Build the Right Skills to Achieve Academic Success

Many students think that showing up for classes, taking a few notes, reading the textbooks, and studying right before the tests will lead to academic success. However, learning, like many other activities, involves a complex set of soft and hard skills that require practice.

Let’s examine those soft skills.  Studying abroad provides a terrific opportunity to develop the self-awareness skills you need for success at college and beyond.  First, take a good look at yourself.  How do you study best? Do you study alone in your room or the library, or do you study with friends or a study group?  Do you complete assignments at the last minute or do you complete them days ahead of their due date?  Do you need to meet with a professor or teacher’s assistant outside of the classroom to fully understand the assignments or concepts, or do you turn in assignments with little help?  There isn’t a right or wrong way to study, but being aware of how you approach academics is the first step to achieving your academic goals. 

Second, examine how you perceive your classmates or the professor in the classroom.  Do you feel intimidated by others easily?  Do you take it personally if someone disagrees with you?  Are you a person who goes with the flow and adapts positively to changing circumstances in the classroom environment? Do you need structure and direction, or do you think abstractly?  Now that you have looked a little critically at yourself – and I know this can be hard to do – you can apply those insights to plan your approach to classes, homework, and exams. 

The next step is to develop your hard skills. U.S. professors assign many readings and strong reading comprehension skills are necessary to keep up and cultivate the self-confidence to express your own opinions in the classroom.  There are many strategies for effective reading comprehension. One “SURVEY-QUESTION-READ-RECITE-REVIEW” has been by students of all ages for many years.

1) Survey – Skim/Review the article to figure out the purpose.

2) Question – Develop questions using the topic sentences in the article to guide your reading.

3) Read Actively – Consider the time it will take you read.  Break the reading up into smaller parts if necessary.  Take a break if you feel your mind wandering off topic.

4) Recite – After reading each section look away from the book, ask yourself a question about what you read and see if you can recall the answer from memory.

5) Review – When you finish reading go back over all your questions to see if you know and understand the material.  If you do not understand an idea or argument go back and reread – or ask for help.  If you feel confident in your understanding, reward yourself with a short break.

Penn State University has compiled a helpful guide to this strategy and a number of others to help students with reading comprehension and a number of other study skills.

Another necessary hard skill is effective listening. While there may be assigned readings, often professors will evaluate understanding of the course material based on the issues brought to light through class discussions or lectures. Below are some tips to fine-tune your listening comprehension.

1) Look at the course outline or syllabus to understand the flow of the course.

2) Date and title your notes each day to help keep them organized.

3) Listen to the content of the speaker’s message, putting aside any personal bias.

4) When listening, identify the main ideas and supporting details.

5) Write down notes in your own words when possible, and think about what the speaker is saying.

6) Stay involved by asking clarifying questions and sharing your opinions .

7) Compare your class notes with another student to see if you missed something important and also to gain another viewpoint.  This is also a great way to make a new friend!

Read on for tips from UGRAD alumni or check out World Learning’s brief paper on how to navigate the U.S. higher education system under the “files” tab on the 2012-13 Global UGRAD Facebook group.

“My tips are very simple. I’ve always thought of myself as an Ambassador of my country. I’ve always told myself that not only do my academic results reflect my own study capability, but they are also are indicators, to many of my friends and professors here, of my country. Thus, I was able to stay focused in my study.  Besides, I always took chance to talk to my peers to improve my English and gain cultural knowledge, which gave me confidence in class when I had to present my ideas or voice up my opinions. My professors are all extremely nice and helpful so whenever there was anything I did not clearly understand; I asked them or emailed them my questions.” -2011-12 UGRAD Alumna

“In an American university setting, professors are very approachable and friendly. You can talk to them during their free time about the lessons in class that you weren’t able to understand, questions that really bothers you or even about your standing in class. Don’t hesitate to ask for help because asking questions in an American class denotes your interest in the course and your desire to learn and know more about the subject matter. Don’t be scared because professors have the passion and desire to transfer their knowledge to their students. As much as possible, they don’t want any student to be left behind that is why you can notice their compassion to express the lesson in different perspectives just for the students to better understand and grasp what the lesson is all about.”  – 2011-12 UGRAD Alum

 – Jessica Mead

Rotsen, Jessica and Rotsen's Composition Teacher
Jessica in a UGRADer’s composition class


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