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Study Tips, Tricks, and Techniques to Get You Through This Semester

Every person is different and learns in unique ways for various classes. Some visual learners (like me) need to color code all of their notes. Some auditory learners need to read their notes aloud to themselves. Others are kinesthetic and need physical activity to learn, such as listening to a lecture while running on the treadmill. Nevertheless, some things are universal.

Winter is hard, especially winter in college. It’s easy to get tired, burnt out and become unproductive. Although some people know their personal study style, others are still searching for that perfect way to memorize all those vocabulary terms for anatomy and apply those equations in calculus. I’ve compiled a list of tried and true study tips, tricks and techniques to try out this winter. Although they might not all work for you, it can’t hurt to try some out when you get the chance!

set up a nice space

One of the most important things to begin working is to set up a nice space. Give yourself five minutes to spread your things on the desk, organize the area, and make your study space visually appealing (this is especially important for visual learners). Studying/doing homework can get stressful, and clutter in your workspace will heighten that stress. Sit down, take a deep breath and relax.

Along with this, please stop doing all of your work in your apartment or dorm room. Penn State has so many great study spaces, especially in the library. You have your top pick of millions of dollars worth of computer labs, comfy seats, desks, reading rooms, the stacks (where I’m currently sitting to write this article) and so much more.

I promise that there is somewhere on campus more appealing than being hunched over in your bed on a Tuesday night. Also, it is impossible to set up a nice, organized, decluttered study area on your twin bed in your dorm. AND it’s terrible for your posture. For your sake, your grades’ sake and your future chiropractor’s sake, leave the bed. Even moving from your bed to a desk is so much better for you.

stop “multitasking”

I’m sorry to break it to you; splitting your screen between Netflix and homework or having your TV on in front of you while you’re working is distracting, whether you realize it or not. Even if your eyes are on your work, your ears are tuned into what you’re watching, and your brain is a confused jumble of “Bridgerton” quotes and information from your Political Science textbook.

While you’re working or in class, turn the show off and really focus on what you’re doing. This comes with the added benefit that when you finish your work quicker because you’re not distracted, you’ll get to turn your favorite show back on and actually enjoy it, soaking it all in. Focus on where you are and what you’re doing at that moment, and I promise you’ll be better off.

keep a detailed planner

This is SO IMPORTANT if you’re chasing that 4.0. There are assignments that professors give that just don’t make their way onto Canvas, and if I hadn’t written it down when they mentioned it in class, it would have been completely forgotten. Planners are also a great way to delegate which days you should spend on which assignment.

I think it’s so helpful to write down exactly what needs to be done that day, and it’s so satisfying to cross out finished assignments as I wrap them up. The best part of this is that you can buy a regular old planner from Target (and I like to get a pack of multicolored Flair pens along with them), and you can make that baby a color-coded piece of art.

But, if paper and pen isn’t your thing, I have a free planner on my iPad called Pencil Planner that I love, and for the simplest experience, you can just open Google Calendar on your phone or laptop and spend less than 30 seconds entering the assignment in (this can also be color-coded for my visual learning pals).

pomodoro technique

The Pomodoro technique is an incredibly popular study technique among college students, law students, medical students, etc. It is a time management system that is super helpful for all of us who are constantly getting distracted by notifications, texts, and social media. It allows built-in breaks for checking your phone or just relaxing, so you don’t get so burnt out.

With this technique, you work for 25 minutes, take a five-minute break, work for 25 minutes, take a five-minute break, and repeat. After four “Pomodoros,” you can grant yourself a more extended break of 15-20 minutes. This is a great way to discipline yourself into studying without that anxious feeling of needing to check your phone.

background music

Background music is great, especially in public study spaces like cafes, classrooms and the library where other people may act as distractions. Everybody is different, but I do notice that for myself, music with lyrics can be more distracting than anything else. I need instrumental music, and my favorites happen to be the “peaceful piano” playlist on Spotify, the “jazz in the background” playlist on Spotify, or just looking up something along the lines of “relaxing jazz piano background cafe music” on YouTube.

