What’s Your Learning Style?

As a college student, you have a good 18+ years of learning under your belt, both in and outside of the classroom. Looking back, do you notice that you learned better from some teachers than from others, or that you sometimes learned material better on your own than in class? There is a school of thought which believes this is because each of us has a particular way we like to learn, or “learning style.”  There are several different learning style models, but one of the best-known is New Zealand educator Neil Fleming’s “VARK” model.

VARK stands for the four learning modalities identified by Fleming: Visual (V), Aural/Auditory (A), Read/Write (R), and Kinesthetic (K). Fleming stresses that the modalities represent preferences rather than abilities. For example, a student who is a talented writer may prefer an aural/auditory learning style, and a visual art major may learn better with a read/write approach. In other words, your learning style won’t necessarily correlate to your talents!

Visual learners prefer the use of images, maps, and graphic organizers to access and understand new information.

Aural/Auditory learners best understand new content through listening and speaking in situations such as lectures and group discussions. This type of learner also uses repetition as a study technique and benefit from the use of mnemonic devices.

Read/Write learners learn best through words. They may be copious note-takers and/or avid readers, and are able to translate abstract concepts into words and essays.

Kinesthetic learners best understand information through tactile representations of information. They tend to be hands-on learners who learn best by figuring things out by hand (for example, understanding how a clock works by putting one together).

To find out which VARK modality best reflects your learning style, take the questionnaire here!

Fleming prescribes particular study techniques for each modality. See what he suggests for yours below!


  • Reference pictures, graphs, videos, posters, slides, and flowcharts
  • Underline or highlight your notes and readings with different colors
  • Reconstruct the information in different ways by using different spatial arrangements
  • Redraw your pages from memory
  • Replace words with symbols or initials


  • Always attend class!
  • Discuss course material with your professors during office hours
  • Join a study group and/or discuss course material with your classmates
  • Take note of interesting examples, stories, and jokes from lectures
  • Read your notes aloud, or record yourself reading your notes and listen back to them
  • Explain a challenging subject to someone else
  • Speak your answers inside your head when being tested.


  • Focus on class readings
  • Take thorough notes and reread them often
  • Look up terms you don’t know in a glossary or dictionary
  • Write out key words again and again
  • Turn visual information such as graphs and charts into statements, e.g. “The graph shows that the trend is…”
  • Prepare for a test by writing your own


  • For science classes, pay special attention during the lab
  • Relate concepts to real-life examples
  • If possible, take field trips to museums or historic sites related to course material
  • Make use of any apps or software that may be included with your textbook
  • While studying, “act out” concepts and solutions to problems
  • Refer to pictures and photographs that illustrate an idea

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Be A Team Player – Ace Your Next Group Project!

Group projects can be one of the most challenging types of assignments a college student has to face. As if it weren’t enough work managing your own time and productivity, group projects necessitate that you share the responsibility of keeping everyone else on track too. However, the ability to collaborate effectively with people who have learning and communication styles that may be vastly different from your own is an impressive skill valued by professors and employers alike!  The next time you see the words “group project” on the syllabus, keep these tips in mind to ensure that everything goes as smoothly as possible:

Get to Know Your Group Members

Before you dive into planning your project, take a little time to get acquainted with your group members. Ask each member to share their major, academic and/or professional background, and what they consider to be their strengths. Getting to know each other will help you decide how to delegate the workload. For example, a Sociology major who loves working with data might be the best person to design any charts or graphs you need. Likewise, an English major with strong writing skills might excel at writing your abstract or editing your final report.

Keep In Touch

Get each group member’s name, email address and phone number during your very first meeting. Consider establishing a group text or Facebook group for the project, and check in with updates often.

Get (and Stay!) Organized

Once each task has been assigned, set clear deadlines for the completion of each component of your project.  Schedule a regular check-in meeting that works with everyone’s schedule, and reserve a space so that you don’t waste group time finding a place to work. Create a shared calendar that clearly lists each deadline and meeting date. According to Kasia Jaworski from Her Campus, Google Drive is wonderful for group projects, because “you can set up Word documents, spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations that all group members can access and work on. It eliminates sending a thousand emails back and forth with edits, which may lead to mistakes and missing parts. All members can work individually on their parts while seeing what other group members have added. It allows everyone to keep your project cohesive as it progresses” (http://www.hercampus.com/life/academics/how-survive-group-projects).

