Department of Psychology

University of Mississippi

Professor and author Ken Sufka offers students tips to excel


Ken Sufka, professor of psychology

Motivated to help at-risk college students succeed in attaining their educational goals, more than 100 faculty and staff from Mississippi’s higher education institutions gathered Aug. 14 at the University of Mississippi for a day of inspiration and empowerment.

The At-Risk Summit: Student Success and Persistence was held at UM’s Jackson Avenue Center. Hosted by the university’s Center for Student Success and First-Year Experience, the event prominently featured UM faculty and staff in leadership roles, advising other institutions on how best to support and instruct at-risk students. Included were motivational speakers, a panel discussion and break-out sessions focused on financial aid, connecting with at-risk students by understanding their challenges and perspectives.

“I am glad you are taking time to focus on this critically important issue,” said Hank Bounds, Mississippi commissioner of higher education via a letter read in his absence. “For our students, you help them obtain a college degree, which will enable them to lead a different kind of life from that of someone holding only a high school diploma. You help save them time and money along the way. You help first-generation college students and those who enter college unprepared.”

Ken Sufka, UM professor of psychology and author of The A Game: Nine Steps to Better Grades, delivered the first of the summit’s two keynote addresses. Sufka spoke about how at-risk students can overcome the odds to excel at the college and university level.

“Basically, there are four rules for student success,” he said. “Go to class, sit in the sweet spot (front and center), come to class prepared and when lost, ask questions.”

Even high-achieving students often fail for lack of classroom engagement, poor study habits and testing issues, Sufka said.
“A tenth of a grade-point average point can be the determining factor of whether a student stays in college or not. We cannot emphasize enough that a lower grade carries a lot of weight.”

Sufka’s presentation underscored the necessity of correct study habits for maximum academic achievement.
“When it comes to testing, many students erroneously think that pulling an all-nighter is better than prolonged, spaced-out study,” Sukfa said. “The reality is pulling an all-nighter is like studying for an F. Why would anyone do that?”

The renowned scholar suggested faculty and support staff push students toward concept maps (diagrams that organize relationships between persons, things and ideas) and away from merely reviewing notes, flash cards and study groups – practices that may have worked for them in high school but will not be as effective at the university level.

“You can look at something a thousand times and still not know it,” Sukfa said. “To learn and be able to apply complex concepts by thinking critically, students must know how to process information, not merely review or repeat it.”