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by Agnes Jasinski

What motivates you to study for your exams? Is it the potential for a good grade or high GPA? Is it the guilt of paying thousands of dollars for that college education? What if you could score some cash—and not in the form of scholarships and grants, as we hope you’re doing already—for doing well in your courses?

A site that has been making the rounds in the media lately offers just that. Ultrinsic.com is based on the premise that students should be rewarded for doing well academically and for meeting their own high expectations. The site allows students at 36 colleges so far to place bets on how well they think they’ll do in their college classes. If they make the grade, they win money based on a calculated “handicap”; if they don’t, they lose whatever they wagered. The starting limit on what students will earn is $25, and the better the students do, the more they win. (The higher the risk, the higher the payoff, as in most gambling situations.)

College officials are understandably concerned. In an article posted on eCampus News this week, the CEO of the site Steven Wolf says it isn’t about gambling but about providing students with an incentive to do well. Furthermore, it doesn’t fit the criteria for online gambling, he says, because students have control over what they win and how they do in their courses.

There are studies out there that show that students do better on tests if they’re promised payment in return for a good score. An Inside Higher Ed article yesterday points to several. One Stanford University professor found that paying elementary- and middle-school aged students to do well on standardized tests had as positive an effect as other proven strategies. Ultrinsic hasn’t seen widespread support for its methods among academics, though, despite Wolf’s insistence that they’re out there. A Harvard University professor says in the Inside Higher Ed article that the idea would be “better left in the hands of colleges” rather than a business. A business’ purpose is, after all, to make money.

What do you think about betting on your grades? Would you try harder in your classes, knowing that there was some money to win or lose on the line? Let us know if you have experience using this site or others like it.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Although average ACT scores were lower this year than the previous year, it wasn’t all bad news on this year’s ACT score report. High school graduates who took the test this year are slightly more prepared for college than their peers in years prior, despite the average lower scores.

According to the report, The Condition of College and Career Readiness 2010, about 71 percent of test-takers met at least one of four college readiness benchmarks in English, math, reading or science. About 47 percent met between one and three benchmarks, and 24 percent met all four benchmarks. Last year, 23 percent met all four benchmarks; in 2006, that figure was around 21 percent.

An article from the Associated Press in USA Today this week explains that test-takers this year were a more diverse group of students. While they did score lower overall, how they did meeting benchmarks is encouraging to the authors of the test. To measure college readiness, the standardized test translates students’ subject area scores into data that shows their chances of receiving passing grades in college coursework. The content on the ACT can relate to courses like biology and general education social science and psychology classes, for example. It’s also important to note that more students in general are taking the test, so slight gains like this in any area may mean more than you think.

Other data pulled from the report included the following:

  • 29 percent of test-takers were of a minority group, up from 23 percent in 2006.
  • Average scores for Hispanic students decreased slightly, from 18.7 last year to 18.6 this year, but the number of students from that student population taking the ACT has nearly doubled in size.
  • Average scores among other race/ethnic groups were 23.4 for Asian students, 22.3 for white students, 19 for American Indian students, and 16.9 for black students.
  • The national average for all student groups was 21, down from 21.1 last year. (The ACT is measured on a scale of 1 to 36.)
  • Those students who took a core curriculum in high school were more likely to meet their college readiness benchmarks; students who took more than three years of math in high school were more than 42 percent more likely to meet their benchmarks in that subject area than those who didn’t.

While more colleges are going “test-optional” when it comes to providing standardized test scores as part of your college application, both the ACT and SAT remain important at most institutions of higher education. At those schools with a high number of applicants, there may even be a cut-off score as part of the admissions process. You’ll probably then still need to take either test, despite growing criticism over the effectiveness of standardized tests. Take a look at our Standardized Testing section for more information on how you can better prepare for not only undergraduate admissions tests, but graduate and professional school tests like the GRE and LSAT as well.


