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Study Strategies from a Soon-to-Be College Graduate 

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at SLU chapter.

And just like that, I am a soon to be college graduate. These last four years have been anything but easy—from finding the right balance to maintaining my health or finding my passions. On top of all that, I was pursuing a major in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) field, even though I had never previously shown much interest in science before. Those STEM classes were no joke, and I really had to work hard to do well. But, I did do well! In recognition of these achievements, I wanted to pass along some of the best study strategies that I’ve learned and practiced.

Start studying early

In high school, I often began studying only one to two days before an exam. This worked for me then, but trust me when I say it doesn’t always work that easily in college. It’s really important to thoroughly understand the concepts that are being taught, and the only way to really understand is to take your time looking at it. In college, I have always started studying at least a week in advance. Starting early allows me to space out my study time instead of cramming all at once, as well as helping me balance my other classwork. I don’t want to get stuck in a situation where I spent so much time studying that I missed assignments from other classes. It also helps to make a schedule of the topics I want to study each day—it keeps me on track and it’s always satisfying to see the progress I’m making.

Create your own study guide

Everyone has a different way they like to learn. Some people really do well with visuals or diagrams, others watch videos of people explaining the content and some choose to read straight from the textbook. I study best by going through my professor’s slides and then summarizing those concepts or diagrams in my own words on a separate document. I highlight, draw pictures, use different colors and make connections between big ideas. Going through the material in this way shows me the areas where I’m still struggling so I can then spend extra time finding other resources to assist in my understanding. Creating my own study guide is a great way to test my knowledge.

Do practice questions

Practice questions are one of the best ways to practice. Professors often assign homework problems or do iClicker questions during class—it’s important to review these questions because they’re often a reflection of how the professor writes their questions for the exam. When reviewing these questions, it’s important that I understand both why the correct answer is right and also why the other answers are wrong. Explaining my answers is a great way to determine if I truly understand the concept or if I just memorized the right answer. Often, textbooks will have extra problems at the end of a chapter, or websites like Khan Academy will have extra practice. 

Take the practice exams seriously 

Practice exams are really helpful to do at the end of my studying. I only attempt to take them after I’ve reviewed all the content and done practice questions already. Practice exams are often an older version of the exam I’m about to take, so I have to take them seriously. Personally, I find it important to recreate the test taking environment. Whenever I take a practice exam, I close up all of the electronics around me, turn off my music and set a timer. Taking a practice exam should model the real exam. After taking the exam, I grade myself and see how I did. I give myself a pat on the back, but I don’t put the exam away yet. 

I think the best thing to do after the exam is go through every single question, even the ones I got right. I write explanations for why the correct answer is right and what is wrong with the other answers. Some questions I ask myself include, what are those other answers referring to? What could I change about this answer to make it right? What does this graph mean? Could I explain this concept in a short-answer format? Is this a concept that I might need to review again? I really take my time with these exams because it’s a good reflection of how I’ll perform on the real exam.

Reach out

Often, STEM classes have lots of supplementary resources that I can turn to for questions and help. Professors will have office hours to attend and ask questions, or I might even send them a quick email. Other than the professor, most classes will have some type of learning assistant or teaching assistant. These are students who have taken the class before and know how to excel. They’re a great resource to turn to, and they truly want to help students succeed. They often hold their own office hours or put on exam review sessions. These are good places to check to see the student perspective of what to expect for an exam. These courses also probably have study strategies or extra practice questions that are given out. 

Some classes also have a supplementary instruction (SI) leader. These are students who have done well in the class and hold sessions meant to review and practice the material every week. I cannot stress enough how thankful I was for those SI sessions because it really helped to have tough concepts re-explained or get that extra bit of practice. I certainly make use of these extra resources.

These are just some of the strategies that have helped me succeed over the past four years, but each person has to find what works best for them and their major. Success takes some work, but it’s not impossible.

A lover of donuts, cheesy rom-coms, warm blankets, and the Chicago Cubs