12 Steps to Acing Final Exams

As we are coming into final exams, here a few simple steps to help you achieve end-of-the-year academic success!

A Week Before Your Exam…

  • Compile all of your study materials. Grab your syllabus and run through your notes with it quickly to make sure you have all of the topics covered. If you’re missing something, find out what and why. Did you miss a class? Was something else on your mind that morning? Figure out what you’re missing and then…
  • Double check your notes with another student. Ask someone if you can borrow their notes from the class you missed. And offer up yours to them. Other students are one of your best study materials. After all, they’re in the same boat as you. Chances are they remember something you don’t, and vice versa.
  • Make yourself a practice test. Now that you have all of your notes, begin to test your knowledge of them… Before you study. Not only will it give you an idea of how much you’ll need to study, but it will also point out your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Ask the professor about any points that you’re still unclear on. Once you know your weaknesses in the class, determine how you can fix them. Do you just need extra study time or are the concepts unclear? If you’re unclear on any concepts, visit your professor during his or her office hours and ask him or her for some help. He or she will appreciate that you care enough to clear it up, and will probably remember that when it comes time to give you a grade.

The Night Before Your Exam…

  • Get rid of all of your distractions. Log out of Facebook. Turn off your cell phone. Let your friends know that you won’t be available for Skype sessions or dorm room chats. Consider installing a distraction-blocking program on your computer. It’s time for serious studying, and that is best achieved without interruptions – digital or otherwise.
  • Briefly review all of your study materials. There’s some material that you just know: For whatever reason, it just stuck in your mind the first time. So don’t waste valuable study time reviewing that same material over and over again. Give all of the material a once over and then…
  • Spend your time focusing on the areas in which you have difficulty. Study it until you know it. As many times as you need to. Don’t worry about how much time you spend on a particular area. Just worry about making it click in your mind. It will all be worth it when you see that question on the test and don’t have a panic attack.
  • Get some sleep. All that studying will be completely useless if you fall asleep during the test. So don’t try to pull an all nighter. Start early and then head to bed at a decent time.

The Morning Of Your Exam…

  • Dress comfortably. You want to be comfortable… but not so comfortable that you fall asleep while taking the test. It’s a delicate balance.
  • Don’t study the morning of. If you know it, you know it. If you don’t, you don’t. There’s no use trying to fill your brain with last-minute facts that just won’t stick. Instead, take the morning off. Have some breakfast and head to the test.
  • Get there early. Don’t be the person who shows up after the exams have already been passed out. Not only will you disturb everyone else but you’ll also lose valuable time.
  • Take a deep breath. Relax. Be calm. Let it go. You’ll be fine. It’s only a final. So don’t let the stress get to you. Do your best and then let it be. Just think: By this point, it’s almost over.

Good luck and until next time,

Test Taking Skills

With only several weeks left in the semester, it seems appropriate to add to the blog collection several skills and tips on acing those final exams. Keep reading to discover the strategies you can utilize to find exam success as we come to the close of the Spring 2015 semester.


  • Put the test in perspectice
  • Do your best but remember:
    • The test is not the end of the world.
    • Be prepared. Relax.
    • Have the confidence you will pass with flying colors.

Planning Your Approach:

  • Prepare physically
  • Prepare mentally
  • Find out about the test
  • Know what is expected of you
  • Design an exam plan
  • Join a study group

Objective Tests vs Subjective Tests

  1. Objective Tests:
    1. Multiple choice
    2. Matching
    3. True/False
    4. Fill in the blank
  2. Subjective Tests:
    1. Short answer
    2. Essay questions

Multiple Choice Strategies:

  • Read the questions carefully and try to answer it before you read the choices
  • Strike out wrong answers
  • Mark answers clearly and consistently
  • Change answers cautiously – beware of second-guessing yourself
  • Read all the options before making a choice
  • If you don’t know the answer, skip it and return to it later
  • If you’re really not sure, make an educated guess

True/False Strategies:

  • Read the question carefully
  • Go with your gut
  • Watch for key words:
    • Absolutes (never, always, etc.) are probably false
    • Relatives (some, often, etc.) are probably true
    • Double negatives – not untruthful, etc.
  • If part of the statement is false, all of it is false
  • Answer all questions unless there is a penalty for guessing

Fill in the Blank Strategies:

  • Read thoroughly to be sure what is being asked
  • Be brief and specific
  • Give an answer for every blank
  • Short blanks may have long answers and vice versa – avoid making assumptions
  • Remember an “a” before a blank typically wants a consonant work and “an” wants a vowel word
  • Watch for key “trigger” words

Essay Question Strategies

  • Read the question carefully
  • What is the question asking for?
  • Outline the key ideas
  • Refer specifically to the question in your opening sentence
  • Make a clear, coherent thesis statement
  • Develop the main body of the essay to support your thesis statement
  • Conclude by summarizing how your thesis is supported
  • Watch grammar, spelling and punctuation
  • Be sure you have completely answered the question
  • Write legibly
  • Proofread your work

Didn’t do as well as you hoped?

