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Matador Tips

Don't you wish you had an inside person to help you navigate every new situation? Some of us are fortunate enough to have designated mentors in siblings or parents who have attended CSUN before us. But for those forging a path of their own, we bring you Matador Tips, a series of articles in which we share some secrets of success from current and former CSUN students.

Use the Reflection Guidebook

Utilize the Reflection Guidebook for Students to navigate your academic success.

Psychology major Tai Finley felt out of place when she had to take remedial math and English classes in her freshman year.

“It was just stressful and made me question what I was even doing here,” Tai says.

Ever since high school, Tai has dreamed of graduating from college and entering a career in foster care. But the remedial classes shook her academic confidence.

Tai’s situation is not unusual. Low academic confidence is one of the biggest challenges that all students face.

The Reflection Guidebook for Students, a resource offered by University Counseling Services as part of its Experience Confidence and Enjoyment in Learning (ExCEL) program, teaches you self-reflection as a tool for shaping your college experience.

One thing the guidebook points out is that academic success is only partly achieved by intelligence. The greatest obstacles are actually environmental and psychological-social.

Oftentimes your peers fail to graduate due to external factors: family, financial or health problems; lack of college preparation and unwillingness to seek help; restrictive attitudes about learning; and low academic confidence.

The guidebook teaches you strategies for overcoming these challenges. Firstly, it directs you to a thought-provoking 28-minute YouTube video featuring Mark Stevens, a clinical psychologist and the director of University Counseling Services. Then it has you answer 11 questions.

In retrospect, Tai wishes she had this guidebook when she first started out.

“Self-reflection is the biggest thing that anyone has to learn in college because your mom and your dad are not there,” Tai says. “I think this [guidebook brings] to light your strong and weak characteristics.”

Despite her initial doubts, a clear and strong sense of purpose kept her motivated all these years. Now a senior, Tai is set to graduate soon. She and fellow Matador Christian Alvizuris share tips from the guidebook that help you think critically about your college experience and ways you can take charge of your academic success.

1. Identify your goals and how to accomplish them.

Most of us start college with the same purpose: to earn a degree. Having clear goals about what you want makes planning and overcoming challenges easier. It’s also okay to be flexible and set new goals. In fact, most of us change our majors more than once during college.

For example, Christian started out as an architecture major at San Diego-based Mesa Community College. But when the economy took a turn for the worse, he adjusted.

“The recession hit pretty bad,” he explains. “A lot of [architecture] firms that I really looked up to were closing down.”

Christian switched gears by exploring other interests. During the course of fulfilling some general education requirements, he fell in love with journalism and transferred to CSUN.

Now he hopes to own a public relations firm one day. The guidebook helped him come up with tips on how to stay motivated: he plans to keep a photo of his dream job close to where he studies, read a book related to his dream career once a month, and join a CSUN club.

2. Find your true academic worth and improve it.

We all arrive to college with varying levels of academic worth. Some of us are more confident to begin with; others have feelings of shame and embarrassment.

Sometimes someone telling you that you aren’t good at something can cause you to have low academic worth. For instance, failing a statistics class was a blow to Tai’s pride.

“It really made me feel worthless,” she says.

Instead of discouraging you, you can use these negative experiences as learning tools by acknowledging the areas you need to improve in and seek help for them. Tai’s failing grade inspired her to sign up for tutoring. As a result, she was able to pass the statistics class when she took it a second time.

3. Rediscover the joy of learning.

A negative attitude can inhibit academic performance. If going to class and learning feels like a chore, your brain actually retains less information. Both Christian and Tai noticed that they enjoy the social aspect of the classroom and learned best with group activities.

“For me, to make learning more enjoyable is to do it with other people and be hands on,” Tai says. “Before you know it, your three-hour class is over already.”  

She recalls how one professor made her and her classmates move their chairs into a circle every class meeting. This different configuration changed the classroom dynamic to encourage group discussion about the subject.

Christian too shares the merits of a collaborative classroom experience.

“I like group work to gain extra feedback and opinions,” he says.

Most of the learning we do in college tends to take place on our own time. Learning shouldn’t stop in the classroom. For instance, create a study group outside the classroom to review before your midterm, final exam or essay deadline.

Whether you are an intrapersonal or interpersonal learner, you can use the guidebook to come up with doable ways to uplift your learning attitude and make learning fun.

Use the Virtual Library

Instead of physically going to the Delmar T. Oviatt Library the next time you have a research paper to write, visit its website.

The Oviatt Library is as much of a place to hang out as it is a place to study. The spacious and state-of-the-art Learning Commons features amenities such as comfortable seating, whiteboards, collaborative study tables that allow you to connect portable devices to a large-screen monitor and traditional private study rooms that you can book via the website.

However, did you know that many of the materials in the library’s physical collection can be digitally accessed? And that the library subscribes to a number of key academic publications and major domestic and international magazines and newspapers that you can search for and reference online?

And did you know the website has invaluable academic writing resources? For this reason, the Oviatt Library website is a go-to guide for fellow Matador Sarah Hernandez.

“I use the website when conducting research or citing my sources,” says the senior English major.

Since it may take some exploring before you can utilize all the benefits of the library website, Sarah highlights the three features that she most commonly uses: the Find Articles by Subject, Databases A-Z and Cite Your Sources.

1. Find Articles by Subject

Research papers are a staple for college students. At one point in your undergraduate career, you’ll probably be expected to write one. The first time you are assigned a paper, you may feel overwhelmed. However, if you don’t know where to begin, a good place to start is Find Articles by Subject.

When Sarah had to write a seven-page paper for her children’s literature class, she first went to the Find Articles by Subject feature, located the Search by Subject section and selected the Children’s Literature link. The link pulls up a list of academic databases that offer published materials related to the topic of children’s literature, even prioritizing them as Most Useful or Also Useful. The search provides contact information for a subject specialist from the Oviatt Library’s reference desk.

In addition to looking up source materials, you can also use Find Articles by Subject to brainstorm topics. If you are struggling to come up with a good thesis, Sarah recommends browsing the databases for ideas and bookmarking interesting articles, which you can use toward a paper outline.

