As many of us are starting to enter college for the first time, it can be an exciting and life-changing experience. It may be the first time you’ll be living on your own, and it’s an amazing opportunity to meet new people, make friends, and learn about your interests both professionally and personally.
Even so, adjusting to college life can be a little daunting. When assignments, quizzes, meetings, and other tasks start to pile up, it’s important to form good learning routines so that you don’t fall behind. Following the six study habits below can help ease this process and set you up for success from the start.
- Space Out Your Study Sessions
With hectic class schedules, it can be hard to find enough time in the day to adequately study for each exam individually. This can often result in trying to condense weeks or months of information into one cramming session the night before a big exam. However, according to William Klemm Ph.D., a senior professor of Neuroscience at Texas A&M University and contributor to Psychology Today, “one study of students learning foreign-language words found that recall was highest at 56-day intervals as opposed to 28-day or 14-day intervals. The total amount of study time was cut in half: 13 sessions spaced 56 days apart produced comparable recall as 26 sessions with a 14-day interval.” At the beginning of the week, consider the material you need to cover and estimate how long you will need to complete your assignments, readings, and reviews.
When learning a new subject or going over past information for a future exam, it’s imperative that you start early and give yourself time to process each aspect of the lesson. This way, you can absorb more of the information you are trying to learn and are able to spend less time on the same subjects. If you feel like you need a refresher, you would have enough time before the exam to make sure you have mastered every aspect of your course. Because you are able to space out your studying, you can reduce any added stress or anxiety that might come from trying to learn everything at the same time as quickly as possible.
- Engage in An “Active and Meaningful” Way With the Material
Passive reading and highlighting simply won’t cut it, says Macquarie University Professor Amanda Barnier. Christina explains that this is because simply reading and regurgitating information only transfers that information into your short-term memory, where we can only hold 5 to 9 pieces of information at a time. In order for our study to be effective, we need to encode it into our long-term memory. We do this by adding meaning to the content we are reading by actively interpreting it rather than passively consuming it.
For instance, if you needed to memorize vocabulary definitions for an English class, try to take the word and associate it with a meaningful place, time, memory, picture, or idea. This makes it more likely that the word will be remembered in the future.
- Practice “Self-Explanation”
Self-explanation, or explaining the meaning of what you’ve just learned to yourself or others, is one of the most important study habits we can have. An effective way to ensure the knowledge remains stored in your memory is to describe the information to yourself as you learn. It encourages you to pause, move away from the textbook and really understand the details, pushing you to think about what you were studying and truly realize what it actually means.
When we explain to ourselves the meaning of what we are learning, we create connections that become rooted into our minds and easier to recall when the exam is being taken. Besides this, especially in college, bringing meaning to your lessons can make you feel more motivated and as if what your learning is significant. You can even relate it to things that happen in your life outside of the college environment and it can help you in your future career or hobby.
- Write it Out
Because of COVID-19 and the pandemic situation, many of our traditional in-class courses have transitioned to remote or online methods. As such, much of our coursework, book materials, lessons, and assignments are digital. Nonetheless, studies show that the best way to study and learn new material is to write it out rather than typing it digitally.
Kate Garland, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Leicester in England, is one of the few scientists who has studied this subject. She found that, when the exact same material is presented in both media, there is no measurable difference in student performance. However, there are some subtle distinctions that favor print, which may matter in the long run. In one study involving college students, she “bombarded poor psychology students with economics that they didn’t know,” From this, two notable differences were found. More repetition was needed with the material being studied on a computer to learn the same information. Besides that, the book readers seemed to process the lessons at a deeper level. Garland explains that when you recall something, you either “know” it and it just “comes to you” without consciously recalling the context in which you learned it, or you “remember” it by cueing yourself about that context and then arriving at the answer. Garland stated how, “It took longer and [required] more repeated testing to get into that knowing state [with the computer reading, but] eventually the people who did it on the computer caught up with the people who [were reading] on paper.” When thinking about more effective ways of learning and studying, it would seem more beneficial to learn and take notes on paper from the start as it can speed up the process and make passing your exam even the smallest bit easier.
- Relax & Take Breaks
It’s easy to forget that even our brains need to relax! When caught up in the middle of studying, it can be so beneficial to give yourself some time off to process the information and ease any pressure that might be building. Creating checkpoints for yourself and rewarding yourself with breaks can make studying so much more easier.
Meditation, for instance, is an effective and fun way to boost personal health and lower anxiety. According to the Mayo Clinic, meditating for just a few minutes each day will not only ease college-related stress but also fight against fatigue, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure.
Even so, meditation should be scheduled at certain specific periods of the day to be most helpful. Linda Wasmer Andrews of Psychology Today states four particularly beneficial opportunities for meditation: first thing in the morning, during a break in the afternoon, at the end of a work or school day, or anytime you experience tension, pressure, or stress. On the other hand, you might want to avoid meditating roughly an hour before bedtime. Otherwise, your body’s ability to relax and prepare for sleep could be disrupted by the wakeful, refreshed, and rejuvenated feeling you’ll have after meditation.
- Test Yourself
It can be stated that students don’t like to take quizzes, teachers don’t like grading them, and some people argue that too many assessments will cause teachers to “teach the exam” and suck the creativity out of the classroom. However, testing yourself may actually help you learn the information better and practice for the real exam. In this way, you are able to review what you got wrong and practice without having to worry about being graded.
Often with studying, many people will decide to only read the material enough until they feel comfortable enough to take their exams. This method doesn’t give any room for recall to occur, or the retrieval of information without cues. “The problem with repeated rereading, which is what most students do to study, is that it gives you a false sense of familiarity. You feel like you know the material, but you’ve never tried retrieving it,” says Henry Roediger, Ph.D., a psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis who has done some key research on the subject. When done right, researchers suggest testing can be a valuable method to help students understand. The best way to do this is to find a quiet place without any distractions, and question yourself on the material that is most likely going to be on the assessment. You are put in a position similar to one where you would be taking an exam, and as such, will most likely do similarly to how you would do if you were taking the real exam.
At the end of the day, putting in the extra work to learn material for the long haul is especially important for students that are in their undergrad or graduate courses. You’re not just trying to pass an exam, instead, you’re learning things you’ll need to have a handle on for the rest of your working life. Studying is one of the best ways to make that happen, and although it may seem hard at first, it is definitely worth it. Don’t give up, be patient, consistent, and by following these habits, you can definitely be on your way to a more successful, efficient, and happy college and life experience.