Academic success is attainable at Tech, you just have to learn to learn

Photo by Tyler Meuter

Due to the workload of being Managing Editor of this paper and taking 21 hours (technically) of grad school classes, I am no longer tutoring at the Center for Academic Success. For you new freshmen and juniors who will never have the singular honor and pleasure of being tutored by me, I’ll leave you with a 700-word gift.

Succeeding in an academic environment is only partially achieved by learning the material. You must also be able to apply the material and do both in a short amount of time.

Lesson No. 1: succeed at Tech by maximizing your studying efficiency. Maybe you’ve had someone in GT 1000 mention this (I never took it), maybe your PL or tutor or PLUS leader has, but I don’t think it has been emphasized enough around campus. Moreover, you need to know how to learn in order to learn effectively. Furthermore, you need to know how you — you specifically — learn. Outside of CAS tutor training, I have never heard anyone say this.

This is probably the most important thing I’ve gotten out of being a tutor besides having helped some number of students and getting free printing in Clough. It’s odd that the most important facet of academic success and mental well-being isn’t mentioned by professors.

Obviously, professors don’t have the time to go through this with every student, but pointing the class in the right direction would be nice. Doing this before half the class fails the first test and grows more study-anxious would be a bonus, especially in classes where that happens every semester. Unless you’re magic, going to class is not enough to do well in the class. FactBooks doesn’t say what percentage of the student body is magic, so I’ll assume it’s 0.0 percent.

Lesson No. 2: learn how you learn to succeed in class, unless you’re magic. There are all kinds of tests for personality types and learning styles, but I would suggest VARK and LASSI. VARK explores your learning preferences, whether visual, aural, through reading/writing, kinesthetic or some combination. Maybe reading the book is the best way for you to learn, maybe it’s making flashcards or studying with friends, or maybe it’s creating mnemonics and praying to goddess Mnemosyne that you remember them.

Tests like LASSI will help you identify which areas of learning and study strategies you excel at and which you need assistance with. After tutoring 350 appointments, I can safely say that time management and test anxiety are the freshman class’s worst fields. However, the other fields of LASSI go underappreciated; study aids and self-testing are the most important in terms of efficient learning. You’ll have to experiment with these, and what works for a friend may not work for you.

Personally, doing problems until muscle memory has been formed is the best way for me to learn quickly; however, classes without problems, no math, code or anything, seem not worth the effort. It turns out that rewriting and summarizing my notes from that class help more than staring at thin lines of ink and struggling to learn. I also work better when I’m mentally appeased, so I include frequent interruptions, like looking up who portrays Andrew Finney in “Ray Donovan” (it’s Ian McShane) … or watching “Ray Donovan” while I write editorials. I guarantee it doesn’t work for most of you, but that’s what’s important — figuring out what works for you. It’s an iterative process which takes time, but it’s worth the initial investment once you can handle whatever this school throws at you next.

Lesson No. 3: introspection and self-discovery are essential for learning how you learn and succeeding academically. There’s the usual advice of getting off the computer or skipping a hangout with friends to study, but I don’t think this is necessary for everyone. This may work for the stereotypical “default Tech student” who grinds out several hours of studying in several fewer hours of clock time, but it’s harmful to believe that everyone is a triangle block fitting in a triangular hole. Students can succeed by learning how they learn and studying more effectively without damaging their mental health.