Some people prefer lo-fi study beats on Spotify, ASMR videos, ocean/rain sounds, or other calming noises. Music can counteract the stress that might build while you work, so I highly recommend bringing your headphones to study.

time management

Time management is so important. Procrastination is very common in college but can lead to so much stress. It’s not good for your body to be working in bed from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. on an assignment that you pushed off until the last minute. In fact, I’d say that it’s not good for your body to work past 10 p.m., period. If you’re going to have a restful night of sleep, you need to close the laptop at least an hour before you try to go to bed.

Classes are scheduled so that you have time throughout the day to get work done, so use it. Rather than taking that 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. nap, drink some coffee and settle in to get work done. You’re more productive and awake during the day, so get settled in somewhere with a nice view out the window. You’ll thank yourself when you’re done and just get to lay in bed watching TV and scrolling on your phone.

don’t rely on motivation

A really important thing that I’ve learned is that motivation is fleeting. Motivation is a temporary feeling of wanting to be productive that can fade by the time you get your laptop out. What is more important than motivation is self-discipline. Remember why you are in college. Remember why you’re paying so much money for tuition, why you chose your major and what you want to do. Then think about what you have to do to get there.

Yes, that Bio assignment is a pain, and it’s hard to bring yourself to trudge to the library to do it, but remember how worth it everything will be when you graduate or get into grad school. Sometimes, you just have to force yourself to do what you don’t want to do. Do what you need to do to get your work done, but don’t rely on that temporary feeling of motivation. Use it for momentum, but don’t sit around waiting for the motivation to do something. And afterward, feel free to reward yourself with some ice cream or a drink from Starbucks.

go to class

This one might seem obvious, but it isn’t easy in winter sometimes to get out of bed at 8 a.m., bundle up in all your winter clothes, and walk 25 minutes to class. I fully understand. But once again, remember why you are here. Remember how much money you’re paying for that class and how much being there could improve your grade. Even when attendance isn’t mandatory, go to the class. If they have a Zoom option, take advantage of it! Cozy up under a blanket at your desk and take notes. But if they don’t, you’re just going to have to power through. Remember that the buses can be a huge help to get across campus! Work smarter, not harder.

try explaining the topic to someone else

As you’re studying something, one of the best ways to see what you know (and what you don’t yet) is to try explaining the process to somebody else. Make sure your roommate/mom/friend/boyfriend is cool with it before you just start spouting information about the cardiovascular system, but this can especially be helpful to auditory learners to say the information out loud.

quizlet

I genuinely don’t know what I would do without Quizlet. First of all, just the process of creating your study set is a great way to review the material and is a fantastic study session in itself. But then there are so many options once your study set is done to learn/review the information. I love to use the modes learn, flashcard and matching while I’m still getting familiar with the information. Then, as I feel more comfortable, I test myself. This app only works for certain classes (since not everything can go on a flashcard), but it’s great for memorizing terms. Plus, it’s free, so you can’t go wrong here.

exercise before studying

This is especially a good idea for kinesthetic learners who like to keep moving, but it’s a great idea for anybody about to settle in for a long study sesh. Even just a 20-minute workout can fight fatigue and increase energy levels. Plus, exercising kickstarts your brain function to help with memory and cognitive performance. It also releases endorphins, making you happy and reducing stress levels (both of which are great before doing schoolwork).

try different techniques and see what works for you

There are so many study techniques out there, whether it’s mind mapping or the Feynman Technique or color-coded notes. Identify what type of learner you are and start there!

For visual learners, think about using color, drawings and detailed notes that you can picture as you take the test. Auditory learners should listen to lectures and repeat information aloud to themselves, no matter how silly they feel. Kinesthetic learners need hands-on work, so the process of drawing out diagrams or pacing while reading can really help. Try different things and find out what you’re comfortable with! Now study hard and kill it this semester!

Emma is a first-year studying Pre-Law Education and Public Policy with minors in Political Science and Sociology at Penn State University. In addition to Her Campus, she is involved in the Singing Lions, Empowering Women in Law, Phi Alpha Delta, Blue and White Society, and Phi Eta Sigma. When she's not writing, you can usually find her singing, reading, hanging out with friends/her incredible boyfriend, traveling, and drinking iced chai.
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