Sunday, November 27, 2011

How to Ace Your Final Exams

Thanksgiving break has just ended and Winter Break is so close you can taste the candy canes.

However there’s just one thing standing between you and that blissful month off – final exams.
I miss almost everything about college – but I’ll be honest I don’t miss studying for final exams. I don’t miss the intensity of knowing that in one week you will be expected to pour out everything you’ve learned in a semester onto a few sheets of paper in an hour or so. Some classes make finals a larger part of your grade than others – but pretty much every class will put you through this.

And it doesn’t get easier as you go along. In fact my senior exams were the most intense.

I will tell you though there is one part of final exams that I do miss. I miss that wonderful relieved feeling walking from my class to the parking lot, my brain feeling so free, releasing its grip on all of that information, and the elation I felt and the spring in my step that only comes from knowing you just aced your final exam.

That sense of completion and accomplishment is unlike any other. And it’s something I haven’t felt since college.
 If you’ve never felt that feeling then this post is for you. If you’re used to that sinking feeling after a test where you feel drained, exhausted, depressed, and anxious then this post is for you. There is a better way.

There are dozens of great study techniques that teach you how to study smarter and not harder. Find those books, buy them, and read them. They will save your life.

Below are my favorite techniques. The ones that helped me get A’s on every exam, the ones that made studying for exams (while not something I miss) a manageable experience, and the ones that made walking away from my exams and into Winter Break one of the best feelings of accomplishment and completion.

1. Start studying today. 
Make a list of every exam coming up and when you will take it (or when it’s due as some final exams are essays or take-home tests). Then, using a calendar or planner (my fav is Google Calendar) block off times to study for each test separately (no more than 50 minutes at a time) leading up to its due date.

2. Focus. 
Our brain literally cannot focus on more than one thing at a time. Just because we can text, study, Facebook, and eat at the same time doesn't mean it's the best way. And it is proven that our brains aren't wired for multi-tasking. Multi-tasking kills productivity

So, when studying for a test go to the library by yourself, rid yourself of all distractions (e.g do not go on Facebook, turn off your phone completely) and study for no more than 50 minutes at a time and focus on one test at a time. Put everything away except what you need for that test. Then do your study activities. Once 50 minutes is up take a 10 minute break (walk around, get something to eat, talk to a friend) and then start again. I'd recommend no more than 3 hours of studying (with a total of a 3 10 minute breaks at at time). 

3. Do not pull all-nighters. 
The day before the test should be the day you do the least amount of studying. In the weeks and days before you should be doing reviews and study activities. There are many books and online games (e.g. that you can use to find and create great study activities (i.e. just sitting at a table with your books and notes doesn’t work and will make you feel overwhelmed – you must create structure and activities). 

The day or two before a test is when you should be quizzing yourself to make sure you’re able to recall the information and then study only what you’re finding you aren’t able to recall when you “grade” your practice test.

4. Create practice tests!
I allude to this above and it is the MOST important study activity you can do. It is my best secret to getting’s A’s (if not 100’s) on every exam. About 3 or 4 days before the exam once you’ve reviewed create a practice test. By now you should have a basic idea of the style of your professor’s exams. 

Create the test in a way that will force you to blindly recall the most important information you need to know for the test. The act of creating the test will seep the information deep into your brain. Then, when you take the test and then grade yourself you will see what information has stuck and which information you need to study more – then you just focus on that.

5. Visit your professor. 
Once you’ve done an initial review and at least 3 to 4 days before the exam visit your professor during office hours with a few questions to clarify the information you are going to be tested on. Even if you think you know it all think of something to ask your professor about. You can even review with the professor the topics you’ve been studying and just confirm that you’re not missing anything. Then listen carefully. When professors talk about tests they usually reveal the most important topics if you really listen.

