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Suggestions for Success/FAQ

Course Loads

Part of any strategy for academic success involves taking a course load you can handle. A typical schedule for a full-time student is four to five courses totaling 15-18 units. Most students try to take a mix of science and technical courses with general education and breadth courses. If you are working while going to school, you should probably take a reduced load of courses; a full course load is equivalent to a full time job. As a new student you should be cautious the first quarter and avoid overloading yourself. You may be better off taking four courses (maybe even just three if they are high unit and challenging) instead of the typical load described above. Make sure you have the background for the courses and that you are comfortable with your schedule. Getting off to a good start and developing effective study habits can set the tone for your entire college career.

Participate in class and take good notes.

Keep a calendar so you can organize and remember your assignments, papers, and exams. Get to know a few people in each of your classes whom you can contact if you are unclear about something or have to miss class. Some people like to form study groups. This has been found to be effective if you prepare for group meetings so you can be a contributor as well as a receiver. But always make sure that you know and understand the material and can work problems on your own outside of the study group.

Study Environment

You need to set aside blocks of quiet time for study during which you will be rested, alert, receptive, and truly committed to what you are doing. Become engrossed in your studying; learn to enjoy and respect it. Keep distractions at a minimum--noisy music, telephone or other conversations, food, day dreaming, interruptions by roommates. Be sure to have a good supply of materials -- pencils, pens, paper, erasers, ruler, stapler, hole punch, manila folders, notebooks, calculator, computer disks. Access to a computer or wordprocessor is useful (wordprocessing equipment is available on campus). Organize yourself. Have a notebook for each class. File exams, returned assignments, topic outlines, supplementary problems, etc., in separate manila folders for each class. When you do supplementary practice problems do them neatly and clearly and file them for future reference. Participate in class and take good notes. Keep a calendar so you can organize and remember your assignments, papers, and exams. Get to know a few people in each of your classes whom you can contact if you are unclear about something or have to miss class. Some people like to form study groups. This has been found to be effective if you prepare for group meetings so you can be a contributor as well as a receiver. But always make sure that you know and understand the material and can work problems on your own outside of the study group.

Organizing Your Study Time

This is very personal and depends on how you learn. Morning person, night person? Long study periods, lots of shorter periods? Whatever suits you, make a plan to ensure you really devote the time and that your study is of quality. In planning your study time each quarter, consider free mornings and afternoons, breaks between classes, and evenings. Avoid all-nighters. Be careful about scheduling will probably need a significant portion of one day for study. And remember the Study 25-35 program. This is a good rule of thumb but you need to allocate the time effectively. Some courses require more time than others. For example, the national recommendation for calculus is at least three hours per week of study for every hour of class; we recommend this for most science and math classes. You should maintain a daily planner and study log. Enter in the planner when you have classes and other responsibilities and the times best for studying (make sure your plan is consistent with the recommended hours). During your first quarter, enter in the study log each day the number of hours you studied. At least weekly add up the hours to see how close they are to what we recommend.

Writing Papers and Reports

Allow yourself plenty of time for papers and reports so you can fully develop your topic and do several drafts before turning in the final copy. Do a lot of thinking at first. Write down your ideas; cluster the ideas into an outline; convert the outline into a rough draft; revise the draft until you are satisfied. Go for content, maturity in expression, excellent grammar, vocabulary, and sentence structure, variety in sentence beginning, conciseness, and good paragraphing. Practice good written expression no matter what the class or assignment. Written communication is an essential skill that will be important throughout your life.

Preparing for Exams

It is vitally important to prepare well for exams. The first step in preparing for an exam occurs during the weeks before the exam. Keep up with the material. You cannot effectively cram for exams the night before. Your instructor will expect more than a regurgitation of facts or writing based on superficial memorization of concepts you don't really understand. Work with the material a little at a time, read a paragraph over and over until you understand it. Ask yourself questions as you read. Work problems and examples until you feel proficient. Mastery, understanding, an ability to think creatively and critically, and an appreciation of the subject are expected goals of the learning experience. Don't assume you know something because you understood the lecture, or the textbook readings, or how a problem was worked in a solutions manual. The instructor, the book, the solutions manual are all trying to present material in a logical and comprehensible manner. If you understand your instructor's lecture, that should give you the confidence that you can learn that material when you sit down to study..but don't think you have already learned it. There is a world of difference between listening and understanding and actually doing. Imagine that you were required to explain a concept or work some problems in front of your class; you would prepare well for this as you would not want to be embarrassed. Keep this same personal pride in mind when you are studying for exams. Don't fool yourself. If you can talk about something, apply it to problems and examples, teach it to someone probably know it. If you can't do this, you don't know it. Test yourself; don't let your instructor be the first to test your knowledge. Let's imagine that you have done the things suggested in the previous two paragraphs and that you have a pretty good understanding and working knowledge of the material. Now is the time to prime yourself for the exam. You want to make sure the results of your effort are on the forefront of your mind, that you remember well what it is that you have learned and understood, that you are ready to perform. You can test yourself by making a topic outline and making sure you can explain in depth and with understanding the topics without referring to your notes or textbook. You can make a list of representative textbook problems and prove to yourself that you can work all types, one after another, without hints or assistance. You can always do more in studying, but, if you are honest with yourself, you will know when you have done enough.