  • Don’t become undone by one failure – focus on what you can do to master the next exam
  • Use disappointment to critically think about:
    • what caused the poor perfomance
    • developing new strategies to improve your situation
  • Review your test results

Until next time,

Casey Duffy
Program Coordinator for Academic Support Services

1 Forestry Drive, Rm. 109a Moon
Syracuse, NY 13210
P: 315-470-6752
E: cduffy01@esf.edu

Creating Effective Academic Presentations

At some point in your collegiate career, you will likely be required to develop and create an academic presentation. Read on to find tips and tricks on creating and presenting your work!

—Be Prepared!

  • Research your subject to ensure that you are knowledgeable.
  • —Make sure you can present your information within whatever time limits you will have.
  • —Anticipate questions you may be asked and prepare answers to these.

Know Your Audience

  • —Tailor your presentation to your audience’s level of knowledge about the subject you are talking about.
  • —Present the information that the audience needs to know so they come away with something from your presentation.

Be Positive

  • —Make it clear that you are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about your subject.

Don’t Just Read Your Presentation

  • —Remember to talk to your audience.
  • —If necessary, use your notes as prompts for what you want to say.

Use Visual Aids

  • —Supplement what you say with visual aids such as handouts, charts, transparencies, and slides.
  • —Make sure that everyone can easily see the visual aids.
  • —Don’t use visual aids that are so complex that the audience will spend its time trying to read them instead of listening to you.
  • —Remember, visual aids are to supplement what you say.

Make Eye Contact

  • —Shift your eye contact around the room so that everyone feels that you are talking to them.

Use Your Voice Effectively

  • —Vary the tone of your voice and be careful not to talk too quickly.

Use PowerPoint Slides or Prezi

  • If you’ve never heard of or used Prezi, the link to a tutorial blog is HERE.

Avoid Using Too Much Text

  • —One of the biggest mistakes students make in classroom presentations, is in writing their whole speech on the slides. The slide show is meant to accompany your oral presentation.
  • —Write in the form of jot notes, called bullet points, on slides. Use simple language and limit the number of bullets to three or four per slide. The surrounding space will make it easier to read.

Limit the Number of Slides

  • —Too many slides in a presentation will cause you to be rushing to get through them, and your audience might end up paying more attention to the changing slide than to what you are saying.
  • —On average, one slide per minute is about right in a classroom presentation.

Slide Layout is Key

  • —Make your slides easy to follow. Put the title at the top where your audience expects to find it.
  • —Phrases should read left to right and top to bottom.
  • —Keep important information near the top of the slide. Keep in mind that the bottom portions of slides may not be seen from the back rows.

Avoid Fancy Fonts

  • —Choose a font that is simple and easy to read such as Arial, Times New Roman or Verdana.
  • —Don’t use more than two different fonts –one for headings and another for content.
  • —Keep all fonts large enough (at least 18 pt and preferably 24 pt) so that people at the back of the room will be able to read them easily.

Use Contrasting Colors for Text and Background

  • —Dark text on a light background is best. This combination offers the most visibility.
  • —Text is often difficult to read on patterned or textured backgrounds.
  • —Keep your color scheme consistent throughout your classroom presentation.

Use Animations Sparingly

  • —Apply animations to graphics to make a point, not to entertain.
  • —Using preset animation schemes will apply action to titles and bullet points, keeping the slide show consistent and interesting.
  • —Remember, the slide show is a visual aid and not the objective of the presentation.

Last but not least…

  • —Practice your presentation until you feel comfortable.
  • —Ask family or friends to serve as your audience so you can get some feedback on your presentation.

Until next time,

Casey Duffy
Program Coordinator for Academic Support Services

1 Forestry Drive, Rm. 109a Moon
Syracuse, NY 13210
P: 315-470-6752
E: cduffy01@esf.edu

Understanding Your Best Learning Style

Do you know how you learn?

