Starting college can be an exciting time for many but there is no point denying it, in order to succeed in college you need to know how to study effectively. College classes operate entirely different to what you may have been used to in high school. Therefore, it may be necessary to change or adjust your study techniques and methods so that you can do just as well in college. In this article, we’ll look at effective study strategies for college students.
People study in different ways and you may find that what works for others might not necessarily work for you. It’s important the find the methods that work best for you and to stick to them. In this guide we’re going to look at several methods of study and the elements that make them so effective.
As it’s the start of the academic year, you have time to see what works for you. Just make sure to do it now. You’ll find it much easier identifying your study routine now than when exams are approaching rapidly.
Effective Study Strategies for College Students
1) Be in the Right Environment
The environment where you study will play an important role in your ability to study effectively. Therefore the place you choose should be quiet and free from distractions. Although, some students prefer some background noise such as alpha wave music or where there is another person to whom they are accountable. The key is to find the optimal place for your needs.
Choose a place where there is fewer people or a room in your house where people are less likely to be coming and going. It’s a good idea to study somewhere free from televisions, radios or other things that are likely to steal your attention. You should place your phone on silent or put it somewhere it won’t distract you.
Your college or local library may be a good choice as long as it’s quiet and others are there to study and not serve as a distraction. If you are unsure what works best for you, test out a few different locations and identify where you studied most efficiently. By determining this early in the college year you will have plenty of time to decide what works best for you and establish a routine to meet your needs.
2) Make your Study Regular
You should set out regular times that you plan to study. By establishing a routine you are making a plan and commitment. It will help you stay organised and plan what you need to do more efficiently. It will further enable you to identify when you study best and therefore schedule your study time to maximise the best results.
You will expand on this when you’re preparing your study plan but it’s important to be realistic when you’re allocating time. How much is available to you? Depending on your year of study, you will need to allocate more time than others. This can be tricky if you are trying to fit in work or other commitments so the most important aspect of this exercise is not committing yourself to what’s unattainable. Be realistic and identify the times that will be available for your to study. Once that is done you will be able to effectively prepare a study plan and timetable.
3) Prepare for Study
Before you begin your study session make sure you have all the notes and information you need. If you like to use flash card ensure that you have them with you. If you need your textbook to take notes, then make sure you have it with you.
This way you will be prepared to study the task at hand and will not lose focus by having to go looking for books etc. mid-way through your study time. On top of this, by only having the notes and books you need to learn, there is less chance you will become distracted by irrelevant information.
4) Stay Positive, Even When it’s Tough
Always approach studying with a positive outlook. View it as an activity that is furthering you in life. Remember the reasons why you are studying the degree and what it will offer you at the end. Find your reason why and use this as your goal to motivate yourself.
When you establish “your why” it is much easier to stay positive and focussed on what you are doing. It will further help you commit to your study plan and make it feel less of a burden.
Break down what you are trying to learn and set yourself targets. Reward yourself when you achieve your targets. This can be as simple as taking a break, going for a walk or having some food. Whatever you would like. By rewarding yourself it will help you stay positive and motivate you to keep going.
Breaking down topics into more manageable sections will allow you to get through them faster and easier. You will feel less overwhelmed and like you are learning quicker which will boost your motivation.
5) Create a Study Plan
To manage your time wisely it’s a good idea to create a study plan. To do this you need to identify how you spend your time at the moment and what commitments you need to account for. Find the best days and times for you to study and add them to your plan. By keeping track of your study and other activities, you’ll be able to see where most of your time is being spent and you’ll be able to make adjustments if you don’t feel your time is being spent productively.
After identifying the times you have available to dedicate to studying you should create a study schedule. Block out time slots for study around your other activities. By doing this, you can create a plan every week of what you’re going to study and any assignments that need to be completed. This will help you get organised and stay on top of your work. It will also help you prepare for any upcoming exams as you can allocate your study time wisely in advance.