2. Databases A-Z

If you already know your way around some academic resources, you can go straight to Databases A-Z, which provides an alphabetized list of all the databases the Oviatt Library subscribes to along with a short description of the articles types that can be found in each database. Databases A-Z can help you easily locate specific databases that you may have used before.

For instance, since Sarah often taps JSTOR for her research papers, she can quickly access it via Databases A-Z. However, she utilizes both Find Articles by Subject and Databases A-Z because the former allows her to discover new sources.

“Since I wanted to use something other than JSTOR, I found Literature Resource Center through Find Articles by Subject,” she says.

3. Cite Your Sources

“I use the Oviatt Library’s Cite Your Sources for every single research paper,” Sarah says.

The Oviatt Library’s Cite Your Sources provides formatting tools and guidelines for common academic styles such as Modern Language Association (MLA) and American Psychological Association (APA). This resource is important to Sarah because of the fact that CSUN has a strict anti-plagiarism policy, and the style guide ensures that she’ll never accidentally take credit for another person’s work.

You can use Cite Your Sources to create and organize your works cited or bibliography pages. There are also links to websites such as Easy Bib, which automatically generate citations for you, giving you one less thing to worry about while writing your research papers.

— Melaney Christy, English major, graduating spring 2014

Think Like a Teacher

Want to score that A+ grade? Here’s a wild idea: think like a teacher. Fellow Matadors point out how approaching your studies from an instructor’s viewpoint can make you a better student.

Upon entering college, many students struggle because they fall behind. Knowing how to catch up can keep you from getting buried.

Leila Benoun, Nina Kotelyan and Robert Ahdoot are graduate students. They have already gone through the gamut of undergraduate experiences. They are also instructors, so they have participated in the college classroom from the point of view of both student and teacher.

Leila, a linguistics master’s student with emphasis on English as a second language, works as a supplemental instructor — teaching her own classes, assisting professors and tutoring at CSUN’s Learning Resource Center. Teaching is one way she engages with her course work.

“It helps to explain what you are learning to others,” she says.

Leila, Nina and Robert are invested in the ways their peers respond to the curriculum, so they offer advice on how to achieve academic success with lessons from the instructor’s perspective.

“Teachers understand you’re responsible for your own success,” Leila says.

1. Take control of your own success.

As she points out, professors assign a workload with the expectation that students will apply themselves and succeed. Their goal is for students to learn and be able to produce results from what they have learned. Assignments are not so much a test of how well you follow directions but how well you adapt and are accountable for yourself. After all, teachers want you to run a marathon, not a sprint.

Leila’s advice: “Pace yourself. Don’t take on too much.”

For this reason, she discourages cramming. Trying to dump information into your brain all at once is unrealistic, she says, and it doesn’t give you room to learn and grow. Instead, she recommends putting knowledge at your command and making it work for you.

“It’s about constantly participating and staying engaged,” Leila says.

2. Find balance.

Contrary to what some might think, Leila explains, teachers want you to have a life outside the classroom. Balance prevents you from burning out before you reach the finish line. Teachers don’t want you to drop out of their classes due to stress. Therefore, she emphasizes work-life balance over any other habit.

“Organize your time,” she says. “Balance schoolwork and fun, and stay motivated.”

Nina, a master’s student in communication studies, teaches the class COMS 151: Introduction to Public Speaking.

She recommends using a calendar and setting up a schedule for work and play.

“For each day,” she says, “dedicate a certain number of hours to homework, meals and your job.”

And she recommends giving yourself a “me” day.

“During ‘me’ day, you’re allowed to do homework,” she says, “But only for two hours so you don’t feel like you’re falling behind. Then the rest of the time is for you to relax or to reflect.”

3. Confront your fears.

Like Nina, Robert is pursuing a master’s in communication studies. He used to be a high school teacher for the Los Angeles Unified School District. One thing he observed over the years was how sometimes the mere anticipation of failure can stymie a student. Robert even gave a Tedx Talk about math anxiety as an obstacle to academic success.

“When you are experiencing fear,” he explains, “higher-level brain functioning shuts down. It’s a proven biological phenomenon.”

He recommends confronting the curriculum head on. Review and familiarize yourself with the topics that make you nervous. Look at the syllabus, do the readings and ask the professor what will be covered on the tests. Start your preparations early. Ask questions when the professor is first explaining the assignment, or email or visit the professor during office hours at least a few days to a week and a half before the due date.
Lastly, conquer your anxiety through practice. Robert recommends teaching the subject material, such as in a study group.

“When you teach someone else, it irons out any problems you have with your understanding of the material,” he says.

Practice and repetition allow you to grow more confident so that you don’t take your anxiety with you on the day of the final exam.

— Patrick Pagan, communications major, graduating spring 2014

The Office Hour

Meeting with your professor can help pave the way for scholastic and career success.

First piece of advice — visit professors during office hours. This is the place to get extra instruction and undivided faculty attention outside the classroom.

"All the people who were doing well in my class were there [in office hours]. I figured it must be a good idea," says Evan Sata, a second-year computer science and engineering major.

Sounds great, right? So why doesn't everyone go?

The answer is simple. Life keeps us busy. Between work and the normal class load, many of us may feel we don't have the time to squeeze in a meeting with a professor.

But the fact of the matter is you're attending a great university with educators who are the best in their field. To not mine their brains for knowledge is to miss out on a significant campus resource. Building these academic relationships over time can prove invaluable even after college when you are considering graduate school or prospective careers.

Professors, however, are busy folks. So it's important to strategize in order to make the most of your visit. Here are some tips:

1.   Show up early.

In the classroom, a professor may see you as one in a sea of faces. But if you're the first student standing outside a professor's office door, you'll have a much better chance of making an impression. Donna Watts, a senior film major, shows up half an hour early for professors' office hours so that she can be the first one in line.

2.   Come prepared.

Have an agenda before you show up. Jot down thoughts beforehand or prepare a list of questions. This may help you feel less nervous approaching a professor for the first time.

