My 5 Best College Study Tips: How to Get the Grades You Want

By now you’re a few months into the semester, and your study habits are slipping. You can’t seem to find the motivation to study, and when you do, you don’t know where to get started. We’ve all been there, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We're here to help!

Before I get started, I want to say that I haven’t always had good study habits. In high school, I barely ever studied, and when I did, it was after midnight the night before the test. The same went for projects, papers and any other kind of homework. I was always stressed, I never had enough time and I barely got more than four hours of sleep a night. When I got to college and had my first midterm, however, I realized that my minimal high school study skills were not gonna fly here. 

Since I started using these five tips, my grades have improved, I don’t feel as stressed and I actually know what it feels like to get enough sleep! So without further ado, here they are: my best college study tips. 

1. Stay organized.

You can’t study for an exam that you don’t even know you have. It sounds simple, but one of the most effective changes I’ve made recently has been writing everything down. I have a planner that I bring to all my classes, and I write down every exam and due date as soon as I know them on the right side of that day's section. At the beginning of every week, I look forward to see what I have to do in the next few weeks. Then, I use the left half of that day's section, to write down everything I plan on doing that day based on the exams and due dates coming up. That way, nothing can sneak up on me and I don’t end up accidentally turning an exam into a pop quiz!

2. Schedule time to study.

Here’s the thing: if you don’t plan time to study, you’re much less likely to actually do it. Obviously, you can use whatever way of scheduling your time works best for you, but the important thing is that you know when and what you’re going to study. Personally, I use Google calendars because I think it’s the easiest way to make a plan and stick to it. I use a different color for my planned study times to set time apart and I schedule the specific times that I plan to study. In the notes section, I put the specifics of what I plan to study (ex: chem chapter 16.) You’ll want to break the content down into manageable pieces that you can focus on for each day.

The most important thing to remember when it comes to scheduling your study times is to start studying well before your exam! I usually start studying anywhere from 1-3 weeks before, depending on the content of the exam.

3. Find your perfect study atmosphere.

This will be different for everyone, but it’s important that you know how you focus best. I know that I find it really hard to concentrate in complete silence, so instead of going to the top floor of the library to study, I go to an area of one of the campus buildings where other people will be walking around and having conversations. One of my absolute favorite places to study is Starbucks at 7 a.m. - lots of background noise, a cozy atmosphere and caffeine! I know that isn’t for everyone though. Some of my friends can only focus in complete silence, so for them, going to a coffee shop would only be distracting. The important thing is that you figure out where you can focus best and be the most productive. To do this, you need to try out different study spots both on and off campus and find your favorites!

4. Use the most effective techniques for you.

My roommate can only memorize terms if she physically writes them out, so making flashcards works well for her. Personally, my hand hurts just thinking about all that writing, so if I want to memorize terms, I usually use Quizlet or something similar to make flashcards online. Other ways I like to study are taking any practice exams I can find, reviewing key terms from class and having other people quiz me over exam content.

One thing to remember here is that active studying is better than passive studying. So, for example, when I go over key concepts, instead of just reading through the list and mentally assessing if I understand it or not, I will actually write out everything I know about the concept. That way, I’m being honest with myself about what I do and don’t know. Active studying (such as taking practice tests or making flashcards) does a better job than passive studying (such as reading through lecture notes) at engaging your brain and helping you remember information.

5. Go to class.

Ok, so this one is pretty self-explanatory, and I’m sure you’ve heard it a lot, but it really is important to go to your classes. Studying for an exam will be so much easier if you learn the information better in the first place. When I skipped some of my lectures, I felt like I was falling behind, and it seemed like a lot more work to catch up on than it would have been to just go to the 50-minute class.

Showing up to class is great, but it’s only half the battle. The other half is paying attention, being actively present and participating. I always take notes during lectures, even if I don’t plan on looking at them later, because it helps me stay engaged (and awake!) and makes me focus on the important points I need to know. I also want to stress the importance of active participation. I know talking in front of everyone in a huge lecture hall isn’t realistic for everyone, but try to ask and answer questions and share your comments in discussions or smaller classes. You’ll be surprised at how much more you get out of a class when you actually participate!

If you keep in mind these five study tips the next time you have an exam, you’ll likely have an easier and less stressful time studying. You’ll feel much more confident and prepared going into the test! Good luck!

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