The most important thing is to stick to your plan. If you find that certain things are not working then adjust it. You may find that you prefer doing practical work in the evening after a full day in college, whereas Saturday is the best day for revising topics and reading coursework.
While it may be tempting to schedule all your study into one long block of time, it is important to note that to maintain focus and concentration, and avoid feeling discouraged, you must take regular breaks and eat healthy foods. Studying must be balanced with breaks where you do other things such as exercise, yoga, hobbies, socialising with friends and maintaining a healthy diet.
6) Commit to Your Study Plan
When you establish your study plan, commit to it. Don’t procrastinate. Procrastination is likely to increase stress levels, especially as you get closer to the exams.
By sticking to your timetable you will be better placed to stay on top of your course work and less likely to succumb to high levels of stress. Leaving studying till the last minute will lead to higher stress which will affect your ability to study effectively and recall information.
Studying the whole way through the semester and not just at the end, will increase your ability to remember more information when it comes to exam time.
7) Prioritize the Important Tasks
It is important to prioritise your college work and assignments. This will ensure that you allocate an appropriate amount of time to each subject. You can then decide if you need to allocate more of your time to certain subjects or topics because you are finding them more difficult than others. Or you may decide to dedicate more time to a certain subject because it is more important.
It is a good idea to tackle complex topics with a fresh mind. This will help you break down the topic and learn it better, and avoid becoming overwhelmed and stressed. Take this into account when scheduling your days and make sure the topics with the highest priorities are scheduled first.
8) Get Rid of Distractions
Distractions will inevitably pose a challenge throughout college. While it is important you maintain a healthy balance between academic activities and non-academic activities, to get a good degree you must treat college like a full-time job. It will require the majority of your time and unfortunately some sacrifices will have to be made.
To help you fight distractions, you should anticipate where they are likely to arise and create an appropriate plan to help you resist them. By establishing rewards for yourself after periods of study, this will help you resist distractions and motivate you to accomplish your study goals.
9) Be organised at all Times
Being organised is of vital importance when you want to study effectively. It will avoid you wasting your valuable time and maximise benefits and study time available. Organising your course work, study material and notes in a way that you can understand and access easily when you need them will be important to your success. Good time management will enable you to keep on top of your coursework and study.
How to Take Effective Study Notes
When in college it is important that you take good notes as these will help you study the topic later. Your note taking should include important issues and concepts discussed during the class. This will help you better understand and remember those concepts later. It will also force you to pay attention and listen as your professor is talking.
Many students find that note taking allows them to put topics and concepts into their own terms which further develops their understanding and makes it easier to learn.
Taking notes directly from class can help give you guidance when revising for the exam. More often than not, what is focused on in class is likely to show up on the exam.
When you go to class ensure that you have everything you need for that particular class and have a separate notebook where you write all your notes for that subject. This way you will be super organised and it will be easier to revise and find those notes later. You may also be able to record the class which can be useful when revising and to will allow you to recheck your notes. Be sure to get your professor’s permission first.
Comparing notes with other students can be a very good study technique. Comparing notes with other students in your class will allow you to see what other students thought was important information and will also help you identify any points or information you may have missed.
1) Create Effective Mind Maps
Mind mapping is a different way of remembering information than the normal cognitive way. It is a simple technique of visualizing information in the form of graphs or diagram rather than writing in the form of sentences. The process of mind mapping involves the use of both our analytical side of the brain and our artistic side. Thereby making the learning process even more enjoyable.
Mind mapping can significantly help improve ones study techniques and help with storing information. The process involves creating a diagram, which generally takes the form of a tree. It will have a unique starting point, which will then divide up into many branches. Others will have a central idea surrounded by connected branches of associated topics. This visual representation of information can involve the use of colours and diagrams.
The idea behind mind mapping is to make the information and process as simple as possible.
Mind mapping is especially useful for college students who need to remember vast amounts of information. A useful way of creating a mind map is to condense your notes as much as possible until you are left with one page. This page of graphics, word flows, or visual representation is then the core piece of information you will need to learn in order to remember your notes from a particular subject.
