Book By: Lance O. Ong
Review By: Alice Bullington Davis
Academic Advisor, Academic Success Center
Faculty (adjunct), English Department
Here, the self-reflective reader will discover a wealth of information on how to achieve academic success. Ong tells of his “phoenix rising from the ashes” odyssey as a student who failed 3 courses his first year. Yet he triumphed because he analyzed academia and applied his insights to helpfully demystify the higher education system and its sometimes-arcane procedures.
We advisors are well familiar with the type of student—smart and adept at “sliding by” in high school—whose life this book will change. Ong’s self-redemptive story is potentially transformative for underperforming but self-aware students. His initial academic conduct sounds much like what we often hear, or suspect, from our own “borderline” students: “I cut classes, skimmed but didn’t absorb text readings, ignored lectures,… fell behind in assignments, …and crammed for exams the night before…I blamed external circumstances for my own mistakes, laziness, and failure to concentrate” (p. 4).
With a goal comparable to Light’s Making the Most of College: Students Speak Their Minds, this book is more relevant to the typical student. Educators committed to developmental advising will find it particularly affirming. Ong assumes that, with motivation and self-awareness, his readers can better themselves, just as he “reinvented” himself from “slacker” to a dedicated student. The process is similarly a major component of psychological maturation. As Chickering states, “The questions [advisors] raise, the perspectives we share, the resources we suggest…all should aim to increase their [students’] capacity to take charge of their own existence” (p. 50). Not only is this central to developmental advising, it is the fundamental message of SuperCharge. In the excellent chapter, “Connect and Relate,” Ong observes: “Quite often, [students] rush to keep up with the rat race but don’t have the presence of mind to step off the treadmill and think of their blessings or ponder life’s deeper meanings” (p. 210).
Of particular usefulness are the book’s chapters on “Exam Preparation” and “On Exam Day”. The author’s “sixteen fundamental principles . . . used for all test reviews” (p. 131) are both practical and wise. His chapter on “Staying Focused as Finals Approach” points out: “The system [graduate school and/or the working world] doesn’t make allowances for personal problems, so it is up to you to pull yourself through—and, again, this admittedly is hard. . . . Personal issues can and should be addressed after exam pressures are over” (p. 171).
Certainly, the book will not appeal to the student who requires “spoon-feeding,” as attempted by so many books of this ilk. Educators who use the book for teaching should strongly consider creating visual aids--power-point presentations or simple handouts to help reading-resistant and remedial students. When advising more verbally skilled students assign an Ong-like, self-reflective essay: “Using Ong’s narrative as your model, analyze your past academic pitfalls and suggest changes in your behaviors or attitudes that will lead to success in college.” Peer mentoring, first-year orientation courses, and study-skills workshops would be ideal environments in which to apply Ong’s insights. Teachers could create lectures using Ong’s “asterisked” segments to motivate their students. Notably, the chapter, “Your Teachers” dispenses a wealth of knowledge on the interpersonal and communication skills that nurture these pivotal relationships.
Its primary drawback? The book is text-heavy. Unlike comparable books, such as Ellis’s Becoming a Master Student or Carter, Bishop, and Kravits’ Keys to Success, few illustrations and no activities enliven the dry text. Further, Ong writes to an audience of students, so advisors will obviously need to pivot as they read.
His academic savvy, however, makes this well worth the effort. As an advisor, I can easily imagine enriching our student advising Web site with applicable excerpts. In sum, this book is recommended to any advisor with enough time to synthesize its message into succinct lesson plans. Although verbose in parts, it is potentially a valuable resource, earning a spot on the “top ten books” in my advising library.
Carter, Carol, Bishop, Joyce, and Kravits, Sarah Lynne. (2003) Keys to Success: Building Successful Intelligence for College, Career, and Life. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Chickering, Arthur W., "Empowering lifelong self-development," NACADA Journal 14(2): 50-53.
Ellis, David. (2002). Becoming a Master Student. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
Light, Richard J. Making the Most of College: Students Speak Their Minds. (2001). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Supercharge Your Study Skills: From F to Phi Beta Kappa. (2004).
Book by Ong, Lance O. Review by Alice Bullington Davis. San Francisco: Chromisphere Press, 240 pp. (paperback). $16.95. ISBN 0-9744274-0-3.