6 Ways to Make the Most of a Study Abroad Experience, Part II

Part II of Chelsea Monroe’s reflections on studying abroad. Originally published November 2013, online student newsletter.

Last month’s tips encouraged students exploring study abroad to plan, plan, and plan again, choose people over places, and don’t forget to take your study skills with you! This month, Chelsea continues to share her thoughts with three more great tips!

4. Don’t take people for granted.
I was blessed with an incredibly fantastic study group of 19 people, including myself. 13 fun ladies and 6 wonderful guys. In any size group, there will be people you gravitate toward naturally and others you won’t talk to as much. If you don’t at least think about these distinctions though, you may arrive at the end of the semester and realize some of those people you only said hello to a few times were actually people you wanted to spend more time with. Whatever the reason, don’t mistakenly tell yourself that you’ll find time to spend with them next week. Because eventually, next week will be the week you’re going home and the distance of being at home will usually only dampen friendships, not spark them.

5. Honesty is the best policy.
Thankfully our group was remarkably conflict-free. But the few conflicts we did run into seemed to come from a lack of communication about desires, expectations and disappointments. This may be more of a personal lesson since this is an area I struggle in, but I think it’s a good reminder to everyone. Conflict resolution (and prevention) is tough enough between two people, much more so in a group. On the trip, I didn’t realize I had started treating someone differently because of how they were offending me, until they in turn started reacting against me and it became a mess of hurt feelings. Thankfully, after a couple of honest conversations, we were able to sort things out. However, a similar situation played out the other direction when unfortunately, I was insensitive to how another classmate was feeling about things I had done. When I finally realized things were not getting any better by trying to avoid a difficult conversation, we were able to talk and get on the same page again. Take the time and have the courage to lead by example with honesty, respect and compassion toward everyone in your group.

6. Balance the spirit of adventure with taking care of yourself.
When you’re traveling, it can be tempting to take every available sliver of free time to discover a new place and be the great adventurer you’ve always wanted to be. But I would highly recommend that yet again, you need to be deliberate (there goes that word again) about taking care of yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually. Maybe this is mostly for my fellow introverts, but I suspect extroverts also need this. Whatever recharges your batteries, calms your spirit and focuses you back on Christ, is what you need to make sure you fit into your schedule on a regular basis.

For me, it was getting up an extra 30 minutes early a few mornings a week to do my devotional by the river before breakfast and classes. The relative quiet, away from everyone, reading God’s word and listening to my favorite worship CD while watching the sunrise did wonders for me spiritually and emotionally. Looking back now, it wasn’t anything spectacular, but those mornings are some of my most treasured memories of my entire trip. Whatever your “thing” is, writing, singing or running, make sure to do it. All the new experiences you’ll be having will be exciting but also very draining. So take the time to take care of yourself and process everything you’re going through.

Image: “Goddard Interns Experience a Little Mars on Earth” by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, CC.

Beyond College: 6 Ways to Make the Most of a Study Abroad Experience

Guest post by Chelsea Monroe. Originally published October 2013, online student newsletter.

In the 1947 Christmas movie Miracle on 34th Street, Kris Kringle gives his young friend Susan an incredible gift by introducing her to her imagination. “You’ve heard of the French or the British nations. Well, this is the Imagine-Nation. It’s a wonderful place.” He broadens her perspective to the joy of new experiences simply by taking her to a new place, even if only in her mind. This is also the gift you give yourself when you travel to a new place. While traveling in itself is an incredible learning opportunity, studying abroad has its own unique joys and challenges. These are just a few ideas on how to avoid some common pitfalls that can keep you from fully embracing where you are and help you make the most of your study abroad experience!