If you would like more information, check out our guide on mind mapping here.
2) Focus on Listening
It’s all well and good making sure you attend every class but you might as well not be there if you’re not listening properly. Perfecting the art of listening, particularly with more difficult subjects, comes with honing your concentration skills.
Your lecture should last for around 45 minutes, with a break afterwards. Hopefully, if you have a double period you will get a break in between. It is more than possible to train yourself to concentrate for that length of time. In your break afterwards then you will need to fully refresh before your next subject. Chatting to friends, going for a walk, or doing a few stretches is a great way to give your mind a rest before your next bout of concentration.
But more importantly, you need to listen to your lecturer properly in order to understand the topic at hand. A lot of people take notes continuously at the expense of paying full attention and this equates to a lesser level of understanding. A good way to combat this is to use a dictaphone or even your phone, when allowed, to record the lecture. This leaves you fully free to listen to the lecture and take notes later.
If this is not possible for you, take small notes when there is a break in talking. Because you have listened you will be able to take more comprehensive notes later on.
To learn more about listening effectively, check out our guide on boosting focus and concentration.
3) Be Prepared for Every Class
It might sound simple, but a lot of people rush into class without having the right textbooks, previous notes, or idea about the subject of discussion. Whether it’s the morning or evening before, you need to make sure you are adequately prepared for each lecture you attend. Developing a checklist can be useful for this.
- Make sure you have all notes to date with you in case you need to look back on anything.
- Make sure you have your textbook with you and page marked if you know where you will be focussing on in that lecture.
- Finally, take time to ready your course plan, online study notes, or reflect on your past lesson, to know what you will be concentrating on in that lesson. This allows you to get into the right mindset before you enter a lecture and will allow you to take notes more effectively.
This time spent on organizing yourself can make all the difference when it comes to your quality of understanding. It also allows you to feel more in control and less lost during classes. If you find you are struggling with certain subjects then knowing what’s coming up can give you some time to do some external reading on the subject. This can be a massive boost to your understanding and external reading is always sought after when it comes to examinations.
4) Review, Edit, & Organize Your Notes
If you have used the method of recording your lectures then you’ll have more time at this stage to perfect your notes. If not and you jotted down the main points while focusing completely, you should take time later in the evening to expand on the notes and get as much down as possible.
Once this is done and you have the full lecture in front of you, you can begin the process of condensing your notes. A big mistake that students make is by not shortening their notes enough and trying to learn too much information. This is counter-productive, and with multiple subjects your mind is going to get burnt out.
When we’re condensing our notes, we’re making sure that we retain the main points so that when we recall them, we can explain them and expand on their meaning. There will be several methods of condensing your notes until you can create your mind map, where you will have all of the subjects main points on one easy-to-read word chart.
If you have a good understanding of your lecture and original notes, then by just learning these keyphrases, you will be able to expand and give full and complete answers.
5) Attempt Past Papers
In college you will have access to past papers that students have taken in prior years. More often than not, you will also have access to repeat papers and all answers for the last five years or so. This gives you ten complete exam papers to work on. Surprisingly, many students don’t see the opportunity in this and might attempt one or two past papers before moving on.
Past exam papers need to be completed for a number of reasons. Firstly, to boost your confidence. Now it’s important to keep in mind when you first attempt them you’re more than likely going to get a few answers wrong. Don’t let this dishearten you. Instead use the answers that are provided to see where you are making your mistakes. This is a much more effective way to understand the question because by taking the opportunity to rectify the mistakes at this stage means that you will be ready for them if the chance presents itself when you’re taking your final examination. Once you have got to the last paper, you will be answering the questions fully and will gain confidence in the fact that you are completing exam questions.
The second reason why it’s so important to complete past papers is it gives you the opportunity to see if you need to make any adjustments to your notes. Maybe something hasn’t been explained adequately, or you forgot to cover a certain topic. Whatever it is, by attempting the past papers you will be able to identify the topics you need to cover more adequately.