Anticipate and Manage Conflict

It’s natural for conflict to arise at some point during the course of the project. The key is to respectfully address the issue early on, before it leads to major headaches down the road. If you find that you have a conflict with another group member, it’s important to examine your own behavior first. Remember, group projects require that you draw upon both your leadership skills and your ability to apply constructive criticism and to compromise. Your goal should be to participate actively without monopolizing the group. If you feel like you have a tendency to dominate or micromanage in group work settings, remember to give everyone a chance to voice their thoughts and concerns, and be open to compromise. Conversely, always be sure that you are actively contributing to the group by communicating often and effectively, and by turning in quality material on time. If you find that it’s a fellow group member who is being overly controlling or not contributing their fair share of the work, it’s important to tactfully speak up. For example, you could encourage a bossy group member to ease off the reins by assuring them that you are just as invested in the project as they are and you’d really like to contribute more of your work and ideas. Only a very unreasonable person would be unwilling to compromise after you’ve made such a polite and well-intentioned request!

Of course, the classic worst-case scenario when it comes to group projects is having a group member who continuously fails to pull their weight by failing to meet deadlines and/or turning in subpar work (we’ve all encountered this guy at least once). Always do your best to correct the problem first by stressing to your wayward group member just how much you are all depending on them, and by offering helpful suggestions and encouragement. However, if all of your efforts to intervene are unsuccessful, it’s time to let your professor know what’s going on. Since you’ll be able to document what steps you’ve already taken to resolve the conflict on your own, they’ll be less likely to allow that group member’s lack of participation to impact your grade.

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Etiquette 101: Emailing Your Professors

While we’ve previously discussed the value of reaching out to your professors, keep in mind that when you contact a professor by email, it’s important to not only carefully consider what you say, but also how you say it. In the age of texting and Twitter, it’s understandable that many students have become a bit lax in their approaches to written communication. In this context, however, you are expected to present yourself professionally and in a manner which conveys respect.  In this post, we’ll show you how (and why!) to craft a thoughtful and polished email to your professor.

First, consider what NOT to do.

Put yourself in your professor’s shoes: you’ve spent the entire break creating the syllabus, selecting readings, and crafting exams and assignments. Then, you receive an email from a student that makes it seem as though they haven’t reciprocated any of your effort. How would you react? Probably something like this:

In the example above, the professor’s irritation is more than reasonable. Conversely, consider the following example, which features all of the elements of a professional, respectful email. Which would you prefer?

Follow these pointers to ensure that you’re presenting your best self in your emails:

  • Choose your subject header carefully

The subject of your email should be a few words which briefly sum up the purpose of your email. Don’t use a greeting (“hey professor”) or a very broad term (“test”) as your subject. Something like “Requesting an Appointment During Thursdays Office Hours” would work well.

  • Greet your professor with a professional salutation, and the correct honorific and last name

Use a professional salutation such as “Dear,” or “Hello,” followed by an honorific and your professor’s last name. An honorific is a title used to communicate respect for a person’s position. In this instance, “Professor” is your safest bet. If you know that your professor holds a PhD, “Dr.” is also appropriate. Next, refer to your syllabus for the correct spelling of your professor’s name. The resulting greeting will be something like “Dear Professor Johnson [,].”

  • Identify yourself

State the name, section, and meeting time of the class. You don’t need to include your name in the body of your email, as you will include it in your signature. Something like “I’m in section 3 of your Foundations of Western Civilization Class, which meets at 2:00pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”

  • Clearly state your question or need

Always refer to your syllabus, review your class notes, and reach out to a classmate first to make sure that your professor hasn’t already given the answer to your question. If you still need clarification, state your question clearly and directly in your email. So, instead of asking, “What’s our homework for tonight?” you’ll write, “I looked through the syllabus and asked a classmate for this weekend’s assigned homework, but unfortunately I am unable to locate it. Could you please direct me to the assignment?”

  • Proofread!

Just as you would with a written homework assignment, make sure to check for silly mistakes and correct spelling and grammar.

  • Say thank you

End your email by thanking your professor for their time and signing off with your full name.

Remember, the ability to compose a well-written email in which you present yourself respectfully is a valuable skill that you will be able to draw upon well beyond your college years, so approach corresponding with your professors as yet another collegiate learning experience!