"[Since] I'm there [at office hours] for a reason, I don't feel uncomfortable, "says Jason Sobel, a senior psychology major.

3.   Give a heads up.

Send your professor an email, or drop him or her a line before or after class. Office hours can get busy, especially during the final weeks of the semester.

"Most professors are open to making appointments," Evan says.

4.   Size up the individual.

Take into consideration that each professor has varying comfort levels and requires a different approach. While you should try to be assertive, avoid sounding aggressive. And be open to suggestions. While discussing upcoming projects with his professors, Jason says he likes to "show that it's a collaborative effort. I'll ask them how they would [approach an assignment]."

5.   Visit more than once a semester.

Like everyone else, professors take a while to warm up to people. But once they see you've taken a real interest in their course, they will likely be flattered. You don't even need a homework excuse to go in and chat. You can always stop by after a riveting lecture and expound on ideas brought up in the class.

6.   Time it right.

Don't wait until the final weeks of a term to meet with a professor. Not only will you be competing with other students, you probably won't get the desired amount of face time.

7.   Don't be deterred by a crowd.

Even though the wait to see a professor usually operates on a first-come, first-served basis, don't be afraid to negotiate with other students if you're in a hurry. Since you're prepared, you might only need a few minutes to get your point across.

8.   Ask career advice.

If you're interested in pursuing a job in your field of study, you can always ask your professors to share their insights. As an aspiring screenwriter, Donna consults her professors on the realities of the job, such as how to juggle family and career. And after you've built up a relationship, a professor will be more inclined to write you a letter of recommendation when you ask.

Practice Long-Term Class Planning

Thinking ahead about your future class schedules can help you reach academic goals faster and graduate on time.

As a generation obsessed with the present, it may be hard for us to think about the future.

With smartphones in hand 24/7, we've become accustomed to instant gratification. We have all sorts of apps at our disposal to answer questions — where is my favorite food truck parked today? What song is playing right now? — as soon as we ask them. So it may be hard to stop and think: How does this all fit in with the big picture? We might feel the same way about our class schedules. Between taking tests and writing papers, the last thing we want to worry about is next semester. When it comes to registering for classes, however, thinking ahead can help you take control of your education. So what's our tip? Practice long-term class planning.

Matadors Moranda Glasper, Eugene Ringpis and Jethro Leynes say it's worth the effort. Here's some advice on how to effectively plan your schedule as far as one year in advance.

1.  Use a planning tool.

You can find a degree planning tool such as My Plan to Graduate for your specific field of study in your portal on the Academics tab. The degree planning tools list prerequisites and courses you need to graduate. Most academic departments on campus also have their own worksheets to help you plan out classes for your major.

The Degree Progress Report (DPR) and University Catalog, also on the "Academics" page of your portal, will help you populate the academic planning tool of your choice with the classes you need to graduate. 

2.  Get an academic advisor. 

Check in with an academic advisor to stay on track. When communications major and graduating senior Moranda decided to schedule all her senior-year classes, she visited her counselor just to be safe.

It was smart move. Upon reviewing Moranda's course load, her advisor noticed she was missing two key requirements. Since she discovered this early, Moranda was able to complete those credits in the winter session before the spring semester of her senior year began. Because she planned ahead and got an academic checkup, she managed to avoid an unpleasant surprise.

3.  Register for classes in the same series.

For some majors such as biochemistry, two-part class series, such as general, organic and analytical chemistry, need to be completed before moving on to upper-division courses. Therefore, according to Eugene, it's a good idea to take the entire series in sequence over the course of the same school year. He learned the hard way when he missed an opportunity to take his second analytical chemistry classes in his first year as a transfer student. Now that he's graduating, he has to scramble to fit this 300-level prerequisite in his last two semesters. 

4.  Make a backup list.

Working out your class schedule ahead of time isn't difficult, but, if you miss your registration date or the class you want is full, you may have to go to plan B. That's why it's a good idea to anticipate changes and put together a backup list in advance. Jethro, a graphic design major in his junior year, makes two wish lists. He has a priority one of the classes he needs to take right away, whether they are prerequisites or courses that help build his portfolio, and a backup of electives and optional courses. If he isn't able to register for everything on his priority and backup lists, he uses them to plan out next year's schedule.

5.  Keep a file.

Whether you practice planning for the future or not, it's always a good idea to keep a file of your old schedules. Or, print out a copy of your unofficial transcript for each semester.

Knowing which classes you've already taken will ensure that you don't accidentally register for the same kind of class twice. Also, this may help you keep track of how many credits you have left until you're eligible to graduate.

Prep for the Upper Division Writing Proficiency Exam

Just because the Upper Division Writing Proficiency Exam (UDWPE) is mandatory doesn't mean you need to be nervous. Here are some tips on how to get a good score.

What is the UDWPE? It's a graduation requirement designed to test your ability to write an essay.

Why is this important? Because it evaluates how well you can examine, apply or question ideas to form an argument. Once you enter the real world, the ability to think critically and write well is extremely important. Knowing how to effectively get your point across will allow you to pen the cover letter that will successfully hook a prospective employer or make a persuasive case for your ideas in whatever job you do.

Note that the policy for the exam has recently changed. If you don't take the UDWPE by the time you complete 75 units, a hold will be placed on your registration for the following semester.

So what's our recommendation? Take your exam as soon as you realize you're about to complete 75 units.

Current students Megan Winning, Patrick Santiago and Gretchelle Quiambao share their tips on how to score well on the UDWPE. 

1.  Two weeks before: Take a prep course.

Eight-hour or two-and-a-half-hour sessions are usually offered two weeks before the test date. Prepping really helped Gretchelle "know what to expect on the actual day of the exam and what the UDWPE graders would be looking for," she says.

Although the junior majoring in journalism is confident about her writing, composing a first-rate essay within the 75-minute allotted time is still a scary prospect. Taking the practice exam at the prep session trained Gretchelle how to manage her time wisely. Signing up is easy. Stop by the Learning Resource Center, Delmar T. Oviatt Library third floor or call (818) 677-2033.

