Conversations with Professors Summer 2009

an old design 02 by ohhector.An open letter to students in my Conversations with Professors session, Summer 2009:

Welcome to Georgia Southern University!

Our goals today, as set by the Office of the First-Year Experience, were:

  • Understand how to approach the first week of classes, such as the importance of:
  • The syllabus and knowing how to read one;
  • Settling on a course schedule no later than the last day of drop/add (August 20 this Fall semester) and preferably well before then.
  • Appreciate some basic tenets of the student-faculty relationship, such as:
  • Most faculty care deeply that students learn the material in their classes and will go to great lengths to help them master the material, provided that they demonstrate that they are willing to apply themselves and work hard; and,
  • Like students, individual faculty members differ in their rules and expectations. It’s the student’s responsibility to know what each of their professors expects (see that syllabus!).

Here are links to a few of the many things we discussed today in our CwP session:

Questions as you prepare for Fall 2009? I’m happy to help.



How to Study for Final Exams

final-examsFinal exams are approaching on college campuses around the world. Finals can be stressful, even for the most prepared students. Here are some tips to help you succeed:

Preparing for the Final

  • Find out what your entire final exam schedule is so that you’ll know how many finals you will have on each day.
  • Prepare a written schedule for yourself indicating when you will study for each test. Leave some time in your schedule for exercise and relaxation, too.
  • If the professor offers a study guide, use it.
  • If the professor offers a review session for the exam, go to it.
  • Know if the final is comprehensive (covering everything since the beginning of the semester or quarter).
  • Find out what kind of exam it will be. You’d study differently for a multiple-choice (Scantron) final than an essay (blue book) one.
  • If the final will be taken online, find out if you have to go to a specific computer lab on campus at a specific time, or if you’ll be allowed to take the final on your own computer. Also find out how many chances you will have to take the final. Assume it’s just one chance unless you hear differently from the professor.
  • If you have your previous exams available, scour the exams for things that you think will be on the final. Flag your notes by highlighting or using Post-It notes.
  • Don’t pull an all-nighter. (Though some people are successful with studying all night and then taking a test with no sleep, I wouldn’t recommend you try it for the first time on a final exam.)
  • Calculate your grades in the class. Determine what score you will need to get the grade you’re hoping for in the class. You may discover that you can’t possibly get an A, no matter how well you do on the final, but to get a B, you only need to get a few questions right.
  • If you’re an auditory learner, record yourself reading your notes aloud, then play the recording back several times. (You can use the free online service Utterli for this; simply register with Utterli and then call your assigned phone number with your cell phone to start the recording.)
  • If the exam is an open-book exam, this does not mean that you don’t have to study at all. In fact, one of the most challenging exams I ever took as an undergrad was an open-book essay exam.
  • ADDED ON NOV 22: Consider creating a detailed Final Exam Battle Plan.

On the Day of the Final

  • Eat a meal and drink water.
  • Don’t overdo it with the caffeine.
  • Know what to bring with you to the final. Do you need a blue book? A Scantron? (And if you need a Scantron, which kind do you need?) A pencil? A pen?
  • Are food and drinks allowed in the classroom where your final will be? Sometimes, the rules are different for exam days than other days.
  • Even if you don’t usually wear a watch, take one with you to the final. It’s unlikely you will be able to look at your cell phone during the final.

During the Final

  • For a paper-based exam, read through the entire final exam before you start answering any questions at all. This way, you will know what you’re facing.
  • If the final is an online exam, find out if you can revisit questions, or if after you click past a question you cannot go back to it again.
  • If you’re using a Scantron and you skip a question to finish later, make sure you’re answering your questions next to the correct answers. (When I took my GRE to get into grad school, I skipped a question on the first page of the booklet, but never skipped a number on the Scantron. When I realized it, I only had 10 minutes to go back and put the answers with the correct questions. Talk about stress!)
  • Keep a close eye on the time you have allotted.
  • Some students benefit from answering the most difficult questions first, while others do better completing all the easier ones. Do what works for you.

After the Final

  • Do not share with other students what was on the final exam. In most universities, this is a violation of the honor code.

Now it’s your turn: What final exam tips do you have to share? Please let us know through your comments below.


Photo Credit:

Final Exam Care Packages

exam-weekThroughout the nation — and perhaps around the world — college students are preparing (or preparing to prepare!) for their final exams. I’ve been a college professor for more than two decades, and I am also the parent of a college student. To help my son with this stressful time in any student’s life, I’ll be sending him a Final Exam Care Package. Here are a few of the items that he’ll find when he opens this box next week. If you’re a student, you might want to share a link to this post with your parents.

