Strategies for Success
This guide will give you research-supported strategies for success during your time at UIW. You'll find ideas you can implement on your own, along with where you can find help. Your Cardinal community is here for you.
Motivation and Goal Setting
You have a lot you want to achieve while you’re here at UIW. To ensure that this semester gets you several steps closer to graduation, start by taking some time to set semester goals for yourself. If you have never planned out concrete, specific goals for your studies, consider this your invitation to give it a try. Simply put, goals affect performance. There is evidence that the act of planning out what you want to achieve leads to greater accomplishment than if you hadn’t set goals ( Motivation and Learning Strategies, p. 104). You’ve probably learned this in other contexts. If you’re an athlete, you have to think through what you want to achieve and consider what steps you need to take to reach your performance goals. Same thing if you’re a musician or actor or designer. Planning sets the stage for progress. Take that same energy to your studies.
To determine academic goals to set, consider:
What do you want to accomplish by the end of the semester? As you are planning, know that some semester goals will lead you closer to your ultimate goal of graduation than others will. Make sure your goals are SMART :
Once you have set your overall semester goals, determine the smaller steps you need to take to achieve these goals.
You’ve got your plan. Now, think through the measures you can put in place to ensure that you follow through with your plan. Who will be your community, your support system? Are there specific friends or family members you can check in with periodically to talk about how it’s going? Remember that you can always meet with a tutor or advisor to talk about your progress.
It’s also important to consider the role that motivation will play in carrying out those goals. Your motivation will likely fluctuate throughout the semester, and a variety of factors will play a role in that. It’s important to take some time to think about obstacles you may face and plan to respond in positive ways so that you can persist when the going gets tough.
- What have your previous experiences with school been like?
- How relevant do you believe what you learn in school is to your life outside of school?
- What messages have you heard from family, teachers, and friends about your ability to succeed in school?
- How do you talk to yourself about your ability to succeed? What do you think you’re good at? How do you feel when you have to work hard at a subject?
- How do you interpret setbacks? If you don’t do as well as you’d hoped on a test or assignment, do you see it as evidence that you aren’t capable, or are you more likely to see it as a roadmap pointing to areas to continue working on?
- How do you feel when you think about asking for help?
- How do you respond when you start to feel anxious or bored with assignments?
Your beliefs about your ability to overcome setbacks and achieve your goals form what is called your self-efficacy. Take some time to journal answers to the questions above. If you find that some of your beliefs about yourself are holding you back, consider more positive ways to respond. Look for opportunities to achieve smaller goals along the way, which has been shown to help students improve their self-efficacy and get themselves out of feeling stuck.
Finally, you may be thinking, what if I don’t actually know what my goals are? It’s common for students to start college without having chosen a major yet, so if that’s where you are, you’re in good company. A few recommendations if you don’t know what you want to do yet:
- Set goals related to your core classes (check with your advisor if you have questions).
- Set goals related to skills that will be needed across majors, such as writing.
- Plan time throughout the semester to explore possibilities.
- Talk to Career Services for additional guidance and support.
Some students buy a fancy planner and fill it up with color-coded notes and stickers. Others take things as they come without spending a lot of time planning. Regardless of where you find yourself, know that you can benefit by assessing where your time goes and making smart choices. In fact, there’s evidence that students achieve their academic goals at a higher rate when they manage their time well ( Motivation and Learning Strategies, p. 13).
Start with knowing where your time goes. Make note of how much time you think you need for various activities.
- When do you have obligations at fixed times (e.g., classes, work hours, athletics, theatre, etc.)?
- What else do you have going on that doesn’t have set times (studying, leisure activities, visiting with family, etc.)?
- What kinds of activities sometimes take up more time than you intended? Is it scrolling through social media? Playing video games? Watching Netflix?
Now that you know where your time goes, plan ahead about how you will use the time you have to meet your goals.
- Create a schedule that incorporates both fixed and open times.
- Don’t forget to add in commute time.
- Look over the classes you’re taking and make note of the ones you may need to spend more time preparing for.
- When planning study time, consider breaking it up when possible to make study sessions more manageable. You may want to try the Pomodoro method , in which you set a timer for 25 minutes, focus on studying during that time, take a 5-minute break, and start another round.
- Don’t underestimate how much small bits of time can add up.
- Add in time to take care of yourself. Make sure you are eating well and staying hydrated, exercising, and getting plenty of sleep.
- Be intentional about how much time you spend on social media and so on.
- Leave some time for fun.
It’s really important to see this plan as a work in progress. When you create your schedule, try it out for a couple of weeks and see how it goes. What’s working well? What’s not? Try to observe yourself without being overly critical of yourself. The goal is simply to find what works best for you.
Before you start the semester, it’s important to think through the study strategies you’ll use to accomplish your goals. There are persistent myths about study habits that are not actually as beneficial as previously believed. For instance, did you know that highlighting your text isn’t the most effective way of reading? Or that finding your learning style doesn’t have a big impact on actual learning? Or that no one is very good at multitasking? Not to worry, educational researchers have found strategies that do work.
