The Keys to Class.

Multiple chapters in Higher Learning are dedicated to helping you do well in the classroom, so the first recommendation is to get a copy of the book if you don’t already have it and dig into that content. The second suggestion is to reflect on the content, and talk about it with peers and mentors. As you will discover in the book, becoming the best student you can be involves connecting with others and deeply exploring ideas via discussion, journaling, and taking greater ownership of the process.

We will go a bit deeper on three key areas in this online supplement, to provide additional information for you to consider.


This is a critical skill to develop, for college and beyond. Again, Higher Learning goes into great depth on this, providing tips and strategies to help you get started, and get finished. Generally speaking, to get started, you want to start early, so that you can get feedback and so that you can spend time editing/revising. The night before allows time for neither. In terms of finishing, one of the things students dread most is citing sources. There’s confusion on when to do it, how to do it, and why it’s necessary. The site offers a detailed section with lots of links and examples of citation styles, along with - as the site name suggests - information on what exactly falls under the label “plagairism” and why you don’t want to do it. The more you write, the easier the writing will be and the more fluid the citation formatting will go. Fun fact: Don’t count the Title Page or the Works Cited page(s) in your paper page count (in fact, unless the professor specifies it, you can do away with the title page completely and just feature all of the relevant information at the top of the first page for most academic assignments, aside from a lengthy thesis). Do number the Works Cited page, but just don’t count on making this the 10th page of your 10-page paper. This may seem like a not-so-fun fact because now you have to write more, but trust me, when you don’t lose points because now you’ve turned in ten actual pages of a paper instead of eight or nine, you’ll appreciate this tip.

If you are writing a lot of papers and/or lengthy papers (especially if they are in the same subject areas) and/or are considering graduate school (or, perhaps are in grad school now), you definitely need to use an app that maintains a database of your sources, helps you insert citations in your papers, and creates the Works Cited page for you. There are a few good ones out there. My favorite is Zotero. You can quickly save a new source, maintain notes, access your database from multiple computers, and share sources with project collaborators. Try it out and check around for others (another tool to try is Grammarly - I haven’t yet, but it looks promising), then decide which works best for you. The sooner you start using this functionality, the better your life will be.


Here is an article talking about some of the things to keep in mind when taking your laptop or tablet to class, with the intention of typing up notes. Here’s a video that outlines five main note taking strategies, one of which, as the video mentions, is best suited for laptops.

After reviewing these sources, and the content in Higher Learning, here’s your assignment: Think critically about what works best for you, and in which particular class (you may have different approaches for recording information based in the course/subject). Also note that in the outline method covered in the video, the ideal aim is to only do your notes once. This means that in college, you may have to restructure your notes multiple times during your studying process. You may end up using a few different methods, at different points in your studying, as you revisit the content and become more familiar with it. This is about you taking ownership of the material. The right way is the way that works for you. But, be clear, there is a wrong way, driven by laziness and limited focus. Push yourself to do more. If you need help, check your campus for study skills workshops and counselors, speak with other students and mentors, and search for more information and examples.

Going Further.

Most college courses are built around a syllabus, listing what specific material will be covered, when it will be covered, when assignments are due, what are the general expectations and grading rubrics, what books and other resources will be used, what specific sections need to be read when, etc. This is wonderful because it gives you the blueprint for the semester. Worst case, you get this the first day of class. You may be able to access it far in advance, online or from another student who took the class, allowing you to get a jump on the material. How many of you will actually take advantage of that and read ahead, before classes start? Who’s willing to read additional chapters, or grab other books to learn about the subject over the course of the semester? Why not?

One of the things that is often not explicitly expressed enough in college is that if you’re just doing what’s on the syllabus, you’re not doing enough. The point of college is to really learn the subjects. There’s so much more written on whatever classes you’re taking, beyond the one textbook the professor has assigned. If you truly want to learn this stuff - and do well on the assignments and the exams - then you should make it a point to invest yourself in the process of learning. This means looking up other sources, reading more, and doing more.

Fortunately, there are numerous online resources that are here to help you with virtually any topic. The following listing offers a range of opportunities, from tutorials and modules to full courses. You have the ability to deeply study courses on your own before you’re actually in the class in your college, and do exponentially better. Clearly, for many people, time will be an issue. But where there’s will, there’s a way to carve out the few hours you’ll need for a few weeks in the summer to preview a difficult course or two on your schedule for the upcoming semester.