OrganizeThe first step in being a successful online learner is becoming organized. Successful students plan and organize their study environment, their academic environment, and their time.

Organizing your study environment includes a variety of aspects that allow you to maximize your performance as you concentrate on your coursework. Being mindful of the following questions will allow you to create a foundation for your online learning success.

  • When Will You Study: When are you the most productive? Is it best to do your coursework in the morning or night? What other regularly scheduled commitments do you have? Although ideal, a set time to study during the day can be a challenge, especially for those who work full-time. Many students will take advantage of any break they can find throughout the day to work on their studies. By creating a weekly calendar you can provide the necessary structure that will allow you to effectively manage your time and priorities.
  • Where Will You Study: Have you carved out a specific location where you can study? Do you have other locations where you can be free of distractions? When considering studying away from your primary location, is WiFi available and are electrical outlets accessible are just a few things to consider when creating your location. Many times you are never too far from a McDonald’s or Starbucks, both of which can provide free WiFi and electricity! If you venture outside of the home to study, make sure you have all of your power cords with you. Wherever you decide to study make sure you carry plenty of pens, paper, highlighters and any other study aids you may need readily available.
  • What Will You Study: Have you read through your syllabus? When are your assignments due and will they overlap with other assignments? Be sure to have read your syllabus so you are familiar with your assignments and due dates. Being able to create a term at a glance calendar will allow you to see potential conflicts and allow you to adjust your study plan.
  • How Will You Study: Are you aware of the differences between a visual, kinesthetic or auditory learner? Are you aware of your learning preference?
    • Kinesthetic learners typically learn best by physically doing. These types of learners excel at physical activities, such as athletics and dance or hands-on methods. These learners tend to incorporate real-world examples or look up case studies to help them remember abstract concepts. They ask friends to quiz them out loud or perform the material themselves in front of a mirror. They get out and explore the possibility of field trips, hands-on labs, or exhibits on the topic.
    • Auditory learners typically learn best by listening and talking out loud. They are using the Cornell Note Taking Method and focus on self-quizzing aloud, which has proven to be an effective strategy. Reading their notes or textbooks aloud has also proven to be beneficial. They create flashcards and quiz themselves aloud. Remember, out loud repetition will be most important for an auditory learner so they will need to find a time and place where they can comfortably talk aloud as they study.
    • Visual learners learn best from what they see in pictures, diagrams, flowcharts, timelines, films, and demonstrations. They get more out of written words in conjunction with spoken explanations that allows them to visualize the concept. They often learn best when information is presented both visually and verbally. They rewrite notes replacing words with as many symbols, pictures, or drawings as possible.  Creating visual study aids with multiple colors has also proven to be an effective technique.

These are just a few things to keep in mind as you begin to organize yourself as an online learner.

Having trouble staying motivated to keep up with you assigned reading that you find boring or of no interest to you? Here are a few tips about staying focused and engaged while reading topics that you are not particularly interested in.

Reading should always be an enjoyable experience! It certainly should be, considering most of us do it every day. Students and professionals can end up dedicating 3 to 5 hours each day to the task of reading. In a perfect world, all the material that we read would be compelling and interesting. However in reality, sometimes the material we read is not that interesting but we still do need to read it.

Everyone should feel some level of anxiety on test day. However, anxiety becomes a problem when it interferes with your ability to think and recall information. Test anxiety can create both physical and mental symptoms. Below are some strategies in managing test anxiety on the day of an exam.


Negative Self-Talk Positive Self-Talk
“I’ll never get finished.” “Just take it one step at a time.”
“If I miss this, I’ve really blown it.” “Some tension is inevitable; no need to worry about it.”
“Why am I so nervous? I hate feeling like this. I know I’m going to fail.” “I studied and I am confident I will do my best.”
“Everyone else is doing better than me.” “I’m doing fine. I am only concerned about myself.”
“If I fail this test, my life will fall apart.” “Even if I don’t do as well as I’d like, it’s not the end of the world.”
“Oh no! I studied this one but my mind is just going blank!” “I’ll skip this question and go on to some easier ones. I’ll come back to it later.”
“I know I missed the last answer. I should have gotten it!” “Even if I miss a few questions, that doesn’t bother me. I can still get a good grade.”