1. Plan. Plan again. Then throw the plan out the window. 
This is definitely a top-ten travel rule for me. It’s good to plan and at times it’s imperative that you do (think of arriving in a tiny town at night, not having any hotel reservations. Been there, done that, but didn’t get the t-shirt because the shop wasn’t open), but being so bound to your plan that you don’t have any flex room will often turn you into an exhausted grump with tunnel-vision. In some situations however, it may even be perfectly fine to go without plans. In most big cities, the likelihood of getting stuck without a place to stay is pretty small. But whatever your plans, or lack thereof, count on delays you didn’t anticipate, buses you miss and unexpected treasures you’ll want to stop for. If it’s not something tied to a reservation or regarding safety, then don’t tie yourself irrevocably to the almighty plan. Always leave yourself extra time and patience (read about how to get some extra patience in tip #6).

2. Choose people over places.
This may be a personal preference, but the biggest highlights of any trip for me almost always revolve around the people I interact with. When given the choice between cramming in another touristy site or simply having breakfast with our host family, spending time with friends will almost always create a more meaningful memory. What I try to remember is that people have eternal value. Monuments don’t.   There is also a flip-side to this concept though. If there a lot of sites you really want to see somewhere, consider not staying with friends there, so that you don’t have to feel obligated to spend a certain amount of time with them. You won’t get catered to in a hotel the way you would in a home, but you also have the freedom to come and go whenever you’d like.

3. Don’t leave your study skills at home!
Most study abroad programs have some amount of free time for you to travel wherever you’d like in addition to wherever you are staying for the schooling and where they might take you on field trips. However, your time studying, no matter how the semester is setup, will inevitably seem too short and full of distractions. I’m not just talking about the typical online culprits either. I’m talking about genuine cultural experiences with classmates waiting for you right outside the door. My advice is that you put into full use the study skills you’ve learned from College Plus to make the most of your study time so that you can in turn make the most of your short time abroad. You don’t want to put school on the back burner, because it is why you’re there. But you also don’t want to miss those experiences that will make your studies come alive because you were stuck writing a paper.

Are you considering study abroad? Let me know! Meanwhile, stay tuned for part II of Chelsea’s article!

Image: “suitcases at the Brooklyn Flea” by Kristen Taylor, CC


Beyond College: Internships (Part II)

Originally published September 2013, online student newsletter.

In last month’s article about internships, I talked about “those” people. The ones who seem to breeze through school, internships, and finding a job with little effort.  Yet even for those select few who seem to have it easy, I guarantee that somewhere along the way, a lot of hard work took place to get them to where they are.

So now it’s your turn!  By finding and completing an internship, you will be laying a foundation of hard work, important skills, and networking that will help you to end up doing something you love. Last time, we talked about the first steps to exploring an internship opportunity: set some goals, make a plan, and start networking!  Once you have taken the first few steps, it’s time to land that internship!

Once you have asked around, talked to people, and identified some internship options, it’s time to research. While it may be tempting to jump at the first internship opportunity you are offered, you want to ensure the internship is a good fit for you. It’s great to gain experience, but if you spend the next six months making coffee and running errands, you might wish you had been a bit more discriminatory in making your choice.

So where to start?  Make sure you know all about the organizations you’re exploring. Know their website inside and out. Explore what other people are saying.  Find out what they do and think hard about whether it’s a good fit. Ask what your role would be; how would you help and how could you expect to grow?  Be sure to balance your needs with offers of how you can benefit the organization.  Remember, it needs to be a good fit for BOTH sides. Know your rights as an intern and read blog posts to prepare you for what to expect.

While doing your homework and having connections can certainly help get an internship, don’t rely on the fact that your mother’s cousin’s brother-in-law’s friend said they could use the extra help.  If you want a business or organization to be serious about you, show them that you are serious as well.

How do you prepare? Develop a stellar resume. Create and optimize a LinkedIn profile. Consider sending a visual resume link along with your actual resume. Write an outstanding cover letter. In all these things, focus on how you can benefit the organization, not the other way around.  (And for the record, “I need money” is never an okay introduction).  Continue networking and ask people who know your work ethic for reference letters. Enhance your interviewing techniques and practice answering tough questions with a family member or your coach.

Bring the WOW Factor
Let’s say you follow all these steps and have an interview for a great internship.  Now is not the time to sit back and see what happens. Be just as intentional during and after the interview as you were leading up to it.  Focus on presenting your value to the company, not the other way around. Send a thank you note after the interview.  If you don’t hear back in the time you were told, follow-up to see where things stand.

