Eight Tips for Successful Studying

By Patricia Gorden Neill - June 13th, 2013

Learning to study effectively ranks high in importance for college students. Up to 33 percent of incoming freshmen don’t know how to study effectively, meaning that while they made read the assignments, do the problems and review before exams, they won’t be able to apply what they’ve learned appropriately. Unfortunately, many students don’t realize that they don’t study effectively, and they assume that the study habits they formed in high school will see them through college. If you don’t do well on the first tests in any of your classes, that’s a sign that maybe you haven’t learned how to study well in college level classes. Your best bet, in this case, is to head for the college’s academic resources center and sign up for a workshop or a class on studying effectively.

We’ve put together some tips to point students in the right direction when it comes to studying so that they learn the material at hand. See if any of these tips can help you learn to study better and more successfully.

Block off Enough Time

In a previous time management article, you learned about scheduling your time so that your classes and studying take center stage. For each hour you spend in class, you’ll need to devote two to three hours outside of class for study. In contrast to what you did in high school, that is, spending five or six hours in class each day, in college, you may spend three hours per week in class, but most of the learning happens outside of class during your study hours. It’s up to you to set aside enough time to study for each of your classes. If you’re taking 15 credit hours a semester, you’ll need to put in 30 to 45 hours worth of studying time a week. That’s a lot of time, but it is central to doing well in college.

Set Mini Deadlines

Check your class syllabus and note when you have a big test or a paper due. Count backwards from that date and schedule time each week to study for the test or research and write part of the paper. By creating mini deadlines, you’ll ensure that you have done all the work you’ll need to do to ace the test or write an A paper. This is known as reverse engineering your bigger projects. By breaking down the bigger project, test or paper into smaller goals, you’ll get it all done step by step in time for the due date.

Take Breaks Often

Research studies show that people can concentrate intensely for about 45 minutes at a time. After that, they get tired and can’t focus further. Set up your study time so you put a good 45 minutes focus on studying, then take a 10 to 15 minute break. Get up, stretch, walk around and get a drink of water. When your break is up, head back to your studying.

Active Learning

College level learning requires your active engagement. You can’t just do the reading assignments and leave it at that. You have to actively participate by underlining, making notes and questioning what you’re read. You need to connect new material to what you learned last week to make it into a cohesive whole. Active reading and note taking keeps you engaged and thinking about the material. Many college professors assign homework, but they don’t pick up and grade every assignment. Homework, even ungraded, helps you to learn the subject, so do all homework whether it will earn you points or not. You’ll end up with a better understanding of the topic, which is the whole point of the exercise.

During Class

Attend all your classes. You’ll still miss a few most likely, but make it a point to attend all classes. Again, apply the active learning principles: sit near the front, take notes, ask questions and join in discussions. Learning requires your engagement in the subject. You’ll be surprised that something you thought would be boring becomes interesting when you start to engage the material. If you do miss a class, ask a class friend if you can borrow their notes. Something from that classes’ discussion period could end up on the final exam.

Assistance Outside of Class

If you’re not quite getting a concept, show up at your professor’s office hours and ask for her help. Most professors enjoy working with their students and helping them when necessary. Working with your professor can help you understand the material better, and it might also lead to an enjoyable friendship. Don’t be shy, just go. There may be other opportunities for further learning outside of class as well. If workshops or tutorials are offered, take them. It might help clarify something you didn’t quite understand or it might offer an opportunity for you to explain a concept to a classmate. Studies show that we retain 95 percent of what we teach to others. By explaining a concept to someone else, you’ll have to have extra clarity on the material yourself.

Make an Outline for Every Class

Creating your own outline of a class allows you to pull all the material together into a cohesive whole. Doing this will move the material from your short term memory into your long term memory. You’ll be able to synthesize the material and understand better how it all fits together. Making an outline also helps you plug information into where it fits in the outline, allowing for easier studying later for the final. Begin making your outline using the class syllabus or your textbook’s table of contents. After each class, add your class notes into your outline. You’ll have to think about how to fit them in, but that’s part of the active learning process.

Test Your Knowledge

Give yourself practice tests. Most textbooks provide quizzes at the end of a chapter. Take them, and write out your answers as if it were a real test. The act of recalling information to answer the questions and writing it down anchors the material deeper in your memory. Self-testing is one of the keys to active learning. The more you actively think about the material at hand, the more you will remember it. Review and test what you’ve learned frequently, rather than waiting until just before the midterm or final.

Use these tips to start studying effectively right from the start. It isn’t enough anymore simply to read, memorize and cram the night before. For college level learning, you have to engage your brain and participate in learning the material. Hopefully, this will set you on the right path and make your college days a success.

About the Author

Patricia Gorden NeillPatricia Gorden Neill edited medical and scholarly journals for over 20 years in the ivy-covered halls of the University of Rochester. She is a freelance writer, often covering higher education and the concerns of college age students, and is regularly published on a variety of websites.