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What to Do If You Failed the First Test

We’ve reached the point in the semester when you’ve probably received a grade on your first substantial test or assignment for each class. But what do you do if that grade isn’t as stellar as the one you’d hoped for; what if you failed? First of all, try to not to feel too discouraged. As F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” There’s still plenty of time left in the semester to get your grades back on track! What follows are some strategies for taking advantage of this opportunity for improvement:

  1. Identify Problem Areas

When you get back your test, thoroughly go over the things you got wrong. Is there a pattern? Is there a key concept that you don’t understand? Write down several specific questions and then…

  1. Talk to Your Professor ASAP

E-mail your professor and ask for an appointment during office hours. Bring your exam and your list of questions with you to your meeting. Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t understand something; it’s your professor’s job to help you learn! Remember, you’re demonstrating that you are a responsible student by reaching out for help, and your professor will respect you for it.

  1. Get a Tutor or Join a Study Group

See if you can sign up for a tutor through your school’s tutoring or academic support center.  If there are no tutors available, join or start a study group with your classmates. At the very least, your tutor or study buddies will be able to hold you accountable and ensure that you’re getting some serious study time in each week.

  1. Do Extra Credit!

It sounds like a no-brainer, but make sure to take advantage of any extra credit opportunities offered by your professor. Not only will the points help to boost your grade, but your professor might also be more likely to cut you some slack if they can see that you’ve made every possible effort to improve your grade.

  1. Don’t Tune Out

If you find yourself becoming confused or struggling to follow along in class, don’t shut down and resign yourself to failure. Instead, raise your hand and ask questions! If you stay engaged, do the work, and ask for help when you need it, there’s a very good chance that you’ll be able to significantly improve your grade.

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Planning for Open-Book and Take-Home Exams

As you prepare to ace your finals this semester, pay special attention to the type of exam that each of your professors is assigning. Take-home and open-book exams sometime foster a false sense of security. You might be tempted to think that, with all the resources and/or time at your disposal, a take-home or open-book exam should be easy. In reality, open-book exams and/or take-home exams are often more challenging than traditional exams, because you are being graded on your ability to synthesize and apply major concepts rather than how well you recall simple facts. Below, you’ll find our tips on how to plan for open-book and take-home exams:

Just to be clear: usually, a take-home exam will be open-book, but not all open-book exams are take-home. In both cases, however, you must understand that “open-book” does not mean you may copy from the book. Instead, it means that you may refer to your textbook and/or notes during the exam. Always avoid plagiarism by correctly citing your sources and not over-relying on the words or ideas of others.

Got it? Next, we’ll break down strategies for studying for take-home open-book exams and proctored open-book exams, respectively.

For Take-Home Open-Book Exams:

  • Create a timeline. As soon as you receive your exam, review the questions closely. Take-home exams are usually essay-based, so try to get a sense of how long you will need to complete each response. Sometimes professors include length requirements for responses, but even if they haven’t, try to map out how long your response will have to be in order for you to thoroughly address every component of the question. Next, create a realistic schedule based on how long it typically takes you to complete a writing assignment of that length. If you have several days to complete the exam, make a goal to complete your first draft at least a day before the due date, so that you have enough time to revise and review.
  • Do your own work! Unless you have explicitly been given permission to do so, don’t collaborate with other students to complete your test. Professors can easily identify this. Always develop your own conclusions and resist the temptation to compare answers with your classmates.
  • Use your resources well. A take-home exam is typically evaluated on your ability to synthesize data from textbooks, class notes, and multiple other sources. As a result, you must include information from multiple sources that apply both to the main concepts you’ve been studying and the specific question at hand. Allowable sources may include books, scholarly articles, and scientific studies. Final answers should show that multiple sources were used to develop your conclusions.
  • Show off your writing skills. Your professors will expect detailed, logical, and well-developed answers as they are providing you with ample time and resources to craft your responses. Always review a completed take-home test for spelling, grammatical, and syntax errors before turning it in.
  • Print in advance. If you need to turn in a hard copy of your exam, make plans to print in advance. Don’t risk missing your deadline because of a paper jam or low ink!