Deep breathing is one of the simplest techniques you can use to reduce anxiety before, during, and after a test. Breathing provides you with the oxygen necessary to think clearly and releases physical tension at the same time.

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Breath through your nose. Breathe in deeply into your abdomen. Pause before you exhale.
  3. Breathe out from your abdomen slowly.
  4. Use each inhalation as a moment to become aware of any tension in your body. Use each exhalation as an opportunity to let go of tension.
  5. Repeat once, then return to the test.



  • Let yourself stay with that scene for a few moments
  • Once you feel relaxed, imagine going in for your test.
  • Imagine yourself calmly sitting down, waiting to begin test. As you begin the test, you say to yourself “I am prepared. Relax. Concentrate.” You start the test and read the directions, planning your time carefully. You read and answer the first question…


  • Think about something melting when you want to relax. “Melting” evokes many images:
  • snow melting in the sun
  • a flame melting candle wax
  • marshmallow melting in hot chocolate
  • butter melting in a pan
  • chocolate chips melting in cookies


The relaxation procedure involves systematically tensing and then relaxing different groups of muscles in your body:

  • Begin the procedure by either sitting in a comfortable chair or lying down. Move your arms toward the center of your body and bend both arms at the elbow. Tighten your hands into fists and simultaneously tense the muscles in your upper arms and shoulders. Hold for ten seconds and then relax for fifteen to twenty seconds.
  • Tense your face muscles by wrinkling your forehead and cheek muscles. Hold for ten seconds then relax.
  • Tense the muscles in your chest for fifteen seconds and then relax. Repeat this procedure for all the different parts of your body while telling yourself that you are becoming more and more relaxed. Pay particular attention to the muscles in your neck and back since these muscles become tense easily.


Avoid people or situations that create anxiety.

  • Pay attention to the time allotted for the test, but avoid excessive clock–watching
  • Be sure you are settled in and relaxed prior to your test.
  • Avoid food or drinks that are stimulants and increase “jitters.”
  • Avoid talking about your test grade with others if this increases your anxiety. If you feel uncomfortable with being asked “How did you do”, respond with “I did as well as I expected.” or “I’d rather not talk about my grades.”
Butte College Center for Academic Success
Utah State University Academic Success Center
University of Alabama Center for Academic Success

General Purpose Apps

For note-taking, research, creating to-dos, lists and attaching images, and PDF’s. Instantly synchronizes from computer to smartphone, tablet and the web. iOS and Android compatible.
Dropbox Free service that lets you store your photos, docs, and videos in the cloud and share them easily. Synchronizes from computer to smartphone, tablet and the web. iOS and Android compatible.
Awesome Note Note-taking application and to-do manager that allow you to combine notes with to-do flexibility. iOS and GalaxyNote compatible.
Checklist to full-blown project management. A task manager app that lets you focus on what’s important. iOS and Android compatible.
Task manager app modeled after the GTD (“Get Things Done”) method of project management. iOS and Android compatible.
myHomework Digital student planner that lets you easily track your classes, homework, tests and projects. myHomework is available on multiple platforms, so you can always know what’s due wherever you are. You can find the myHomework app on the iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows 8, Kindle Fire and the Web.

Apps by Various Topics

Magical Pad Note-Taking and Task Manager app that enables you to quickly take notes, capture ideas, doodle and manage lists and to-dos. iOS compatibility only.
Inspiration App for mind maps and graphic organizers to help you: brainstorm and visualize ideas with maps and diagrams; organize thoughts and information; make sense of complex concepts and projects. iOS compatibility only.
SimpleMind Mind mapping tool that turns your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch into a brainstorming, idea collection and thought structuring device. iOS compatibility only.