2.  The night before: browse the Internet.

Glance over sample prompts to get an idea of what to expect on the day of your exam. Former test takers' essays are posted online and so are the UDWPE graders' remarks. You can review them to see how and why some scored better than others. Doing some extracurricular reading might also help by giving you supporting material to discuss.

"The night before the exam, I brushed up on current events online in case I had to present examples to support my thesis," says Patrick, a third-year journalism student.

3.  The day of the exam: Don't waste time.

"The biggest mistake you can make when it comes to a timed test is to sit in the chair and stare at the prompt," Patrick says. 

Therefore, he advises that you don't waste time overanalyzing it.

According to Megan, "It's pretty self-explanatory." 

Her prompt was a one-page text on students who take a year off between high school and college. She was asked to identify the main points of the text and argue whether all college-bound graduates might benefit from an interim.

"They list exactly what they expect you to write about on the exam booklet," says the fourth-year cinema and television arts major and multimedia production option. “You can use that knowledge to formulate a basic outline before you start writing.”

Be Savvy About Online Classes

Did you know there are three kinds of online classes at Northridge? Learn about each type before signing up for them.

Taking an online class to save time may seem like a no-brainer.

Sophomore and music major Enrique Chavez struggles to fit rehearsals and practice among the eight classes he’s taking this semester and a campus job. Fortunately, some of his courses are online.

"Online classes personally work for me since I have a lot to schedule. I like to do classwork when I have the time," Enrique says.

On the flip side, online courses may also require that you be a more meticulous student.

"Sometimes if a class is completely online, you forget you’re taking it,” explains Sierra Hunter, a graduating senior and art major.

Since there aren’t any professors or students to remind you when a due date is looming, you have to stay on top of your work.

"You can’t even miss a deadline by one second. It’s not like a physical class, where you can slide in five minutes late and still turn in your homework," Enrique says.

Fortunately for those who need a little face time in the classroom, there are three types of online classes with varying degrees of online instruction. In addition to fully online classes, CSUN offers partial and hybrid online classes for students who want the flexibility but prefer a few in-class meetings. Before you decide to take an online class, check out the following definitions to help you decide which kind is the best fit for you.

1.  Fully online classes

Fully online classes are sometimes challenging for a new e-learner. All class sessions and exams are online; there are no campus meetings. With these types of classes, time management skills and self-discipline are key. For someone who is organized, like Enrique, they actually help him. Many professors who teach online classes post all assignments for the semester upfront. As a result, sometimes he completes homework and quizzes well before the due dates.

"It stays at the back of my mind. I think, ‘I have to do this,’ and I actually get the work done faster," he says.

2.  Campus online classes

Most campus online classes take place on the web. Face-to-face meetings may include orientation, special in-class presentations, exams or other in-class proofs of competency.

"I like that when I go into a physical class, it’s dedicated to things outside of written work, such as presentations, group activities and discussions," Enrique says.

3.  Hybrid classes

Hybrid classes take place both on campus and online. Typically, classes meet half online and half on campus.

Sierra’s schedule alternates — she only attends a lecture once every two weeks. On the weeks without meetings, she turns in homework online. She likes the regularly scheduled meetings because of the interaction with the professor. Being in a classroom allows her and the other students to ask the professor questions and receive clarification on assignments without having to communicate via email. Another major benefit to any online class is electronic materials. Some of Sierra’s professors scan materials for their students to the web. 

"A lot of the classes I’ve taken provide books online so I save money," Sierra says.

And since students take tests electronically, they receive their scores as soon as they submit them, which is another plus for her. How will you know what kind of online class you are signing up for? Do an online class search, pick the class you want and select Detail. Under the Notes section there is a description that explains whether it is fully online, campus online or hybrid. 

Visit the Learning Resource Center, Part 1

If you’re registered for a math, science, economics or accounting class and are worried you might need extra help, Science, Math and Related Topics (SMART) Lab is one of the Learning Resource Center (LRC) labs that can beef up your skills.

Located in the third floor of the Delmar T. Oviatt Library, the often bustling SMART Lab is staffed by tutors – undergraduate (mostly juniors and seniors) and graduate students – from a variety of majors. The SMART Lab offers tutors for the following subjects: accounting, biology, chemistry and economics. At any given hour, at least five tutors are available, both for group or one-on-one sessions. You are allotted an hour to spend each day on a single subject. If you feel like you need further attention, you can sign up for a supplemental instruction (SI) session through the LRC.

The tutoring helped boost her grades, says Maria Paredes, a senior biology major. But the fact that it also improved her study habits was the biggest boon. Having her tutors push her to be a better student actually created long-term benefits.

"You have to do your part as a student," she explains. "You can't just come to tutoring and expect your grades to improve."

Maria and Faisal Bensaidan, another SMART Lab regular, offer tips on how to make the most of your visits.

1.  Check the schedule and arrive early.

The SMART Lab operates on a walk-in, first-come, first-served basis only. Availability of tutors can be tricky depending on when you visit during the semester. Sometimes, you can get started with a tutor right away or you may wait for a few minutes. Each tutor teaches a different subject, and they work at different times during the week. Before dropping by, check out the schedule online or pick up a hard copy at the LRC's front desk. Ideally, arrive before the tutor you want is scheduled so that you can be first to reserve a meeting with him or her.

2.  Review the material beforehand.

If there are concepts or sections of a book or article that you'd like to discuss with the tutor, read it before coming in. Make note of specific areas you would like help with. By knowing what questions to ask, you'll get to the answer faster and save time, says Faisal, a senior microbiology major. 

3.  Bring specific formulas or equations.

If you have specific problems that you want to go over with your tutor, try solving them yourself first. Then the tutor can review your work to see how well you understand the concepts, and he or she can then quickly identify where you may need improvement. 

4.  Check out a group session.

While the SMART Lab provides one-on-one tutoring, it is offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Be open to working in a group session during your visit. In fact, working with other students on the same subject can be another way you can squeeze in some additional help into your allotted time.

5.  Be proactive and ask for tips.

After working with your tutor, be sure to ask for practice problems that you can go over on your own time. Asking a tutor for tips or advice on studying for a certain class can also help you prepare for the next quiz or test. Maria likes to work with senior biology major D'Ary Greene. 

