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Brad Bergeron, Southeastern Louisiana University

Brad Bergeron.jpbMany students are entering college unprepared for the adjustments required to succeed, such as balancing freedom vs. responsibility, time management, problem solving, and study skills. A Probation Recovery Program helps students achieve the skills and confidence necessary to overcome those deficits, and plays a pivotal role in helping students achieve success.

 Students do not do well academically for many different reasons, but one common issue is often overlooked:  Advisors must explore why and refer the student to other resources when he or she is struggling with life issues. However, for those not suffering through significant concerns, this is a teaching moment about why their high school strategy of “pay attention in class and study right before the test” no longer works. They need to be reminded that in high school, they typically went to class five days a week and spent at least six hours a day in the classroom. That is 30 hours a week of hearing and reviewing information without even considering what is done outside of school. Besides getting 30 hours a week of class time, they were also tested once a week or once every two weeks, so they had less information to recall for each test.  As a result, paying attention in class and reading over their notes before the test worked great for many high school students.

Once advisors have identified that probation students are ready to learn efficient study structure and basic techniques, they will need to help the students understand why this new behavior is worth their effort. Advisors must also learn the importance of asking the right questions. Many students will tell their advisors they failed algebra last semester and they “are just terrible at math.” They may even say they spend all their time worrying about math and their other classes are suffering as well.  Advisors may immediately think about referring to tutoring services. While referral is not inappropriate, advisors first need to spend time exploring how the student studies and practices math. How often, how long, who’s helping, or how do they approach an unfamiliar a problem?  These are all critical questions. However, one question is even more important for advisors to ask: “When no test is coming up, how many days per week are you studying or doing homework?” Many students will say they study a subject every day. However, the phrase “every day” can mean different things for each student, so it’s important to have the student give a number out of seven days in the week.

The answer advisors will hear from many students is that they study two to three days per week. Advisors may even hear students brag about how much they study, but complain they are still not making the grades they want. Students may say something like, “I study all the time. I study every day I have class, and I even study one extra day a week!” What that student is saying is they study three days a week, and advisors must remind them that they have four days to forget what they are trying to learn in three days.

Ask the student, “Are you studying, learning, mastering, and rehearsing the majority of the days of the week or do you have the majority of the days of the week to forget what you are not reviewing?” Being bad at math is like not being good at hitting a baseball. It’s embarrassing, and it’s the last thing those who are bad at it would want to do. They may also have the feeling that they are going to swing and miss again. However, if they don’t keep stepping up to the plate and trying, they are not going to get any better. Likewise, if probation students who are bad at math don’t have enough days of practicing math week after week, they too won’t get any better at math.

The next important question to ask a probation student is, “When there is no test coming up, is your teacher spending more time lecturing each week than you are spending trying to master what took them almost three hours to say?” Many students, week after week, are spending less time studying for each subject than their teacher spent lecturing on the subject. Once students realize this, they tend to be more open to solutions. Advisors should remind them the minimum study time (which doesn’t guarantee A’s and B’s), would be four hours a week for each three-credit-hour, non-science or non-math class, because students need to spend more time studying than their teacher spent lecturing in order to truly master the material. The minimum study time for math and science classes would be six hours a week.

Next, assess the study location and help the student eliminate distractions. Many students report studying in their room and more specifically, studying in their bed. However, to avoid confusing studying with relaxation, students should study at a hard desk with good lighting and no distractions.  Sometimes students go to a good location to study, but bring distractions with them, such as their friends, their smart phones, or music. Advisors should remind students that if they find themselves singing or rapping to the music, they are no longer focused on the material they are trying to study.

Another common obstacle that probation students struggle with is study technique. Rather than simply reading and rereading notes and waiting for the study guide or review session, students must spend time learning, not just “studying.” Ask students whether they understand the material well enough to teach it to others and share ways to study effectively for lecture classes, including tips such as: 

  • Pay attention in class and capture key words and main ideas.
  • Rewrite or retype your notes the same day you took them, expanding brief classroom notes into full sentences with examples; take notes from your textbook. 
  • Start your textbook reading with the title, subtitles, boldfaced words, the summary, and the questions in the back of the book. This will prepare you to focus on the structure, the most important ideas, and what questions you should be able to answer after taking notes.
  • Read section by section and take notes. Read a paragraph at a time and write down the most important ideas.
  • Quiz yourself on your notes every day to identify what you know and what you don't know. Try to think like a teacher and create as many test questions as possible.
  • Consider what questions and answers are important in addition to who, what, where, when, and why.  Be able to compare and contrast similar, but different ideas and give real life examples.
  • Quickly review what you know every day and spend more time on what you don’t know. Flash cards work great! Your list of things you don't know should get smaller and smaller as it gets closer to test day.
  • Rehearse all the things you do know! This type of light review will build your confidence, reduce worry, and allow you to get a good night’s sleep before the test.

Finally, advisors must help students conquer time management issues by creating a study plan or schedule. It becomes the students’ daily to-do list, and they cross off each 30-minute study session as they complete it. Without a study plan to follow each week, good intentions will not come to fruition. To add a component of accountability, advisors need to help monitor the students’ progress. Weekly meetings provide an opportunity to determine whether the plan is being followed accurately or if there are issues or obstacles that need to be addressed.  The regular monitoring of progress with an advisor facilitates timely identification of concerns and allows them to be addressed quickly. Resources may include the tutoring center, the writing center, or the counseling center.

By learning time management and establishing a weekly study plan, students will learn to make better choices with their available time. This may be a lesson in denial and reward.  Students may be missing some social activities or events in order to study, but will be able to celebrate their successes later. It’s important to review the process with them and have them talk about how they earned their good grades.  A complete Probation Recovery Program will teach skills and provide students with the confidence necessary to achieve their academic goals.

Brad Bergeron
Senior Academic Advisor
Center for Student Excellence
Southeastern Louisiana University
[email protected]


Cite this article using APA style as: Bergeron, B. (2014, December). Study structure and techniques must be taught to probation students. Academic Advising Today, 37(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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