P's and Q's

Be Your Best
>Study Skills


By the time you finish this guide, you should:
  • understand the purpose and structure of college;
  • have begun to develop strategies for succeeding in college.


Be Your Best: College Plan guides you through developing short-term and long-term goals for yourself and includes a grid to help you plan your undergraduate career.

Updated August 17, 2001
© Mark Canada, 2001


In the early days of printing, typesetters had to be careful not to mix up the blocks they used to print letters--particularly the p's and q's, which look alike. We still say "Mind your p's and q's" when we want people to mind their manners.  Here are some college p's and q's that can help you succeed in this class and others:


The purpose of a liberal-arts education--which is what you are pursuing if you are majoring in history, chemistry, sociology, and most other areas--is not to prepare for a specific job, but to build a broad base of knowledge and skills so that you not only can succeed in a variety of jobs, but also vote intelligently, raise a strong family, make effective financial decisions, and generally understand, shape, and enjoy the world around you.  Many times over the course of your college career, you may think, "Why am I learning this? I'm never going to use it."  I know because I thought those thoughts, too.  Since graduating with degrees in English and journalism, however, I have often drawn on what I learned about other subjects in both college and high school.  My understanding of criminology and meteorology, for example, informs my opinions about political issues such as the death penalty and the greenhouse effect.  I am convinced that my experience in math helps me write organized essays, and my knowledge of geometry even helped me to design a coffee table.  In fact, I wish I remembered more of all that stuff I was never going to use.  Keeping the purpose of your education in mind can help you get the most out of it.  In particular, keep four broad areas in mind.  First, professors in general-education courses are not teaching you to become a historian, a physicist, or a psychologist, but rather are exposing you to core concepts and terms in their fields so that you can better understand, discuss, and shape the world around you.  Education is about more than amassing knowledge, however. You also will hear your professors use words such as "critical thinking" and "interpretation," words that refer to the essential skills of combining, evaluating, and using information. Knowing that the French Revolution began in 1789 may make you a hit in parlor games or a winner on Jeopardy!, but otherwise this mere fact is not very useful until you combine it with other facts, interpret it in this context, and communicate your ideas effectively to others. Knowledge of the French and American revolutions, for example, can help you understand Western political structures, modern music and literature, even your own outlook on the world. When you study, look for connections among ideas--even ideas from different classes. If you really want to impress a professor, apply something you learned in another class to his or her class.  Finally, a liberal-arts education provides enrichment.  Because the human mind thrives on stimulation, this brand of education can even make you feel more alive by exposing you to art, music, poetry, and novels that make you think in new, exciting ways. While I encourage you to look for ways to apply your liberal-arts education to your life, I hope you also will come to appreciate material that you will never "need" at all, but that will enrich your life in indescribable ways.


Once you understand the purpose of education, you can begin to develop a plan for yourself.  Develop long-term goals, such as graduating with a particular degree and raising a successful family.  Then establish short-term goals that will help you achieve the long-term ones.  You can find guidance in Be Your Best: College Plan.


Before you can succeed, you need to prepare.  Indeed, preparation is the single most important key to success, not only in this class, but in college and in life.  Begin by reading this syllabus.  In particular, pay especially close attention to the objectives listed in the box at the left.  Before the second class meeting, make sure that you have purchased all of the supplies listed at the left.  As the semester progresses, you also should make a point of reading my unit lesson plans, where I will post reading and writing assignments, as well as other important information.  Read any other assignments, as well, and take notes on everything.  Take advantage of the resources listed at the left.  Come to class ready to learn.  Finally, review my study guides at the end of each unit to make sure you have met the objectives and learned the terms.


Once you are prepared to learn, you also need to show up for class.  In fact, according to departmental policy, you will fail this course if you miss more than four classes for any reason.  Furthermore, plan to participate in class exercises and discussions.  Research shows that active participation dramatically increases the amount a person learns.  If you are shy, take some steps toward becoming more vocal.  During class, volunteer to report on group activities and try to make at least one comment or ask one question during class.

Physical Health

Your mind is part of your body.  It should come as no surprise, then, that good physical health can improve your learning and your grades.  Studies have suggested that eating breakfast can improve test performance, that protein can boost alertness, and that exercise can help a person think effectively.  I suggest drinking 8-10 glasses of water each day, avoiding junk food and caffeine, exercising at least a half-hour each day, and maintaining a consistent schedule of seven to nine hours of sleep every night.  To unwind, I prefer music to television, which tends to eat up time and besides is generally inane and annoying.


Your grades depend primarily on your performance.  Nevertheless, being polite is good practice for life after college and can help you establish a good rapport with your professors.  Show up for class and conferences on time and wait until class has ended before packing up your books.  Turn in assignments when they are due and avoid making excuses for absences or poor work.


Nothing impresses a teacher or an employer more than work that shines not only in content, but in form.  Invest the time and energy into submitting assignments of which you can be proud.  For starters, read each assignment carefully and try to provide exactly what the professor requests.  In addition to researching, writing, revising, and proofreading your work carefully, follow instructions on format, such as use of correct bibliographic citations.


When you need information or help, ask.  For example, if you have problems coming to class, keeping up with assignments, or using the computer, use the information in the box at the left to get in touch with me immediately.  The following statement comes from Disability Support Services: "Any student with a documented disability needing academic adjustments is requested to speak directly to Disability Support Services and the instructor, as early in the semester (preferably within the first class week) as possible.  All discussions will remain confidential. "


  1. Goal-setting: Set a long-range goal for yourself. In your journal, describe this goal, as well as at least four short-term goals that you will pursue along the way. Make every goal specific and set specific, realistic deadlines. Finally, identify at least two resources that will help you attain your long-term goal. 
  2. Schedule: Keep track of how you spend your time for a day. At the end of the day, make a schedule for the following day. Using the tips in Chapter 7, set aside time for attending class, studying, and so on. Finally, in a brief paragraph, assess your use of the schedule. Did it help you use you time efficiently? Do you need to adjust it? How?