Last Updated on August 28, 2023
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How To Study College
College is an exciting and life-changing experience. It may be the first time you’ll be living on your own, and it’s a fantastic opportunity to make friends, meet new people, and learn about your interests both personally and professionally. However, adjusting to college life can be overwhelming – and figuring out a solid study routine is no exception! Take a look at these study tips for college to help you succeed.
There’s no magic formula or set prescription for how to study effectively…every student is different! You might study well in a library, while your roommate studies better in his or her dorm room. The key is to try out different studying methods – including different study environments – to figure out what works best for YOU.
First, Focus on Preparation.
1. Organization is key!
First and foremost, make sure you get a college planner. This can be a planner with a creative design, a plain notebook, a wall calendar, or even a small dry erase calendar for your desk that changes each month. A wall calendar or desk calendar is best for double-checking appointments, events, and due dates while a notebook planner of some sort will be best for planning on-the-go, wherever you are. This planner will keep you in check when you’re in class or in a meeting with your advisor.
If digital works better for you (since you can sync it with just about anything – your computer, phone, tablet), think about setting up an agenda on your mobile device. You can set up reminders for test dates, department events, study times, and assignment due dates. Additionally, you can create a study outline on your device in something like Google Docs, Microsoft Word, or another digital format that works for you.
2. Plan Ahead
Create a study plan at the beginning of the semester based on your course syllabus. Ideally, you should study a little bit every day throughout the week —even just 20 minutes can make a huge difference—so you don’t wind up cramming and stressing out right before the big exam.
3. Take Good Notes
Studying starts in the classroom. Pay attention and take good notes, so when you’re studying later, you’re just reviewing information (instead of learning it for the first time). Speak with your professor about recording lectures on your phone. A recording can complement your notes so you can go back and re-listen to the information in case there are other details you pick up on later to note. Effective note-taking strategies can have a direct impact on your study habits and is one of the most important study tips for college.
4. Find a Routine
Getting yourself into a study routine is one of the best ways to make sure that studying becomes a part of your everyday habit. Figure out what time of day works best for you and make a real effort to dedicate that time to reviewing notes, videos, and other related resources.
Pick times during the week to try out your studying. You can try studying in the morning on one day, the afternoon another day, and in the evening if that works best for you when there are no distractions at the end of the night. Once you’ve decided which time works best for you, try to stick with that time of day every day (or at least 3 days a week) to get in the habit of studying consistently. You might wind up rearranging your routine due to extracurricular activities, time with friends, and other commitments, but be sure to prioritize your studies and get them done in one way or another.
Teamwork is Essential
5. Study with Friends
Encouraging friends to study with you can make everything more fun and productive! Ask your classmates to study with you at a certain time and location. For example, you can ask your biology colleagues to study with you after class for an hour at the school cafe. You can set up your computers at a table together and grab some snacks and coffee to enjoy the time.
The same goes for studying with your friends. If you’re not in a class with them, studying together in-person can help you hold each other accountable. When you make plans with friends, you don’t want to be that person who cancels or doesn’t show, right?
6. Ask for Help!
If you really don’t understand a concept, ask questions! Stop by your professors’ offices during their office hours, or contact classmates and professors via email. Some classes might even have a Facebook Group to keep students engaged and to create an environment to ask questions outside of class. Either way, your professors will be on your side – nonjudgmental, wanting to help you understand the class in its entirety.
7. Teach Someone!
Teaching a friend, family member, or even your pet the material is a great way to see how well you know it! When you explain it to someone else, you’ll have a better grasp of which information you already have mastered and which information you should revisit for yourself.
You can create a fun PowerPoint or Google Slides presentation, get creative and present the information in a way that’s easy for you and your audience to understand. Who knows – you might even use that presentation in the future for your classmates!
Create an Ambiance
8. Switch Up Your Study Spots
Studying in the same spot can get tedious, so why not mix it up and get a new perspective on things? College campuses have tons of study spots for students—from the library to the campus lawn to local cafes (think back to studying with friends and finding an area to set up for an hour or for the day). Take advantage of these study areas, both indoors and outdoors, and give yourself a new view every day!
9. Eliminate Distractions
Studying without distractions is crucial. If you’re studying alone, try to find a quiet space or put headphones in to block out noise from your surroundings. If you’re in an area trying to study and it’s just not working out, relocate. It might be frustrating to have to pick up and move, but it will be worth it once you’re in a good environment.
Consider putting your phone on silent or vibrate too – you can always respond to your messages after your study session!
How to Approach Studying
10. Don’t Cram
While it may seem like a good idea to learn an entire semester’s worth of information in one night, it’s not an effective study habit, and it can cause a lot of unnecessary stress. Instead, study a little bit of information every day for at least 20 – 30 minutes. You’ll likely remember more later and you’ll feel calm and prepared when it comes to exam time.
