August 25, 2009 11:53 PM

Academic tips for succeeding at Cal

These days, when incoming freshmen in the dorms find out that I am a second year student, they begin asking me whether I had any advice for them. Therefore, I decided that with fall semester classes starting in eight hours, now might be a good time to list the advice that I have for incoming freshmen and all students in general, based on my personal experiences this past year at Berkeley. I will skip any social tips since I tend to not socialize much unless it involves one on one deep conversation. Instead, I will focus on academic tips since the one thing that all Berkeley students hold in common is the desire to succeed in the top public university in the United States. So here are some general tips to survive and succeed in classes at Cal:

1. Do not believe anyone who tries to tell you that a certain class is difficult/impossible. Regardless of whether this person is your best friend, a random stranger, or your professor himself, half the battle is lost if you come into a class expecting a low grade due to the difficulty. No class here is impossible to ace. Don't let anyone discourage you from doing your best. I find that most people who don't do as well are those who expect a class to be difficult and therefore not try as hard. Efforts will pay off in the end, believe in yourself. No class is hard by nature, it's what you make of it.

2. Get enough sleep. I know it's tempting to stay up all night chatting with friends, watching movies. Or you might be finishing a paper or studying for a midterm you forgot to begin...earlier. I've even been told it's impossible to make it through the second year without pulling at least a couple of all-nighters. Don't believe them. No time? Make time. Set aside time specifically for sleeping and plan everything around it. There's no sense finishing up a paper due Thursday morning on Wednesday night if you could have had a draft done over the weekend. If you really are too busy, plan it so that you get at least some sleep every night. Losing a bit of sleep every night is better than pulling a couple of all-nighters. Not getting enough sleep will never help. It will pull you further behind because you will not be able to concentrate in class or perform anything to your best potential, for that matter.

3. Pay attention in class. REALLY try to do this. It is very hard to stay awake during lecture and absorb all the material, but the more material you absorb during class, the less tedious the work will be outside class. Think about it. You're there anyway for the duration. You could either waste the time sleeping (which should have been done in bed the night before anyway) or you could be listening to the professor.

4. Write down a list of questions in a notebook immediately after you think of them, and then ask them during your professor or GSI's office hours. This will bring much clarification.

5. Sit in the front of the room if possible. It's easier to pay attention this way, and you have more of chance to get personal interaction with the instructor.

6. Tell yourself you're really interested in whatever classes you're taking. And act interested. It's surprising how well this works. Most of the classes are quite interesting anyway, but if you're interested and ask lots of questions, it will really keep you on top of things.

7. Expect low, dream high, do the best possible. Basically, what I mean is, DON'T be counting up all your points and seeing what's the worst you could do to get an A in the class. And don't stop doing your best even if you and your instructor are sure you're doing extremely well. Even if you're top of your class, it doesn't mean you can't ask questions and try to learn more. The important thing is to learn and have fun and do your best. The grade will just come. I've seen these words come from one of the past valedictorians in my high school, but I've never believed them until now. From my experiences here, I can really say that effort does pay off; being nit-picky about little things doesn't.

So seven's a good number to stop at. If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask me.

Jade Liu | Permalink | Comment on this article | Comments (0)

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