Pass/Fail Grading and Its Future Impact
We are living in an unprecedented and stressful time for a variety of reasons. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to uproot our lives in myriad ways, many high school and college students are left wondering how virtual learning and pass/fail grading will impact their future prospects for college and graduate school. As any admissions expert can tell you, grades are one of the most critical determinants for entrance into a college or graduate school. As such, the pass/fail grading option which most schools and universities have implemented due to coronavirus is causing confusion and stress for many students. Unfortunately, due to the unprecedented nature of this time, we don’t know exactly how this will play out and how colleges and universities will choose to handle applicants’ pass/fail grades. That said, some common sense ideas, advice, and perspective may help students and parents who are understandably anxious about what this means for their and their children’s futures.
- Continue to work hard and do your best- don’t act as if grading no longer exists simply because pass/fail is now a widely available option.
- If you can still take a letter grade, you should strive to do so and should only accept a pass/fail option if you are really struggling and have few resources to help yourself. Continuing to work to the best of your abilities can yield excellent letters of recommendation from teachers and professors, as well as exemplary projects and papers that can later become part of your portfolio.
- Remember that everyone is in the same boat.
- A quarantine pass is not the same as a pre-quarantine pass. As in, all students in almost every school in the nation are facing the same situation of digital (and often subpar) instruction, and colleges and graduate programs will have to be understanding and will likely modify some of their admissions standards and requirements in regards to grades, because they have to.
- Beef up other areas of your resume.
- Now is a great time to look at any holes in your resume and extracurriculars and step up your game where possible. While the coronavirus pandemic has rendered certain activities unfeasible, others continue to meet, and new opportunities, especially for volunteerism, mentoring, and community activism have arisen. Students who were overly reliant on good grades (as well as those who were not!) have an opportunity to step up their extracurricular game, which will serve to complement grades and other achievements.
- Work on your skill sets.
- Just because classroom learning has turned into online learning for students across the country (and globe) doesn’t mean that students of all ages can’t continue to develop their skills. Whether it’s reading comprehension, research, organization, essay writing, math, or any other relevant skill, students have many opportunities to continue learning during the quarantine and now over the summer. Between online tutoring, workbooks, webinars, videos, podcasts, and many other media and delivery methods, there is so much content on the internet and off (paper books still exist and are wonderful resources!) for students to continue to develop skills which they will need for future schooling. As students return to traditional classroom settings and grading structures, these skills will serve to make their work easier and their grades better, thereby improving their chances for future admission into college or graduate school.
Other words of wisdom to keep in mind:
No one knows how this will pan out; not a single human alive, in or out of academia, has experienced a pandemic that caused a global shutdown of physical schooling and a near universal pass/fail grading option. As such, we must maintain some perspective and move forward on the assumption that programs will simply have to modify some requirements and standards, as virtually all members of their applicant pools will be in the same boat.
My best guess is that colleges and universities will rely on trends in students’ grades over time to make admissions decisions while also taking into larger account students’ letters of recommendation, extracurriculars, and test scores (especially pre-and post-pandemic). I also believe that schools may start to rely more heavily on portfolio submissions, especially in programs where they are typically not required, such as health sciences.
The last thought I’ll leave you with is this: we can only control what we can control. So, if taking a pass was your only viable option this past semester, take it and move on. Do something actionable and within your control, such as boosting your skills and/or finding relevant extracurriculars, so that when normalcy does resume (whatever that means and looks like), you will be set up for greatest success in the field or program of your choosing. Now is an ideal time to reach out to a professional tutor or coach who can help you build critical skills that will enable future success!
Manage Your Time, Manage Your Life: 10 Simple but Effective Tips for Time Management
What is Time Management?
Time, unlike other resources such as money, is finite and cannot be gained; moreover, everyone has the same amount in a given day or week. Time is a funny thing- it inevitably passes whether we want it to or not, whether we are ready or not. While some people seem to have more time than others, they do not- they are simply using and managing their time in a more efficient and desirable way.
Time management is a commonly used term and essentially refers to a person’s ability to plan and execute short-and long-term tasks in order to efficiently utilize one’s time. Since success in all domains of life hinges on getting things done and getting where we need to go within given time frames, time management is clearly an important skill set for personal and professional success.
