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5 Study Habits to Adopt Now to Prepare for College

College classes by no means are scary experiences—if you’re prepared.  Preparing properly for class to maximize your time spent in the classroom is huge when it comes to doing well academically, regardless of where you decide to attend school. However, you don’t need to wait until you’re actually registered for all those love-em-or-hate-em freshmen classes to start studying like the smart collegiette you’re bound to be! Check out the following five keys to success in a college class that you can start doing while you’re still hitting the high school books.

1. Learn to motivate yourself. 

The problem:

Woohoo! College means you’re on your own in a lot of ways, including deciding how much you want to prepare for class in the first place, when you complete work outside of class and how well you do on exams, tests and quizzes. But that safety net of parents, teachers and other people keeping you on track and helping you if you start struggling? It probably won’t follow you to college.

The solution:

Get in the habit of creating study routines and sticking to them. That’s not to say you have to follow the same pattern every day, but having a general idea of when things need to get done and giving yourself the optimal time to finish them in is a great idea. Creating your own routine also means you’re taking the first step in holding yourself accountable—you’re taking a look at what responsibilities you have as well as paying attention to deadlines and setting time aside to work on tasks. Congrats, you’re working on becoming your own safety net!

Start figuring out how to use resources wisely as well. While your safety net from high school (i.e. Mom and Dad) won’t follow you to college, there are definitely things you can do now that can be great resources for when you go to college. Whether that means teaming up with a buddy or two to keep one another on track, finding a mentor you can keep in touch with as you move from high school to college or trying out some new fun, clever study hacks to spice up your motivational toolkit when it comes to studying, it’s never too early to start seeking out different options to find what works to keep you focused.  

2. Start thinking long-term.

The problem:

In high school, many of us benefit from the luxury (in some people’s eyes, anyways) of having tests sprinkled throughout the semester. The scores on these exams then collectively make up a semester grade.

This isn’t the case in many college classes. Instead, large chunks of your grade will most likely come from two tests: a midterm and final exam. This requires you to draw on information from an entire half-semester or, in the case of a final exam, the entire semester… for one test!

The solution:

It’s definitely not too early to get in the habit of looking over notes, homework and readings more than once, just like you’ll probably do at some point in your future college career. The key is “working with the information daily,” explains Ruth Bolstad, an academic strategist and consulting coordinator at the Academic Support Center at St. Olaf College.

For your next test or quiz in a class, consider typing up or consolidating notes from the last several weeks of class in one place, like you might do with lectures in college when you’re prepping for a midterm or final. Pull together things that seem related, organize information under different headers, place events in order and make sure all of your notes follow the same style. Even if you’re used to understanding something the first time it’s introduced in a class, realize that simply attending a lecture and hearing material presented once might not be enough for success in larger lecture classes you’ll take at a college or university.

Make sure you also take tests seriously. Although they might count for a smaller percentage of your overall grade in high school, use the opportunity to figure out what’s most helpful in terms of preparation for quizzes or exams. Try different study techniques, like getting together with a study group of friends or classmates, breaking things into smaller chunks and focusing on one topic at a time, connecting things in class to material from the book or whatever else works for you. You’ll go into your first year of college with a more solidified idea of what works best for you when it comes to tackling tests with much higher stakes attached to them.

It’s also a good idea to start thinking at a deeper level for your studying instead of just regurgitating whatever was recited by a teacher in class or printed in a book. “The types of exams are essentially the same,” says Peder Bolstad, an academic strategist and consulting coordinator at the Academic Support Center at St. Olaf College. “I think what’s different is the level of thinking expected.”

Peder Bolstad suggests looking “for causation rather than just the facts.” He recommends figuring out moving beyond the “what” and “how” of a topic when reading (just memorizing the basic facts and details presented in whatever it is you’re looking at) to starting asking “when” and “why.” That is, make a point to ask yourself when to use an appropriate formula or technique to solve a problem, or why you give the answer you do instead of just memorizing what’s printed on the page. This level of higher thought is what many college professors are looking for in their classes.

Finally, start embracing the idea of learning for learning’s sake, instead of focusing on memorizing a set of facts for a test or quiz and promptly forgetting it all the next day. “The biggest transition I believe is moving from ‘doing for a grade’ to ‘learning for personal growth,’” says Ruth Bolstad. “It’s about the depth of learning, not just knowing the facts.”


3. Budget your time.

The problem:

It’s easy to figure out how to budget your time as a high school student when work often gets turned in the day after it’s assigned. However, it gets trickier when you go to college. Often there is no clear due date for particular readings, scheduled times to meet with a group for a project or “work days” built into your class schedule to help you get caught up on assignments. Readings and other assignments are usually given for a particular unit or week, but don’t have a specific calendar date you’re expected to complete them by.

“In college, we are not keeping daily records of what assignments are done but expect the student to do the assignments for the learning, not just the doing,” says Ruth Bolstad. In other words, a professor usually makes his or her expectations for a class clear, but won’t always tell you how to get there.