11. Memorize vs. Understand
One of the study tips for college that can make a massive difference in how you approach new information is knowing the difference between memorizing the material and understanding it. Memorizing information isn’t actually learning the information—it’s just helping you learn how to repeat it during a finite time.
For example, if you’re studying for a Spanish exam and you’re memorizing a conjugated verb chart, remembering what the verbs look like in written form will help you remember the information for that exam. However, you might forget the meanings of the verbs and how to use them in a sentence afterward since it’s a very specific way of studying. This may catch up with you when you take the next level up of Spanish.
12. Review and Reorganize Your Notes
Whether you’re using a notebook, a laptop, or good old-fashioned flashcards, reviewing each line of your notes helps ensure that you hit all the right information you reviewed in class and might even remind you of a few things you would have missed otherwise. It’s good to review notes shortly after class, and then again a few days later. This allows you to take a break between edits and come back to the information with a fresh perspective.
13. Study Smarter, Not Harder
Occasionally, college professors will tell you the information that will (or won’t) be on an exam—listen to them! They’re sharing this information with you to save you time so you’re not studying the wrong information for hours, and you can focus on the important points. If you’re unsure about what to focus on while studying, send your professor a quick email to confirm or speak with him or her after class.
Keep Your Cool
14. Use the Reward System
Studying can be draining, so treat yourself for a little motivation. Buy a coffee from your favorite coffee shop or get some study snacks from the campus convenience store. You can also reward yourself by taking breaks for activities you enjoy, like walking, reading, or watching TV. Adding in a reward will give you something fun to work towards.
15. Take Breaks
Continuing from the previous point, taking breaks is important. Breaks give you a boost of productivity, reset, and prevent burnout. It might seem like you need to use all the time you possibly can to study, back-to-back, but your brain will start to slow down if you don’t give it a chance to relax. Taking breaks can help you get the most out of your study time with the least amount of stress.
16. Be Confident About Your Studies
It might be easy to fall into a trap of stressing yourself out while you’re studying, but that will be counterintuitive in the big picture. You can control when you study and how you study to help prepare you for your exams. After that, you have to be confident and try your best to retain the information. Believing in yourself and trusting that you’ve got this can help you forget about the stress and focus on moving forward.
how to study for college exams
You have a test on the horizon. It’s a big one, and you know you need to hit the books. Not sure where or how to begin? Don’t panic! Learn how to study for a test, step-by-step.
1. Ask the right questions
You don’t want to walk in on test day unprepared for what you’re about to face. Try to get the answers to these crucial questions before you start studying.
Questions to ask before a test
- What material will the test cover?
- Will there be an exam review session during class?
- Will there be after-school opportunities for more review?
- What is the format of the exam? Multiple-choice? Short answer? Will there be essays to write?
- How many points is the exam worth?
- Do you have specific study tips to help me prepare? (After all, your teacher knows your work the best!).
2. Sort out your schedule
You can actually spend less time studying for your exam if you start with a great game plan. Make a list of what topics you need to cover and when you’re going to cover them. Start your study schedule as early as possible (usually a few weeks before your test), and figure out how much time you’ll need to study each day to stay on track.
3. Grab your gear
Gather up all your class notes, quizzes, handouts and worksheets. Your previous homework will help you see what your teacher thinks is important. (Plus, you can learn from your past quiz mistakes).
4. Study smarter
Instead of memorizing all your notes, prioritize what you’ll study. Start with what will definitely be on the the test, then what will probably be on the test, and finally what might be on the test. That way, if you run out of time, you know you at least have the essentials covered.
5. Mix it up
Now that you know WHAT you need to study, figure out the best way to review and internalize what you predict will be on the exam. Make flashcards for history class, outline your biology notes, record yourself practicing your French accent—whatever you need to do to get ready. Check out our favorite “outside of the box” study methods.
6. What keeps you motivated?
Study groups can help you study more efficiently for exams. Make a plan with friends to review the class material together, share and compare notes, or work through tricky concepts. Or, reward yourself for each study session with something small (even if it’s just a TV break) to help you stay focused.
7. Sleep still matters
An all-nighter might sound like a good idea, but a restful night’s sleep is actually the key to your success. Start a healthy sleep routine in the weeks leading up to your exam, so you’ll be fresh and ready for test day. (But if you do happen to need some midnight study help, our on-demand tutors are there for you.)
8. Bring what you’re supposed to bring
Find out what you’re allowed to bring to the exam, and make sure you don’t leave anything essential at home. Many teachers will let you bring a calculator to math or science exams. Some classes may even hold open textbook or open notes exams. Stash pens, papers, and extra paper in your bag, so you’re ready for anything.