To ensure that you are getting the best possible results from your study time, consider incorporating these research-backed practices into your study sessions, courtesy of the Learning Scientists.
Note: In some of the videos, the speakers are talking fast. You may want to slow the video and pause as needed to take notes.
One of the most effective things you can do is to test yourself periodically. You can do this by using flashcards, creating quizzes for yourself, or writing short summaries of sections of the text. With this method, it’s really important not to look at your text or notes while you’re testing yourself, so you can see how much you remember on your own.
At some point in your education, you may have taken a quiz to determine your learning style—if you’re more visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. More recent research shows that adapting your learning style actually doesn’t have much impact on learning outcomes. If you prefer one style over the others, it’s totally fine to work it into your study sessions, especially if it helps you get started. However, consider trying the more impactful practice of dual coding, which simply means using both words and pictures (e.g., writing summaries and drawing diagrams) to understand a concept.
Research shows that the same amount of study time spread across several days is more effective than when it’s a single block of time. Make it a practice to start early and study in smaller blocks of time. Your future self will thank you when taking the test.
This strategy sounds more complicated than it is. Elaborative interrogation simply means that you use different ways to deepen your understanding of a topic. You might ask yourself questions and look for answers, connect new concepts to concepts you already understand, or connect ideas to everyday life.
Interleaving is a fancy word that means to switch topics periodically. It’s important, however, to distinguish this from multitasking. Research shows that no one is very good at multitasking, and it won’t help you retain new information. Interleaving, on the other hand, involves focusing on one topic at a time, but changing to a new topic periodically. Then, in your next study session, you can study the same topics but change the order. For example, let’s say you are spending an hour studying math. You might want to do one or two of each type of problem, and then another day solve other examples, in a different order.
This one is especially important if you’re studying a topic that is abstract. To make sure that you really understand, you should come up with concrete examples. (The video has examples of what this looks like). Be sure to check with your professor to make sure that the examples you come up with work.
As you’re coming up with a study plan for the semester, it’s important to think about not only how you’ll study, but also where. Environment can have an impact on how much you accomplish.
- Try to have a designated space for studying if possible, even if you’re cordoning off a section of your dorm room.
- If you have control over the thermostat, make sure your space is not too hot or cold, as temperature can affect your accuracy .
- Find a quiet place. Get creative if you need to.
- Try to study near a natural light source.
- If you prefer having background noise while you study, consider ways to ensure it’s staying in the background and not becoming your main focus. You could switch to ambient noise or classical music, for instance. Or turn on a movie you’ve seen many times and set the volume to low so that you won’t be distracted.
- The research is up in the air on how tidy your study space should be. Some research suggests that messy spaces may lead to more creative thinking. However, many people swear by studying in an orderly space and have a hard time focusing if there’s too much clutter. Experiment and find what works best for you.
- Before you start a study session, write down other things you’re thinking about—your list of things to do, etc., so you don’t get distracted with worrying about remembering later.
- If your phone distracts you, turn it off or set it to Do Not Disturb.
- Consider using apps to track how you use your time.
- Consider trying a meditation app or other means of centering yourself so that you can focus on the work at hand.
- Look at your space as a work in progress. Try out some of the tips above, and make changes as needed.
- Get creative and make the best of what you have.
Taking good notes is a vital way to actively engage with what you are learning. It’s important to think about not only how to take notes, but what to do with your notes after you take them. Notes help you to both remember and process new information you’re taking in.
1) To write by hand or on your computer?
Some research suggests that writing your notes by hand leads to stronger recall than typing notes does. You may find that for you personally, it’s easier to record more information when you’re typing, but give handwritten notes a try and see if it helps you to remember more.
2) There are numerous ways to take notes. A few of the most common are:
- The Cornell Method
- The Outline Method
- The Mapping Method
- The Charting Method
- The Sentence Method
But what should you actually write down? It depends on the subject, but generally speaking:
- During class:
- Summarize important points.
- Note anything written on the board or PPT.
- Write anything repeated or otherwise emphasized, and important terms.
- Note questions you already know you have.
- After class:
- Rewrite notes and fill in gaps.
- Read your notes and write summaries and questions.
- Textbook: preview (get an overall sense of the chapter), write down important terms, write summaries for each section, write questions, and make connections between topics.
- Literature: preview (look up and make note of the synopsis—context, author, characters, themes); write summaries for each chapter (or break into smaller sections if needed); note unfamiliar words to look up later; write questions; make note of connections, striking details/quotes, and patterns.
Effective Study Groups
Learning in community can be highly effective, but groups are notoriously difficult to manage well. Students often see the challenges and decide it’s easier to just study on their own. Below are tips on how to make group study sessions work so you can reap the benefits of learning with others.
What’s so great about learning in groups?
- Regular group study sessions make you responsible to each other, which helps you to stay on track.
- You each have different perspectives, knowledge, and life experiences, which can help to sharpen everyone’s understanding of the material.