6. Only study in a group at the end. 
When you study initially with people it can distracting. If you’re a social learner (like myself) study by yourself first and then only once you are getting 90% of your practice test correct should you meet with a study group. The study group should be for the purpose of talking about the test and reviewing the information verbally (i.e. again this is for social and verbal learners who, when talking about it/teaching it, really learn best). If you don’t learn best by talking about it out loud or teaching it then you have no need for a study group.  If you need help talk to a professor, visit the tutoring center, or meet with one friend who you know has mastered that subject.

7. On the day of the exam – relax. 
Eat a really great breakfast. Dress nice. Get at least 8 hours of sleep. Do not study. You should be so ready for the test that you should not need to review. Keep your mind fresh. If you’ve done everything above you will be ready. Trying to study on the day of will only make you anxious and overwhelmed. Plug in your iPod and listen to your favorite upbeat music. Blast it in your car. Take a walk around your campus before the test to get the blood pumping to your brain and to feel energized by the fresh air. Then get to class 5 minutes early, put your books under the desk, turn off your phone, and just breathe. 

When everyone else is freaking out around you stay positive and don’t engage in that last minute frantic studying. Sing your favorite song in your head and tell yourself “I am going to ace this exam. I am so smart. I am so prepared. I am a great student. I am awesome at tests. I know all of this material. I am going to get 100% on this exam.” 

And then you’re ready to ace your exams and walk back out to your car with the sun shining on your back, ready to put your books away for a month. Ready to enjoy the winter break. Ready to relax because you’re not worried about checking your grades – you know you got A’s. Ready to put another semester behind you and look forward to your future.  

To read more about Isa's personal story how you can build relationships to: make positive friends, be more successful in academics and work, find the right people to connect with, and access the hidden job market, grab a FREE e-copy of the first chapter of Community College Success: How to Finish with Friends, Scholarships, Internships, and the Career of Your Dreams! Claim your free copy on the Facebook page!

Like this blog? Check out the book!! :)

Monday, November 21, 2011

How to make sure your time off pays off

Thanksgiving is coming up and there is a good way and a not-so-good way to manage your breaks from class and college. This video explains how to make the most out of your time off.

The truth about internships no one will tell you

Internships are the new entry-level jobs. Jobs that entry-level workers used to do are now being done by unpaid interns - which makes it very hard to get a job right out of college. And the only way to make this easier for yourself is to start thinking about it now.

The hardest part about graduating  college – the part most of us don’t think about until once we’ve graduated – is trying to get job experience when no one will hire you if you don’t already have job experience. It is devastating and it’s the thing no one talks about.

College is advertised as this incredibly fun experience that leads to success no matter what. And then many of us go to college, graduate, and then expect the degree alone to be like catnip – something employers can sniff out and will seek out (confession: I thought this). But unfortunately, that is not the case and this leaves many post-grads (like myself) to have an incredibly depressing few months (or years for some) after college.

If you’re anything like me (especially being a first generation college student) you may think getting a college degree along with outstanding college involvement, credentials, and awards would make getting a job easy. It’s not easy. It is so hard. So very very hard. And the more I talk to people (both young and poor and old and rich) the more I hear it’s hard for everyone.

I wish someone would have told me that before I graduated - which is why I’m telling you, so you can be prepared.

There’s not a lot I can do to guarantee that you’ll have an easy time finding a job – it varies so much depending on your major, credentials, and location, and in many ways it is just always a hard process. But I think at least knowing it’s a hard, rejection-filled process that almost everyone goes through can make it much easier on our fragile “I’ve-graduated-now-to-conquer-the-world-wait-am-I-the-only-one-who-can’t-get-hired” hearts.

However there is a lot I can tell you to ensure you will have a much easiER time finding a job than someone who does not do what I’m about to tell you to do. The answer? I bet you’ve already guessed….


There’s quite a lot of “hype” around internships right now and, well, I think it’s worth the hype.

Every internship opportunity is of course wildly different and just getting any internship doesn't mean it will be perfect. Some lead directly to incredible jobs. Some are great experiences but the organization just isn’t hiring when you graduate. Some make people do exciting work that paid employees take credit for. Some are thankless jobs doing grind work like getting coffee (though I think in this economy most of those have already or are fading away), and some are ways to take advantage of the internship system and get work done without having to pay anyone. I've had friends who've had all of these experiences. 