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Teachers Who Tweet

Professors Microblog to Share Info and Get News, Not Teach

October 5, 2010

Teachers Who Tweet

by Alexis Mattera

Remember how weird it was when your mom friended you on Facebook? It’s probably the same way you’d feel if your calculus professor retweeted your weekend escapades at an off-campus party. That’s an unlikely scenario but more professors are using Twitter for purposed outside the classroom, reveals research by Faculty Focus.

The report, detailed yesterday in the Chronicle of Higher Education, says 35.2 percent of 1,372 individuals surveyed – a 5 percent increase from last year – have an account on the popular microblogging site and use it to share information with colleagues and get news in real time. Though some use it for this purpose, most professors do not communicate with students via Twitter or use the site as a classroom learning tool but perhaps they should, says Reynol Junco. Junco, an associate professor of academic development and counseling at Lock Haven University, is studying social media and found that Twitter can improve student engagement because they are more likely to continue discussion outside the classroom.

Twitter wasn’t around when I was in college but since creating an account in 2008, I have seen the ease and efficiency of sharing information and couldn’t help but wonder if the site could have impacted my academic endeavors. Sometimes I had questions even after going to my professors’ office hours, posting on class message boards and studying the material; perhaps Twitter could have provided the answers I needed in a more timely fashion.


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Textbook Alternatives = Big Savings

Open Books, Rentals Preserve Students’ Funds

October 8, 2010

Textbook Alternatives = Big Savings

by Alexis Mattera

As a college student, my pockets were far from deep but they got even shallower when I stopped at the co-op to buy my books at the beginning of each semester. My wallet and I loathed the astronomical price tags (even for used copies!) with a passion because we both knew there had to be a way for me to get books and not be forced to subsist on Top Ramen until my next break. I was right…just kind of bummed it didn’t happen during my collegiate tenure.

Data from the Student Public Interest Research Group’s new survey disclose textbooks available for free online or sold in print for low cost could slash students’ textbook bills from $900 to $184 each year. Using eBooks and textbook rental services like BookRenter.com and Chegg.com can also reduce book costs by $300. Though 93 percent of students surveyed said they would rent “at least some of their textbooks,” Cerritos College student Donald Pass prefers the flexibility of open textbooks because he could read the material for free online, purchase a print copy with study aids or print it himself. (Daytona State's administration agrees and will begin offering eBook access to students this coming January.) Professors like Lon Mitchell of Virginia Commonwealth University, however, say this option is troublesome because students often bring only limited sections of text to class, making it difficult for instructors to review supplemental material in different chapters. Mitchell also said that a number of his students have resisted the online versions of the open textbooks because compared to the print versions, they felt the online text was lacking.

I hear what Mitchell is saying loud and clear but if a student can reduce their spending by up to 80 percent by using open books and textbook rentals, I have a feeling print editions are going to be seen less and less as the years go by. Students, are you utilizing eBooks and textbook rentals or are you still relying solely on hard copies you don't have to share or return? If you’re using both, is there a noticeable difference in the material quality like Mitchell said? What's your preference between these options?


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Professor Lama is ‘In’

Not Your Average Office Hours Held at Emory

October 20, 2010

Professor Lama is ‘In’

by Alexis Mattera

Do you take advantage of the office hours and review sessions held by your professors and teaching assistants? You may be more inclined to if you were meeting with the Dalai Lama.

The spiritual leader is currently at Emory University as part of a presidential distinguished professorship and during that time he has met with researchers, students and members of the spiritual community to discuss everything from traditional coursework to meditation. One of these events included Tuesday’s “office hours,” which were held in the private school’s gymnasium and attended by 4,000 members of the campus community.

After laughing and bowing while taking the stage, the Dalai Lama answered a series of questions posed by students and faculty about enlightenment, world affairs and his greatest influence and biggest fear. In addition, the Dalai Lama talked about keeping a calm mind, reaching out to others, recognizing the connection between all humans and learning how to be centered. "My generation ... we need to say 'bye bye' so you transform the 21st century," he told the students. "The people who create the new shape of this century is you. You must protect, not only taking care of yourself but you must have responsibility to take care of this planet."