Never assume that things will just ‘happen.’  Contrary to the common expression, good things seldom come to those who wait—at least, not if you’re sitting around while waiting.  Great things happen to those who are willing to work hard to make them happen.

Well, you are now equipped with a few basic steps to get you well on your way to finding an internship.  Do you have questions about this process?  Have you had an internship and have more tips to share?  Or you are using some of these tips right now? I would love to hear from you!  Send me an email and let me know your experience!

Image: “Suitcase” by Lasse Christensen, CC

Beyond College: Internships (Part I)

Originally published August 2013, online student newsletter.

We all know those people. The ones who never study, yet ace every exam. The ones who don’t have to pick up the phone for an interview or internship; instead, organizations are calling them. Their first choice for a job is also their only choice… and everything just seems to work out exactly as they hoped and planned.

While we may have had an occasional experience that allowed me to glimpse that life, chances are that most of us have a fair bit of work to do to pass that test, land that interview, or get hired for our ‘dream job.’  In fact, I would wager that any person with that level of success also had a lot of hard work to get to that point.  So how can you become that person? How do you start the process of finishing your degree and finding yourself doing something you love?

Let me introduce you to the world of internships.  Internships provide a myriad of incredible opportunities, no matter where you are in your studies, your interests, or your life goals. Internships allow you to…

  • Explore various fields (if you are not sure what you want to do long-term).

  • Network with key people in your field of choice.

  • Discover or develop specific skill sets.

  • Avoid getting stuck in a job or field that you ultimately discover you don’t enjoy.

  • Obtain references and experience to move into a job you love post-degree.

Getting Started

Let’s say you know you want to do an internship: where to start?  How do you find opportunities, fill out applications, or even figure out what internship to pursue?

While a single article can’t give you a comprehensive game plan for your specific situation, there are a few steps every person can take to get started.

1. Identify your end goal.

Imagine yourself a year from now. You successfully landed and completed an internship. Now it’s time to ask a few questions. What skills have I gained? What have I learned about my field, myself, and how the two fit together?  What could an introduction to a job or a letter of recommendation look like?

By answering these questions now, you will have a better idea of what kind of internship you are looking for and can find the best fit for you.

2. Plan

Once you have your end goal in mind, it is time to brainstorm some additional parameters.  You want a great internship that will build your skill set and prepare you for what comes next in life. Yet you also want to focus your time on connections and opportunities that will meet your needs.  It will do no good to land an internship halfway across the country, only to realize you really wanted something close to home.

So think about what an internship would look like on a practical level. Do you want to be paid or are you willing to consider an unpaid or even a pay-for-the-experience internship? Will it be close to home or are you willing to travel?  How long should it be—do you have six months, one year, or more?  What field are you considering?  Or, if that isn’t certain yet, what fields are you not interested in exploring? Sometimes, knowing what doesn’t work can be just as helpful in narrowing down the opportunities.

3. Network

Once you have general parameters in place, you could look up internships online and start submitting five applications a day. However, if you’re serious about finding a great fit, internships (like jobs) generally happen best when you have connections.  Think of people you know who are doing something you find intriguing or that you want to learn more about.  Call them up, ask questions, and find out if they need help in their business or organization.  Don’t know anyone who fits that description? Branch out. Find out who your friends know and ask for introductions.

That doesn’t mean you should never submit an application for an internship you found online. But still make use of your network. See if someone you know has a connection with that business or list a person in the industry as a reference.

If you’re ambitious, consider finding a local business or organization you’d like to work for or that could connect you with an internship.  Go introduce yourself and offer to volunteer for a few weeks or months. You won’t get paid, but you’ll gain experience while getting to know people who have connections. You may even find that business is a great fit for what you want to do!

Image: “Booking Office, St Pancras International Station, NW1” by Ewan Munro, CC

Beyond College: Balancing Opportunity and Study

Originally published July 2013, online student newsletter.

