What to Do When You Just Don’t Get It

No one ever said college would be easy, and if they did, they were lying. You never fully know what to expect from a course or professor until you’re sitting in class, and sometimes you’ll find that no matter how closely you listen to lecture, you just don’t get it. What do you do? Drop the course? Withdraw and receive an “Incomplete” on your transcript? Take the F and swear you’ll retake the class in summer sessions? Those aren’t your only options.

Go to Your Professor

The very first thing you should do is arrange a meeting with your professor in office hours. If you don’t do this as soon as you realize you’re having trouble with the course, when you finally do get that face time with your instructor, he or she will undoubtedly ask “Why didn’t you come see me sooner?” The sooner you make your troubles known, the sooner your professor can help straighten them out. Maybe all you need is a private session for your teacher to explain the basic principles that set the ground work for the rest of the course. Maybe you can arrange weekly meetings to go over material with the TA. Point is, you won’t know where to start if you don’t first ask for help.

Make a Study Buddy

It sounds cheesy and totally obvious, but studying with a friend really can be the difference between a D and a B. Your study date should be someone whose company you enjoy and who understands the material and can fill in the spaces you’re missing. Plan to get together once a week to review the week’s notes or study for each exam together. Sit near each other in class for quick interpretations when there are things that go over your head. Having a study buddy will enable you to have concepts explained to you in new or more relevant ways that you may understand better.

Take Good Notes and Supplement Them

Be alert and pay attention in class, keeping certain to take good, clear notes that you will understand when you go back to review them. Find out which method works best for you, using either a laptop or notebook. If your professor uses slides or pages to present notes and concepts, find out if they are available to you to download and review. When you have readable notes, you can use them as a basis to teach yourself the material with other methods. Sometimes you just don’t connect with a professor’s style, but grabbing some books from the library or doing your own (trusted!) Internet research will help you make sense of the concepts he presents.

If All Else Fails…

If you’re struggling in all your classes and finding that the previous suggestions aren’t working for you, make an appointment with an academic advisor or counselor at school. You may benefit from taking some evaluations to determine your learning style and adapting your environment to fit your needs. You may even come to find that you’ve had some sort of learning disorder or disability for many years but weren’t really challenged until college. Getting to the bottom of your academic weaknesses and finding the best solutions for you is important to maintaining a high level of success in college.


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