Did any of our readers attend this event or have the chance to interact with the Dalai Lama during his time at Emory? Interested in hearing a first-hand account…and if he was able to help out with your calculus homework.


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A Little Birdy Told Us Tweeting May Boost Grades

Recent Experiment Revealed Higher Marks, Increased Discussion

November 17, 2010

A Little Birdy Told Us Tweeting May Boost Grades

by Alexis Mattera

Logging onto certain social networking sites while in class may be frowned upon by some schools but at one Midwest institution, doing just that resulted in grade point averages about half a point higher over the course of a semester.

The school was not named to protect the identities of the 125 participating students but the subsequent report, entitled “The Effect of Twitter on College Student Engagement and Grades,” showed the 70 students who used Twitter to access information and complete four class assignments displayed higher GPAs, were more engaged in classroom discussion and more likely to interact with their instructor about course material than the 55 non-tweeting students in the control group.

But is Twitter really responsible for the grade boost? Reynol Junco, an associate professor of academic development and counseling at Lock Haven University, said the familiarity with Twitter (which is a lot like Facebook’s status update feature) may make students more comfortable participating in discussions outside the classroom and responding to class material. But Dave Parry, an assistant professor of emerging media at the University of Texas at Dallas who has used Twitter in his classes, had reservations. He said more specific studies needed to be conducted to determine if Twitter is the deciding factor in increasing grades and what uses of Twitter are most effective to achieve desired results.

Students, do you tweet? What do you tweet about: schoolwork, politics, gossip? Have you noticed a difference in your grades – positive or negative – since activating your account? Do you follow us?


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Finals Week Goes to the Dogs

Furry Friends and Other Quirky Events Ease Exam Stress

December 16, 2010

Finals Week Goes to the Dogs

by Alexis Mattera

Ah, finals week. It’s been almost six years since my last one but all the hairy details – the tensing of muscles, the firing of brain synapses and the pain of paper cuts as I shuffled through my notes the night before a huge exam to absorb one last piece of information needed to fill a blue book – still come rushing back to me like clockwork every December and May. It’s far from fun but some college students are actually enjoying this time of year thanks to some furry friends. No, not Joakim Noah...puppies, you guys!

First featured on the Jumbo Shorts blog last month (by my good friend, University of Connecticut alum and web content specialist Kaitlin Provencher, no less!) and now making headlines in a variety of news outlets, Tufts University has foregone the traditional finals week perks like extended library hours and wider availability of counseling services and is instead giving its students a much-needed reprieve from exams by bringing therapy dogs to campus for them to play with. Resident director Michael Bliss fashioned the idea after a similar program he participated in as an undergrad at NYU and the results were just as positive then as they are now. "Every college student has stress around finals," said Bliss. "And taking a break out from that with something as easy and simple and loving as petting dogs is really helpful."

Tufts isn’t alone in its quest to bust stress (though its program is by far the cuddliest): Over the last decade, community, state and private schools have been employing untraditional finals week events to keep students less frazzled and more focused including late-night yoga, massages, oxygen bars, impromptu dance parties, pizza fairies and rubber ball deluges. "These events help students acknowledge the fact that you have to put these more stressful times in perspective," said Lori Morgan Flood, director of wellness and health promotion at Oberlin College. "You'll get through it."

College may be about learning the information and skills to prepare students for jobs, graduate school and life after college in general but throwing a little something unexpected or unusual into the mix is just what many students need to perform at their absolute best. My advice: Step away from the books if only just for a moment and have some F-U-N!


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Ready, Set, BiblioBout!