Perhaps reading last month’s newsletter got you excited about all the possibilities before you!  You may have a job opportunity to consider or a friend who wants you to travel with them. Maybe you hope to carve out time to start a blog or go on that mission trip you’ve been thinking about for awhile.  Whatever the opportunity, I’m excited for you!  But you may be wondering… how can I do this and still keep up with school?

I’m glad you asked! 😉 Balancing opportunity with your studies is a vitally important goal. After all, you want to gain some great experience, but not at the risk of spending 10 years in college–right?  Here are three skills you will need to develop to make this work.

1. Be Realistic

As awesome as your resolve might be, I can tell you right now: without a realistic understanding of your schedule and a plan to make this all work, you will fail. The good news is that you don’t have to! Here are some things to consider as you develop a realistic plan.

First, is your opportunity short-term?  If so, don’t try to study. In the long run, 4-8 weeks won’t set you back significantly. You would most likely just stress yourself out and miss out on making the most of your opportunity if you’re trying to figure out a new, short-term schedule.

If your opportunity requires more commitment, determine how much time it will take each week. Now add in another 4-6 hours–you’re bound to have things come up and everyone needs “margin time.” How much time does this leave you for school? Based on the number of study hours, we can work together to estimate your revised graduation date. Is that date something you can live with? If not, don’t despair! Just go back to the drawing board and see what you can do. It is usually possible to pursue your dreams while studying–but it may require some hard decisions on your end.

What do I mean by hard decisions? Much as we’d like to be Superwomen and do everything, some things will probably have to go. (And it should not be your sleep!) Do you need to cut back on the number of hours you work? Will social activities have to be limited to one or two nights a week? If you’re used to keeping your weekends open, you may decide you need to study on Saturdays. The goal is not to totally eliminate all fun from your life. You need some fun as much as you need to study! However, if you’re serious about pursuing your dream, you’ll need to be serious about how you use your time as well.

2. Be Intentional

As you balance studies with this new opportunity, you will have less time in your schedule. However, that gives you a great chance to be intentional about the small moments. Find audios related to the subject you’re studying and listen to that as you drive instead of music. Flip through flashcards on your Smartphone while in line at the store. Ask a sibling to quiz you while you clean house or cook a meal together. You may be surprised at how much you can accomplish in the small moments.

However, those small moments probably won’t be enough to get you ready for testing day. Be sure you also set aside specific study time where you are alone with your books/computer.  Let family and friends know that you love them, but just as if you had a college class, you’re not available during certain times.  Eliminate distractions in your study area and make the most of the time you have. Even just 1-2 hours of focused study each day can get you far if you use your time well.

3. Be Flexible

As always, flexibility is vital. There will be days when your passion overruns your day and you don’t study. Days when family comes first or your friend is having a birthday/bridal shower/wedding.  Those are awesome things and they should happen.  Just know that they will come and give yourself grace. If you have to skip a day of studying–so be it.  It really is okay.  Yet always be ready to jump back in and give it all you’ve got.  The only time flexibility becomes bad is if skipping study time becomes a habit or you allow it to paralyze you (thinking “I haven’t studied in two days. What’s the good in doing it now?”).

Now that you have the tools, go think realistically about what it will take to be intentional and flexible in achieving your dreams.  It can be done… by setting yourself up for success now, you will be amazed at what you can accomplish!

Image: “Castle Island.” by B4bees, CC

Beyond College: Making the Most of Your Degree

Originally published May 2013, online student newsletter.

What is most important to you in earning a degree?  Is it the classes you take?  The people you connect with?  Those are important aspects, to be sure. But what if your degree could set you up for success, not only now, but for whatever comes next?

With the flexibility of CollegePlus, you can take advantage of the opportunities in front of you to find internships, study abroad, job shadow, and build your resume now.  Interested in hearing how?  Let me tell you about a few of my students who have done just that.

When Jordan realized that she could do her courses from anywhere, she decided to do just that! She spent 3 months in Japan supporting a missionary family while working on CP’s Social Justice course. Now she is finishing up her last three courses from Alaska, where she is working as a nanny for her cousin!