Mapping tool allows users several advanced features to diagram information and use it for collaborative aspects project management, report writing, and just brainstorming.
Handwritten Notes    
Pennultimate Handwriting app for iPad that combines the natural experience of pen and paper with the flexibility and syncing of Evernote. Take notes, keep sketches, or share your ideas from anywhere. iOS compatibility only.
Note-Taking app that allows you to jot down whatever comes to mind, just like an ordinary pen and paper. Write with finger, stylus or smart pen. Easily allows for exporting to Evernote, Dropbox, Twitter and Facebook. iOS compatibility only.
Notesplus Note-Taking app that allows you to type, draw or record notes. Import and annotate and highlight on PDF’s. Easily allows for exporting to various outlets. iOS compatibility only.
Notability Note-Taking app that allows you to create, illustrate, outline, annotate, record, capture photos. Automatic cloud synchronizing to iPhone and iPad. iOS compatibility only.
Annotations & Readers
iAnnotate PDF PDF document reader that allows for reading, annotating and sharing PDF documents, Word/PowerPoint files and images. iOS and Android compatible.
GoodReader Document reader that allows you to read virtually anything, anywhere: books, movies, pictures. Easily annotate, manage, transfer, and sync files. iOS compatibility only.
Adobe Acrobat Reader PDF document reader app that allows for reading and annotating PDF’s across various platforms. iOS and Android compatible.
PDF Expert PDF Expert is a professional PDF viewer and annotation tool for iPhone/iPod Touch. Read and annotate PDF documents, highlight text, and annotate. Sync with Dropbox. Copy files from Mac and PC. PDF Expert is a professional PDF viewer and annotation tool for iPhone/iPod Touch. iOS compatibility only.
Browzine A tablet application that allows you to browse, read and monitor many of the library’s scholarly journals in a format optimized for iPad and Android tablets. The selected articles can be can easily be synced with Zotero, Dropbox, RefWorks.

Note: Browzine is available for free through Penn Libraries to all current students, faculty, and staff. Works on Tablet devices: iPad, Android.

Apps for for Managing Articles, References and Digital Annotations

Mendeley A digital manager that organizes references, research, and enables collaborative discovery of the latest research. Compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux.
ProQuest Allows users to create personal bibliographic citation database using this web-based bibliographic management tool.
Zotero Allows users to organize online resources, bibliographies, blog posts and PDFs. This way, users can organize all the searched web content in one place and keep track of what information has been located, and then, find it again easily.
Compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux.

Apps for STEM courses

Wolfram Alpha A free open source tool, allows users to submit mathematical and computation queries through a text field. Wolfram Alpha computes answers to user queries and displays relevant visualizations that make the answers easy to comprehend and apply to other problems of similar nature.
Khan Academy A free educational resource that offers video tutorials on a wide range of subjects including: mathematics, history, physics, general and organic chemistry, micro and macroeconomics. Khan Academy allows users to develop a personalized dashboard to tag favorites and most commonly used tutorials.
Molecular Workbench A free open source portal that allows users to launch and customize concepts at atomic and molecular levels in physics, chemistry, biotechnology and nanotechnology.

If you have found an app that works best for you, please share it and we will add it to our collection.

I recently came across an article from that discussed the the habits and common traits of successful individuals and wanted to share it in the Student Success blog. Although many of the examples are from the corporate world, there is a direct correlation to Student Success.

According to Casey Imafidon, here are 10 things successful people do daily…

1. They strive for consistency. 

Successful people are focused on meeting their objectives and this is why they have a consistent schedule. According to Rameet Chawla, founder of Fueled, having a consistent schedule aids prioritization and allows you to keep the important tasks at the top of your list.

2. They set daily goals.

Kenneth Chenault, CEO of American Express, has a detailed plan for his day by writing down three things he wants to accomplish the next day. Successful people are clear about their goals and having a list to propel them to meeting these goals sets them apart.

3. They nurture the right relationships.

In his book Tribes, Seth Godin explains there are tribes everywhere hungry for connection, meaning and change. Successful people look for support and find people they can connect with intellectually. Find your tribe and collaborate, play off each other’s strengths and watch everyone grow. Jim Rohn says you are the average of your five closest friends. Who are yours?

