With three decades of experience, Donald J. Foss knows the techniques that work.
Expert advice on how to make college count.
Developmental psychologist Donald J. Foss has been studying the mental gymnastics of learning comprehension for over three decades. His latest book – “Your Complete Guide to College Success: How to Study Smart, Achieve Your Goals, and Enjoy Campus Life” – is an attempt to put accepted psychological research on learning into plain language for every college student. We asked him for his insight on learning styles, study habits and slogging through obstacles.
What’s the biggest misconception students have about studying? If there’s one thing we know about studying, it’s that comprehension increases when you break it up over a long period of time. The best way to retain information is to study in small chunks, interwoven with other tasks. Yet, students are usually resistant to that idea. They don’t like continually warming up to the topic. Most people would rather learn in one long sitting.
When it comes to studying, are there different learning styles? Yes. But I think that’s overemphasized. You hear a lot students say, ‘The material isn’t being presented in my learning style.’ And that may be true, but that’s not a very good predictor of how students do in any given class. It’s pretty clear there are some best practices that seem to work for just about every style of learning.
What makes a good study group? If you can be honest with each other about how well you know the material, you’re putting yourself on better footing than most students. I find most students think they truly know the material as long as they can recognize the information. But that’s like just humming a tune when your job is to sing a song with lyrics and melody. If you can’t explain the material to each other, it’s better to find that out in the group than on exam day.
Making Freshman year L.A.S.T.
Foss points out that Thanksgiving break presents a crucial decision for many college freshmen. It is well documented that, nationwide, roughly ten percent do not return for the spring term. In his new book, “Your Complete Guide to College Success,” Foss has created a handy acronym – L.A.S.T. – highlighting the four primary obstacles to enduring the many traumas of freshman year.
Loneliness and isolation When students were asked to write about their greatest fears, Foss found this came up more than half the time. Getting out of your comfort zone and taking interest in a campus group is a key antidote.
Alcohol abuse It’s still the most prevalent drug on college campuses. Yet, Foss points out, on most campuses about forty percent of students don’t drink at all.
Studying Foss suggests that the time a student puts into studying should triple from their senior year of high school to their freshman year of college. Study partners can be a great asset in navigating these new expectations.
Time management Plotting out time for assignments on a calendar not only helps students complete the assignments, it also creates what Foss calls, “time urgency.” Basically, you realize your time for any given assignment is limited, and that causes you to naturally increase your focus.