Chelsea took advantage of TESC’s flexible transfer policies to take courses from multiple sources. In addition to CLEP exams and and TESC courses, she also enrolled in a private college for a semester, took a film course, and spent a semester in Germany studying abroad!  Her diverse experience set her up for a post-college film internship and instilled a love for travel–she’s heading back to Europe this summer!

While taking a Signature Leadership Course, Gabrielle’s passion to serve young ladies was rekindled.  She wants to write a book… but wondered how to do that while working and doing school full-time?  Well, just last month, she took two weeks off of school to get a jumpstart on her book.  She spent time organizing her thoughts and developing a plan to achieve her dream. Now she is planning to finish school and start a book!

Perhaps one of these ladies (who are all very real and busy people!) reminds you of one of your dreams. School is important, true. But don’t wait to live your dream now!  You have time and flexibility like you may never have again.  So take advantage of it! Learn! Travel! Write! And do it now while you have the chance.

Over the next few months, I would like to partner with you to explore ways that you can make the most of your college experience. Ways that you can build your resume, find internships, job shadow, study abroad, or pursue your passions right where you are.

Many thanks to Jordan, Chelsea, and Gabrielle for their permission to use a small part of their amazing stories. Chelsea also offered to talk with anyone who has questions about her experience. If you’re interested, I will put you in touch!

Image: Steven Depolo, CC

Study Smart

Originally published April 2013, online student newsletter.

Over the last few months, we have covered the basic steps you need to succeed in your studies. By now, you hopefully have a study plan, have learned to study the material effectively, and are setting (and achieving!) your study and/or life goals.

Now that you are on the right track, you want to keep moving in the right direction and maximize your ability to lean. Here are few of my favorite tips for studying smart.

Expand Your Horizons

As we all know, you get out of something what you put into it. And whether using REA as a sole resource works for you or not, we can all benefit by using additional resources.  Reading relevant Great Books, listening to audios from experts, or even reading through a good textbook will certainly prepare you to do better on your test.  However, more importantly, it will set you up for long-term success by broadening your base of knowledge and setting a foundation for whatever may come next.  Not only will you know more, your critical thinking abilities will develop as you make connections and pull things together. This is your education. Make the most of it.

Reward Yourself

Whether you have some form of daily affirmation as you achieve your goals or find ways to celebrate bigger achievements, it is important to take the time to reward yourself. On a daily basis, allow yourself breaks as you study. As most of you know, studying 20-30 minutes a day, then taking a 5 minutes break not only feels rewarding, it is also one of the most effective ways to study!

When you pass a CLEP test, treat yourself to ice cream or coffee out, have a movie night with your family, or take the next day off from your studies (or all of the above)!  And be sure to celebrate your biggest milestones (such as passing a particularly hard exam or reaching sophomore, junior, or senior status) with something equally exciting.  Go to dinner with friends or family, have a party, or do something to reward all that effort!

Give yourself something to look forward to and you are bound to study better along the way.

Know When to Quit

While it may seem counter-intuitive, some of the most successful students I know are quick to recognize when they are beating their head against a brick wall.  Knowing when to quit can take many forms.

  • Know when to stop studying at the end of the day and put school out of your mind.
  • Know when you are ready to wrap up your studying and just take that test!
  • Know when something just isn’t working for you and have the strength of mind to move on.

For example, if math is not your thing and you’re on your third math course in a row, maybe it’s time to quit for awhile.  If you are taking multiple courses and realize they are all in subjects that are not your strength, know that it is okay to put one or two on hold and pick up something more enjoyable.  Whether you need to quit something for good and make a replacement or just come back to it later, knowing when to quit takes a special kind of wisdom and strength.

Allowing yourself the freedom to quit in certain situations just might be one of the best things you can do for your long-term success.

As you pursue one or all of these goals, remember to start slow. Pick one, make it into a SMART goal that works for you, and be intentional until it becomes a habit. And know that as you continue to develop a range of study skills, you are also learning life skills.