So there is a continuum. And of course – college shouldn’t be all about jobs. Classes, involvement, and appreciating and enjoying that experience to its fullest is so important (I miss it almost every day – and I work at a college).

But – and here is the big but – internships are a must. There is risk involved, like anything, and working without pay can seem like a painful and almost impossible experience especially for students who struggle so hard to pay for college (e.g. I just found out one of my most talented students washes dishes by hand at McDonalds for hours on end to help make ends meet). 

However, if done right, internships can be one of the most valuable investments you can make in yourself, your future career, and your future financial success. I believe they are always worth the risk.

And while a paid internship is amazing – an unpaid one can have a lot of hidden benefits if you choose wisely.

So how do you make the right decision? Where do you find internships? How do you choose internships that will have the greatest benefits for you? How do you make the most of the internship opportunity once you get it?

There is just too much to share in a post so if you’re truly dedicated to finding a great job after college enter in your name and e-mail below and I'll send you my free mini e-book on how to find the best internships, how to get them, how to choose the best ones for you, and how to make the most out of the experience to ensure your future success. (The mini e-book also includes a few sneak peeks of some of my best insider tips that will be in my upcoming book!)

Extra - Intern Word Associations
Before I wrote this blog I asked my amazing Facebook friends to share the first word/phrase that came to their mind when I said the word “internship.” I asked because I wanted to know if anyone else thought of the same things I did – both the good and the bad. And my good friends showed me that I was not alone. Three categories emerged about internships and you can read their first-words below. (I love that someone mentioned Teen Vogue because I secretly blame The Hills for all of my misconceptions about internships, jobs, how to dress for work, and how young you can be to own a house ;)).

Bad treatment/Media stereotypes
Hamilton: Coffee
Susie: work with no pay
Christopher: Getting coffee
Barb: poor.
Darryl: stipend-indentured servitude
Andy: Unpaid
Princess: No $$
Josiah: A smelly cubicle and the multiple coffee cup trays.
Alaina: free labor
Aneela:  teen vogue
Jay: no money
Jessica: Free worker

Jessica: Required to graduate
Caitlin: w/o it..good luck trying to find a real job!
Sarah: Competitive
Robin: The key to getting hired

Amazing opportunity
Edwin: networking, career opportunities, Lockheed Martin
Sarah: resume builder
Matthew: a great opportunity to build your soft skills
Qadira: experience
Chris: Job
Juany: Traveling experience
Yeliz: Skills!
Melissa: Disney :) (the college program) haha i wanted to do it since I was like 10.
Dominique: I agree with free worker, and a great time to learn something successful!
Sana:  Cool job that I will be working in the future
Ale: An opportunity to learn
Duy: moneyyyyyyyyyyyyyy and future and respect and love, dream come true...or so on
Sabatini: I the opportunity to work and assist a professional in the field that you want to undertake later on.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The 2 most important things to consider when choosing your major

Still trying to choose your major? Do you need to make sure the major you've chosen is a good choice for you? In this vlog I share with you the two absolute most important things you must consider when choosing a major if you want it to lead to success in your life. Have you taken them into consideration?

The secret to getting through your math classes

The number one struggle I see students face in community college academia is math. It is no surprise as in measurements of our country’s student performance in reading, science, and math that math ranks the lowest by far (and far below many other countries).

I see this manifested in the lives of students every day who just can’t seem to pass certain classes and proclaim the old adage heard in middle and high schools ‘round the world – “why do I have to learn this if I’m never going to use it in real life?”

Have you ever said or thought this? It’s okay if you have. I have too and indeed have often wondered how our educational systems are designed to prepare us for a professional world that often seems starkly different from the world of public and higher education.

The obvious truth is that we won’t use everything we learn in our educational lives. The show Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader (e.g. I am not) is perfect proof of this and thus provided a lot of humor at how quickly we forget what we learn in our school-lives. However, does this mean it is purposeless? Should traditional schooling go away and should we just train for jobs and learn only exactly what we will use in our every day lives?


