The Two Secrets to Success in College
Version Date: December 12, 2012
Original Version: July 20, 1995
1. Take two pages of notes for each hour of lecture.
2. Study at least two hours outside of class for each hour you spend
3. Read each chapter or reading assignment twice.
4. Study for each test in at least two sessions.
5. Study in two's--have a study buddy.
6. Go to bed before 2:00 am.
7. Arrive two minutes early to every class.
8. Find at least two sides to the issue before you speak or write
on one side.
9. Write two drafts of each paper before you write the final version.
10. Exceed the minimum requirements by two: two extra examples,
11. Finish your papers two days before they are due.
12. Remember that many statements have two interpretations--that's
the secret of the title.
1. Taking notes serves several functions. An obvious one is that you
can review them before a test. And if they are skimpy, what's to
review? Don't fall into the trap of writing down only the notes the
professor puts on the board. That's why the two pages secret.
Elaborate, define, connect. Include sufficient detail and some examples
so that you can get a good understanding of the concepts. So, if taking
notes is so great, why not five or even ten pages of notes per hour? It
comes down to attention. If you spend all your time furiously writing
notes, you won't be able to listen and think about what is being
presented. Interestingly enough, taking notes helps you remember the
material better than not taking notes even if you never review them.
There is something about taking notes--handwriting is probably best for
retention but typing should work, too--that helps fix the ideas in
memory. Finally, taking notes encourages you to process the ideas as
you write, putting them in your own words, perhaps adding an example
you can think of, jotting a question here and there in the margin. A
good test of the quality of your notes is to give them to someone not
taking the class and see if they make sense. Can the other person
recount the gist of the presentation just by reading over your notes?
2. It has been guesstimated from anecdotal evidence and personal
experience that only about 25% of needed course content is delivered in
class. The other 75% comes from textbooks, research, writing, study
group participation, and even thinking. So, students who rely on the
lectures to get them through and who never open the textbook are
missing the majority of what they should be learning. Some don't care.
All they want to do is get through and get a degree, thinking that a
college degree is the ticket to nirvana. But a college degree doesn't
get you on a train where you can just ride along; a degree only opens
the first door. After that, if you can't perform, you're stuck. Take
your education seriously and put in those hard hours of study that will
pay off for the rest of your life.
3. There is disagreement over the value of double reading. Some studies
have indicated that reviewing notes, summaries, underlinings, and
highlightered passages actually improves retention better than simply
reading a second time. The best advice here, then, is to read
actively--write notes in the margin, underline important sentencess, or
even make your own summary or outline notes of the chapter. Then, later
on, review the notes or skim the chapter.
4. It's easys to remember a dramatic, one-time event, but repetition is
needed for more ordinary information to get into long term memory. And
repetition after some time passes is actually a form of relearning.
Each time you relearn something, it becomes easier to recall and the
more deeply it gets planted in your mind. Cramming one time to learn
everything, or even any one thing, is less effective that visiting and
revisiting the material.
5. A serious study buddy, not a time and attention waster, can improve
your learning through the benefit of discussion. With a study buddy you
can (1) recite what you know while your buddy listens and checks for
accuracy and clarity of thought, (2) quiz each other, (3) alternate
using flash cards, where first one of you and then the other holds up a
card and discusses the other's answer, and (4) work together on
homework problems (assuming this is permitted by the professor), such
as answering questions or working out calculations. When one of you
gets stuck, the other can often help get the answer. When one doesn't
understand a concept, the other can often explain. And remember that
those who teach a subject learn more than those who are taught.
6. Actually, in bed by midnight is better. The point is that the brain
needs processing time, and that occurs only during sleep. "Pulling an
all nighter" hampers test performance because (1) the brain doesn't
learn well when it is tired and has trouble paying attention and (2)
the brain cannot process the material adequately if it can't get some
sleep time. Two o'clock in the morning is the very latest (earliest?)
you should get to sleep if you have an 8:00 am exam. Staying up all
night to study is not a cure for procrastination. It's a recipe for
mediocrity at best.
7. I always like to arrive plenty early to classes and other events, to
cover contingencies (What if there's traffic? What if I get delayed?
What if the room has been moved? What if all the good seats are
taken?), but in keeping with contemporary folks, and to harmonize with
the Two in Two Secrets, I recommend arriving at least two minutes
early. Arriving late is rude to the professor and the rest of the class
(or audience), creates an embarrassing disturbance, and you feel
stressed and need time to calm down. And if the professor started on
time, you've missed something. Oh, yeah, what could you miss that would
be that important at the beginning of class? How about, "The midterm
has been canceled," or "The paper is now due next week instead of the
week after," or "The answers to the odd problems are posted on my
8. You might have heard the proverb, "There are two sides to every
issue--except when there are three." Even if you have a strong opinion
about a position, find out what the differing opinions are and how they
are supported. If you're writing a paper, bring in some of the more
important objections or counterarguments and respond to them. This
actually strengthens your case because you show that you know about
these opposing views and you have thought about them and responded to
them. If you don't bring them up, your reader might think you are
ignorant of them or dishonestly suppressing them.
9. How many papers have professors received that cause them to think,
"This reads like a paper written in an hour last night." The point is,
when you take the time to revisit your writing, you see areas that can
be clarifed, reworded, strengthened with an example, reorganized or
otherwise improved. Your brain has had some alone time to think over
what you wrote so that on the next visit, it probably has some ideas
and suggestions for you. Multiple drafts are good for you. Time
consuming, yes, but great for your learning--and probably, your grade.
10. In the old days, before grade inflation, doing the minimum
requirement was considered average, and the grade for average work was
a C. Maybe these days you can do better than that with average,
mediocre work. But if you exceed the minimum requirements, think how
much more you'll learn. Even more importantly, you'll be developing the
"above and beyond" habits that when translated to the workplace and
even your personal life will be the steppingstones to success.
11. If you want that calm, relaxed feeling instead of that deadline
hysterical rush feeling, get your papers done early. No time? It's
really about planning. You have exactly the same number of hours in a
day as Leonardo Da Vinci--and look at what he wrote, invented, and
painted. Go ahead and ignore my advice. I'm just sayin.
12. So now you know the secret of the twos.
<<< 0 >>>
If you liked this article, you might also like How to Be Successful
1995, 2012 by Robert Harris | How to cite this
w w . v i r t u a l s a l t . c o m
About the author:
Robert Harris is a writer
and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the
and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com