You can do it!  Study smart. Live smart. Accomplish much!  I believe in you.  🙂

Image, Wikipedia, CC

How to Set Goals

Originally published March 2013, online student newsletter.

As we go through life, we are constantly surrounded by situations that require us to set goals. We may need to make it to a meeting on time or finish our schoolwork so we can go to that party. Sometimes our goals are small, while other times they are much bigger, like getting a job or completing our degree. Whether you are still working on setting regular study goals, looking to plan your life beyond graduation, or just want to be more productive on an everyday basis, setting goals will help you get there.

Here are three steps to setting — and achieving! — your goals.

1. Start small

The key to succeeding in your goals is developing habits that allow you to get there, one step at a time.  They say it takes 21 days to build a habit, and habits work best when developed one at a time. By doing one thing consistently for a few weeks, you will develop lasting habits that stick with you far longer than trying to revolutionize 13 areas of your life all at once.

So start by taking one goal–or one part of a goal if it’s a big one–and start practicing it now.  I have been working on this method of developing habits for awhile and have been amazed at how much easier it is to reach my goals when I’m only doing one new thing at a time. I started with a goal of making a healthy breakfast every morning. No matter what else happened that day (or the night before!), I knew I had to wake up early enough to get that done. After a few weeks, it wasn’t a big deal.  My next goal was consistent Bible reading. So I made a goal to read four pages in my Bible every morning and now that gets done (almost!) every day.

The key to this kind of goal setting is that it suddenly becomes attainable.  I could have started by saying “I need to establish a morning routine where I wake up early, read my Bible, write an article, make a healthy breakfast, and be ready to start work on time.”  However, I have tried that before–and it never worked!  By choosing one small goal and working at it consistently, I am developing a real morning routine that works and that actually happens!

2. Think SMART

As you are setting goals and trying to decide what habits to develop, SMART goals can help you to break down those goals or habits to the smallest actionable step and give you a way to measure your progress. So what does a SMART goal look like?  Jump over to the Study Tips section to read all about it.

Okay, did you take a look?  🙂  Any goal you set can and should follow this pattern.  It’s amazing how effective it is to make a goal ‘SMART.’ Instead of setting a goal that says “I want to read more good books,” a SMART goal could say “My goal is to read one classic a month (starting with Jane Eyre and Tale of Two Cities) by reading for 30 minutes every morning and during lunch when possible.”

Let’s analyze this goal. Is it specific? “One classic a month,” “Jane Eyre and Tale of Two Cities,” “reading 30 minutes every morning.”  Seems pretty specific to me!  Is it measurable? Well, if the goal-setter has finished Jane Eyre the first month and Tale of Two Cities the next month, they will know that the goal has been reached!  If they are wanting to keep reading good books, they will probably want to choose specific works to read for the following months as well.

Is it attainable?  Since the goal-setter is the one who will be doing the reading, it should be something they have control over. They might also want to consider whether they have control over their morning and lunch schedules to ensure it is something they can attain.  Is it realistic? This will depend on the individual goal-setter, but by outlining it so specifically, this goal has become much more realistic than the original one of ‘reading good books.’  Finally, is it time-sensitive?  Since the goal is to read a book within one month, we know when the deadline is and can work towards that!

It seems to be a workable SMART goal!  If you compared this one with the original goal, which do you think is more likely to happen?

3. Don’t be afraid to fail

As you set goals and work to accomplish them, you will have times when you don’t succeed the way you would like. But if you allow fear of that failure to hold you back from even trying, you only hurt yourself.

And believe it or not, failure can actually be a good thing!  One of my favorite [animated] movie quotes is from Meet the Robinson’s: “From failing, you learn!  From success, not so much.”  When you fail (which will inevitably happen), don’t get discouraged. Instead, see it as an opportunity to evaluate what worked, what didn’t, and revise your goals to become even more successful the next time around.

Okay, are you ready to put this into practice?  Get some paper right now and write out three things you want to accomplish.  Make sure you word it in SMART goal formatting. Now, pick one of those goals and identify the one to three habits you will need to develop to get there. Start practicing one habit today… and before you know it, you will be on your way to achieving your goals!