I definitely think we need more integrated and interactive activities in education that tie the concepts to real-world problems in ways that can further increase students’ communication, critical thinking, and creative skills.

However, even though we may not be able to do fractions in the same way we could in 5th grade does not mean learning them wasn’t valuable.

And not just valuable so you could move forward in this educational system we’ve created. But valuable in and of itself.

This is the secret to getting through math classes (or for all you math geniuses – the same can apply to getting through your English classes – essentially, this is the secret to getting through any class in which you have a hard time seeing its value in your life).

What is the secret? It came from a student comment this week.

I was talking to one of my students – an aspiring computer engineer – about his struggles in his pre-calculus class. He was studying so hard and yet still struggling on the tests and couldn’t figure out why. He was trying so hard but was still having trouble getting higher than a C. 

I asked him, like I ask all my students when they are really struggling with a class, if that class is an important part of their future major/career (e.g. if you’re ever struggling really hard with a class that plays a big part in your future major/career and will continue to build upon itself as you progress in your educational plan it might be a good time to reconsider your major).

First he said that no, he was not going to need to build upon calculus in his ed plan nor have to use it in his future career. And what he said next was an epiphany to me – the secret to getting through classes to which you don’t see a point.

He said – “I think they [they meaning the people who build curriculum for future computer engineers] want me to take pre-calculus because they want me to be able to think in computer engineering the way I have to think in order to solve calculus problems.


This, to me, is IT. This is the secret. Disappointed that I didn’t give you some secret formula guaranteed to make math suddenly easy? Well guess what, I did :)

Because when you change your attitude, you change your life. And your attitude towards your class subjects affects your grades more than you realize.   

Especially in the first two years of college when you have to meet general education requirements we all have those classes that we just don’t care for, the classes we just don’t see the point in, the classes we wonder like we started to wonder in 7th grade – why do I have learn this if I’m never going to use it in my life?

You’re not going to love every subject and that is okay. But you can love and appreciate every class. How do I know? Because I did.

Sure there were some classes that drove me crazy at times. And I wasn’t some book nerd who just loved school and nothing but school so help me library. I just learned to love and appreciate and value the opportunity I had to sharpen my mental skills.

I knew 100% that I would never use the formulas I learned in chemistry in my life (I just tried for 3 minutes to remember the name of the formula I was thinking of and couldn’t….). But I felt great pride in learning something new about the world, becoming a well-rounded person, gaining a better understanding of how interconnected all areas of knowledge are, and sharpening my skills to think scientifically. While I’ll never do the experiments I did in lab I use the scientific method all the time in my day-to-day life without realizing it.

Every class offers you an opportunity to become more intelligent, to use different parts of your brain, to discover all kinds of subjects in order to narrow in on what you most enjoy and what you are best at, and sharpen your mental capacity so that you can develop the extremely high level of critical thinking, communication, and creative skills that our new knowledge economy demands for success and financial stability.

I’ll never forget how my perception of education shifted after reading a book in one of my college classes called The Lost Boys of Sudan. The non-fiction book chronicled the journeys of young men from their war-ridden countries to America. This book deeply impacted me because it shared the young men’s fervent desires to get an education, to learn. To them, education was gold. Education was the highest honor. Education was the greatest gift.

Though our country is struggling in many ways right now it is easy to forget how blessed we are. It’s easy to forget how few get the privilege of sitting in those math classes. As a woman, it’s easy for me to forget that if I had been born 200 years ago I would not have even been seen as someone worth educating.

It’s easy for these facts to become just dusty parts of a boring history class. But if you let them become real, you will find that despite the immense struggles I know you face every day your attitude of thankfulness and appreciation for your education will help you thrive in every class and in every endeavor.

A change in attitude can change your life.