For Proctored Open-Book Exams:

  • Study in advance. While you may have your textbook and lecture notes at your fingertips, you won’t have time to re-read an entire chapter during the exam. Put the same amount of study time into an open-book exam that you would into any other in-class exam. However, try to focus on understanding major concepts rather than memorizing minute details.
  • Get organized. With open-book exams, organizing your materials is key. As you study, mark important passages, charts, and diagrams in your textbook using sticky notes. Clearly label the markers with specific descriptions so that you can easily flip to them during the exam. After reviewing your notes, try typing up a 3-4 page condensed version so that information is legible and easy to locate.
  • Budget your time. As you would with any other timed exam, read through the entire test before you begin working, and tackle the easiest questions first. If you’re more than 75% sure you know an answer off the top of your head and the question doesn’t require specific quotes, page numbers, or citations, go ahead and write down your response and move on to a question that requires more references to your sources. If you manage your time well, you’ll be able to go back and fact-check your responses once you’ve answered all the questions. Partial credit is always better than no credit!

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What’s the Main Determining Factor in Success? Grit!

What is grit, and do you have it? Grit can be described as the strength of character, drive, and determination that it takes to achieve long-term goals. According to Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth, a recipient of a 2013 MacArthur Fellowship and assistant professor of psychology at University of Pennsylvania, the quality of grit is a greater determinate of success than any other personal trait, including IQ, social intelligence, and talent.

For example, Dr. Duckworth and her research team studied people across an array of challenging settings, including West Point Military Academy, the National Spelling Bee, and private sales firms. Across all fields, those with a high level of grit were far more likely than their counterparts to be successful.

So, do you have grit? Take Dr. Duckworth’s survey to find out!

Click below to watch the TED Talk:

Tips for Time Management

Welcome back, collegians! We hope that you had a restful winter break and are ready to start the semester with a clean slate and a fresh outlook. The beginning of a semester is a great time to take stock of your wellness wheel: what are some areas you’d like to focus on or adjust? What lessons did you learn last semester that you can apply towards being your best self this semester?

One thing that is true for all of us is that the way we manage our time plays a major role in keeping our personal wellness wheels in balance. After all, it takes time and planning to take care of your academic, financial, emotional, social, and physical wellness. So, for our first Wellness Wednesday of the spring semester, let’s brush up on our time management skills! Follow these three tips to kick your time management habits into high gear:

Step One: Examine How You Are Spending Your Time

Imagine the time that you have in your life as a circle or a pie. There are 168 hours in a week, no more, no less. You divide up that time into your various activities – pieces of different sizes – but the pie is not going to get any bigger. If you add additional activities or spend more time on certain activities, other pieces will need to get smaller or be eliminated. Keep track of how you spend your time for a week, then draw your Pie of Life using the template below to represent how much time you spend on each of the activities in your life (e.g. texting, studying, sleeping, work, family, friends, classes, etc.):




Now, ask yourself:

  1. Are you happy with the amount of time you spend on each activity?
  2. Are there any activities that you feel are not getting a sufficient amount of time? If so, target one or two priority activities to increase on your Pie of Life. Remember, however, that to increase the amount of time spent on those activities, you will need to target other activities to decrease or eliminate.
  3. What are you willing to sacrifice to increase your target activities?

Step Two: Anticipate and Plan

Now that you’ve really evaluated how much time you’ll need to devote to each of your responsibilities, you’ll need to map out your time in advance. Use a calendar, day planner, or an electronic planner to keep track of deadlines, tests, and weekly commitments. Additionally, try using a time management worksheet (like this one) to plan out your week on an hour-by-hour basis. Finally, make a to-do list every day. Making these lists is a memory jogger to remind you of what has to be done, and also allows you to keep track of all you’ve accomplished as you cross things off!

Step Three: Break Tasks Down

Whether you are faced with a big task, such as graduating in 4 years, or smaller tasks such as studying for a final, it helps if you break the task down into smaller, more manageable parts. Students who procrastinate often comment that when they wait to the last minute to complete a project, they feel overwhelmed, and the task seems insurmountable. By setting priorities and breaking the bigger project into smaller tasks, the work is more manageable, and less intimidating.

Here’s how to break tasks down:

  • Look at the big picture; make sure you understand what the end product is supposed to look like.
  • Look at the parts. What pieces will enable you to get to the whole? Figure out step-by step what you need to do.
  • Think about the logical order of completing the pieces. What should you do first, second, third, etc.?
  • Create a timeline for completing your tasks.
  • Have a plan to help you stay on track. Put the time you will spend on the project into your study schedule so that you can set aside the time for it. Stick with this plan. A plan is only good if you see it through.
  • Complete it early enough to have some time left for a final review.