"He taught me study habits that I was never taught before and how to make time for studying," she says. 

D'Ary advised her to begin studying all the material for an exam a week or two before so she doesn't have to cram. And in the last few days before an exam, he recommended that she focus on major concepts only.

6.  Try out different tutors to find the best fit.

Try sitting with different tutors who teach the same subject to see whose strategies work best for you.

"Every tutor is different," Maria says. "Just because D'Ary worked for me doesn't mean he's going to work for somebody else. That's why there is a variety of tutors."

 Gretchelle Quiambao, journalism major, fall 2012

Visit the Learning Resource Center, Part 2

Looking for someone to review your paper? The Learning Resource Center (LRC) should be your go-to spot for writing help.

The LRC Writing Center, located in the third floor of the Delmar T. Oviatt Library, is a great place to sit down with a writing consultant – part-time English faculty and English graduate students  who can look over your written assignments and make recommendations.

"I have met with consultants to go over the UDWPE, scholarship and internship essays, and class papers," says Andrea Evangelista, a senior and public health major who frequently takes advantage of the writing center.

There is a lab just for freshman composition classes, and workshops devoted to the Upper Division Writing Proficiency Exam (UDWPE).

Paige Andrews, a junior and communications major, often comes to the writing center for help with her communications papers. She saw her grades get a boost once she began to visit.

"More people should know about the LRC and how its services are free. It can help make a difference," she says. 

Since the writing center can get busy, especially during midterm and finals week, she and Andrea offer some helpful tips on how to optimize a visit.

1.  Make an appointment. 

Walk-ins are allowed but are not guaranteed spots. Sometimes you may have to wait for a writing consultant to become available. Scheduling an appointment is easy. You can call (818) 677-2033 or stop by the front desk. If you want to meet with a particular consultant, look for his or her hours online.

2.  Arrive on time.

Being on time is crucial because appointments are only a half-hour long. The writing center also has a strict no-show policy. If you do not cancel or reschedule two hours before your appointment, or if you are more than 10 minutes late, you will be entered in the database as a no-show. Once you have two no-shows, you will not be able to make appointments for the rest of the semester and will only be allowed to see consultants as a walk-in. 

3.  Bring hard copies and reference materials.

Print out a copy of your paper before your appointment. A hard copy will make it easier for a consultant to read and make notes on your paper. Also be sure to bring the assignment prompt and any related materials, such as books or articles that you have cited. This way the consultant can get a better idea of the approach you want to take with your paper.

4. Collaborate with your writing consultant.

Meeting with a consultant is a collaborative experience, so don't expect him or her to do the work for you. Showing up for an appointment with a poorly written paper or one filled with spelling and grammatical errors will minimize the effectiveness of your session. Paige has her consultants read over her paper only after she's painstakingly gone over it first.

"They catch mistakes I've missed or help me focus on things that I may not have noticed or know how to do," she explains.

Collaborating with her consultants has not only improved her writing grades but also her critical thinking in general.

"What is unique about the Writing Center is that the consultants not only offer suggestions for your papers but they prompt you with questions to get you to those solutions yourself," Andrea says. 

5.  Become a familiar face. 

Schedule follow-up appointments.

"I usually come in well in advance of a paper's due date and go to multiple sessions periodically throughout the writing process," Andrea said. 

Don't hesitate to ask for practice essays or prompts from your consultant. 

 Gretchelle Quiambao, journalism major, fall 2012

Healthy Body, Healthy Brain

Getting good grades in college isn’t achieved by studying day and night. To be a student at the top of your game, it’s important to find a balance between life and work. 

Between classes, homework and tests, it may feel like it’s hard to fit anything else into your life.

However, think of it this way — the healthier and happier you feel, the better you’ll perform in reading, writing and testing.

Fortunately, CSUN offers a number of free to low-cost services for improving student well-being: the Klotz Student Health Center for medical check-ups, acupuncture and massages; University Counseling Services for depression, stress and anxiety management; and the Student Recreation Center for working out, group exercise and outdoor activity.

In September 2012, CSUN introduced the first issue of the online health and wellness magazine Student Health 101. Its simple recipes, tips and student testimonials are a boon for someone who may be struggling to find that right life balance.

Larisa Villa, a master’s student in counseling, says she finds the Student Health 101 articles helpful.

“I get motivated to try and be healthy," she says.

The Student Health 101 Facebook page even shares health news related to students and features an “Ask the Doc" tool. You can “Like" the page to be notified of the next issue of Student Health 101.

We’ve asked Larisa and other fellow Matadors, Elisabeth Gibson and Daisy Hernandez, to share their best tips and favorite resources for achieving the good health that is so necessary to academic success.

1.  Eat well.

When you eat food that is nutritious and healthy, it’s like putting high-quality fuel in the engine of your car, points out Elisabeth, also a master’s student in counseling. Larisa notices that staying hydrated and eating more nutritious snacks gives her more energy to stay alert in class. Thus, she brings fruit and veggies with her to campus so she has something healthy to munch on instead of chips and candy. And instead of buying a soda from the campus eateries or vending machines, she opts for juice or water.

The Student Health 101 videos are Larisa’s favorite part of the magazine, especially those that demonstrate how to concoct fruit and vegetable smoothies. Since most of the recipes in Student Health 101 are simple to make and require few ingredients, they are perfect for busy college students.

2.  Make room in your schedule for exercise.

Our Matadors say that when they feel physically tired, they become unmotivated or have difficulty concentrating. Exercise not only gives you more energy, it also shoots endorphins in your brain so that you feel more confident. For fitness tips, you can tap into the many resources offered at the Student Recreation Center. Student Health 101 also offers videos on exercises you can even do at home, such as yoga.

The key is to find an activity that you enjoy — walking, biking, hiking, sports — so it doesn’t feel like a chore. In addition to giving you more energy, group sports promote self-discipline, which can also be transferred to academics, and social interaction.

“If you are physically active, you are helping your body operate better. And when you exercise socially, you feed the parts of you that crave social experience," Elisabeth says. 