VARK tells you something about yourself that you may or may not know. It can be used to understand your boss, your colleagues, your parents, your workmates, your partner, your customers, your teacher, your relatives, your clients and yourself. It is a short, simple inventory that has been well-received because its dimensions are intuitively understood and its applications are practical. It has helped people understand each other and assists them to learn more effectively in many situations.

—VARK stands for: Visual, Aural/Auditory, Read/Write and Kinesthetic learning preferences developed by Neil Fleming. It also describes one or more preferences for taking in information, learning, and studying. VARK goes on to provide strategies that help people understand and move on from any label they might be given.

VARK Questionnaire:

  • —Only 16 questions! – prevents boredom/survey fatigue
  • —Make a selection (a,b,c,d) for each question
  • —You may omit a question or choose more than one answer
  • —Answer questions for yourself not for others!
  • —There are no wrong answers, the V.A.R.K. questionnaire just indicates preferences

Take the VARK Questionnaire HERE.

Remember, no one mode is superior to others. Also, these are just preferences. You can also be classified as multimodal, meaning you prefer more than one type of learning style.

More information about VARK can be found here.

Until next time,

Casey Duffy
Program Coordinator for Academic Support Services

1 Forestry Drive, Rm. 109a Moon
Syracuse, NY 13210
P: 315-470-6752
E: cduffy01@esf.edu

4 Steps to Creating a Study Plan

Many first exams are approaching for the Spring 2015 semester and many students I’ve worked with have found success utilizing these four steps for creating a study plan. Keep reading to see if this strategy is one you want to try!

Step 1: Set Specific Goals

  • Be specific and realistic by making a list of all of the topics you will need to review for your test.
  • You will want to include textbook readings, lecture notes, homework assignments, lab reports, projects, or any other materials covered in class.

Example of Step 1:

I will prepare for the midterm in Sociology scheduled for Monday by reviewing:

  • —Chapters 1-4
  • Textbook notes
  • —Study guides
  • —Homework questions
  • —Lecture notes
  • —Notes from video
  • —Notes from guest speaker

Step 2: Set a Specific Target Date and Time

  • —Create a list of the days and times you plan to study. Days 1, 2, 3, and 4 are organized as study sessions.
  • Day 5 of your study plan (the day before the test) should be dedicated to reviewing the special notes you created in step 3.

Example of Step 2:

Target dates and times to study:

  • —Monday: 3-4 pm and 8-9 pm
  • Wednesday: 3-4 pm and 8-9 pm
  • Friday: 3-4 pm and 8-9 pm
  • Saturday: 10-12 pm and 4-6 pm
  • —Sunday: REVIEW 2-4 pm and 7-9 pm

Step 3: Identify Steps

—First, gather your materials from your list you created in Step #1.

—Next, group your study materials into four logical categories, such as chapters, that you will be reviewing each day.

—Then, create a plan for how you will review the information. For example, you may want to begin by reading the chapter summary, reviewing your textbook notes, reviewing your class notes, reviewing your homework assignment, and reviewing terminology.

—Create summary notes to use as you review each chapter.

—Examples of summary notes:

  1. —Lists or categories of information to remember
  2. Charts that compare or contrast different subjects studied
  3. Chapter outlines
  4. Flash cards of categories or terminology

—Finally, create your five day plan by taking this information and compiling it into a schedule.

Step 4: Reward!

—Choose a reward for yourself after you have completed your five day study plan and after you complete the test.

Until next time,

Casey Duffy
Program Coordinator for Academic Support Services

1 Forestry Drive, Rm. 109a Moon
Syracuse, NY 13210
P: 315-470-6752
E: cduffy01@esf.edu

Academic Advice From Current Students!

Last week, four students from ESF participated as panelists speaking about finding academic success at the college. For those who could not attend, I wanted to create this post because the information and advice they shared could help guide other students to their own academic success. Then panelists included Erika Sykes, a sophomore in Paper Engineering, Alison Houseman and Phil Wood, juniors in Bioprocess Engineering and Ben Bussman, a sophomore in Wildlife Science. Below are a few of the highlights:

Looking at the larger picture, what do you do to be academic successful at ESF?

  • Be involved! It helps with time management and helps you focus on what you have to do.
  • Understand that work outside of class is not homework but work that needs to get done with a deadline.
  • Utilize friends from classes to form groups so you can get the work done together.
  • Get involved, meet more people to work in groups. Also, schedule time to NOT do work – find a good balance.

