Success – At the College Level

College Textbooks

College isn’t just “Book Smarts”

To my Millennial brethren engaged in the pursuit of higher education, I wish you well. It is a noble thing to advance your mind and abilities, but many pitfalls may appear on your journey. The secret to success comes from to preparing yourself, and trying to make good decisions and take productive actions when plans don’t go as planned.

As a new TA serving in my MA program, I see the faces of my peers (Gen Y), but I also see people who don’t have the level of experience that I have. I do not wish any of my writing to sound condescending, I just wanted to point out that I have some years on these students. It’s easy for those who are further along to look at those just starting and have a superior view, but I treat this assignment to be a TA as one to guide these students as I was fortunate to have good teachers in my own life.

One of the troubling trends that I see, and one that I’ve discussed with other friends in the teaching field, is that for all the work teachers do, there isn’t a high degree of learning happening. Students entering college have likely grown up with countless standardized tests, and their main skill sets are geared to filling in the proper bubble. I’ve taken many of the same tests, but my teachers and my family taught that it was important to know why an answer was the right one on the test, not just which answer would earn another point. If students had to perform in ways of showing mastery of concepts rather than mastering the tests, our educational strength might not seem so hindered.

The teaching to the test mentality has created a situation I refer to as FOF (Fear of Failure). An example of FOF comes from a recent assignment that many students had trouble starting. An assignment of two pages, double spaced, was to be written on the statement that an image chosen by a student would reach a “mythic” level. From the questions I fielded, the students were trying to understand how to get a good grade on the assignment (which I can understand).  When I assured them that they had all the tools they needed,  I believe a few were still unsure. Whether they doubted their abilities, or they weren’t sure how to get a good grade like on a standardized test, I think it shows a need to further develop critical thinking. In explaining the assignment further, I tried to explain that by offering a critique, they would need to find evidence to support their claims. If you can find enough legitimate evidence, you can usually make a compelling case (just make sure to cite your sources).

I realize that my assessment may not possess the full scope, and I acknowledge that the intelligence levels of my students are not in question nor at issue. Learning, I believe, relies heavily not only on the word of those who came before us, but on the self-made mistakes when we roll up our sleeves trying to get at the issue that we seek to understand. I know that I would not appreciate my own achievements if I had not slogged through the education process, but I hope my peers can dive in, knowing that even a wrong answer can lead them on the path to the right one.


Tell your experiences. Were you a standardized learner? Do you believe we must make mistakes to improve our own knowledge? Share your response here and keep the conversation going.

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