To cram or not to cram?

Some of my fans who discovered SLANT when it was new, and who were in ninth grade at the time, may now be starting their freshman year at college. And to you I pass along my seven tips that helped me not only survive college life, but almost make a 4.0. Now, I don’t know if these tips would work for some majors (maybe not P.E., Biology, Chem) but for the bookier ones (Literature, History, PoliSci) I think they would still work great. Some of these suggestions may sound dorky. Just be open-minded. I was a bad student when I was a music major (about a C average) but when I went back to school as an English major, I figured out how to student.


1.)    Look ‘em in the eye. Sit near the front of the room. The prof can see your face better and making eye contact gives her a better sense of you as a person. You’ll also be able to get to know the prof. (Nothing wrong with being able to “read” the person who will potentially write a trick question on the mid-term.)

2.)    Actually do the reading. It was very stressful when I was a bad student and never read my texts. Like a naughty grade-schooler, I tried to avoid being called on in class. But once I got in the habit of reading everything (and on time) it was liberating. Great for my self-esteem.T. Sully, Girl Reading

3.)    ALWAYS ask a question when you need clarification or more info. When I was a bad student, I was too shy to bother the prof. I figured I didn’t understand because I hadn’t done the reading. But chances are, if you need to ask about something, several other people are wondering the same thing.

4.)    Chat up the prof. Say something to your prof when you arrive at class or as you are leaving. Just a sentence is fine. The prof will be in transition during these times. I used to mention what I thought was the coolest thing I learned from the reading for that lecture. This tip probably sounds suck-uppy, but if you actually do the reading I bet you will indeed have a favorite bit of it to share. A mini-chat shows the prof you like her class, that you’re keeping up, and what kind of taste and interests you have. And if it’s a long class (a whole semester) visit the prof at least once during her office hours, even if you feel you’re doing well academically. It’s good to check in, for instance, on your final paper/project and get hints for success from the one who will be grading it.

5.)    Go to class. Don’t ditch, but if you have to miss, leave a message in the prof’s box about the absence. This probably sounds especially dorky, but it gives the impression you value the lectures and respect the prof.

6.)    Don’t take dictation. When you take notes, don’t try to scribble down every word. If you watch the prof and really listen, you’ll be able to tell the parts that are important enough to end up on the test. Things that get written on the board. Things the prof repeats for emphasis. And, of course, things the prof says are important.

7.)    Read the syllabus. Now this sounds dumb, but I’m not kidding. Lots of profs write a short paragraph about the purpose of the class and include it in the syllabus they hand out. It’s often at the top of the first page. Read it and discover what your prof believes is the most significant concept she wants you to learn. Then work that into the essay on your final exam or into your final paper. Not every prof will include this gem of information, but when you find it, use it. Demonstrate that you “got it.”  During the second year of my English degree, I took a mythology class and found, right at the top of the syllabus, that the prof wanted students to understand the functions of the three different types of myths and how they were used in Greek and Roman society. So I made sure that, at exam time, as I composed each short essay answer, I noted which kind of myth each question was talking about and how it affected the culture of the time. Show the prof you found the key to the topic and you will get a good grade. Trust me.


When I did these seven things, I never needed to cram for my tests. I would just read through my lecture notes the night before or that morning. Seriously. It works. But I know, I’m a study geek. I love being a student. Anyway, best of luck to you all. The trees are turning yellow, red, and brown. The wind is chilling. Makes me want to pull on a sweater and go back to school. 


2 Responses to “To cram or not to cram?”

  1. Patty Says:


    I’m one of these people! I read your book in ninth grade… I actually just re-read it [for like the millionth time, it’s one of the few books I brought with me to college] and decided that I wanted to let you know precisely how much I love it. When i finished it, I made my roommate read it and she is currently on her 3rd re-reading of it, I believe. :]

    • Laura Whitcomb Says:

      Yay! Hi, Patty. Thank you for the word-of-mouth publicity–the most powerful kind.
      Best of all wishes to you in all you are up to. I hope you keep up with the blog–periodically I’ll give updates on the sequel to SLANT that I’m writing.

      Have a great week!

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