The solution:

First, you should experiment with working at different times of the day to see when you learn best. “People often come with the mindset that evening is the time you do homework,” says Peder Bolstad, but he argues this isn’t always the case. “If you get two to three hours in before the evening, you’re not stuck working from 6 until midnight every day,” he says.

Peder Bolstad also recommends figuring out when you’re most productive. “Look at what are your good or bad times of the day,” he recommends. Play around now when you most likely have a more flexible, forgiving schedule to see when you’re able to get the most work done. Having this knowledge when you walk into the lecture hall on day one of your freshman year will put you way ahead of the game!

Also, figure out how long you can work for before your brain starts wandering or getting tired. “One of the things [freshmen] bring with them from high school is, ‘do it until it’s done,’” says Peder Bolstad. He says this isn’t the best approach to take when it comes to completing work, and stresses the importance of breaking it into more manageable chunks. He suggests breaking work into half-hour increments to increase focus and concentration when it comes to completing assignments. Play around with different times and lengths of studying to figure out how long you can focus for, and plan short breaks accordingly.

4. Start adjusting to a different use of time spent in the classroom.

The problem:

High school teachers usually teach in a much more interactive style than college professors do. Classes in high school aren’t always straight lectures like you find in many first-year courses in college.

Most high school courses usually include time for group discussion, work time in class and ample time to approach the teacher and ask any questions or get clarification for an assignment. In college, however, many professors rely on a lecture or outline the major points they plan to cover in a class session to convey what they think is important, regardless of class size. College professors trust that students will seek out help independently if necessary. Even if your class is small, there most likely won’t be large blocks of time built in for anything but talking about whatever is on the professor’s agenda for the day.

The solution:

First, make sure you’ve got your note-taking skills down pat. Regardless of what kind of format your classes follow, the notes you record will most likely be your go-to source when it comes to prepping for future classes, exams, projects and presentations later in the semester. Play around with different ways of taking notes, especially for different subjects. Figure out what’s most helpful for you when it comes to retaining information: Is it helpful to see the main points in a clear outline? Do tables work better for synthesizing information? What about pictures or diagrams?

Keep in mind what works best for retaining and explaining information on paper in one class might not be the best method in another. For example, you might find Cornell notes easier to use in a large lecture hall where topics are easily outlined and differentiated from one another, but might prefer to use a style that’s more diagram-friendly in a math lab so you can sketch out diagrams and jot down equations easily.  Experiment now when it’s easier to approach your teacher for help with anything you might have missed or misunderstood.


5. Embrace your inner bookworm.

The problem:

There’s no way around it: college means completing a lot of reading, from textbooks to journal articles to PDFs and everything in between. You’ll need to start working on those reading skills ASAP so you’re ready to hit the books come day one at college.

The solution:

Your environment can make a huge impact on how well you understand your reading. Some people like a lot of noise in the background, be it music or the background lull of a place like a coffee shop, while others need the total silence a location like the library offers. Explore your hometown a bit and see what places help you turn those pages the quickest!

Peder Bolstad also suggests getting used to developing more complex reading skills. “Analytical reading is something one could work at,” he says. “Try reading the book before one goes to class.” Use the book as a starting point, and then use time in class to clarify what you didn’t understand or would like more information on. This is also a good way to test your reading skills. How much of the material you understand or receive confirmation on during class time often reflects how well you read and prepared ahead of time.

Finally, just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, notes are a collegiette’s best friend. Make sure you take notes while reading, highlight important information, flag or fold pages you want to refer back to or find another method for marking key ideas. This will prevent you from having to re-read an entire chapter just to find a crucial quote or definition. It’s all about those time-savers!

It’s important to go into your first semester of college ready and willing to try new things. “Come with a good attitude,” says Peder Bolstad. “It’s going to be hard, and you’re going to get pushed.” Remember, it’s all part of the learning experience! College isn’t just about learning as many facts, theories and stories as possible, but is all about prepping you for life after graduation. It seems far off, but you’ll be there quicker than you can imagine, so you’ll want to make every minute count. By getting an early start and using any or all of the five tips outlined above, you’ll be a study pro from day one on campus! 

Sydney is a junior double majoring in Media and Cultural Studies and Political Science at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., a short trip away from Minneapolis, her hometown. When Sydney is not producing content for a variety of platforms, she enjoys hanging out with friends, watching movies, reading, and indulging in a smoothie or tea from Caribou Coffee, the MN-based version of Starbucks.
Cassidy is a Digital Production intern at Her Campus. She's currently a junior studying journalism at Emerson College. Cassidy also is a freelance reporter at the Napa Valley Register and a staff writer at Her Campus Emerson. Previously she blogged for Seventeen Magazine at the London 2012 Olympics, wrote for Huffington Post as a teen blogger and was a Team Advisor at the National Student Leadership Conference on Journalism, Film, & Media Arts at University of California, Berkeley and American University in Washington, D.C.. When she's not uploading content to Her Campus or working on her next article, Cassidy can be found planning her next adventure or perfecting her next Instagram. Follow her on Twitter at @cassidyyjayne and @cassidyjhopkins.