4. They display high emotional intelligence.

Emotionally intelligent people constantly look for ways to add value and contribute to their environment. They use their emotional awareness to think progressively and find answers to problems. This quality helps them to inspire others to be successful, too. According to Steve Jobs, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it; they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”

5. They take action.

Successful people take action. Nothing is solved when you let the feeling of overwhelm set you back. Through actions you can attain results and discover a path toward your goals.

6. They practice positive self-talk.

When you use phrases like, Today is going to be a great day or I am successful, you boost your intellectual ability and improve your chances of attaining your goals for the day.

7. They stay healthy.

President Barack Obama exercises 45 minutes per day, six days a week. A healthy mind and body is the first step to success. Your body is a vehicle to everything you achieve. Such physical activity doesn’t only keep the body physically healthy; it also improves one’s mental state.

8. They meditate.

Meditation allows you to focus and be more productive. Oprah Winfrey speaks about the great benefits of meditation and how the results have included better relationships and being more creative.

9. They act on small improvements toward their major goals.

According to Henry Ford, “Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small pieces.” Successful people apply the domino effect toward their ambitions by making small and continuous improvements every day.

10. They wake up early.

From Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, to Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, waking up early seems to be the tradition of successful people. So much can be done within those wee hours of the day that is much harder to accomplish when distractions, meetings and environmental noise are added.

In the end, it takes consistent practice to be successful. Success doesn’t happen by accident, but because you have committed yourself to certain activities, that will help you reach your goals.

Everyone experiences varying levels of stress during major exams. The key to performing well during your exam is your ability to manage the stress that exams bring. Here are a few techniques to deal with exam stress which will allow you to optimize your performance during your exam.walk-before-exam (1)

  • EXERCISE: Just prior to a major exam, many students feel time spent reading their books and reviewing notes is the best use of their time. However, research has shown that exercise just prior to your exam can boost memory and brain power. A study conducted by Dr. Chuck Hillman, at the University of Illinois, demonstrated the positive effect a 20 minute walk has on the brain.
  • SLEEP: Although you feel you need to keep studying for hours into the night, research indicates that sleep and being well rested are key to success. Sleep allows your brain to take information and move it from short term memory to long term memory. This process will increase your ability to recall information during your exam.
  • CHOCOLATE: I don’t know anyone who would turn down an opportunity to eat chocolate. Cocoa that is found in chocolate fights the stress hormone cortisol and creates a sense of relaxation. Chocolate also releases endorphins which are natural stress fighters. Dark chocolate, which contains 70% cocoa, maximizes the positive results of having chocolate during your exams.
  • BREAKS: Your brain becomes fatigued while studying for long periods of time. After 60-90 minutes, continuous studying becomes less effective. The 50/10 rule creates a plan where you study for the first 50 minutes of the hour and take a break for the last 10 minutes. While taking a break, get away and do something different and get your mind off of studying. An excellent way to use your break is to exercise, which allows you to clear your mind and increase your concentration level when you return.
  • VISUALIZE: You have done all you can do in your preparation for your exam. It is now time to build your confidence on test day. Imagine yourself taking the test, seeing all the questions, knowing the answers and feel how relaxed you are as you are taking the test.  Be sure to eliminate negative self-talk and take negative thoughts and turn them into positive ones by creating a picture of success…”I am prepared” “I can handle this”.

There is no way around the stress that comes with final exams. The best thing you can do is to learn how to manage it and minimize its negative effects which allow you to perform at an optimal level.

How often do you highlight, underline, or write in your textbooks?


If you’ve ever purchased a used book that was (generously) highlighted by its previous owner, you may think of marking up textbooks as distracting or annoying.  However, when done properly marking up a textbook (also known as annotation) can be an effective active reading technique, and reviewing annotations you created while reading is a great study tool.

Image from:
Image from:

How to annotate in 5 easy steps.

