Preparing for Tests

Around this time of year, some first year students (and others too) start to realize that they actually don’t know how to effectively study, learn material, and prepare for tests.  The memorization and rote learning strategies that may have been OK for high school usually don’t work well at the university level.  It’s not too late to change however, and there are various resources available to help, including at our Student Success Office.  There are some that are more engineering-specific, such as the following one I found a few years ago. Continue reading

Engineering Failure Rates-Redux

Here’s an update on a popular old post, with some new data and comments.

I’m never quite sure why people ask about failure rates, or what they are expecting.  Do they want to hear that the failure rate is high, so they are convinced it’s a tough (and therefore good) program?  Or maybe they don’t want the failure rate to be high, because they are concerned that they won’t be successful?  I’m not sure what the motivation for the question is, but anyways let’s examine failure rates.  Continue reading

Engineering 101 Welcome

Engineering 101 is a type of orientation event held in July for new admitted students.  It’s an opportunity to come to campus and look around, meet some fellow students, get some tips for success, and get some errands done before the rush starts in September.  There is an online guide summarizing everything, which is good for those who can’t make the trip or who want to review some of the advice.

I was asked to make some opening remarks, so following is a version of what I said. Continue reading

What Happens to Grades

It’s the start of a new academic year and lots of new students are beginning their transition from secondary school to university.  That transition can be challenging for a variety of reasons, including being away from home, new community, different teaching styles, etc.  For some students, a big source of stress comes about half-way into the term when they start to see their grades and realize that they are quite different from what they were used to in high school.  I think that our instructors are generally quite up-front about what to expect, i.e. that grades will typically drop about 15 to 20 percentage points from high school, but I suspect that a lot of students assume that will happen to someone else and not them.  So let’s look at some data from a past year that compares high school grades (admission averages) with averages at the end of first year engineering, for the same group of students.   Continue reading

Getting Ready to Learn

For some new university students, one of the most shocking and troublesome problems they encounter is the realization that they don’t actually know how to learn.  The strategies they used in high school no longer work well enough to succeed in a fast-paced and challenging university program.  Rote learning and memorizing solution methods for problems will generally not work any more, and a deeper level of understanding is required.  In some cases students can’t adapt fast enough and end up having to repeat courses or a term, or perhaps leave the university entirely.

That’s why I like and recommend this Coursera course, “Learning How to Learn”.    It’s from the University of California, San Diego and taught by an engineering professor, Barbara Oakley (and others).  I haven’t taken the course, but have seen quite a few parts of it a while ago.    For anyone starting university in September, this would be a worthwhile investment of your time, and will help identify good learning and study habits to use.   It’s probably good for high school students too, who are looking to do better.  (I think it’s free, or at least it used to be.)

The concepts the course covers are not revolutionary or unusual.  Most of our faculty would recommend the same things to first year students:  get enough sleep and keep a normal schedule; go to class; don’t procrastinate; set up a study schedule; engage all your senses in the material (seeing, hearing, doing/practicing, articulating); don’t get bogged down too long on one problem, etc.  But the course is nice because it presents the science and neurology behind these recommendations, and why they are important for learning and actually understanding the concepts more deeply.  Also, I thought is was nicely presented, interesting, and not difficult to follow.