4 Tips for Instructors to Boost Student Academic Success

Posted March 31, 2015

By Claudia Stanny

Students at all stages of academic development can benefit from concrete feedback about their performance. First year students are in even greater need for unambiguous feedback about whether their study strategies are on target to meet expectations.

First year students are in transition from high school environments and may not be fully aware of the expectations of the academic culture of a university. Assignments and exams students encounter in their first college courses might make more intense demands on learning than the work students completed in high school. For example, multiple choice exam questions in college courses frequently demand that students use information in more sophisticated ways, applying concepts to solve problems or analyze a case rather than simply recognize the correct definitions of concepts and correctly recall disciplinary “facts.” Similarly, students will be expected to support their assertions in essays and other written work with evidence-based reasoning and citations of scholarly sources rather than simply asserting their opinions and beliefs about a topic.

What strategies can help beginning university students succeed in their academic work? Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh, Whitt, and associates (2005) identify several practices that promote academic success in university students. When faculty use these practices in their courses, students learn more and course retention rates improve.


Describe the strategies that successful students use to learn course content and acquire disciplinary skills. Describe these strategies on your syllabus or in a handout. Discuss these strategies from time to time in class.

◘ Provide guidelines on how to take notes during class meetings, especially if students will encounter critical content during lectures that might not be found in assigned readings.

◘ If study groups and other forms of peer learning are valuable study strategies for your course, encourage students to form study groups. Give them guidance on how to manage group dynamics so that group study sessions stay focused on learning and do not devolve into social events.

◘ Explain the difference between casual reading and close reading required for learning in the discipline. If possible, model close reading during a class meeting.


Rubrics are useful tools that describe the expectations for an assignment and articulate the standards for university-quality academic work that you will use when evaluating student sub-missions.

◘ When possible, give students a copy of the rubric when an assignment is made. Encourage students to use the rubric to evaluate their work before they submit an assignment for grading.

◘ Students who compare their work to the criteria in a rubric before submitting an assignment learn two important skills. They learn to monitor the quality of their work. And they learn to edit their work to meet standards. Instructors who use rubrics find that their students submit better work.


The first term in college frequently presents first year students with their first experience with a complex social environment that includes new demands on life skills (doing their own laundry, managing their finances, coping with a roommate) and myriad attractive distractions (a social life independent of the structure and control of parents). First year students may not be skilled at setting and adhering to deadlines. Students frequently underestimate the time required to complete readings or assignments, which encourages them to procrastinate beginning this work.

◘ Create milestone assignments to help students manage a large assignment. Milestone assignments are intermediate assignments that represent critical activities that must be completed to produce a large-scale project. For example, completing a major term paper might be managed by completing the following milestone assignments: an annotated bibliography, a clear thesis statement for a paper, an outline, and an initial draft for peer review.

◘ Schedule 3 - 5 major exams on course content in lower-division courses rather than a midterm and final exam only. Multiple exams break course content into manageable chunks. The deadlines for a frequent exam schedule force students to read and study more often. Multiple exams help prevent extended periods of procrastination on reading.


The feedback you provide to students on early assignments establishes your expectations for work quality and gives students concrete information about whether their current study strategies will enable them to meet these expectations.


Kuh, G. D., Kinzie, J., Schuh, J. H., Whitt, E. J., & Associates (2005). Student success in college: Creating conditions that matter. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Rubric Development resource page (CUTLA web site): http://uwf.edu/cutla/rubricdevelopment.cfm

*A version of this post first appeared on the University of West Florida’s Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment website. You can find it and other great teaching tips posts by Claudia Stanny by visiting - http://uwf.edu/offices/cutla/

[Claudia J. Stanny is the Director of the Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment and Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of West Florida. Dr. Stanny facilitates workshops and conference sessions on teaching strategies, faculty career issues, scholarship of teaching and learning, and assessment of student learning. Her published research includes work on assessment in higher education, applied aspects of memory and cognition, and the scholarship of teaching and learning.]