Dana Johnson on Will This Be on the Test?

Getting into college takes plenty of hard work, but knowing what your professors expect of you once you get there can be even more challenging. Will This Be on the Test? is the essential survival guide for high-school students making the transition to college academics. In this entertaining and informative book, Dana Johnson shares wisdom and wit gleaned from her decades of experience as an award-winning teacher in the freshman classroom—lessons that will continue to serve you long after college graduation.

What inspired you to write this book?

I’ve taught college freshmen for decades and have seen the trouble they have because they don’t realize how high school and college are different. Some don’t figure out how to be successful in their coursework and end up doing poorly or even dropping out. This book is my best advice to students based on my experiences and other professors I’ve known and worked with. I’ve wanted to write the book for many years, but finally made time to do it because I realized how much it could help.

How have students changed since you started teaching?

Students are less self-reliant and have more expectations of reminders, extensions, re-do’s on assignments, and extra credit. They want to be told information, rather than take charge of their own learning. They are more likely to blame someone or something else than take responsibility. With the advent of email, students prefer to send electronic messages rather than call or come to the offices of their professors, which means they have less of an academic relationship. Students seem less likely to meet many of their classmates as they are primarily connected via their phones and social media to friends they know through other contexts.

When should students (and parents) read this book?

Students should read it before going to college and again at the end of the first semester or two. The re-reading will help them pick up some tips that are more meaningful after they have experienced some college courses. Parents should read the book before their students are in high school so they understand what high school and the family should be preparing them for.

High school teachers and counselors could benefit from reading it too, so they’re aware of habits, skills, and a mindset that will help students make the transition successfully from high school to college.

What is the biggest mistake students make in college academics?

I’ll give you two:

  1. Skipping class. Since no one is calling their parents when they don’t go to class, it seems easy to sleep in or give preference to other activities.
  2. Procrastinating. There are fewer intermediate deadlines, reminders, reviews, prompts, and safety nets in college than in high school. At first, the assignment deadlines and exams seem so far away, and students wait too long before starting the work or studying.

An example of the comics found in Will This Be on the Test?. Art by Jeremy Tamburello.

Are the cartoons featured throughout the book based on real events?

The ideas all originated in something I experienced or was told to me. Every professor tells stories about bizarre, rude, amusing, or naïve behavior on the part of students, and students have told me their stories also. Some of them seem a little unbelievable – but they are all based on true stories!

What should students know about professors that they generally don’t?

Professors are experts in a special slice of their fields. They love their content, and they love their work. This is not just a job for them, it is their intellectual life. You can learn a lot by talking with them outside of class. Professors enjoy having their students visit office hours, and they want to pass on what they know. Students can think of this as a form of networking, which is a skill that will pay off after college too.

 

Dana Johnson taught for many years at the College of William and Mary, where she twice won the Simon Prize for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics, and has three decades of experience teaching college freshmen. She lives in Williamsburg, Virginia.