10 Keys to College Success

Penji has students from every major serving as tutors. What follows is a constantly evolving document: the ten most popular tips given by our tutors, in their own words with a bit of commentary from me, Penji's CEO. Enjoy!

Tip #1: Keep Things in perspective

It's easy to get lost in the daily grind and feel like one failed test ruins your chances at [insert lofty goal here]. Short term results are almost always less important than they seem. Messed something up? Do better next time. What matters is constant progress and a positive outlook.

Tip #2: manage your stress

"Figure out the best way to destress. This may be jogging, journaling, talking with a friend or binging Netflix. Whatever it is, make sure to fit it in."

- Zoe Parisian-Jeppesen (Pre-med)

School is stressful. Life is stressful. Zoe's tip here is critical - we should take an active approach to managing stress. If something feels SO important that you can't afford the time you need to stay balanced... well, you're probably just shooting yourself in the foot. Long term success comes from a steady approach to growth and progress.

Tip #3: Go To Class (And here's why)

"If you don't have the discipline to get out of bed and go to class, you probably don't have the discipline to go though the material effectively on your own."

- Jordan Schneider (Pre-med)

It's no secret that lecture sucks. Truth is, you don't actually retain that much from lecture - research supports this. But as Jordan says, it's a good start to building discipline around your study habits. Just suck it up and go! Discipline and willpower are gained through practice.

Tip  #4: How to Retain Information

"Learn the material on your own time. Showing up to class is one thing, but to fully retain the information you must make the connections by yourself."

- Julian Beaupre (Finance)

Lecture doesn't actually teach you much. It's a first step, and that's all. To retain information, you must make the connections by yourself. "Active learning" is a concept we harp on with tutors... until you can work through problems completely by yourself (and even better, can teach it to someone else), you don't fully grasp it.  Your notes, textbook, and friends are there to keep you from going totally off the rails in your own exploration.

Tip #5: Planning and Organization

"Most classes will have deadlines that sneak up on you and teachers who don’t tell you something is due. Log all of your assignments and tests in advance, be it on your phone or a planner."

- Kate Schelonka (Finance + Pre-med)

You’d be so surprised by the amount of time you actually have if you learn to budget well and stay on top of all of your classes.

- Xander Bradeen, (Neuroscience)

I totally sucked at this, and was constantly losing full grades because I didn't know what was coming. This tip is about up-front investment to save yourself pain later. Sit down for 2-3 hours after syllabus week and plan out the whole semester for each class. Add reminders to your phone for each assignment. Don't miss a thing and you won't be kicking yourself for dumb mistakes like me!

Tip #6: Study Smarter, not harder

Be strategic about what you study, focusing on what you don’t know well or what you know will be more prominent on your test.

- Zoe Parisian-Jeppesen (Pre-med)

This goes hand-in-hand with tip 5. Take the time to plan your hours studying. It's super easy to "work hard" but not be working effectively - long hours doesn't equal success. If you've got 20 hours to study this week, break those hours into whatever is the most important, considering your current weaknesses, what % breakdown of material the test covers, etc.

Tip #7: Research Your Professors

"It's the instructor that makes classes good or bad, so focus on getting the good ones - use ratemyprofessor or other resources specific to your school."

Michael Rahn (Computer Science)

Michael is right. The variability from one professor to another is unbelievable. It can be the difference between a total waste of your time (and maybe a bad grade) and an engaging class where you get what you pay for. A great professor can set you on a totally new life path, showing you an exciting field, exposing you to research or job opportunities, and inspiring you in countless ways. Do your research.

Tip #8: Use The Feynman Technique

"Just get a piece of paper and try to explain the concept in the fewest amount of words possible. If the concept can be broken down into simpler words then you don’t fully understand it."

- Alex Koek (Math and Astrophysics)

We call this concept "active learning". If a student is just listening or reading, the info doesn't stick. Teaching something, explaining something, on the other hand... that is how you retain it. This "Feynman Technique" is a simple way to fake that - you're teaching some theoretical audience about the concept by writing it out. This will help it stick in your brain. Do this!

Tip #9: Make it fun

"Try to find a way to make what you’re studying interesting or relevant to you. If you can’t enjoy what you’re doing than it makes it a lot harder for you to do it. Everybody’s different so find what makes something interesting to you."

- Alex Koek (Math and Astrophysics)

I know it's not always possible, but when your interests and your "work" align, you are really off to the races. You'll absorb information and grow in the subject at an incredible rate. This is why your interests should guide your choice in major and classes. This is why you should pursue hobbies on the side.

An important note: you can often find things in a subject that are interesting if you intentionally look. If you're studying organic chemistry, chat with your professor in office hours about their research involving that subject. Learn about the applications of the subject. This can make it far more interesting to study. When teaching myself to code, learning the syntax of Python was not fun in itself - using it to do my first simple tasks for an app I wanted to build made it fun. It seemed so powerful then.

Tip #10: Work Early, Work Consistently

"Make a habit of working on all your assignments, if only briefly, every day. If you don’t have something immediately due for that class, working on future assignments, or re-reading materials will let you know early on if you need help."

- David Blair (Computer Science)

Consistency in any effort is huge. Follow this advice. Why?

First, working a consistent amount every day allows you to get used to the load and not feel stressed.  

Second, consistency in work helps keep the threads of a problem or topic in your head. You won't need spend as much time recalling where you are at. Even further, your brain uses sleep to set information into your brain and process it. Working in bite-sized chunks, broken by a night of sleep, helps you retain information and keep building on it.

To David's point, don't stop focusing on school if you get a temporary reprieve from assignments. Spend time getting ahead or reviewing. This reduces the work you'll have to do later while keeping you in the zone. Smooth out the peaks and valleys from your semester to see much improved results.



January 11, 2020

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