Identifying Academic Difficulty – Five Questions to Ask Yourself
Students who ask themselves these five questions and answer them honestly will gain insight into the causes of their academic problems and some key ways to improve performance.
- Are you attending class faithfully?
Not attending class is the most common reason why students have difficulty. Relying on a friend’s notes, or figuring on just reading the textbook is never a good approach.The cardinal rule of college success is, without a doubt: GO TO CLASS!This means that you go to class when it is raining, when you got in late the night before, when the material being taught is boring or already familiar to you, or when you feel just a little “under the weather.” Top students know that attending class is not negotiable. You need to hear what is being said in class and you need the professor to see you attending and participating actively in the course.
- Have you completed the required pre-requisites for the course?
Students can be careless about prerequisites or overconfident about their ability to take on coursework without the necessary background. This is a huge problem in Math courses, where students ignore their placement test results and jump into Calculus I when their Precalculus knowledge from high school is weak.Foreign language is another area in which preparation is crucial for success. At my university, which is typical, a student is not allowed to move forward into the next course unless he or she earns at least a C in the prior course. Students sometimes find a way around this policy and move into Spanish 102 when they earned a D in Spanish 101. This is very unwise and potentially disastrous.
- Is the course you are struggling in actually necessary?
Amazingly, students sometimes enroll in a course that proves extremely difficult, even though it is not actually necessary for their major or for any other requirements. For example, pre-pharmacy students sometimes enroll in the most difficult physics course that is calculus-based and designed mainly for physics and engineering students. In fact, they would have been much better off taking the mid-range physics designed for students who need a serious but not a killer physics course.
- Have you talked to the professor about the difficulty you are having?
There are many good reasons why a student who is struggling in a class should talk to the instructor. These include: obtaining some supplementary instruction, some pointers about how best to study, some feedback about where you seem to be going wrong on tests and papers, and some perspective on why students typically struggle in the class and what is helpful to turn the situation around. Further, it gives you an opportunity to impress on the professor how much effort you are expending and how much you want to improve.
- Have you sought help – from a tutor in the learning center, a study group, a friend who did well in the course last year?
Everyone needs help at some point. Even the best students may need help. The resources are there, so use them! I know students who have delayed taking a difficult course until they could take it “with” a friend who is very strong in the field. This actually makes good sense. If a course is vitally important to you, you may need to hire a tutor to meet with you once or twice a week. Graduate students are often available as private tutors.
Sources of Academic Support
LRC 101A Academic Success for Lifelong Learning –
3 institutional credit course that emphasizes strategies for success in college.
Introduction to the Honors University Seminars –
Consider enrolling in the “Y” section of a course; the “Y” indicates that a one-credit (academic credit) is included.
Tutoring Assistance in most first and second year courses –
Contact the Learning Resource Center at 410-455-2444 or visit their website for more information.
Skills for Success Workshop Series –
One hour workshops about time management, stress management, test anxiety, memory skills, procrastination, and relaxation techniques.
Career & Major Exploration –
Programs, workshops, assessments, and individual counseling available.
Services for Students with Disabilities–
Accommodations and resources are available for eligible students. Contact the Office for Student Disability Services at 410-455-2459 or visit www.sds.umbc.edu for more information.
General Academic Advising Assistance –
Walk-in services, prescheduled appointments, and study skills workshops. Contact the Office for Academic and Pre-Professional Advising at 410-455-2729.