 10% of what we read
  • 20% of what you hear
  • 30% of what we see
  • 50% of what we see and hear
  • 70% of what we talk about with others
  • 80% of what we experience personally
  • 95% of what we teach to others

So, when you work together, you are reading, hearing, and seeing the material. You are talking about it with others. And sometimes you are even teaching it to others. That is a massive boost to your retention of the material.

Similarly, read any assignments and do the homework in advance of the class period. By doing this you’ll be more familiar with the material and more able to participate in class discussions about it. And as shown above, talking about something boosts your retention, so being part of the class discussion will greatly benefit you.

The place you study is also very important. As mentioned in a previous post, you need to find a place that will be conducive to studying. Some place that is quiet and free from distractions. Feel free to listen to music if it will help remove noise distractions. Some researchers believe that you should actually find multiple places to study and then alternate between them. Different environments stimulate your learning in different ways, so alternating between locations can provide multiple learning experiences, again boosting your retention.

Make a learning schedule. Figure out when assignments are due and study periodically in advance, putting in time studying daily or every other day well in advance. Don’t want until the last moment or the night before to study. Cramming is all about rote memorization which doesn’t last. Conversely, if you take the time to really learn the topic, spreading out your studying over a period of days, it’ll stick with you, you’ll be learning the material and not just memorizing it. And when you understand the topic, you will be able to do better on exams.

The final study tip may sound slightly counterintuitive: don’t study all the time. Take breaks, socialize, have fun. As this New York Times article mentions, mental concentration is like a muscle that needs breaks. As you push yourself longer and harder, you’ll experience diminished returns. You need to give your mind some rest. During a study session, perhaps stand up and stretch on the half hour. Then get up and walk around for five minutes on the hour. And then, after you’ve put in a few hours, get up and do something else, giving yourself a mental break.

The key to studying is to do it in such a way that you’ll enjoy it. Pulling an all-nighter and cramming isn’t fun. You generally don’t as well and you’ll feel worse for wear. Similarly, studying in front of the TV or other technological distraction (computers, phones, tablets, etc.), will just make you want to ignore the studying and focus on the entertainment. Put yourself in a good environment, work with friends and classmates, and then give yourself a reward when you’re done; you’ll find studying considerably more enjoyable and productive.

The Importance of Routine

A recent article on the Harvard Business Review got me thinking about the importance of a daily routine to success. In fact, research has shown that, throughout history, the most successful people in their fields, what some might call the geniuses of that field, almost all had daily routines. And interestingly, a number of similarities between these routines show up. So let’s look at those mentioned in the article and see how they might benefit you in your schoolwork and perhaps into your life beyond the university setting.

First up is a workspace with minimal distractions. Distractions keep you from accomplishing what you need to accomplish. They get in the way. So naturally, if you want to be productive, you need to minimize them. Being on a campus with over 11,000 students can pose a problem when you’re trying to minimize distraction, but it is still possible. You begin by finding a place where you can comfortably work. This could be a dorm room or apartment, or a table or study carrel in the library, or table in the Memorial Union, or at a computer in one of the computer clusters on campus. Hopefully it won’t be a place where you’ll be visually distracted. Then, if it’s noisy, you need to block off the sounds. Headphones playing some light music can work well. Just make sure that it’s music that blocks outside noises without distracting you.

The next routine is a daily walk. A daily walk or other exercise is important for multiple reasons. Exercise relieves stress, making you more relaxed and able to focus on the work at hand. It also makes you feel better physically. And, very importantly, it takes your mind off the work you have to do, giving you a mental break. As this New York Times article states, mental concentration is similar to a muscle. Continued mental work causes fatigue and requires a rest, a break from deep thought. And daily exercise is a great way to do that. Your best bet is to set a specific time and place for your exercise. This will create a routine, which is harder to break.

The third routine is an accountability metric. You need to hold yourself accountable to your work. Whether it’s writing a paper or studying for calculus, steady and continuous work is the most effective. And that means you need to put in time regularly, whether daily or every other day or so forth. Create a routine where you set aside a certain amount of time, or pages written, something similar. Once you have accomplished that task, you are free to move on.