My plan is to put this package together myself. However, if life intervenes, I may “cheat” and order a pre-packaged one from Tiger Surprise, which caters specifically to Auburn University students (where my eldest is a sophomore). Either way, my son will receive a tangible reminder that his mom and dad want him to take care of himself and do well on his first college finals.

Though I know he’ll be appreciative of the goodies in his care package, I know my son, and I bet he won’t call to tell me it arrived. This gives me the excuse to call him and see how he’s doing. I won’t grill him with tons of questions about his finals; instead, I’ll provide a listening ear and lots of encouragement. . . and a few of my best study tips.

Note: Parents can find the overall final exam schedule for most universities at the school’s website. However, you’ll probably need to check with your students to determine exactly when their finals are based on their class schedules.

So, what would you like to see in your own final exam care package? Do you (or your student) have favorites? Please share them as a comment.

Photo Credit:

Checking on Your Grades

At Georgia Southern University, we’re now well past the midterm mark in Fall Semester. If you haven’t been keeping close tabs on your grades in all your classes, now is a good time to do so. Some professors keep grades updated in WebCT Vista, while others use different methods. [NOTE: Grades for all my classes are kept up-to-date in WebCT Vista.]

So what do you do if you find a discrepancy between what you believe your grades are and what your professor has recorded? See what a variety of professors from several universities recommend.

Cheap Dates

When I was in college, I lived on a really tight budget. Things aren’t much different for many of today’s college students.

Trying to come up with something fun to do on a date, something that doesn’t cost a lot of money, can be a real challenge.

My favorite “cheap date” in college? A stop for ice cream, followed by a walk through Auburn University’s Arboretum. I’ve been married to my college sweetheart for 23 years, so cheap dates can have long-lasting impact!

What are some of your favorite “cheap dates”? Please share your ideas by providing a comment. Thanks!


Time Management? No, PRIORITY Management

For the deliverable for the module on Time Management (which I’d rename as Priority Management), this is what I’ll need from you:

Fall 2008 Semester at a Glance: Fill this out with every assignment, test, quiz, final, etc., that you have this semester. You can do it in Word or by hand (if and only if you write neatly). Bring a hard copy to class on Monday, October 6. Nothing is necessary in WebCT Vista.

An alternate: If you already have all of your fall semester’s assignments (etc.) entered into a planner, show me what you have. You may just be able to make me a copy of what you’re already doing.

To earn all 100 points on the Time Management module, you will need to also include milestones for at least one project in each class. For example, if you have a research paper due, list your internal deadlines for when you need to finish research, write outline, complete draft, and complete final version.  Without milestones for at least one project in each class, the maximum you can earn on the this module is 85. Or if you have a test to study for, indicate when you need to finish reading certain chapters, when you plan to study, etc.

10 Tips for Success on Assignments

College assignments may be different than the ones you completed in high school. Here are several tips that may help you succeed in your assignments.

  1. Read the assignment thoroughly. Ensure that you understand what the instructor is looking for as a deliverable.
  2. Use standard English grammar and spelling. Though abbreviations and lack of capitalization or punctuation may be fine in text messages or Twitter, they are definitely not acceptable in other written assignments. Need help with grammar? Check out Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.
  3. Use spell check. Don’t rely on it exclusively, but do use it.
  4. If there’s a minimum or maximum word or page count, write enough, but not too much.
  5. Consider writing a draft of your assignment for your instructor to review prior to the deadline. (Yikes — check the second definition included in the deadline link.)
  6. Post or turn in your assignment by the deadline. Many instructors (including me) do not accept late work. (See some views on late work at the Chronicle of Higher Education’s website.)
  7. Thoroughly review your course syllabus. Many instructors include a weekly schedule of discussions and assignments. Don’t be surprised if when you ask when an assignment is due, your instructor replies, “You’ll find that in the syllabus.” Check WebCT Vista for due dates if they are not specified on the syllabus.
  8. When taking a quiz or test in WebCT Vista, make sure you are aware what the rules are for using materials to help you take the test, that you know how many tries you have, and how the final score is calculated. (In many of my classes, the quizzes are “open-everything,” at least two tries are allowed, and highest score counts. But that’s just me.)
  9. If your instructor specifies or indicates a preference for fonts and margins, use these when writing your assignment.

Hmmm . . . that’s only nine tips. What is one addition tip you could offer to complete this top ten list? Please comment with your suggestion.

Photo Credit: “Success,” originally uploaded to Flickr by kevinthoule.