What strategies do you utilize outside of class to be successful in a course?

  • Study groups! Find friends in classes to do work with.
  • Utilize past exams (some courses have examples within Test Files in Bray Space) and speak to students who have already taken the course.
  • Depending on the course, learn course material in the real world. If you use the information more often, you are more likely to retain the information.

How do you prepare for your classes?

  • Complete any assignments that are due for that class.
  • It sounds simple but go to class! Even if the professor has put all course material online, you can better engage with the material during lectures.
  • If there is a PowerPoint associated with the lecture, print it out and review it ahead of time so you are prepared.

How do you prepare for exams?

  • If you have access to past exams, utilize them. It will give you an idea of the format of the exam and well as what the professor tends to focus on (big picture or more detail-oriented).
  • Practice problems!
  • Quiz other people – if you can create questions and quiz others, it can help you to study and understand the material as well.
  • Use study groups! Many of us wouldn’t have made it this far at ESF without working with others.

What methods work best for you to stay organized? Do you utilize a planner, agenda, phone app, etc. to stay organized?

  • Utilizing a planner, setting reminders for meetings, classes, etc. on my phone.
  • The day before, writing out my schedule hour by hour.

If you could go back a semester, a year, etc. and give yourself a piece of advice in regards to finding academic success, what would that advice be?

  • If your course doesn’t exclude it’s past exams, utilize test files. It is a great study tool that not many students know about.
  • Having the mentality “Everything will be just fine”.
  • Ask questions! There is no such thing as a stupid questions and there are many opportunities to ask – class, labs, office hours.
  • Work in groups. You have to accept you don’t know everything and working or studying in a group can provide answers to questions/concepts you’re stuck on.
  • Don’t stress out about everything, especially with grades.
  • Find a professor you can get to know and ask real questions to – questions beyond course content but in terms of career advice as well.

Until next time,

Casey Duffy
Program Coordinator for Academic Support Services

1 Forestry Drive, Rm. 109a Moon
Syracuse, NY 13210
P: 315-470-6752
E: cduffy01@esf.edu

Read Faster, Read Smarter

Hi all and welcome back for the Spring 2015 semester!

As the semester starts, many times I have students sharing with me that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. That being said, there are numerous academic skills students can build up in hopes of saving time. For example, becoming an active reader.

Are you a passive reader who likes to use a highlighter?

Reading passively delays learning because you may have the tendency to become lazy and highlight most of your reading. Ask yourself this question, “did I remember most of the material I highlighted?”

Are you reading for hours at a time just to get it done?

You may become a lazy reader and you do not really focus your attention on the critical points. In other words, you may have the tendency to “zone out.”

Become an Active Reader!

The main goal of your reading assignments is to connect ideas on the page to what you already know. Once you have formed a connection to the information, you will remember the information.

  • First, read the title of the chapter or selection carefully.
    • Determine what clues it gives you as to what the selection is about.
    • Watch for key words like “causes,” “results,” “effects,” etc., and do not overlook signal words such as those suggesting controversy (e.g. “versus,” “pros and cons”), which indicate that the author is planning to present both sides of an argument.
  • Look carefully at the headings and other organizational clues.
    • Section headings clue you in to the main points that the author wants you to learn.
    • If you concentrate on the details and ignore the main ideas, you will have much more difficulty retaining the information you read.
  • Remember that authors of college textbooks want you to recognize the important concepts by using the following:
    • Major headings and subheadings to convey major points.
    • Italicized words and phrases so that crucial new terms and definitions will stand out.
    • Lists of points set off by numbers or paragraphs that begin with the phrases such as “The three most important factors . . . ” etc.
    • Redundancy: restating facts and ideas to gain exposure to the ideas.

How to Read Faster

  • Reduce the need to stop and go back while reading by taking in more words at each stop
  • Use a pen or your finger to guide your eyes to move faster along the page
  • Practice stopping only twice per line and keep forcing your eyes to move forward
  • Continue to practice reading faster
  • Test yourself at the end of the reading by either writing or verbalizing what you read

Vary your Reading Rate

  • To “get the gist,” read very rapidly.
  • To understand general ideas, read fairly rapidly.
  • To get and retain detailed facts, read at a moderate rate.
  • To locate specific information, skim or scan at a rapid rate.
  • To determine value of material, skim at a very rapid rate.
  • To pre-read or post-read, scan at a fairly rapid rate.
  • To read for enjoyment, read rapidly or slowly, depending on what you want.
  • To build general background, read rapidly.