New Online Program Makes Bibliography Building Easier, Even Enjoyable

January 10, 2011

Ready, Set, BiblioBout!

by Alexis Mattera

As a journalism major, my classes were all writing intensive. From penning news briefs and features to participating in “Sudden Death Day” (when we arrived in class only to be sent directly back out to find and compose a story in under an hour), I was always doing some kind of research and had to keep my sources organized and accessible in case a fact was ever called into question. This practice came in especially handy whenever I had to construct a bibliography to accompany a lengthy term paper but for those who may be tackling a works cited page for the first time, give BiblioBouts a whirl.

Researchers at the University of Michigan developed BiblioBouts to make crafting a bibliography both easier and more fun: The once mundane task has been transformed into a competitive event, pitting students against their classmates and rewarding them for research skills and abilities to differentiate between good and bad material. Sources are judged by their peers for relevance and credibility and points are gained for sources they assess accurately.

“One of the most difficult things for students to do is their research,” said Karen Markey, research leader and professor in UM's School of Information. “After they exhaust things like Google and the Web, they don’t know where to turn.” The game was released in beta form this week participating colleges and Markey hopes to make it more widely available in the future as a tool in learning-management systems.

This sounds interesting but I agree with one user – Catherine Johnson, coordinator of library instruction at the University of Baltimore’s main library – who said the game should be used as a complement to instruction by a professor or a librarian in locating and evaluating sources, not a replacement for. Have any of you tried BiblioBouts or similar bibliography-assistance programs?


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Self-Testing Boosts Info Retention

Retrieval Bests Traditional Concept Mapping as a Study Method

January 24, 2011

Self-Testing Boosts Info Retention

by Alexis Mattera

Did you spend your Sunday distraught over Jay Cutler and the Bears or horrified by the atrocity that was Mean Girls 2? I know I’m not completely alone here but, being the diligent students you are, many of you were probably holed up in the library preparing for your first exam of the spring semester and quizzing yourself on key pieces of information. Good thing, as a new study says self-testing while studying is the best way to retain facts and figures.

The study, "Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping," was conducted by Purdue’s Jeffrey Karpicke and Janell R. Blunt and found that since learning is fundamentally about retrieving, practicing retrieval while studying is crucial to learning. The study focused on two groups of students (200 altogether) who were asked to read several paragraphs about differing scientific topics but one group was instructed to use the information to create a concept map and the other was told to put away their articles and spend 10 minutes writing what they recalled. When the students were tested on the same material one week later, the group that practiced retrieval retained 50 percent more information than those who engaged in concept mapping. Strangely, researchers also found that despite learning less, the students who engaged in concept mapping were more confident that they would remember the material than those who practiced retrieval while studying.

What’s your preferred study method? Is it producing the results you want? Will you employ the retrieval method given this study’s findings?


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Beware the Ides of March...and the New GRE Format

Changes Will Be Implemented August 1st

March 15, 2011

Beware the Ides of March...and the New GRE Format

by Alexis Mattera

Advice to heed today: Don’t leave your house if a soothsayer warns you not to, don’t run through the Tufts quad sans clothing and don’t study for the GRE using last year’s study guides.

Beginning on August 1st, graduate students to-be will make the acquaintance of the new Graduate Record Examination (aka the GRE). For those unfamiliar, the GRE is currently computer-adaptive and adjusts the difficulty of each successive problem based on the answer given to the previous question; the new version allows students to skip questions and return to them later (the computer just modifies the difficulty of the next part at the end instead), which prevents test-takers from losing time and could ultimately lead to a better overall score. As for the content, the writing section will include two pre-selected essay prompts that will require "more focused" responses, the math section will swap out a number of geometry problems for real-world data interpretation (bonus: an on-screen calculator will be accessible) and the verbal section will feature more reading comprehension but no more antonyms and analogies. GRE scoring will range from 130 to 170 rather than 200 to 800 per section but the cost of taking the test will hold steady at $160. There will also be changes to the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), but those won’t take place until June 2012.

What do you think of the changes to the GRE? For those who have taken the current version, which format appeals more to you? For those who are preparing, do you think you'll fair better, worse or the same when these changes debut?


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