Image: kasia-lis, CC

How Do I Learn the Important Stuff?

Originally published February 2013, online student newsletter.

Whether you are learning material for a test, trying to master a well-loved classic, or reading technical documents in your workplace, identifying and learning the important and relevant material is key to your success.

But how do you KNOW what’s important?  Out of an entire textbook of material, they are only going to ask you 90 or 100 questions.  How do you find out and prepare for the relevant material in each test?

While no one can tell you exactly what you need to know, there are ways for you to recognize and learn the most important information on your own.  As I started thinking and researching about the best way to do that, I stumbled across the study technique SQ4R.  That probably doesn’t make a bit of sense, so I will explain.  🙂 SQ4R stands for Survey, Question, Read, Write, Recite, and Review (the “4 R’s”).  Every tip I could think of falls into one of these categories, so we’ll use this approach as we learn to study well and truly learn the relevant information.


Surveying is a crucial first step. Before diving into all the details of a thick textbook or manual, give yourself time to understand what you’re getting into. If you’re studying for a CLEP or DSST exam, always, always read the CLEP outline or the DSST factsheet first.  If you’re in a course, read the syllabus, paying special attention to the course objectives.  Also glance at the table of contents for all your resources.

Once you have the big picture in mind and are ready to start on a particular book, use the 5 Reads through a Book to skim your resource. As you go, highlight information that corresponds to the course objectives/outline/factsheet as well as any information that is completely foreign to you. This shouldn’t take long, but by reviewing ahead of time, you will have a solid understanding of what is most important, an overview of the entire subject, and know exactly where your weak areas are–before you even start to study!


As you study, you do not have the luxury of reading passively. Unfortunately, breezing through a textbook the way you would your favorite novel will not work.  Think about what you are reading and ask yourself questions as you go. There are some general questions you can ask yourself about every book you read that will help you focus on the important points rather than get caught up in the details:

  • “Why are they telling me this? What is important about it?”
  • “How does this relate to something I already know?”
  • “What part of the outline/course objectives is being addressed in this chapter/section?”
  • “If I were a professor writing a test question, what would I want to make sure my students knew about this subject?”


Now it is time to dive in and actively read your resources.  Skimming is behind you; now is the time to really dig in.  As you go, there are three ways to easily identify important material.  Look for things that are:

1. Repeated often.  [If it is mentioned 20 times throughout a book or chapter, you can feel pretty confident it will show up on the test].
2. Covered disproportionately. [A subject that takes up pages upon pages instead of just one or two paragraphs should get extra attention from you].
3. Shocking or outlandish.  [Sometimes, you’ll be studying things that are just plain weird.  People tend to focus on things that are strange or abnormal. Your test will probably highlight at least of a few of them].


Take notes!  This skill is simply not optional for success in college. Highlight or underline key concepts as you go, then at the end of each chapter, take some time to write about what you learned.  You might choose to summarize what you learned in a short paragraph, make flash cards, or create a mini-study guide. I recommend doing all of the above!  The key to doing any of these is writing everything in your own words.

Once you are done with your initial studies, I highly recommend putting together a comprehensive study guide that takes each point from the CLEP/DSST outline or the course objectives and puts all the information you learned into one place for easy review.


Talk to yourself as you study.  Once you finish a section or chapter, tell yourself the main ideas.  Answer chapter questions.  After you have read all the material and taken good notes, go talk things out with your parents or friends. Talking out loud and having to explain concepts to another person will cement the material in your mind.  Your family and friends may also be able to help you identify the most important material, in case you’re not sure.


Okay, now is the time to make it all come together!  Putting together that comprehensive study guide is a great way to review. Writing or talking things out in your own words is one of the best ways to ensure you have mastered material. Go back through your notes and look for highlights in the textbook to make sure you have sufficiently learned concepts that are repeated frequently or covered in depth.  Also review the areas you initially identified as being foreign concepts at the beginning of your study to ensure you learned them well!

