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Culture Shock: Transitions between High School and College

These materials were developed by a group of science and math high school and university instructors.  They are designed to help students develop study skills that will increase their performance in college.  These materials can be disseminated to instructors, departments, administration, guidance counselors, and students. A printable student hand-out is also available. 

This work was supported by the University of Wisconsin-System and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse College of Science and Allied Health.


Student Techniques

In Class Techniques

Note Taking


  • Re-write their notes from class (not just re-copy – summarize points in their own words)
  • Leave space in notes to add comments from the text
  • Swap notes
  • Take notes on discussion, not just copying the board
  • Review examples of good notes
  • Record only important information
  • Create Note Cards with Main Ideas
  • Take Notes From Class Discussions
  • Tape Record with Permission
  • Focus on Concepts vs. Details
  • Make 1st exposure to material "student alone" (points-based as an incentive)
  • Invite prof to give a lecture
  • Give out diagrams used in class for note-taking
  • Have students practice drawing diagrams
  • Collect/grade notes throughout year
  • Students exchange notes
  • Summarize key points at the end of class and have students compare with notes
  • Cue students what to write while lecturing
  • Hand out a note taking guide
  • Give high school students exposure to a college lecture
  • Offer a course that promotes these skills at the freshman level
  • Outline lecture on board
  • Have students paraphrase definitions, techniques, methods, etc. orally or in writing
  • Grade notes for points

Study Skills


  • Define a process: e.g., note-taking; re-copy while consulting text; consult instructor with questions
  • A picture's worth 1000 words, make a mental image of concept
  • Get help if needed
  • Log your actual study time
  • Bring questions to class
  • Do homework problems
  • Choose effective environment for study
  • Prepare in advance for class; read ahead,
  • Review notes at night
  • Write journal questions about concept topics
  • Complete homework
  • Avoid cramming the night before
  • Read, Read, Read
  • Summarize Text in Own Words
  • Compare Text to Notes
  • Study in Groups (Each person asks questions from their notes, while others' notes are closed.)
  • Chaining Effect (Reread notes from beginning to end of unit before and after class.)
  • Go to Class!
  • Sit in the front of the class
  • Make use of other resources and sources of information (tutoring, textbook, websites, parents)
  • Have students determine their learning styles (see p.55/59/75 of Keys book)
  • Set clear objectives for students
  • Set rules for study groups to prevent them from becoming social/griping sessions
  • Have students bring questions to class.
  • Institute a resource period or study hall to give students time to study.
  • Vocabulary quiz
  • Pop Quizzes
  • Encourage group study with set rules/objectives for group study
  • Do a "Getting to Know Your Textbook" activity
  • Remind students of other resources and classroom references

Time Management Skills


  • Prepare weekly work schedule and check off as things are completed
  • Schedule "pal" studying
  • Learn to multi-task
  • Set short and long term goals and link them
  • Go to bed before midnight
  • Maintain a time chart
  • In college 1 credit=2-4 hours of study out of class
  • Avoid distractions (TV, web surfing, bars, telephone, etc.)
  • Don't procrastinate
  • Students write down assignments/due dates
  • Prioritize (You may have to limit involvement in extra curricular activities.)
  • Spread out studying—don't cram. Study 1 hour/night for 5 nights instead of 5 hours on Sunday
  • Use "Dead Time" between classes to look at notes, etc.
  • Serve as a role model for time management skills
  • Schedule of events on board, detailed weekly syllabus for students
  • Hand out/announce due dates, test dates, etc. as much as advance as possible
  • Set clear objectives for students
  • Determine tuition per hour ($12/hour of class)
  • Don't accept late assignments
  • Require students use planners
  • Collect time charts
  • Create Timelines for Projects
  • Communicate Expectations (ex. "It took me 3 ½ hours to write this test. Think about how long you need to be studying for it. etc.)

Learning vs. Studying


  • Learn the concept (don't memorize, but try to understand)
  • Work on listening skills
  • Goal: students should recognize classroom concepts in daily life
  • Cover fewer topics but in greater depth (not "rollerskating through the Louvre")
  • Have students restate the directions (develops listening skills)




  • Go thru exam with teacher if you are unhappy with the result: what did I do wrong (didn't learn, studied poorly, etc.)
  • Delegate classroom mgt. tasks to students
  • Force students to make decisions and to suffer the consequences of incorrect decisions
  • Teach persistence
  • Create a "What did I miss?" board

Communicating subject matter


  • Write short explanation of how a problem is solved
  • Write questions concerning subject matter
  • Be a good listener while others are talking
  • Share ideas
  • Come to informed decisions
  • Communicate effectively
  • Poster
  • Geometric construction
  • Letter writing
  • Structure small group interactions
  • Require oral presentations with group involvement

Test Taking and Preparation


  • Organize all test materials
  • Review all material
  • Re-write notes
  • Read assignments
  • Re-issue problems with new numbers
  • Quizzes before tests
  • Pre-test
  • Require notebook/binder to organize materials

Reading subject matter


  • Read section ahead
  • Highlight key points
  • Outline a section
  • Collect outline
  • Have students write about key points from a reading assignment




Math-Specific Skills




  • DON'T use the answer guide
  • Make up your own problems (in addition to the examples given); make up problems for each other
  • Use correct notation in homework
  • 2-column proof
  • Require multiple representations (graph & verbal description & written description of same problem)
  • Avoid overuse of calculators
  • Instruction in proper notation (especially "=")
  • 2-column proof

Science-Specific Skills









It would be nice if they came to college knowing:

  • Algebra/math/dimensional analysis
  • Being able to relate to applied situations
  • Higher level problem solving
  • Computations (Basic Math Skills: Addition, Subtraction, Percentages, Ratios, etc.)
  • Safety
  • Measurement Skills/Lab Skills
  • Interpreting Graphs/Creating Graphs
  • Writing
  • Technical Proficiency
  • Data
  • Analysis/Collection
  • Dimensional Analysis
  • Scientific Notation
  • Metric System
  • Lab Practicals (if practical)
  • Less busy work and more meaningful work
  • Methods to problem solving using a disciplined and systematic approach
  • Criticism of peer writing
  • Have students collect, analyze, and interpret data and use it to draw conclusions
  • Whiteboard presentations to be used by students
  • Model safety
  • Demonstrate first use of all equipment
  • Require lab notebook and lab reports


Keys to Science Success.  Janet R. Katz, et. al, Prentice Hall, 2000.

Keys to Study Skills.  Carol Carter, et. al, Prentice Hall, 1999.

Keys to Success.  Carol Carter, et. al, Prentice Hall, 1998.



 © 2002 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System.

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