3.  Take care of your emotional health.

Feeling emotionally distressed can affect your ability to complete assignments, go to class and understand what is being taught, Larisa points out. What’s a great tip for dealing with stress? Give your brain a break.

“Checking out for a little helps put things back in perspective," says Daisy, a senior biology major.

Elisabeth recommends that when you feel like there are too many things coming at you make a list of the due dates so you can address everything that you need to get done, one task at a time. And find a go-to spot for performing your most difficult mental processes.

“Your body has kinetic memory, especially when dealing with studying,” Elisabeth says. “Studying in the same place with the same atmosphere helps your body realize, ‘Hey, it is time to focus,’ and you can retain information better."

Articles in Student Health 101 on budgeting and creating the perfect environment for studying are good resources for de-stressing college life. University Counseling Services also offers a number of workshops to help you manage your emotional health.

4.  Find a mentor and build that relationship.

Whenever we embark on a new adventure, there are always adjustments that need to be made, particularly if you are living away from home for the first time. 

“I usually get stressed when I don’t understand how to do something. Asking questions and receiving guidance from others gives me clarity on what to do," Larisa says.

Our Matadors recommend that you seek out mentors by approaching older students, staff or faculty members. Having a support network not only helps you adapt more quickly—but also enriches your college experience.

Daisy, who is also minoring in religious studies, recently approached professor Jody Myers in one of her classes. By reaching out, she found a mentor to help her secure a Jewish studies department scholarship, which funded a two-week trip to Poland.

Consider a CLEP Exam

Want to take fewer classes? Consider a CLEP exam, which can be used to fulfill lower-division general education or major requirements.

First of all, what is CLEP? CLEP is a college-level examination program. It offers 33 types of exams, ranging from history, social science, literature, and composition to science, math, business, and foreign language.

It's offered through the College Board, which administers other standardized tests, such as the SAT, ACT and advanced placement exams.

Not only does CSUN accept academic credit for CLEP exams (check with Admissions and Records to see which ones qualify), you can also take them on campus. 

"Anyone can and should take CLEP tests because they are of great benefit," says senior David Reichelt, who took the algebra CLEP exam in December 2011.

Here are three ways CLEP can help you reach your academic goals more quickly. 

1.  It saves time. 

As a troubled teen, David dropped out of high school and joined the military. After serving as an army medic, he decided to pursue a bachelor's degree at CSUN. However, he was short on some math units required for a transfer to CSUN's undergraduate theatre program in fall 2011.

"In order to transfer, I would have had to first take two semesters of rudimentary math,” he explains. “That would mean I would have had to wait a whole year to transfer."

Additionally, upon transferring, he needed another semester of college algebra at CSUN. Fortunately, David remembered that an academic advisor at Bakersfield College, a community college he attended for three years, told him about CLEP. With CLEP, he could attend CSUN immediately and bypass three semesters of math.

David signed up for CLEP, studied for three months and tested out of his math requirements. Because of CLEP, he didn't have to wait to pursue his dream. 

2.  It saves money.

Since he didn't have to take three math classes, David didn't have to spend money on tuition, fees and textbooks.

"In total, I must have saved $2,000 or more," David says.

To supplement the free study guides on the CLEP website, David also visited the Learning Resource Center and purchased practice books on He spent around $60. 

In addition to the $80 fee for the CLEP exam, which he paid on the day of the test, there was a $30 administrative fee. Thus, his entire cost for taking the CLEP exam, including study materials, totaled $170. 

3.  It's convenient.

The CSUN Testing Center, located in Bayramian Hall 180, administers the 90-minute-long CLEP exams Monday through Friday at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Since the exams are electronic and multiple choice, scores are issued instantly (unless you request the optional essay). Essay results are usually sent in the mail within three to four weeks. There are three ways to register for a CLEP exam: by walking in at the Testing Center, by calling (818) 677-2369 or by emailing For more information, check out the Testing Center's CLEP Web page.

Prep in Advance for Finals

Hearing the word "finals" may make us sweat. But a little advanced prep will dramatically reduce the stress of studying up until the final hour. 

Most of us are all too familiar with the last week of the semester when we take our final exams.

During this time, all over campus, students tote around piles of flash cards, books and papers. They disappear into the study rooms at the Delmar T. Oviatt Library. The library becomes a shelter for those looking for peace and concentration.

Finals certainly can be stressful. But it doesn't necessarily have to be that way. Junior journalism major Jasmine Terzian admits that she procrastinates and pulls all-nighters every now and then. But she's had to learn some good habits over time.

"For most classes I've taken, I'm usually so prepared by the time the finals come around that I have nothing more to do but review," she explains. 

Here are five tips from Jasmine and another fellow Matador Jobin Kaur to help you survive finals.

1.   Come up with a study plan at least two to three weeks in advance.

Use this time to organize what you need in order to study for your finals. Review class notes, midterms and quizzes and bookmark topics, questions and formulas. Double-check to make sure you have the correct answers and solutions. You may even want to rewrite messy notes. All of these steps will make it easier for you to study later as the date of your finals come closer. The more time you give yourself to do these things, the less hectic your study plan will be in the final weeks of the semester. For this reason, Jasmine regularly checks her answers and notes as soon as the day after the lecture, quiz or assignment deadline.

2.   Attend final review days.

Another way to prep for a final exam is to make sure to attend any final review days a professor might schedule. This can be a valuable time for getting information you might have missed otherwise in class. 

"What I try to do is prepare some questions I have before that review session so I can ask them then," Jasmine says.

She recommends bringing up broader questions, such theories or term definitions, during group study sessions. But for specifics or if you are confused about something the professor said, take the time to go to office hours so you can get a one-on-one explanation.

3.   Identify your studying technique.

Each person is different when it comes to finding the right way to study. Some of us find study groups to be effective while others prefer to study alone.  However, keep in mind that it also may be helpful to compare notes with a fellow classmate to get information you might have overlooked. To find the best technique that helps you effectively study might take some time so try different approaches a few weeks before finals.

