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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.

As midterm season slowly creeps up on CU students, some of us might need some help studying. Like most of my peers, I want to enter every test, quiz, or exam with ultimate confidence in my academic capabilities, but this can often be difficult to achieve. 

This being said, my approach to academics seems to be very different from those of many of my classmates; I don’t spend as much time studying, and I don’t get extremely stressed about tests or exams. Instead, I prioritize taking paper notes and using highlighters, sitting in the front row in lectures, and reaching out to my professor when I’m confused. In fact, I avoid memorizing material at all costs, and try to actually learn what I’m being taught. Therefore, I think it’s important to differentiate between learning and memorizing material and when to use each skill. 

This might seem like common sense, but there is a distinct difference between inhaling information as fast as possible so you can regurgitate it on your test the next day and listening attentively in lecture to fully understand the material. Doing the latter has helped reduce my stress and study time exponentially. 

According to the APA, “learning is the acquisition of skill or knowledge, while memory is the expression of what you’ve acquired.” In simpler terms: learning is long-term storage and memory is not always permanent. So, I aim to learn in preparation for exams because long-term storage is more reliable and can help reduce exam-based stress. But, how do I ensure I’m learning the information and not just memorizing

  1. Listen.

In my classes, the majority of people write down every single word the teacher says or presents. Some people even go ahead on the PowerPoint slides and are clearly more focused on taking notes than paying attention. I can’t help but think about how if I did that, I wouldn’t retain any of the information. So, I acknowledge what I’m writing down while taking notes so I don’t have to re-read everything to understand the material. 

Thus, in class I set down my pen and give the professor my full attention. Once I understand the point they’re making, I take a note in my own words. Not only is this more respectful to the teacher, but also saves me a lot of time reviewing notes I half-heartedly scribbled down. 

Tips on efficient note-taking
  1. Ask for help.

If listening in class still doesn’t improve my comprehension, I ask follow-up questions. I sit in the front row not only because I’m blind as a bat, but also because this gives me the confidence to ask questions in a large lecture (not seeing dozens of people in front of you will make the class feel smaller). If social settings are your greatest fear, there are other ways to utilize your resources to ensure your success. Go to office hours. Email your TA or LA. Get a tutor. Relying on the words from a PowerPoint can be a source of academic anxiety; when I try to memorize material I didn’t even give my full attention to during class I am often more confused after class. 

  1. Apply.

For me, the most important part of learning is applying my knowledge. I have witnessed classmates who make extravagant flashcards and practice questions stumble in class; what the teacher asked them isn’t a direct question they’ve memorized, and so they are suddenly at square one with a concept they reviewed for hours. So, to avoid public embarrassment and general misunderstanding, I to understand how to solve a problem and apply it to the question. 

For example, in my Neuroscience of Exercise class, we are learning about how mood, personality, anxiety, depression, and cognitive function can change through exercise. This sounds like a lot to remember, but once I realized long-term exercise, for the most part, positively impacts the brain, I started consistently getting questions right. If my teacher were to ask me how exercise can impact language capabilities, I would use my previous understanding of exercise and make an educated guess that working out can also improve one’s ability to speak a language (this is true). By applying what I already know, recognizing patterns, and critically thinking — truly understanding the material — I am prepared for trick questions many people who memorized the material might struggle with. 

Whether in kindergarten or a senior in college, learning is the goal. Memory is helpful as well, but if you have to constantly review past concepts, you might be making your life much harder than it should be. By listening in class, asking questions, and trying to apply what I know, I not only improved my understanding, but also saved myself a lot of time and stress. Of course memorization is necessary for some courses, like when I had to make flashcards to pass my Spanish phonetics class, but isn’t my primary way of processing information in the classroom. Keep learning and give yourself a break as we enter midterms.

Lanaya Oliver

CU Boulder '24

Lanaya Oliver is the Editor-in-Chief and a contributing writer at the Her Campus Chapter at the University of Colorado at Boulder. As Editor-in-Chief, she oversees a team of editors, is the lead publisher and editor, and works as a campus corespondent. Outside of Her Campus, Lanaya is a senior at the University of Colorado Boulder. She is double majoring in both Psychology and Spanish with a minor in Sports Media. Her writing career started in high school when she was elected the position of school wide poet laureate after winning a poetry contest in her sophomore year. Now Lanaya’s writing has evolved from creative pieces to profiles and articles for her Her Campus articles. In her personal life, Lanaya is an ACE certified personal trainer and teaches both cycle and barre classes. Fitness is her passion and more often than not she can be found lifting weights, riding a bike, or running. She also enjoys being outdoors, binge watching movies, spending time with friends, thrift shopping, and munching on any white cheddar flavored snack she can find. Lanaya hopes to find a balance between her love for writing and her dreams of working in the fitness industry in her future career.