As a final step, walk through the exam outline or course objectives. Either mentally or on paper, run through all the information you learned about point one.  If something doesn’t come to mind right away, go study it some more until you can get all the important details about that point out without having to think too hard.  Only when you can do that with the majority of the outline/course objectives are you ready to take a test.

Final Thoughts

If you are not used to this process for studying, it may take some time to adjust. However, as you practice these steps, they will become second nature until you are easily picking out the important information without a second thought.  If you have trouble in any of these areas, let me know on our next coaching call and I would be glad to help as best I can!

Happy studies!

Image: Wikipedia, CC

Developing A Study Plan

Originally published January 2013, online student newsletter.

The start of a New Year is a great time to make plans to succeed in your studies as never before. One of the first steps you should take for successful study is developing a workable study plan. During my time as a CollegePlus student, I not only focused on finishing my degree in a very short time, I also advised a political campaign, managed a small business, participated in church ministry and activities, and still tried to find time to run my brother to basketball games or swing by the store for my mom.  As you might imagine, it was a crazy schedule!  In hindsight, there were two things that made this possible: the first was having a set study plan (knowing what needed to happen in advance) and the second required making the most of every moment.

One of the most important ways to have a consistent study plan is to be consistent in the times and places that you study.  Your first step to developing a study plan should be choosing a study location. See this month’s Study Tip section for ways to do that. Keep in mind that your study location should get you in gear and get you excited (or at least focused) about studying. Having a consistent place to study doesn’t mean you can never mix up your study location–in fact, I recommend it if you’re feeling stuck or need a change of scenery!  What this does mean is that when you sit down to study, it is in a place that gets you in the mindset for studying.

The next thing to do is set up your study schedule.  The timing will look different for every person.  You may be able to have a set daily time and plan to study 8am-12pm every week day.  If you work or have other commitments, it might vary each day; 8am-12pm on Monday, 1-3pm on Tuesday, 10am-4pm on Wednesday, etc.  The goal is to find consistent times to study that work for you.

If you have an extremely busy schedule, your study schedule may need to be goal based rather than time based. For example, you may set a study goal of reading 10 pages on Monday, 30 pages on Tuesday, etc. Now this doesn’t mean you throw timing out the window!  You might need to plan to use your lunch break to get started, then finish up when you get home from work in the evening.  In other words, you still need to plan your study time. However, it will be easier to come home from work, etc, knowing you can stop as soon as you ready 30 pages rather than trying to stay awake to get in three hours of study time.

While consistency is key, studying with a busy schedule can also require creativity.  Driving to work and cooking dinner can be a great time to listen to relevant audios.  If you’re running errands or dropping off a sibling at an event, hand them your book and ask them to quiz you on terms. Think creatively and you may be surprised at how much study time you can carve out of your busy schedule.  If you are no longer a student, remember that learning never ends! Think about ways to make the most of the small moments to continue learning and growing in areas that are important to you.

If you need help setting up consistent study times and/or study goals, let me know so we can discuss it on our next coaching call!

Okay, now that we have evaluated the steps to setting up a workable study schedule, there are just a few reminders I have for you!

  • Above all, remember to be REALISTIC.  Don’t set goals that you just can’t achieve.
  • Along those lines, you will also need to be FLEXIBLE. You may set what you think are realistic goals, then discover you were actually being super ambitious.  Don’t feel bad about resetting your goals or reworking your schedule if needed.  Trial and error is a key part of this process.
  • Finally, take advantage of the benefits that consistency provides. Take breaks throughout your study time and once you have met your daily goals, STOP STUDYING.  As we all know, studying for exams can feel never ending–there is always something else you can do. But if you have set up a good schedule and reached your goal for the day, you don’t have to feel bad about stopping for the day.  And don’t forget to reward yourself for accomplishing your goals.

By taking time to set and try out a study plan, you will be better equipped to work longer and more efficiently while also allowing yourself more breaks and down time. Take the start of this New Year to set one resolution that you can stick with and develop your personal study plan!

Image: Vassar_Library_Study_Area, CC