"I try to study alone because I'm easily distracted. But it's helpful to have a study buddy if he or she keeps me focused," Jasmine says. 

4.   Give yourself a break and de-stress.

Stepping away from your work and coming back to it can help you focus by clearing your mind of clutter. 

"Take breaks — watch a short TV show or read a novel or magazine — and refresh your mind for just a bit," says Jobin Kaur, a junior engineering major. "Giving yourself little rewards in between studying can help get you through the long sessions." 

Jobin tends to spend a couple of minutes on something unrelated to studying such as taking a quick nap or painting her nails, so that she is able to return to studying in a more focused state.

 “But give yourself a definite amount of time for your break," she warns.

5.   Take advantage of CSUN’s extended hours and perks during finals week. 

During finals week CSUN offers the following special services to students. 

“I usually go to the tutoring labs in Jacaranda Hall and the private study areas in the library since it’s open late during finals," Jobin says.

The University Student Union organizes a week-long event designed to help students get through finals by providing free massages, quiet study rooms, snacks and refreshments, and study kits. Study kits are free and contain a Scantron, blue book, pen, pencil, highlighter and two pieces of candy. You can also get massages at The Klotz Health Center or talk to someone at University Counseling Services located in Bayramian Hall 520 if you feel overwhelmed.

6.   Get enough sleep and snack healthy.

“I can’t focus properly with just a couple hours of sleep and an empty stomach," Jobin says. “I try to get rest and eat right."

Pass on cookies and grab some fruit. Fruits can be a healthier way of getting a sugar boost without the crash. Chocolate is Jobin’s snack of choice and a great food to eat when trying to stay focused, especially dark chocolate which contains natural stimulants, such as caffeine. 

- Gretchelle Quiambao, journalism major, fall 2012

Utilize Campus Technology

Fellow Matadors share their favorite campus resources that allow them to access technology without sacrificing their wallets.

You may have noticed the increased presence of technology in the classroom lately. In lieu of traditional pen and paper, many students are now taking notes on electronic devices. Others use mobile apps — such as Evernote, Explain Everything or myHomework Student Planner — to record lectures, annotate textbooks and upload assignments.

In light of such technological progress, CSUN is upping its game. Tech-savvy professors use iPads for lecture presentations. The myCSUNtablet initiative, launching fall 2013, aims to reduce the cost and increase the quality of learning materials by using iPads in select classes. The Delmar T. Oviatt Library will also allow students to check out loaner laptops and tablets in the new Learning Commons.

Keep in mind that jumping on the technology bandwagon doesn’t necessarily mean you have to shell out a lot of cash. There are a number of CSUN technological resources you can utilize at little or no cost. Fellow Matadors share some of their favorite services that are either free or paid for by the Campus Quality Fee.

1.  Print Anywhere

Instead of constantly replacing expensive ink cartridges in his printer at home, junior and environmental and occupational health major Scott Fan takes advantage of free wireless printing through the University Student Union’s PrintAnywhere service. To use it, you simply log in to the PrintAnywhere Web page with your CSUN user ID and password. You are allowed up to 20 one-sided, letter-size printouts daily. 

“Being able to send my printing job from anywhere makes things so much easier for me," Scott says.

He likes to log in using his smartphone or a computer on campus. He sends the document he would like to print to one of two pick-up locations: the University Student Union or the Satellite Student Union computer labs. Once Scott sends a request, it stays in queue at the pick-up location for up to two hours, which gives him plenty of time to retrieve the printout between work and class.

Scott usually goes to the University Student Union because it is conveniently located near many of his classes. The lab has stations with a 10-minute limit that allow him to pop in, confirm his request, print and leave.

“I would definitely recommend this service because of the convenience and speed," Scott says. “It saves a lot of money and time."

2.  myCSUNsoftware

Ryan Camire is a third-year mechanical engineering transfer student. His major requires complex software, such as Computer-Aided Design, SolidWorks and MatLab, to conduct analysis and simulation, solve large systems of equations, and perform elaborate series of operations and data.

If Ryan were to invest in all the software, he would have to spend at least a few thousand dollars each year or buy student licenses with his textbooks. Considering that the average cost of his textbooks is $180, adding $300 more for an annual student software license would put a crimp on his finances. 

Instead of shelling out the cash, Ryan accesses myCSUNsoftware, a virtual software library that features basic versions of the programs he needs. The set-up is easy, and he can log in to myCSUNsoftware from any Internet-connected computer. Plus, he can save his files onto a personal Web drive.

“myCSUNsoftware is really good and fast," Ryan says. “It gives 24/7 access to computer programs that are typically only kept on school lab computers. It is convenient in case I forget to work on something while the lab is open. Or, I can just work from home on an assignment that requires the software."  

Check out the myCSUNsoftware website for a list of all available programs.

3. features more than 2,000 video tutorials on computer software and other technology such as Adobe Photoshop and HTML as well as nontechnical courses on topics such as improving job interview skills and time management. The tutorials can be viewed 24/7 from any Internet-connected device.

Matadors Dina Najeeb and Teodoro Navarro use to learn new software or brush up on skills.

“It’s really convenient to watch videos on the go via a phone or a tablet," Dina says.

Because she is a computer science major, Dina has to take Javascript and C++ courses. The programming topics on help her get a leg up before entering these classes. Mechanical engineering student Teodoro has used to learn Microsoft Excel applications prior to taking Virtual Basic for Applications, a requirement for his major. 

According to Dina and Teodoro, is easy to navigate. It allows you to bookmark courses, videos or even a specific point in the video’s time code, and share your video playlists with friends via email. Another feature is the ability to post certificates of completion with potential employers on LinkedIn and other social media networks. You can find out more about features by watching the How to Use tutorials on the website. tutorials, range in length and number of videos. If you don’t want to watch all the videos, you can cherry-pick how much time to allot for each series. 

“You can watch segments, chapters or topics instead of a whole course," Dina explains. 

Teodoro points out that is especially good for those who are just starting out.

“I recommend to students who just want to get a feel for the basics," he says. “You can learn a trick or two from each course."