1) choose a section of the textbook to read actively (also known as ‘close reading’) – if you’ve been assigned a full chapter, focus on a smaller section.

2) look at any headings, titles or other emphasized words and ask yourself what you think the section is going to teach you.  For example, if you were annotating this blog post you might look at the title and ask “what is annotation?” or “how would I use annotation to study?” You may choose to write this question in the margin or near the heading.

3) read through the passage slowly, identifying and underlining main ideas, circling key words, making connections between ideas, and noting anything you don’t understand.   Some annotation guides suggest writing in the margins during the first reading and underlining during the second, the order of actions isn’t as important as ensuring you are marking key ideas (not whole paragraphs or pages) and making useful notes to yourself in the margins.

4) look over the material, what types of questions might your professor ask about the information in this section?  Can you see any connections to previous material? Are any of the course objectives or learning outcomes (found in the syllabus) addressed?  Note these questions in the margins.

5) later, either  during the review/recall stage of a SQ3R reading method, while studying for a quiz or exam, or looking for information for a discussion board post or paper, look over your annotations.  Can you answer the questions you created?  Just glancing at the underlined and circled key ideas can you explain the topic in more depth without rereading the whole section?

Many proponents of annotation actually discourage the use of highlighters and encourage students to annotate with a fine tip pen (ball point is better than gel if the pages are thin).  What tools and methods you choose are up to you, and annotation is a very individualized technique.


Not sure annotation is for you? 

Concerned about book value?  It can be intimidating or even feel ‘wrong’ somehow to write in a book that cost you more than you like to think about…and you may be worried about resale value of your book.  This is valid, marked up books can sell for less than ‘like new’ online, but if marking up a book results in more information being learned and retained in a course that has a value as well…and some students actually intentionally purchased marked up books with the hope that it will have been done well and be useful to guide their own learning focus.

Worried it will take too much time?  By actively reading and turning the margins of your textbook into an instant study guide you should actually reduce the amount of time needed for re-reading or outlining in preparation for exams.  Initially annotation will be slow and add time to your reading, but just like any skill you will become more proficient with time and consistent practice.

Still not quite sure what annotation really looks like in action? To see a demonstration of annotation, check out this quick 4 minute video from Southwestern Michigan College, or search for many more examples available on YouTube.

Whether you have taken the Summer term completely off or the term is just winding down, it’s a great time to reflect back on previous successes and challenges to better prepare for upcoming terms. Did you earn the grades you wanted? Did you feel prepared and organized throughout the term? Were you able to balance your personal life with your academic requirements?

What might you change about the upcoming term to address any challenges that you may have faced?

Here are some great tips on how to prepare for an upcoming term:

  • Buy your books early! Open them. Look through them. Get together a game plan for studying!
  • Organize your time for each class.  We recommend setting aside 2-3 hours per credit hour. Where will this fit into your schedule?
  • Make a goal to commit to a success strategy this term. Log-in to blackboard everyday? Make a connection with at least one other individual in each course? Commit to using a planner for the entire term…
  • NEED ADDITIONAL IDEAS? Set up a Success Counseling appointment to start the term off strong!

We hope you are having a wonderful, successful summer!


Can you believe that finals are already right around the corner? If you haven’t already started preparing, it’s a great time to get together a solid plan for final exams.

Feeling overwhelmed just thinking about it? You’re not alone! It can be daunting to organize all of the details, materials, and time that it takes to successfully prepare for a final exam. The OSU’s Learning Corner has some great information and resources as you begin to prepare.

Here are some helpful tips from the Learning Corner:male-laptop

1) Develop a study plan!

2) Assess what you know and what you don’t know.

3) Use specific study strategies for reviewing and testing yourself.

4) Reach out if you need help!

5) Give yourself plenty of time for recall leading up to your final.


Okay, okay but how can this help you? Here’s a sample of how these tips can help you ask important questions to prepare for a successful study plan. You can use the Where_To_Get_Started worksheet to begin a plan of your own!


Happy studying and good luck with finals!