Consequences of Time Mismanagement
Some people intrinsically have a better handle on time and know how to prioritize, plan, and execute tasks to meet internal and external deadlines and demands while others struggle every day. Unfortunately, being chronically late and mismanaging one’s time invariably carries various negative consequences such as poor grades, job loss (or lack of promotion and success), and relationship failure. Since time management is essentially task-management, those who struggle with these skills also end up suffering by simply never getting to the things they want to get to, despite having the same amount of time as the rest of us. This is a sad state of affairs; we all work hard and deserve to maximize the fruits of our labors, yet time mismanagement frequently prevents people from being able to achieve their goals and fully enjoy their lives.
Managing one’s time is therefore essential for managing one’s life; I have yet to meet an adult who struggles with time management and timeliness but doesn’t struggle with other aspects of managing their lives (i.e. money, job/career, friends, family, and romantic relationships, maybe even health). Again, a successful life (in whatever way one defines success) requires an ability to realistically plan and execute tasks in an efficient and timely way.
While people who naturally struggle with time management may always have to actively work on these skills to achieve success, with purposeful practice via strategies and internal and external reinforcement, vast improvement can be made. Some of the best strategies are the simplest – as they say, you cannot reinvent the wheel! So find the ones that work for you and stick with them.
Strategies for Successful Time Management
1.Wear a timepiece (Obviously! Your phone does not count- it is not on your body and can’t always be easily glanced at)
2. Set alarms:
- Use multiple alarms if needed for various short and long-term tasks, as well as checkpoints and reminders
3. Make a schedule and stick to it…but know when to be flexible
- Create a calendar and block out the time you need to complete a given task. If you tend to run late or behind in finishing, know thyself and build in extra time!
- Flexibility is a must as life throws curveballs constantly- if one task or scheduled chunk of time gets interrupted, make sure you realistically look at when you can finish that task and reschedule time right away
4. Stay focused on the task at hand until it’s completed
- One problem I’ve observed with people who are chronically late and mismanage time is that they will “bounce” from task to task, never really finishing one but starting several
- This creates chaos and disorganization because several balls are now in the air, causing focus and efficiency to become lost
- Use checklists to physically mark off each task as it’s completed and don’t allow yourself to get sidetracked
5. Use task analysis
- This consists of breaking down larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps that can be done individually
- This allows us to complete a micro task and move on, rather than get mired down in the larger task which can cause us to lose focus and work inefficiently
- Ex. Instead of “write research paper” as the task, break this large process/action into several smaller ones.
- Again, this may seem obvious, but many people don’t break down these large projects into micro tasks, leaving them feeling overwhelmed with the large task and either send them into avoidance/procrastination
6. Keep a “Time Journal”
- This is like a food journal and requires one to honestly track and record their usage of time to maintain accountability and notice patterns
- (“Oh, I WAS 15 minutes late to that meeting…”)
- Identifying our patterns allows us to find solutions and strategies to overcome
- I.E. If you’re consistently 15 minutes late to meetings or events, start making your leave time 20 minutes earlier
7. Don’t over promise or overreach your ability to be timely
- Overestimate how much time it will take you to get somewhere or complete a project and set low expectations for those you are meeting. Better to be early than late!
8. Consider those around you
- This may sound like an odd strategy, but people who are chronically late often seem very focused on themselves and their own concept of time without really considering how social our world is and how hindered our ability to function becomes when we can’t seem to get things done and get where we need to be on time.
- By thinking about how one’s lateness affects family, friends, coworkers, etc… we may feel an additional layer of motivation to implement the strategies that will help us become more timely, thereby making those around us feel more valued, respected, and satisfied.
9. Use friends, family, and professionals as accountability
- Recognize enablers and ask them to instead keep you accountable
- Set consequences for yourself
- Heed natural, external consequences (“Oh, I missed hanging out with my family at the event because I was 45 minutes late, and that’s on me. Next time I need to be more timely and I’ll get what I want out of the situation- to spend time with the people I love”)
- This sounds simple and obvious, but many of us don’t make the explicit connection between our actions and outcomes, and metacognitive messages like this can help us repattern our behavior and reinforce positive behaviors
10. If you realize that you are behind and will run late for a meeting or deadline, be proactive and let people know in advance
- Lateness will still happen sometimes, even with the most effective strategies to mitigate time mismanagement.
