Different Expectations

            Students can get into academic difficulties if they do not pay attention to the differences between high school and college classes.  High school education is primarily descriptive: it emphasizes factual material and correct tracing of time sequences.  College education is primarily analytical: it emphasizes making claims about why events, processes, or outcomes occur and evaluating the merits of competing claims.  These differences mean that the study habits sufficient for earning good grades in high school will not suffice in college; even those who earned all As in high school will find themselves scrambling a bit during their first term in college.
            The first stem in developing your new study habits is understanding these differences.  This table, based on information in Robert J. Gough, “What we should know about pre-collegiate learning,” Perspectives (American Historical Association) 42(1): 37-39 (January 2004), summarizes the differences you will see your history and social science courses.

Aspect of the Course

High School




Styles of Instruction

+ Oral instruction with very detailed blackboard or projected notes for copying.

+Combination of teacher presentations and in-class activities.  Occasional short student presentations.

+ Many short in-class activities and some homework projects.

+ Oral instruction (lectures) emphasize analysis and interpretation; blackboard or projected notes seldom cover every element of the analysis so simply copying it will not provide sufficient class notes.

+ Mix of lecture, group discussions, and student presentations.

+ Some in-class activities; most papers, projects and presentations must be prepared outside of class.




Methods of Evaluating Work

+ Frequent evaluation of short pieces of work: quizzes, in-class writing, brief written reports, projects.

+ Grading emphasizes accurate recall of material presented in class and textbook.

+Grades are given throughout the year or half-year.

+Frequent allowance of “extra credit” projects to raise grade.

+ Fewer graded assignments.

+ Assignments require bringing together facts and analyses from several sources.

+ Grading emphasizes ability to analyze more than ability to memorize.

+ Most grades are given in the later part of term after students have studied several topics.

+ “Extra credit” assignments are seldom provided.




Modes of Student Work

+ Heavy reliance on the internet for source material.

+ Students read some primary sources.

+ Group projects emphasizing description of events, processes, and outcomes.

+ Students learn to evaluate primary sources, place them in context, and use them as evidence for arguments.

+ Internet sources are not sufficient; students are expected to use books and journal articles as well as website materials.

+ Individual and group projects and papers emphasizing reasoned arguments about why events, processes, or outcomes occur.



Locations of Study

+ Classroom.

+ School or town library.

+ Some reading at home.


+ College library or internet connection to the library’s databases.

+ Considerable reading at home, best done before class on the day for which it is assigned.