An Academic Mentor Is A(n)
- Role Model for students exploring the learning process.
- Positive Influence for students striving for their academic goals.
- Academic Counselor & Confidant for students who may be intimidated by university discourse.
- Tutor of successful learning strategies.
- Resource who connects students with the proper support services.
General Strategies for Academic Mentoring Sessions
1. Be Positive: Regardless of how your day is going, make sure you are focused and responsive to the student's needs. In addition, help students understand that every student struggles with some course in college. It can be validating for students to realize that even very good students encounter stress and frustration and learn how to overcome them.
2. Start the Discussion and make it open-ended. At the start of each session, as the student how his/her classes are going so that they feel free to mention any issues. You may use the "Tutee Self-Assessment" form or the "Tutee Assessment Rubric" form to evaluate a student's attitudes, background, and concerns. Never be judgmental or lack compassion.
3. Importance of interaction with the Mentor: Many students who receive academic mentoring are trying to cope with their new, increased work load. Often they are overwhelmed and simply need guidance in basic study approaches.
4. Mentoring Session Focus: Don't overwhelm students with too much material. Find out their major issues and concentrate on those. Give them some direct study tips to help with their issues and have them practice a few techniques. Remember, a student can always come back if they feel like they need more help with specific strategies or if a strategy is not working for them.
5. Lack of Study Skills: For most students, study skills issues stem from procrastination and lack of time-management. Most of them have never had to study before (in high school), or they have developed bad habits such as procrastination. Helping them overcome these bad habits will be a large part of the battle. Every student is different, but strategies like using a daily planner and scheduling study times are important.
6. Academic Probation: Many students are already discouraged because they are on academic probation. Create a safe place for these students where they can appropriately vent their frustrations. Encourage them; let them know that their academic goals are possible.
7. Reading Comrehension: Encourage students to read (or at least skim) the textbook before class to prime their brain for the information their professors will be providing.
8. Note-taking tends to be a problem for a number of students. Having them use a tape-recorder, cross-reference their friend's notes, print out and take power point sheets to class, etc. Accurate notes are the key to the exam; if students do not take good notes, they are not starting off well.
9. Note of Their Notes: Students need to make "notes of their notes." Never have a student simply re-copy their notes. Have student condense their notes in their own words with only the main ideas and concepts.
10. Effective Study Habits: Make sure students are effective in what they are doing. For example, note cards may be a great way for one person to study. However, many students will spend four hours making note cards and only two hours reviewing them. This is not effective. Encourage them to only make note cards of the main ideas and to really summarize the information so that they have a manageable stack of cards they can really study.
11. Spaced Practice: The idea of spaced practice is essential for better processing of information. Students must learn to study multiple days in a week for shorter periods of time. Anything over two hours is considered "marathon studying" and is often not beneficial. Most individuals only have around 30 to 50 minutes of true mental concentration. Counsel students to use shorter, more frequent sessions for effective studying. To this end, help students develop a study schedule by checking their course calendars for due dates of upcoming assignments/exams.
12. Exam Preparation: Many students will need a formula for properly preparing for an exam. Though different for all, a five-day approach can be effective. Instead of cramming ten hours the night before an exam, break down those ten hours over the course of five days. A possible schedule:
- A day of overall review
- A day for the most difficult material
- A group day to verbally discuss and analyze the material
- A self-quiz day
- A review day to connect the material into a broad understanding.
13. Operant Conditioning: Students do not necessarily have to know this term, but explain to them the idea of tudying first and then rewarding themselves. For example, a student might study for 50 minutes then reward themselves with a snack. Let them know that the more they associate positive benefits to studying, the more positive they will feel about it. It's like an exercise--the more you do it, the better you will become.
14. Focus: Advise students to study one subject at a time. Even if an assignment only takes 20 minutes, encourage them to take a short break before continuing. This will limit retroactive and proactive interference in the brain.
15. Test Anxiety: some students struggle with test anxiety. Though some of this anxiety can be relieved by content knowledge, they may need more direct approaches. Some strategies to suggest to the student:
- Try to predict and create practice questions similar to exam questions. Have others ask you these question in order to simulate the exam.
- Do not cram moments before the test (allow at least an hour of down time before an exam).
- On test day, sit in the front of the classroom so as not to be distracted by other students.
- As the exam begins, remember to take deep breaths for release of anxiety and increased clarity.
16. Place to Study: Advise students to find a place to study that is free from distractions. Though this sounds like common sense, you may be amazed at how many students try and force themselves to study in a loud dorm room or another crowded place.
17. Interaction with Professors: Talk to students about discussing problems with their professors. While you may be able to give them general advice, a professor may be able to give them a more specific approach to their course. Make sure the student knows that the professors are there for them, but they must take the first step.
18. Multiple Choice: Some students need help with multiple choice questions. A help sheet of direct approaches to multiple choice questions is available as hard copy in the ULC lobby or can be found in the Study Skills Handouts.
19. Learning Style: Ask the students if they know their learning style. If so, guide their study habits around this style of learning.
20. Counseling Center: Sometimes a student may get emotional and need more help than you, as an Academic Mentor, can provide. In cases such as these, it may be a good idea to discreetly suggest the Counseling Center (located on the 2nd floor of DePaolo Hall) as a resource.
21. Perspective: Remind students about the proper perspective for university work. A typical students attends the university for 4 years; a semester is only 15 weeks. Help students keep the bigger goals in mind.