In light of back to school, I decided to continue my college tips series for the next few weeks. I have a list of posts I thought I could write regarding college, and study tips are at the top of the list.
You may have been an academic hotshot in high school, but in college everything changes. The professors expect more from you, you aren’t reminded of important dates, and you are the only one who really cares about your own success. In my high school experience my hand was held the entire time. Teachers offering conferences to read over essays, extra credit opportunities around every corner, and teachers offering class time and daily reminders for upcoming due dates.
Needless to say, college was a culture shock.
After my first few weeks I realized my old system of studying wasn’t working for me. While I coasted through high school easily, (except for math, math killed me) it hit me that my old system of skimming my notes for a few minutes and still acing my tests simply wasn’t going to cut it in college.
The method I came up with to study and stay organized is fail proof – just so long as you keep up with it. (My best tip will be at the very bottom, be sure to read all the way through!)
I wrote an entire post on getting organized in college, but let me gloss over the key points:
♦ Write everything down. If you have to do it in the future, it should be written down. I recommend using a planner, in my humble opinion any ol’ planner will do. You don’t need to shell out the big bucks for one. I love this minimalist, undated one because it’s so flexible.
♦ I highly recommend a whiteboard so you can prioritize and rearrange your to-do lists. My whiteboard has been my do or die throughout college. I really recommend a large one like this, and for only $30, you can’t beat it.
♦ Your homework area should be kept clean. If there is a mountain of loose papers, food wrappers, or anything else covering your desk, you are going to be so much less likely to actually start working. Keep your desk clean.
Get a study buddy
Find a like minded friend to study with. You’re going to want to study with someone that you won’t get off track with. I have found asking someone I only sort of know from one of my classes to study with me worked a lot better than studying with my friends. Not only do we not have much to talk about other than the only thing we have in common – our class, but it’s an easy way to make friends. During your study session you’ll probably stay pretty focused on the material, and you may also find that you enjoy each other’s company as well.
Take notes by hand
I use my laptop to take notes in class – it’s quicker for me so I can spend more time focusing on the lecture. But if the topic is complicated or something I am having trouble grasping I always copy my notes from google docs into my notebook. And after that I copy them from my notebook onto flashcards. Which brings us to…
Study off flashcards
I love flashcards, they are a classic studying tool and they are great! You are studying while you make them, and you can use them to study anywhere. When I’m feeling fancy I will hole punch my flashcards and put them on a keyring to stay organized, otherwise I’ll just clip them together and throw them in my backpack to look at when I have downtime.
Study every day
This was the hardest one for me to get used to. In high school I would study for a day or two before an exam and be fine – in college there is simply too much material. Even on my lazy, class was cancelled, do nothing days I still studied. Second semester I started trying to arrive to class about 10 minutes early so I could skim the previous weeks notes to get my head in the subject. I didn’t have class on Fridays so I used my free day from the time I woke up until lunch time to review what I’d learned that week. My system saved me so much stress when it came time for exams.
Don’t always study your book
WHAT!?!?!?! You heard me. There will be classes that simply do not use the book, they make you spend $90 dollars for something that won’t be utilized and it sucks. But it’s a sad reality. In the beginning of the semester do all of your readings and study hard from your class notes and books. And after the first exam decide if it contained any questions from the books.
Chances are you’ll have a class or two that is entirely based on lecture. Professors like to do that to encourage attendance and drain student’s already light pockets. You can also check ratemyprofessor before the semester starts to see if you even need to buy the book. I’ve easily aced a few classes where I completely forwent buying the book.
Pro tip: If your professor is the author of the book there’s a good chance having you buy it is just a money grab. I rarely buy books that my professors have written.
I make myself promises like “If you can get through your entire stack of flashcards with no mess ups then you can go to the pandamonium donut truck” or “If you study for an hour with no distractions then you can watch a movie tonight.” Working towards an immediate goal, for some reason, gives me more drive than my ultimate goal of graduating, getting into grad school, then getting my dream job. While I want those things more than anything, I also really like donuts.
If you have been following these tips and studying every day then there is absolutely no need to pull an all nighter before every exam. I am not going to lie, there were a few exams that I did need to stay up all night to prepare for. Some exams are just harder than others and have so much information.
But if you spend the semester following the tips above, you should feel prepared and confident for most exams without having to worry about caffeine fueled all nighters.
USE YOUR SYLLABUS
I cannot stress this one enough. At the beginning of the semester your professor is going to give you a packet of paper that tells you exactly how to pass their class. The syllabus will outline due dates, exam dates, readings, and what part of your grade each assignment accounts for. Yet so many students never look at them again after that first week.
Once you get your syllabus I recommend that you copy down every single due date, exam date, and reading into your planner. Mark on your planner 1 week before an exam, so that if you weren’t already studying now you know to start, and if you are really dedicated, use sticky notes to mark readings in your books and write the date it must be read by on there. When you finish a reading, remove the sticky note.
Studying in college is a lot easier than a lot of students make it out to be. As long as you’re organized and you’re dedicated then you should be absolutely fine. If you are going into freshman year, there is a good chance that you’re going to be overwhelmed at first. Take a deep breath – it gets easier. You get used to having to learn on your own and put up with a demanding schedule, I promise.
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