A few useful drills for the army of incoming freshmen

July 4th fireworks last week were only a prelude to the bursts in store for those who will enter college this fall.

The legions of languidly literate, who use phrases such as "da bomb," may bomb their first exams. High school classes are not the training grounds they used to be. The first semester of college has become a boot camp filled with obstacle courses: Few 17- and 18-year-olds are prepared for the rigors.

There's a perilous fight ahead, and college-bound youngsters may surrender in the face of pages and pages of bombardments.

Or they can fortify themselves. They should have had drill instructors in grade school;. now they need development instruction. Here's what a development instructor would tell them:

Reconnaissance: The registrar's office can inform you about the courses that are required for the first semester. Ask for the contact information for the departments that administer the courses you're most likely to take. Contact these departments and ask for syllabuses. Come up with a strategy for handling the requirements and the assignments. Plan ahead. Read ahead.

Obstacle courses: Call or e-mail the campus bookstore to find out when the required texts will be on the shelves. Arrange to get several of the books you will need.

Combat readiness: Consider your strengths and vulnerabilities. Attack the readings you're not keen on for the courses you think will be the toughest. Reward yourself with readings you're apt to enjoy, in subjects you really want to command.

First aid: Schools often have a "learning center" where you can obtain brochures, audiotapes, or videotapes that offer suggestions about studying – about learning how to learn. Ask for them in advance.

Reinforcements: Many schools have a "writing center" where you can receive help in organizing, reorganizing, and redeploying thoughts, sentences, and paragraphs. Tutors can help you work on grammar and syntax problems.

Tech support: Find out if your school requires the use of particular computer programs and software. Make prudent acquisitions before entering the battle.

Ammunition: Expand your vocabulary. At almost every public library, you'll find books that pertain to subject matter you'll take on in the fall. A number of these books will have a glossary at the back.

Photocopy these pages. At five or 10 cents a copy, they're a bargain. The more familiar you are with these terms, the more readily you'll grasp the meaning of professors' lectures and handouts.

Rules of engagement: Be prepared to receive a Code of Conduct or Honor Code at orientation. Be prepared to take it seriously. Plagiarism and other forms of cheating are rampant, which is why some schools will come down early and hard – to set an example. Don't be that kind of example.

Field communications: In the weeks prior to orientation, make inquiries about telephone services and e-mail accounts. To the extent you can, set up reliable lines of communication before you arrive on campus.

This will leave more time for bivouacking, taking on supplies, and for on-site and perimeter reconnaissance.

Revelry and reveille: Prepare yourself for unsettling pre-exam hours and term-paper tours of duty; for hours of solitary in the library and being confined to quarters before exams.

Getting yourself proudly hailed: Look ahead, less than four years from now, to commendations for an honorable discharge of obstacle courses.

• Joseph H. Cooper teaches writing at Quinnipiac University School of Law and at several community colleges in Connecticut.

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