Very important is seeing a clear dividing line between important work and busywork. We all have busywork, things like emails or social media postings or phone calls/texts from friends. These may seem important but we know there is a difference between returning that text and studying for that exam or writing that paper. Some people divide the day into times for real work and times for busywork. Others may turn to busywork when real work is going poorly. A good policy is to connect the important work to the previously mentioned workplace with few distractions. When you sit down to work in that good place, put aside the busywork and focus entirely on the important work. Have clear demarcations between the two.

The next routine is somewhat counter-intuitive, to stop when you’re on a roll, not when you’re stuck. We’ve all hit roadblocks in our work and decided to stop at that point. The problem is that the roadblock is often a hindrance to picking up where we left off, and can lead us to procrastinate so that we don’t have to address the difficulty. Conversely, if you stop when you’re on a roll, you will feel energized to pick up where you left off previously, since you know where you are and where you’re going with the work.

Having a supportive partner is less a routine and more an important lifestyle choice. This partner can be a romantic partner or simply a very close friend. But a good and supportive partner can lessen the load on you, help remove stress. They can be an invaluable support, both emotionally and practically. Conversely, a non-supportive partner can hinder your every move, whether by hampering your ability to focus on the important work or accentuating the importance of your busywork, causing you to question your priorities. So, be careful in your partners.

The last routine is to have a limited social life. Perhaps this is important for geniuses, but for the majority of college students, a healthy social life is invaluable. Part of the college experience is learning how to interact socially as an adult, so I strongly urge you not to overly limit your social life. But make it part of your daily routine. It should no more dominate your routine than any other aspect of your day should.

Routines are invaluable in your daily life, as they provide structure and focus to your activities. Always remember, though, that routines should serve you, you shouldn’t be a slave to them. Their purpose is to allow you to accomplish your goals and live a happy, healthy life. Accordingly, learning how to build positive routines in your life today is important for your future life as well.

Harnessing the Power of the Quadrant

How much time do you spend on tasks that don’t help you reach important goals? How often do you wait until the night before an exam to study? How many times do you let other people’s problems interfere with the things that you need to focus on? Steven Covey’s Quadrant II Time Management System utilizes four quadrants to define specific actions that people take to either further or hinder their success. Understanding these quadrants can help students harness the power of intention as well as organize their time in a purposeful way.

In Covey’s model all actions fall into four categories, depending on their importance and urgency. Actions can be:

  • Important and Urgent
  • Important and Not Urgent
  • Not Important and Urgent
  • Not Important and Not Urgent

Important actions are those which help a student achieve their goals, while urgent actions help to meet deadlines. An action is important if it makes the difference between success and failure. Sometimes things that might appear urgent are not really that important. In order to clarify the differences it will help to have a visual.

Screen shot 2014-03-26 at 12.09.57 PM

Quadrant I represents important and urgent actions that are done at the last minute under the pressure of a deadline. Quadrant II is for important actions done without the pressure of a looming deadline. Quadrant III is for unimportant actions done with a sense of urgency. Quadrant IV actions can waste valuable time, and although these may not necessarily be bad actions, they still do not help achieve goals. Quadrants III and IV are where students who feel they do not have time to study will find the time. Those in Quadrant I are most likely overcommitted in their studies, work, and family time. Quadrant II is where most students should spend their time; this is the most powerful quadrant.

In order to better understand how the quadrants work you can begin by listing specific actions you have taken in the last two days (leave off self-maintenance such as sleeping, eating, drinking, brushing teeth, etc.). For instance:

  • You stayed up into the wee hours studying for an exam the next day
  • You played video games or watched TV
  • You drove your friend to an appointment
  • You talked to your mother on the phone
  • You attended a meeting
  • You went to the gym
  • You began a term paper, etc.

This is how those activities will look in the quadrants:

Screen shot 2014-03-26 at 12.10.46 PM

As you can see the actions in Quadrant II lead to long-term success. While the actions in Quadrant I often lead to anxiety and stress. None of us can always plan ahead, and unexpected things will happen, but the more you focus on those actions which ensure success the easier it will be to free up time to spend with friends or family and even watch an occasional Netflix movie. After all, Quadrant IV might not be the most productive, but it is the most fun.