And even if you have to pause for a second when a student asks you what 200 divided by 4 is (yes…happened to me 2 days ago), you can still be proud of your grades in math and appreciate the importance of the subject in all of our lives – because even if you won’t use it every day, someone will, and they never would have known it if they hadn’t had to take that class.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

How to find a mentor that will change your life

My book is all about how to connect with others in order to be more successful than you ever thought possible. Great success happens when people connect with people. And the sooner you begin to do this and learn HOW to do it correctly you will see incredible changes in your life and incredible doors of opportunity open up to you. Watch this video to find out where to find a mentor, how to approach them, and how to get the most out of the relationship.

The answer to ending the high school and college dropout crisis

I’ll never forget the first time a professor looked me in the eye and told me I could go to a top-tier University. It was after a few weeks in my very first class in community college. I had gotten my first pop-quiz essay back and it said “see me” on it. I was terrified.

I met the professor in his office and he proceeded to tell me I should be in the college’s honors program and that I could do big things with my life.

It was the first time someone expected me to be more than I ever thought possible.

This – to me – is what mentorship is all about. And I think this is the kind of mentorship we need to help students of all ages achieve educational goals far beyond their current comprehension. 

The more and more I talk to successful people I have begun to see a trend in their lives –
they all can name a very significant person who had an impact on their future.

There is a great need for more money and programing to put this kind of mentoring in place on a large scale. But I think we can do more than we realize with the resources we have right here and right now. Ourselves. 

One of the first peer mentors I had was the first Jack Kent Cooke scholar at the community college where I attended (I was the 2nd Jack Kent Cooke scholar the following year). She spoke at a Phi Theta Kappa meeting about the scholarship opportunity and after she spoke I asked for her help. She then read me her scholarship essays and helped me edit mine. I’ll never forget when she told me that she never charges for such tutoring because it was so important to her to pay that forward.

This is significant because in a time with such limited resources it can often seem inefficient to spend so much time with one person when there are so many students that need help and attention. However, we have to remember that those meaningful one-on-one interactions alive with listening, guidance, and encouragement multiply and have an impact far beyond what we could ever imagine.

I haven’t seen that professor who called me to do more with my life in many years. I wish I could tell him that I am almost finished with a Masters degree and am about to publish a book because of his mentorship in my life.

There is something incredibly powerful when someone expects us to be more and exposes us to what that “more” is.

Do you have someone like that in your life? What have you accomplished that you would have never accomplished without that person’s encouragement and mentorship in your life? Send me your stories to or post them on the Facebook page.

If you don’t have such a mentor in your life do not wait for them to find you; check out the vlog above to find out how to find a mentor and what to say in order to start that relationship. 

This kind of mentorship is vital in every stage of life. I wouldn’t have a book about to be published if it wasn’t for a mentor. I wouldn’t have this blog if it weren’t for the advice of an amazing author I reached out to. I wouldn’t know anything about how to be a speaker if it weren’t for incredible mentors in my life. And I wouldn’t be accomplishing anything I am today without incredible people in my life who believed in me.

While mentorship is vital no matter what your age, I believe it is especially crucial for students – and the younger it starts the better.

My good friends at the National Society of Collegiate Scholars are currently competing in a Pepsi Refresh Project to help them end the high school dropout crisis through mentoring programs where the scholars in their chapters will mentor middle school students in underserved areas.

This is a program deserving of this funding and will be implemented by incredible staff and wonderful students. If you can name one person who has helped you get where you are today then please click the "vote for this idea" button below to vote for this mentoring program so that more and more young people’s lives can be changed by dedicated college students who believe in them, expose them to college culture, and expect them to be college-bound.

And wherever you are, whoever you are, strive to reach out to just one person this month. Because only you have lived your life; you have been through things and have learned things that you can pass on to someone else. And you know how to encourage, expose, and expect someone to be more.  
You have no idea how far such small acts of listening and encouraging can go in someone’s life. It is what we need more of in this world. It starts with you. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

My community college success story speech

Debuting the first ever video of one of my speeches. This one features clips of my community college success story as I thank the 800 faculty and staff who made it possible. You can also view it and testimonials at =)