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Top Study Tips for College

By Emily Wong

Emily Wong is a writer at Scholarships360. She’s worked as a social media manager and a content writer at several different startups, where she covered various topics including business, tech, job recruitment, and education. Emily grew up and went to school in the Chicago suburbs, where she studied economics and journalism at Northwestern University.

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Posted: July 16th, 2021
Top Study Tips for College

Aside from homework and projects, exams typically make up a large part of your grade. Unfortunately, if you haven’t mastered your study habits, it can be difficult to ace those tests. Let’s talk about the top 11 study tips for college that you can put into practice right away.

1. Use a daily planner

If you’re not using an agenda to keep track of your responsibilities, now’s the time to do it. Even if your mind is like a steel trap, it’s best to play it safe. Whether you’re using a dedicated planner or a spiral notebook, stay on top of your deadlines by writing down all of your assignments and upcoming tests for each class.

If you don’t want to carry around another book, you can even dedicate a folder on your laptop or iPad to tracking your assignments. Just make sure to remember to update it every day. Having all of your responsibilities in one place will make it easier to prioritize them later on. It’s also pretty gratifying to be able to cross or check off a task once you’ve completed it.

2. Update your calendar

On top of keeping track of your assignments, you’ll also want to block off your calendar with your schedule each day. That way, you can figure out when to study and do homework between classes, club meetings and other obligations.

If you want to kill two birds with one stone, you can find a planner that doubles as a calendar. That could also help in keeping all of your information in one place. However, there are plenty of digital options that you could use as well.

For example, if you have a Mac or an iPhone, you can update your schedule on Apple Calendar. It’ll even be stored on iCloud, so you can access it through multiple Apple devices. Otherwise, you can also use Google Calendar, Outlook Calendar or one of countless other free calendar apps.

3. Find your perfect study environment

Studying styles can vary from person to person. While some may prefer complete silence, others might like the hum of a coffeeshop in the background. Figure out what setting works for you, and head over whenever it’s time to study.

However, there will probably be times that you won’t be able to leave your room to study. Maybe your favorite Starbucks is full, or it’s too rainy to work at your go-to picnic table. Whatever the reason, you’ll also want to set up a suitable environment to study at home.

Create a designated workspace and commit to keeping it clean. While it’s easy to let a mess accumulate, especially with a busy schedule, it can become a distraction when studying. Then, think about what additions may help you focus, whether it’s music, snacks or essential oils. Practicing a fun routine can help transition you into the right mindset to buckle down and study.

4. Take useful notes

Not only can good notes help with studying before a test, but they can also make it easier to retain information during class. Your note-taking strategy may vary by class, so you’ll want to figure out what works best for you in the first few days.

For example, liberal arts classes can tend to be more fact-heavy. Therefore, you might want to err on the side of writing down more to avoid missing key facts. In that case, if you type faster than you write, it could be a good idea to use a laptop for those classes. On the other hand, technical classes like math or engineering may focus more on concepts. Some may involve a lot of diagrams or equations, making it easier to record on paper or an iPad.

5. Review your materials before each class

While there’s no single best way to take notes, all students can benefit from reviewing material before the start of class. Make sure you complete any readings that the professor assigned. Then, before lecture begins, take a few minutes to look over the syllabus and review your previous notes. By putting the material into context, you can make connections and think of questions to deepen your understanding. Having some background knowledge can also help you absorb the information more readily.

6. Collaborate with your classmates

Doing classwork with a friend can help in more ways than one. When you work with a partner, you can take turns explaining concepts and ideas that the other is struggling with. You can also hold each other accountable for starting assignments on time and remembering due dates.

If you don’t see any familiar faces in your class, don’t worry. Many schools organize study groups or peer tutoring programs to give students an opportunity to collaborate. Don’t hesitate to talk to your counselor about what resources are available to you. Otherwise, you can try to meet your classmates through group projects, office hours or even by striking up a conversation before class.

7. Ask questions

When you don’t understand something in class, it can be tempting to let it slide and try to figure it out later. However, that missing piece may be a key component of the lesson. Therefore, waiting to ask questions may create more confusion throughout the lecture. Don’t be afraid to raise your hand and ask for clarification when you need it.

However, if the professor doesn’t have time to stop, or if you’re not comfortable speaking in class, you can write down your question to ask later on. If it’s a quick question, feel free to ask your professor at the end of class. On the other hand, if it requires more explanation, you can visit your professor or teaching assistant (TA) at office hours to talk through it.

8. Learn by teaching

One great way to test your understanding on a subject is to explain it to someone else. Ideally, try to pair up a classmate who can verify that what you’re saying is correct. However, you can also ask a friend or a family member to act as your student. Allow them to ask questions, and provide them with examples and connections to put the ideas into context.

9. Take advantage of your peak productive hours

Do you ever feel like one day, you’re hyper-focused, and the next day, it’s hard to keep your mind from wandering? Many students struggle to predict when they feel the most alert, and it can be frustrating to block out two hours to study, only to spend most of it zoning out.

To combat this dilemma, experts suggest gathering data to find your most productive times during the day. In order to find your “peak time,” commit to charting your productivity every hour of every day for a full three weeks. You can use a scale from 1-10, or whatever works for you.

Once you have an idea of when you feel most focused and productive, you can schedule your responsibilities accordingly. As a rule of thumb, try to save activities that require less brain power, such as cooking or eating lunch, for less productive hours. On the other hand, you can plan to study or work on a project during more productive hours.

10. Space out your studying

Cramming, or trying to learn all of the material you need the night before a test, is an infamously ineffective method of studying. On top of raising stress levels, it often costs students sleep, further reducing memory and focus.

Instead, try to divide up your studying over several days before the test. You can plan out what you’ll do each day to keep yourself on track. Researchers have also found that learning is most effective during short bursts. In other words, studying for three hours over three days may be better than studying for six hours the day before.

11. Give yourself a break when you need it

Unlike computers, humans aren’t made to work nonstop. If you find your mind wandering, take a minute to step away from your desk or computer. The last thing you want to do is to alternate between studying and checking your phone every five minutes. Block out some time to take a walk, call your parents or get some exercise. When you come back, you’ll feel more refreshed and ready to hit the books.

Studying in college can be grueling, especially when it feels like you have another test every week. Hopefully these study tips for college will help you develop the habits you need to ace your classes. With that extra time, apply for scholarships for next semester! 

Good luck!

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