As you strategize for effective time management this semester, remember: procrastination is never the answer! Procrastination can lead to many sleepless nights (literally) and can negatively impact every aspect of your wellness. Learn to plan, and plan well. It’s a skill that will continue to serve you long after graduation!

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Prepare for a Test: Make Your Own!

What is on a big test is rarely a surprise if you take time to think about it. Sure, the instructor might throw in a few curveballs or sneak in a few questions you had not expected, but most of the time what they ask will be no surprise if you are prepared. The following steps will prepare you for any quiz or exam in any class. This exercise will get you ready for your exam, but will also show you how to be an effective student. One last point: though this seems like a long and complicated process, you soon begin to read and listen differently, identifying those events and ideas likely to be on the test as you read.

  1. Gather Essential Information. Ask the instructor what will be on the test and whether it is permissible to use notes, books, or other tools (e.g. calculators, dictionaries, or computers) on the test. Here are some ways you might ask such questions if your instructor does not offer the information up front:
  • “Could you please tell us what to expect on the test so we will know how to prepare?”
  • “Will this test cover all that we have studied the whole semester, or just the units from this quarter?”
  • “Would you be willing to allow us to prepare a page of notes or perhaps use our book when we take the exam?”
  • “Could you tell us how the test breaks down? Are there multiple choice questions? If so, how many? Short answer? An essay question? Any matching?”
  • “Will you be offering any study sessions or additional materials (e.g. study guides, old tests, outlines, suggestions) prior to the exam in order to help us prepare?”
  • “When preparing for the exam, should we focus on anything in particular?”
  1. Assemble Available Resources. Prepare to create your own exam. To do this you will need the following materials:
  • All your notes, chapter study guides, and old tests and quizzes
  • The textbook or other primary documents/texts on which the exams will be based
  • Study guides, word lists, or other preparation materials your instructor has given you to help you prepare for this specific exam
  • Your answers to the questions in step one: i.e. will you be able to use notes in class? If so, that might determine what you should study and the format of your notes.
  1. Identify Likely Test Questions. When evaluating the likelihood of a question or information appearing on the exam, consider the following probability chart to help you decide:

Probability-ContinuumNext, follow these steps to create a working draft of the exam which you can then use to prepare for the real exam:

  • Read through old tests and quizzes and, using the Probability Continuum above, as “will this question/subject appear on the exam?” If the answer is “probable” or “certain,” then write down the question or fact.
  • Go back through your notes and study guides and look to see what your instructor has emphasized. Look at each new topic and ask, “Will my instructor include a question or have me write about this?”
  • Use your textbook (if you have one) to identify crucial information, events, or ideas likely to be on the exam. Look in the following places for such information, the ask, “will my teacher include this on the exam?”:
    • Chapter preview/overview at the beginning of each chapter
    • Section headings (e.g. “Greece: The Age of Democracy”) and subheadings (“Democracy: The Origins of the Idea”)
    • Bold words in the text (e.g. vocabulary words)
    • Chapter study questions and other guides, reviews, and resources listed in the back of the textbook (Note: if the publisher maintains a website for the book, check to see if they offer any practice questions or additional study guides.)
  1. Create Your Own Exam. At this point you should have a list or outline of probable questions that will appear on the exam. Time to make your own practice exam! Write the test in outline form. Leave an extra wide margin (1/3 of a page) so you can make notes or reminders as you study. Then write down the correct answer (or leave space for it). Here is an example:
  • What is the proper definition of democracy?
    • Answer: Government by people who are elected by the population.
      • Clue Word: demos = people
  1. Create Your Own Essay Questions. If there is to be an essay portion to the test, develop some likely essay prompts. Keep in mind the following:
  • Essay prompts ask students to explain, discuss, or reflect on the meaning or importance of a subject.
    • Example: Discuss how the main characters in the books we read this semester changed. Include in your discussion not only how they changed but why; moreover, provide specific examples of how they changed
  • Essay questions do not have simple answers. While they may ask you to agree or disagree, they always ask you to explain, discuss, or defend your idea.
    • Example: Democracy as we know it today is not the same as the democracy created by the Greeks. Agree or disagree. Be sure to defend your thinking with examples from our studies.

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