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Background Knowledge/Skill Set

Improving Your Vocabulary

  1. Contextualization – Put new vocabulary words into your daily conversation.
  2. Elaboration – When you hear a word, stop a minute and relate it to information you already know. If the situation doesn’t allow this, write the word down in a small notebook or scrap of paper and reference it later.
  3. Inference – Use available information to predict or guess the meanings of words.
  4. Translation – When learning a language, try reading a newspaper story in your own language first, and then in the desired language.
  5. Vocabulary Journal – Keep a vocabulary journal. Write down vocabulary word, the definition in your own words, where you first saw it, and when you used it.
  6. Personalize Your Dictionary – Mark and keep track of what words you reference in the dictionary.  

Classroom Readiness

Tips on preparing for class:

  1. Listen and accurately write down all assignments that the professor gives at the end of class so that you know exactly what he or she expects of you for the next class.
  2. Prepare a list of questions to ask in class.   
  3. Do all problems that are assigned.  If the professor goes over the homework in class, you will be able to ask questions about problems that were difficult for you to do.  If the professor doesn't go over problems in class, you can get help or ask questions in his/her office hours.  If you think about the purpose of homework problems, you'll realize that they are meant to give you a way to determine what you do and don't understand about a chapter or lecture.  So, take advantage of the opportunity!
  4. Read the assigned chapter(s) before class and review your class notes after each class.
  5. Use the few minutes between classes to review and preview the lectures. Finish your homework before going to class. Don't procrastinate. 


Being on time is extremely important for your academic success. The following tips will help you learn to never be late to ensure you never miss a pop quiz or miss hearing about an assignment.     

  1. Be realistic!  Don't schedule classes at times you struggle with.  If you're not a morning person, don't schedule 7:45am classes every day.  If you lose focus late in the day, don't schedule 5:15pm classes every day.
  2. Rethink the meaning of "on time." People who are always on time are really people who arrive early every day--except when things go wrong. And things will go wrong.
  3. Understand the importance of being on time. Students who are always on time are the people who earn the best grades, win scholarships and get into great colleges. In the working world, the people who are always on time are the people who get promotions.
  4. Get enough sleep. If you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, then make a serious effort to get to bed earlier. Sufficient sleep is essential for maximum brain function anyway, so you really don’t want to ignore this aspect of your scholastic habits.
  5. Give yourself a realistic amount of time to dress and groom with this simple exercise: Get up early one morning and time yourself (moving at a normal pace) to see how long it takes you to get ready. You may be surprised at the time it takes, especially if you find you have been trying to squeeze forty minutes worth of grooming into fifteen minutes each morning.
  6. Know exactly when you need to be at your destination and subtract ten or fifteen minutes to establish your arrival time. This will give you time to go to the restroom or chat with friends.
  7. Communicate any problems that may inhibit your ability to be to class on-time.  If you must be absent, inform your instructor that you won't be there and provide a legitimate or reasonable excuse for missing.
  8. Assume responsibility for getting all assignments missed and understanding specifically what was covered in class.
  9. Have a backup plan for your transportation. If you normally ride to school with a friend, think ahead and plan what to do if your friend gets sick.
  10. Set your clocks forward by ten minutes. This is a dirty little psychological trick that many people play on themselves. The funny thing is, it really works!
  11. Have your alarm clock across the room from your bed. 


Class Participation

  1. Listening:  Before speaking, consider how your ideas relate to those previously discussed and address the relationship.
  2. Preparation: Like listening, preparing for the discussion ahead of time by completing assignments and readings is essential for effective participation.
  3. Listen to the leader:
    • Maintain awareness of how the discussion leader and other participants in the class are organizing the discussion.
    • Do not change the subject under discussion until other participants are ready to go on.
    • Consider how your instructor has organized the discussion and what this reveals about the topic
  4.  Organize your contribution:
    • Be as succinct and clear as possible!
    • Clarify what you are going to say and how it fits the discussion before you speak.
    • Organize your contribution (start with a thesis and then explain how you reached this conclusion.)
    • Respect the organization of the discussion and speak at times when your contribution is appropriate and topical.
    • When discussing a text, cite passages by referring to them or paraphrasing.  Only read the passage when necessary.
    • Avoid prefaces that do not serve content and undermine your credibility.  Examples: "This is just my opinion but," "I thought it was interesting," etc.
  5.   Respect other participants:
    • Inevitably, people will make statements that you find uh, shall we say…disagreeable.  It is important that you respond to their ideas in conversation and refrain from interruption, verbal insults or aggressive facial expressions in order to maintain trust and respect in the classroom.
  6.   Ask Questions
    • Repeat mentally. Think about the message you hear and rephrase it in your own words, silently in your head. Ask for clarification if you have trouble translating the message into your own words. It is okay to ask for clarification. You are responsible for knowing the information, so it is completely acceptable to ask for clarification. 
    • Ask questions. No one else will ask questions for you. Take responsibility for your own education. Ask questions to clarify messages and to critically examine the material presented.  It is vital to understand that at the center of learning is asking good questions. As you focus more on the questions you have, the answers will come and you will get much more out of class. Anytime you ask yourself a question your mind will go looking for the answer, there’s no way you can stop it. That’s how the mind works.