4.  myCSUNtablet initiative 

The myCSUNtablet initiative is a partnership between CSUN and Apple, Inc. aimed at reducing costs and increasing the quality of learning materials for students. Those who enroll in myCSUNtablet courses, currently available in select majors, will use iPads, e-books and e-learning materials in the classroom.

What are some of the perks of the initiative? Faculty who are teaching the myCSUNtablet courses plan to reduce the costs of textbooks and other teaching materials. The Matador Bookstore also offers two- to three-semester payment plans for iPads purchased by students who are enrolled in the myCSUNtablet courses. Students who receive financial aid can apply their funds toward an iPad purchase.

Second-year chemistry major Shawnita Preyer took a class taught by professor Cheryl Van Buskirk called Full Immersion Research Experience (FIRE; Biology 447L). Every student in the class used an iPad, a laptop or a Hewlett-Packard tablet. Whenever professor Van Buskirk gave PowerPoint presentations during lectures, she sent the files to her students so they could upload the slides onto their mobile devices before class. Shawnita annotated the uploaded slides using the Explain Everything mobile app. On the same app, she can take real-time notes during the lectures, record audio and insert digital memos. If she has to handwrite anything on paper, she scans it in to her iPad using a mobile photo scanner app, such as TinyScan or My Scans.

“The nice thing about taking a class catered toward the iPad or tablet is that it limits my paper consumption," Shawnita explains. “It helps me be more organized because everything is on my iPad. I can find everything I need as long as I label it correctly. My iPad goes with me everywhere. Unlike a laptop, I can just throw it in my purse."

Shawnita saves money by getting her e-books secondhand. Some of her classmates share their copies of e-books with her so she can download them to her iPad. Shawnita uploads the e-books via iTunes and reads them on her iPad using the Adobe Reader mobile app.

Converting to an electronic format entirely was difficult for Shawnita at first.

“It takes time to switch from paper to the iPad," Shawnita admits. “I am used to the tactile sensation. If I find that a section of an e-book feels too heavy to read on an iPad, I print that part out. Since I don’t print out the entire book, it doesn’t cost me that much."   

In addition to Explain Everything, Adobe Reader, Tiny Scan and My Scans, Shawnita uses the SlideShark mobile app to create PowerPoint presentations and a digital imaging app called 3D Brain to help her with assignments. For more information about the myCSUNtablet initiative, check out the website.

Use My Plan to Graduate

One trend that seems to be happening among students is the realization that if they want to graduate within four or five years, they need to make every class count. The new My Plan to Graduate tool helps students plan their classes more efficiently.

By summertime, juniors Bradley Lang and Stephanie Papias have already mapped out their class schedules for their upcoming senior year. Both used the new My Plan to Graduate tool, located here in the Chart My Academic Progress pagelet in the myNorthridge Portal. 

"My Plan to Graduate shows me which requirements I've met, including which classes I still need to take," Bradley explains. 

My Plan to Graduate does more than the Degree Progress Report (DPR) and the My Academic Planner (MAP) — it collects data that is analyzed by the academic departments on campus. Because the data helps gauge demand for each class, departments can use it to determine which class sections should be made more available in the future. For this reason, it is Bradley's favorite aspect of My Plan to Graduate. As a transfer student and a computer information technology major, Bradley often struggled to find an open seat in one of the many popular prerequisite courses for his academic program.

"It's cool because My Plan to Graduate allows my department to see which classes all the CIT majors have planned for a certain semester,” Bradley explains. “My department can then assign more faculty members to teach a class that seems to fill up the quickest."

Bradley and Stephanie share other ways that My Plan to Graduate helps them plan the classes they need. 

1. My Plan to Graduate automates long-term class planning.

When Bradley first logged in to My Plan to Graduate, he was prompted to create an academic plan from a roadmap.

"The My Plan to Graduate tool puts all my options in one area. You get the big picture of how many units you have coming up," Bradley points out.

My Plan to Graduate allowed Stephanie, a child and adolescent development major, to plan more efficiently. Before, she printed out a list of classes she needed for her major from the University Catalog, waited for her enrollment appointment and searched the myNorthridge Portal registration page to see if the classes were available. 

Since this process was labor-intensive, she usually sought out an academic advisor from the Department of Child and Adolescent Development to help her. But one-on-one advisement appointments are not available during the summer. Thus, between semesters, Stephanie was on her own.

Now it takes little more than an hour for Stephanie to plan out her classes on her own for multiple semesters using My Plan to Graduate. The tool shows different options for completing every requirement for her academic program. During her enrollment appointment, if she discovers the class she wants is full, she can simply return to her My Plan to Graduate to select another available option. 

2. My Plan to Graduate is interactive.

When Stephanie was using My Plan to Graduate, she noticed that the more she played with it, the more she learned about it. The tool is highly interactive and allows students to create and edit multiple plans. In Bradley's case, his roadmap didn't initially include his minor, so he simply manually added the classes he needed.

For Bradley, the tool appeared a little overwhelming at first because it showed him all the classes he needed to take for all the years he planned to study at CSUN — until he discovered how to customize his view. Bradley chose to view one semester at a time by collapsing or expanding the drop-down lists. After he designed it according to his preferences, his plan became more clean and straightforward to look at.

Stephanie loves the tool's drag-and-drop capability, which makes it easier for her to plan for the long term — she can just grab and drag classes between semesters. She also likes the Comments section.

"You can give yourself little reminders in Comments about the classes you would like to try or professors you would like to teach the class. You can print out your comments, make them private or make them available for your academic advisors to see," Stephanie says. 

Prior to the launch of My Plan to Graduate, Stephanie would plan her prospective class schedule with an academic advisor before each enrollment appointment because her greatest fear was that she would take the wrong class and have to stay in college longer as a result. Now with My Plan to Graduate, she can bring a printout to show her academic advisor and have more time to talk about career goals and graduate school rather than planning a class schedule. 

Conveniently, My Plan to Graduate also boasts two features, Audit and Validate, which verify her planned classes and if the placement of the courses puts on her on track to graduate within her desired time frame.

For more information about My Plan to Graduate, check out the how-to guide.