- Everyone knows they are running late or will be unable to meet a deadline before it actually happens, so let people know as soon as you see this happening. On a personal level, this allows people to modify their plans and expectations, alleviating potential upset. In regards to professional or academic situations, providing the advance notice can actually give you some breathing room to get done what you need to, such as receiving an extension on a paper or project due date.
No one is a perfect time manager, but if you find yourself chronically and consistently misappropriating your time and running late for life, there is hope! By implementing these simple strategies, and reaching out to a coach for help if needed, we can all achieve more productive and happy lives.
Tips for College Success
Even though I’m a bit late with this one (oops!), it’s never really too late to get organized, get prioritized, and get on track towards achieving academic and all-around success in college. Freshman year of college is an overwhelming time for even the most prepared of young students. The demands and workload are greater, and the accountability systems and oversight are fewer than in high school, so many new students are understandably overwhelmed. Add in the pressure of a new social life with far greater temptations, and college life can seem unmanageable and trying to navigate for new students.
However, with some simple tips (and then putting them into practice!), all students who want to achieve success can. Here is Part 1 of my tips for a successful college career:
1. Get acquainted with your school, program, and dorm
Every school is quite different in terms of how offices are set up, how and what services are provided, how information is disseminated, etc. The more you know, the more you can tap into all of those resources and maximize your experience and tuition dollars. Here’s how:
• Attend all orientations
• Walk around campus until you feel like you know it well (use a campus map!)
• Spend time on the school’s website and platforms (e.g. BlackBoard) that you’ll be using and will be required to navigate effectively
• Find out about services (career, tutoring/writing, accommodations/disability services, health center, counseling/psych, etc…) and locations of those services
– Go right away to any offices or services that you need immediately (or know you will need in the future)
– Many schools have different tutoring centers for different subject areas. Some will have a science specific tutoring center that is separate from writing help, for example. Find out what these services are and where on campus they are located, and don’t wait to go if you need help as appointments are generally required and are usually booked on a first come, first served basis
– If you have a documented disability, go to your disability services office immediately AND tell your professors right away
2. Be proactive with academic planning
As I said recently to a college student (who wanted to not make a plan and instead see how things would “pan out”): Panning is not planning! As in, don’t just go through the motions with a wait and see attitude. I’m not suggesting that plans will not change or that all will go according to your plans, but making plans that are real but flexible is a necessary task for academic success. Do the following things:
• Meet your advisor and get to know her or him right away
• If your advisor in nonresponsive, follow up via email, phone calls, and then showing up to their office to follow-up.
• Some academic advisors are very active and participatory and helpful, others frankly are not
• Go to the head of an office or department (or loop them in) if you are not hearing back or receiving the help you need from an advisor. CC them on emails and show up at the office to speak with someone
• Take your school’s core requirements ASAP
• Don’t put off required courses beyond a semester
• But DO wait to take a specific class if you’re waiting for a specific professor to teach it
• BUT…Don’t rush to declare a major
• Take different classes and explore your options. This is the time to do that!
• Plan smart:
• Don’t overload your schedule with too many challenging classes in one semester
3. Manage your time
I know, this one’s easily said, but not so easily done for many. However, it’s a worthwhile endeavor as scheduling, planning, and prioritizing are critical for success and a less stressful experience in college and beyond. College is much less structured than high school and there are no parents or teachers to hold you accountable in that way. College assignments are not broken up and checked the way high school assignments and readings are, so it can be easy to fall behind. Find pragmatic, day-to-day strategies such as setting a timer, that work for you. And utilize metacognition and goals to guide you towards intentional, realistic behavior. Some strategies for time management include:
• Create your own pacing schedule with reading, break up large assignments into smaller ones, and set due dates for yourself
• Use a planner/calendar religiously
– Find a system that works for you: get a weekly/monthly planner from the store, use the calendar or an app in your phone or tablet, etc…
– Always have that calendar with you and check and update it daily
– If you need more structure to your daily schedule, use an hourly calendar to block out your day
• Have a long-term and a daily to-do list that you constantly update
– 2x per day is reasonable: morning and evening
• Be realistic with your time goals and expectations for what you can accomplish
– If you notice that you have a tendency to underestimate how long projects or tasks will take, take that into account! Add on an extra hour or day (whatever) to your initial estimate
• Deadlines are real, even if you pretend otherwise!