- You can form an important source of encouragement for each other when any of you are feeling discouraged.
- How do you find people?
- Ask people around you.
- Use the Groups feature in Canvas to set up a group and invite classmates to join.
- Aim for groups of 3-6.
- Plan how often you will meet and for how long. Remember that the benefits of groups increase over time.
- Be realistic.
- Ideally, try to allocate 90 min-2 hours per meeting.
- Consider where you will meet, and if it will be online or in person.
- Determine how you will minimize distractions.
- Decide ahead of time what you want to accomplish, as well as what each person needs to do ahead of time to make your goals achievable. Consider assigning tasks that will allow you to move forward, even if not everyone in the group completes them.
- Remember that even though you’re studying together, you’re each responsible for understanding all of the content. Resist the temptation (for example) to divide up parts of the chapter for each person to read and discuss.
- Share your notes. Bring lecture and reading notes and compare what you’ve all written down. See where the group differs in understanding of a concept. If anyone has a question, have group members with a stronger understanding explain, and take time to look at the text or other resources to confirm.
- Discuss connections between concepts you’re learning.
- Take turns teaching each other.
- Create practice tests or quizzes together and take them. Discuss what questions you’ll ask and why.
- Create exam wrappers together after class. In other words, review anything you got wrong, and make sure you understand why you missed any points. Also, talk about how you studied and what you might want to do differently for the next test. Be sure to do this as soon as possible after you get a test back so that you have ample time to make changes.
- Consider setting up group tutoring sessions. Your group can follow the same practices you would on your own, but a tutor can offer guidance and answer questions.
As you are studying and preparing to enter your career field, you are becoming part of a community of study and practice. Academic integrity, or honesty, is a crucial part of both honoring others in the community and demonstrating your own learning.
What constitutes a violation of academic integrity? A few of the most common types of academic dishonesty are as follows:
- Cheating, or using unauthorized materials during a test, copying someone else’s answers, and so on.
- Plagiarizing, or using someone else’s words, ideas, or findings as your own.
- Self-plagiarizing, or reusing your own work for another grade or course without permission.
- Making up sources or research findings.
- Aiding someone else’s academic dishonesty.
See UIW’s Policy on Academic Integrity for a full description of how UIW defines academic dishonesty, as well as potential consequences.
Why is this such a big deal? Academic integrity:
- Recognizes and respects the ones who did the work.
- Demonstrates that you know how to identify credible sources.
- Shows how you are adding to the conversation.
- Demonstrates what you’ve accomplished in learning course material.
How you can demonstrate academic integrity:
- First things first. Start earlier than you think you need to. Break up tasks if it’s overwhelming. Many students find themselves engaging in academic dishonesty because they’ve underestimated how much time tasks will take, and they have simply run out of time.
- Follow the research-backed study practices earlier in this module to ensure that you have a solid understanding of the material before your tests. That way, you won’t be tempted to look at any classmates’ tests for answers you don’t remember.
- If you’re researching for a paper or project, make sure you’re taking good notes so that you can easily find where information came from. Most citation formats include some variation of author name, year, and/or page number. Don’t forget that paraphrased information needs to be cited as well.
- Remember to cite as you write. A lot students find citing tedious, so they leave it till the end. It’s much easier to get in the habit of adding citations as you go along so that all you have to do at the end is double-check that they’re formatted properly.
- Always give credit when someone else did the work. There are no assignments that “don’t need citations”—only the way you give credit changes.
- Follow the appropriate formatting style for your discipline. See quick guides for MLA, APA, and Chicago.
- Remember that tutors can help you to study and review papers to ensure that you are on the right track.
You have important goals to accomplish during your time here at UIW, but you don’t have to do it all on your own. UIW has tutoring programs that offer a range of services to support you on your academic journey.
What to expect:
- Connect with tutors who have been recommended by faculty. They are friendly and work here because they want to help students. Hear about tutoring from some of our team here:
- Review your writing for any undergraduate class with an experienced writer:
- Have a conversation and ask questions to generate ideas for essays.
- Help identify patterns of errors and learn what to look for when you’re self-editing.
- Review formatting.
- Solidify knowledge and clarify concepts.
- Get in extra practice before the test.
- Build your confidence.
- Learn about research-backed study practices.
- Create a study plan and schedule.
- Form tutor-guided study groups with your classmates.
- Come for tutoring at any stage of the writing or studying process, even if you don’t feel prepared. Ask whatever questions you have, at any point that it would be helpful to you. Talking to a tutor can help you get unstuck and come up with a plan.
- Or you may find that it’s helpful to prepare so you can use your session time to focus on what you most need help with.
- Read the chapter and attempt problems. Make note of where you get stuck.
- Read the prompt and write down ideas. Do some preliminary research (if applicable) and take good notes. Make a list of points or write a partial or full draft.
- Write down any questions you want to make sure you cover.
Make an appointment for 30 minutes or an hour, on your own or for a group. If you aren’t sure how much time you’ll need, try scheduling an hour—you can always wrap up early if you don’t need the full time.