February 24, 2011

Study Smart: 7 Paths to Exam Success

This post is contibuted by Joy Paley, a guest blogger for My Dog Ate My Blog and a writer on earning your online psychology degree for the Guide to Online Schools.

Proponents of study abroad programs cite their ability to expose students to different cultures and give future leaders a global perspective. While these aspects of study abroad programs certainly exist, college students in a new country are also exposed to some temptations of the flesh that can be a bit more exciting than studying for exams. While you might be working on your “global perspective” spending four nights a week at discotheques and the rest of your time ogling cute locals at outdoor cafes, you’re probably not gaining the type of perspective those university administrators were talking about. Here are seven tips for making the most of your academic experience abroad -- while also finding time for fun.

1. Use On-the-Go Study Tools
Most students in study abroad programs want to make the most of their time there, and consequently, they’re often on the road to see historic sights or wiling away the night partying. It pays to become familiar with study tools that you can easily use while you’re in transit. Flash cards are old school, but electronic versions on your iPhone can be a good alternative.

2. Make Local Friends
While living abroad for the first time can certainly be exciting, it can also be quite overwhelming. Some students don’t make the effort to really reach out to local residents in their classes or the community, and they find themselves doing everything with a herd of students from back home. Finding a few local friends will help you get much better at the language and ace your language exams. It will also ensure that you don’t go home feeling like you just spent two months abroad living in a bubble of your hometown college culture.

3. Study in an Immersive Environment
Just like it can be a temptation to hang around with a group of friends from home all the time, it can be easy to spend time studying in ways that don’t really put you into the local surroundings. Instead of just studying in the your room at your homestay, bring your books to a local library, café, or park. The more you immerse yourself in the language, the better you’ll get at it—without even trying!

4. Limit Nights Out
So far, these study tips have focused on preparing for your language classes, something that can be a big part of a study abroad experience. You’re going to have other classes, however; classes that won’t necessarily benefit from “immersive” experiences at the local bar or club. Just because you’re in a new locale, that doesn’t mean you’re on a full-time vacation. Keeping your nights out down to one or two times a week will give you more energy to study and be engaged during lectures.

5. Have Regular Skype Dates Home—Then Call It Quits
Leaving behind a romantic interest, friends, and family will leave you feeling homesick at some point or another. Instead of spending four hours a day on the phone, Skyping, or checking Facebook, carefully schedule the hours you’ll be bonding with folks from back home. It’s good to stay in touch, but overdoing it will distract you from academic work and keep you from fully enjoying your time in a new culture.

6. Connect Classes to Your Local Environment
During study abroad, most students take classes about the history or culture of the area where they’re staying. Get out into the city, and see the sights that you’re learning about in class—you’ll be more likely to engage with the material and really internalize it.

7. Frequent Office Hours
At home, students hit up office hours to make professional connections with instructors, secure recommendation letters, or find a suitable academic advisor. While hanging out with your professors abroad might not present the same obvious benefits, making the time to see them outside of class will give more depth to what you’re learning in class and impress them with your dedication to learning.

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