Learn to Skim Material

Preview material first in order to:

  • Get an idea of what the reading is about to answer questions
  • Learn the main concepts in a short time
  • Refresh your memory if you have read the material before

Use your Textbook

Use the resources in the front of your textbook:

  • Consider the title
  • Use the table of contents as an outline for the book and the class.
  • Glance over any preface or foreword to get more information on what the book and ultimately the class will entail.

Use the resources in the back of your textbook:

  • Glossary: lists words and definitions (in alphabetical order) used in the textbook.
  • Subject Index: lists the various topics found in the book.
  • Name Index lists the people mentioned in the book.
  • An Appendix: lists supplements information listed in the chapters of the book.

Interact with your book as you read by:

  • Take notes on what you are reading.
  • Write down vocabulary words.
  • Write down your personal reactions or questions pertaining to the reading.
  • Summarizing the reading by writing down the main topics or themes and why these are so important to what you are learning.

Information from this post was gathered from:

5 Tips to Improve Your Writing

Hi All,

As we enter the home stretch of the Fall 2014 semester, many of you may have final papers due for your classes. While your content may be on point, oftentimes students struggle with their writing reaching what is expected at the collegiate level. Check out the video below on a few tips to improve your writing skills:


5 Tips to Improve Your Writing!


Until next time,

Casey Duffy
Program Coordinator for Academic Support Services

1 Forestry Drive, Rm. 109a Moon
Syracuse, NY 13210
P: 315-470-6752
E: cduffy01@esf.edu

Free Online Resources to Aid in Academic Success

Hi all,

A few weeks back I created a post about apps to help with time management and organization. Since then, I have been continuing my research online to find free programs that can assist in your academic success. While there are a lot of resources out there on the web, I’m going to take this time and highlight two of my favorites.

Several classes here at ESF require the knowledge and use of Microsoft Excel. Oftentimes, we have students coming into the ASC asking for assistance with excel or wondering where they can find help on an assignment utilizing Excel. After researching purchasing a tutorial computer disk we would loan out to students, our office came across a free Microsoft Office Tutorial Site found HERE. This site is great because it offers tutorials for the entire Microsoft Office suite as well as the different years. Whether you’re looking for Excel 2007, 2010, or 2013, you can find it on this site!

Browsing through other school’s websites, I came across a unique tool I had not seen elsewhere. The University of Connecticut has created an ASSIGNMENT CALCULATOR. This tool allows students to select the subject of the assignment, the start date, and the due date. Then, it creates a timeline of when you should be completing each part of the project. It’s a great time management tool, especially for projects that may be several weeks or are even occurring over the entire semester. The timeline provided also provides links for websites associated with where you are i.e. the earlier days/stages include links for formulating a thesis statement. It is important to keep in mind that some of these links are directly linked for UCONN students so instead of using their databases for resources, you would instead use those from ESF/SU.

Until next time,

Casey Duffy
Program Coordinator for Academic Support Services

1 Forestry Drive, Rm. 109a Moon
Syracuse, NY 13210
P: 315-470-6752
E: cduffy01@esf.edu

Email Etiquette

We are in an era where email is a commonly used communication method and even though it may appear to be a way to informally connect with faculty, staff, bosses, etc. it is still important to maintain a sense of professionalism when drafting and sending emails. Below are several tips to improve your email etiquette.


  1. Don’t assume you’re on a first name basis with anyone. Adhere on the side of caution and when in doubt, use Professor [last name]. If your email is a response, mirror the signature they used in the original email.
  1. Remove informal language or slang and always double check your spelling and grammar. Sometimes it helps to briefly read a message aloud to ensure it makes sense before quickly hitting the send button.
  1. Utilize the “subject” field with a concise, clear summary of your email message. If applicable, include dates and deadline too.
  1. Compose a new email if necessary. If you have a question about an upcoming exam, don’t reply to an older email from the same faculty member that was about an assignment due on Blackboard last week.
  1. Always send a response. Even if it is a quick “thanks!”, you are much less likely to offend someone by sending a brief response than not replying at all.


Check out the full articles on email etiquette here and here.

Until next time,

Casey Duffy
Program Coordinator for Academic Support Services

1 Forestry Drive, Rm. 109a Moon
Syracuse, NY 13210
P: 315-470-6752
E: cduffy01@esf.edu