– Don’t stick your head in the sand if you find yourself getting behind. It happens, it’s almost expected during freshman year.
– Do reach out for help- talk to your professor ASAP, reach out to your advisor if needed, and seek help from a tutor or the writing center.
– I’ve seen students be afraid or ashamed to speak with a professor if an assignment is late, missing, etc. Remember: This happens to most students at some point, so you are not unique or special because of this and no one will remember (or care).
4. Stay organized
Again, easier said than done. But I firmly believe that anyone can stay organized if they’re willing to put aside time each day or week to do so.
• Go through your school bag 1X each week- file away papers in proper binders/folders, recycle garbage papers, make sure things are neat, clean, and follow an order that makes sense
– Don’t throw away old work or tests. File them away – just label each file or notebook with the class and semester
• The syllabus is your main set of guidelines, due dates, and schedule for each class. Use it religiously, bring it with you to every class, and write down ALL changes to the syllabus on the syllabus- because it WILL change
• Keep your desk/workspace neat. A few times a week, go through all papers and books and again, put them in the correct binder, folder, or recycling bin. Sell back (or donate, if you’re feeling giving) old books that you’re certain you will not need again (I suggest holding on to books relevant for your major)
Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ve gleaned some practical strategies for college success- comments are welcome! Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I’ll address procrastination, self-advocacy, how to navigate group projects, and more!
Don’t Wait or Procrastinate, Motivate: Get Prepared Now for a Successful School Year
Summer is quickly coming to a close and schools in the area will be starting classes in just over a week. So…what are you doing to be prepared for not just the first day of school, but also the whole year? While it’s a bit of a bummer to be thinking about school while trying to enjoy the last days of summer, it can also be an invigorating time in which students get a fresh start on a new year. I’ve always loved the back-to-school time of year despite the accompanying nostalgia of an ending and fleeting summer because it allows for endless possibilities and a renewed focus on learning with new goals and motivations. This is the time of year when many students are feeling the greatest levels of optimism regarding their future success and their highest levels of motivation, so tap into these feelings and use them to build a framework for success!
Here are a few quick tips for getting a jump on the school year and setting yourself up for a successful year:
- Set achievable and specific goals for the semester or quarter and year.
- Write them down (even on a bulletin or white board) so you can read them when work gets challenging and you need motivation.
- Buy materials now. Anticipate needing extra supplies of frequently used items such as post-its, appropriate writing paper, etc…
- Pre-read or prepare in content.
- Prepare for any challenging, upcoming classes by reading or skimming recommended texts, watching relevant videos or media, working with a teacher, tutor, or parent, etc…
- If assigned summer reading or work was very difficult or problematic, consult the teacher prior to the first day of school if possible. Otherwise talk to the teacher during the first week- this is essential as summer work is an assessment of student’s abilities.
- Get a planner that works for you, whether a paper planner or electronic. Have it all the time. Use it. Be consistent.
- Make a study plan and/or schedule now.
- Block out chunks of time for studying, schoolwork, and similar commitments. Prioritize most important work and activities.
- Visualize Success. This goes along with setting those goals. Create a picture(s) in your mind of what it looks like once you have worked hard and have accomplished those goals.
- This will help keep you motivated because you have a specific visual of what it is that you’re working for.
- Preemptively strike against the mid-semester slump
- Always be proactive. Make a plan now! Battle complacency. Have strategies for motivation, relaxation, etc… as well as strategies for what to do IF you feel yourself starting to struggle or fall behind.
My good friend Simone, who is also an amazing student and one of the smartest people I know, is back in school doing postgraduate work in nursing and is currently preparing for a difficult semester of rigorous work. We had a rich conversation on this very topic and she left me with the wise adage: “Start strong, finish strong.” She is absolutely right: if one starts the school year in a disorganized and unprepared manner, it’s already a bit of a losing game and it’s possible to spend an entire semester or even year trying to “catch up”.
But by implementing these simple strategies, all students can start the academic year as their best selves and with high chances for success, however “success” is defined to them and their families. Many parents can assist their children or teenagers in effectively getting set up for success, but many need a professional to help create this structure and keep students on track. In those cases, don’t hesitate to reach out to a tutor or coach who can work with your child to help them be the best student they can be.
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