Getting Help

If you develop a problem, get help. Don't let it fester until irreparable damage is done. There are lots of offices and people you can approach. Among them are your instructors, your advisor, department secretaries, department leaders, the dean's office, the Counseling Center, Financial Aid, Career Placement, and the Health Center. You must be expressive so the person you approach realizes you have a problem and clearly understands it. Remember these people have pressures on their time and unless you are very clear, they may not comprehend the seriousness of your situation. If you are having trouble with course material, see the instructor during his or her office hours; attend help sessions and learning assistance programs. Thanks for reading this. Think about your strategies for success now so you can get off to a good start. We all wish you the very best.

Study to Learn: Avoid Superficiality

The key to success is to develop a deep and lasting understanding of course material rather than just a superficial familiarity. How do you know if you have accomplished this? Above all, don't fool yourself. Reading the book several times, seeing how someone else worked a problem, recopying class notes to improve legibility...these are not indicators that you have mastered the material or even become slightly familiar with it. You know when you understand something; you get a good feeling inside. It begins with "Aha", "Oh yeah", "I see it now" and culminates in an excitement of wanting to use the new knowledge or to tell someone else what you know. A sense of satisfaction, of accomplishment, of confidence, of ability to perform, a "feel" for the subject...these are indicators of successful understanding. Please allow yourself the time and opportunity to experience this in your coursework.


The faculty is here for you. Take advantage of your instructor's office hours. Seek out a faculty member who can be an intellectual mentor, advisor, or friend. Close association with the faculty will greatly enhance your college experience.

How about college?

Most students expect that their commitment should increase and they are correct. With a15 unit course load, you will be in class 15-20 hours per week depending on the mix of classes, labs and activities in your schedule. The recommendation for studying is 35 hours per week. The total time commitment is quite reasonable, around 50-55 hours a week, very similar to a full-time job. College should be considered a full-time endeavor. But just like with a job, if you manage your time well, there is ample opportunity for other interests and activities.

Your Curriculum and General Education

Your curriculum consists of three parts:

  1. major and support courses,
  2. general education and breadth courses, and
  3. elective courses.

Take some time to become familiar with your curriculum. It is displayed in the University Catalog. Much of your college preparation to this point probably has been directed toward selecting a major. During your time in college, whether you stay in the major you have selected or change, your major courses will always be in the forefront. I want you to know, however, that at CSUSB we take general education very seriously and suggest that you put it on an equal standing with your major courses. Your ability to communicate effectively, to comprehend science and technology, to understand history and current political systems, and to appreciate the arts and literature will have an important impact on the quality of your life. We are trying to help you prepare for a career, not just a job, and to become a sensitive, thoughtful, and contributing member of society.

How Much Should You Study?

This is really important! One of the greatest challenges for a student entering college for the first time is realizing how much study time is needed. We can and will talk about quality study, but if a student isn't putting in the time, worrying about quality is useless. The College of Natural Sciences promotes a Study 25-35 program. As a rule of thumb, you should plan to study at least two hours a week for every unit of coursework in which you are enrolled. If you are enrolled for 3 classes, you should be studying 25 hours per week. If you are enrolled in 4 classes, you should be studying about 35 hours per week. This may sound like a lot if you are a first time freshman. But think about it. In high school you were in school five days a week, six hours a day, a total of 30 hours per week. A majority of students report studying an hour a day outside of class. So a typical commitment in time by a high school student for his or her education is around 35 hours per week.

Are you learning?

Think about what you have learned to this point in your life. Some is basic and still useful. Some has faded or been forgotten; some is now obsolete. Have you wasted your time? No! Not if you have truly learned and exercised your mind. You have been cultivating your intellect and developing your ability to think. This process continues in college but at a higher level. What you need to "know" will change throughout your life; lifelong learning will be essential. In college you are learning to learn, to appreciate learning, to accept responsibility for your intellectual development. The actual material you study is not as important as the exercise your mind receives and the deep appreciation for learning you cultivate. That is why it is so crucial that you avoid superficial memorization and go for true learning that will truly develop your mind. You owe it to yourself to develop an inquisitive mind, to maintain a healthy curiosity, to release your creativity, and to think critically. Success in college is related less to intelligence and ability than it is to effective studying and learning strategies. You were accepted to CSUSB; you are perfectly capable of earning a degree. Your attitude is critical to your success. Make your studies priority #1. Take care of yourself and focus on personal growth; if you do, you will be more useful to others and feel good about yourself.

How Important is Your 1st Year at CSUSB?

Really important! Nationwide, only about 50% of those who start college actually finish with a college degree. It is important to realize that graduation is not a given. In your first year you develop study habits, learn what learning is about, and take the courses that are the foundation for your major and degree. Sometimes new students get distracted with newly acquired independence, new surroundings, new friends, and opportunities for social activities. At the end of the year some have just started thinking about their goals, they are just beginning to understand the importance of studying, and they just "sort of" learned the material in their first-year core courses. this is not much of a foundation for the following year. Adjusting to a new living environment and making new friends is important; it is a part of going to college. Just make sure you don't forget why you are here.