Note Taking & Listening

Listening Effectively

   You can learn a lot through listening.  In college, it will be a prime source of information. Unfortunately, people do not instinctively listen well. Listening is a skill which must be developed.


  If you apply the following suggestions, you will find yourself listening more effectively, both in class and out.

  1. Sit in front.  Especially in classes where you know you may be distraced, sit near the front where you can more easily engage yourself in the lecture.  Move away from sources of noise-human or mechanical.  Sit where you can see the speaker easily, and where other distractions are at a minimum
  2. Take responsibility for what is being said.  The responsibility for interest and understanding lies with you, not with the speaker. Learning is up to the learner. If you simply want to sit passively and blame the speaker for your lack of success, then you're not a serious learner.
  3. Listen to what the speaker is saying. Don't tune the speaker out because you don't like something about him/her or the message. Be sure you understand something before you reject it.
  4. Look for the speaker's pattern of organization. In a lecture, a speaker is generally referring to notes or some other source of information. You can understand much better if you are able to recognize what the speaker's driving at and how the speaker's getting there.
  5. Look for the main idea or ideas of the presentation. Facts are important only as they support the speaker's points. If you have trouble distinguishing between the important and the trivial, a friend or a tutor in the Academic Skills Center can help you.
  6. Don't let your mind wander. Your thoughts move far more rapidly than the swiftest mouth, and the urge to stray is tempting. Your attention span can be increased, however, through deliberate effort. Continue to practice the habit of attention and don't be discouraged by early failures.
  7. Take notes while you listen. Even if you recognize everything being said, jot it down, because you won't remember it later unless you do.


Note Taking

     Taking notes develops a sense of listening, allowing the student to recognize main ideas and to understand the organization of the material. Taking notes in class keeps the student’s attention focused on the lecture, thereby increasing concentration, retention and understanding. To increase your understanding and better benefit from your classes, follow these tips.

  1. Sit where the teacher will always see you, preferably toward the front of the room.
  2. Read in advance about the topic to be discussed in class.
  3. Write down whatever your teacher puts on the board; there is a better chance it will be on the test.
  4. Always write down definitions and enumerations.
  5. If your teacher repeats a point, you can usually assume it is important.
  6. Be sure to write down the details that connect or explain the main points.     
  7. Leave blank spaces for items or ideas you may miss.
  8. Don't hesitate to ask the instructor questions if certain points are confusing to you.
  9. Do not stop taking notes during discussion periods.
  10. Go over your notes soon after class (within 24 hours) to increase your retention.
  11. Don't try to record every word, use abbreviations. This will help you to not fall behind.
  12. Use a three ring binder for taking notes so that pages can easily be added or taken out.
  13. Use dividers for each subject to quickly reference to the area you are
    looking for. Keep all notes, assignments, handouts, quizzes, and tests in this binder for future reference.


Taking Notes

 Learning to take notes effectively will help you to improve your study and work habits and to remember important information.  Often, students are deceived into thinking that because they understand everything that is said in class they will therefore remember it.  This is dead wrong!  Write it down.


Here are some hints on note making:

  1. Don't write down everything that you read or hear.  Be alert and attentive to the main points.  Concentrate on the "meat" of the subject and forget the trimmings.
  2. Take accurate notes.  You should usually use your own words, but try not to change the meaning.  If you quote directly from an author, quote correctly.  Keep your notes short and to the point.
  3. Think a minute about your material before you start making notes.  Don't take notes just to be taking notes!  Take notes that will be of real value to you when you look over them at a later date.
  4. Have a uniform system of punctuation and abbreviation that will make sense to you.  Use a skeleton outline and show importance by indenting.  Leave lots of white space for later additions.
  5. Don't worry about missing a point.
  6. Don't keep notes on oddly shaped pieces of paper.  Keep notes in order and in one place.
  7. Shortly after making your notes, go back and rework (not redo) your notes by adding extra points and spelling out unclear items.  Remember, we forget rapidly.  Budget time for this vital step just as you do for the class itself.
  8. Review your notes regularly.  This is the only way to achieve lasting memory.


For more on Listening and Note Takings, sign up for a .5 credit Notes and Listening Module



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