6) Compare Your Notes With Classmates
It can be difficult to cover everything that comes up in class, particularly when you’re trying to listen closely to what’s being said. But you do have a resource available to you, your classmates.
Each person will take notes in their own way and it’s beneficial to share notes to make sure you’ve got all the important parts covered. Try to organise a study group at the end of the week to go over each others notes and discuss your thoughts on the lectures. This is incredibly beneficial in making sure everybody knows what’s going on and can be a real lifesaver when you stumble on a point that you can’t seem to master. Hearing someone else’s take on a subject helps you to deepen your own understanding as well.
7) Understand that Many Techniques are Outdated
There are many note taking and study techniques that were once promoted highly but have since been found to not work effectively. Time recently covered a research paper conducted by the Association of Psychological Science. In highlighting the biggest areas where techniques were ineffective they wrote:
“Highlighting and underlining led the authors’ list of ineffective learning strategies. Although they are common practices, studies show they offer no benefit beyond simply reading the text. Some research even indicates that highlighting can get in the way of learning; because it draws attention to individual facts, it may hamper the process of making connections and drawing inferences. “
Don’t waste time on things that you think you’re supposed to be doing. Focus on what works and most importantly, what works for you. By tying in all of the methods we have spoken about and testing yourself on the exam papers, you will be able to find what methods are working best for you. Remember, less is more and effectively condensing your results will lead to much better overall exam results.
In the same report, the best methods of study involved the following:
“In contrast to familiar practices like highlighting and rereading, the learning strategies with the most evidence to support them aren’t well known outside the psych lab. Take distributed practice, for example. This tactic involves spreading out your study sessions, rather than engaging in one marathon. Cramming information at the last minute may allow you to get through that test or meeting, but the material will quickly disappear from memory. It’s much more effective to dip into the material at intervals over time. And the longer you want to remember the information, whether it’s two weeks or two years, the longer the intervals should be.”
This distributed method should be applied to your study plan. Don’t focus on one subject continuously, learn your subjects together so you’re dipping in and out and adding information into your long term memory. Remember cramming is a short term solution and can make information hard to bring to the fore when you need it the most.
Tips for Keeping your Study Motivation
Sometimes it feels like a semester lasts forever. That your day consists of going to class, writing notes, studying, sleeping and doing it all over again. It’s days like this that it’s hardest to keep motivated. However, it’s days like this that it’s also the most important to keep your motivation.
The days where you really don’t want to stick to your plan are the ones that make the biggest difference to your grade. If you feel that you’re not getting any breaks at all then it’s time to reexamine your study plan. Frequent breaks are important and you should have time scheduled in the week to go and have some fun. However, even if you’re sticking to your plan and taking your breaks it’s still easy to lose your motivation.
To help with this, here are some tips that will make it easier to hold onto your study motivation.
1) Remember your ‘Why’
It’s easy to forget the reason why you’re studying, but it’s so important to keep it front of mind. This allows you to regroup on the tough days and put in the time you need to.
So, why are you studying? To improve your life, for financial security, to relocate? Whatever the reasons, you should have them clearly identified. What works even better is to have visual representations of your ‘why’. Maybe you have a dream house or car in mind. Make a vision board and put it on the wall in the room you like to study.
Be creative but be visual. Being able to look up when you’re having a particularly bad day and seeing what you’re doing this all for is a really useful way of keeping yourself motivated to study.
2) Reward Yourself
The time you’ll be studying will seem quite drawn out so it’s important to reward yourself for sticking to your plan. You should have some time scheduled in during the week to completely unwind. Make sure you schedule something fun here, or maybe a pampering session. Choose rewards that you know will incentivise you to get through the week, or even through the day when you’re experiencing particularly difficult ones.
It’s also a good idea to think of a big reward you will treat yourself to once the exams are finished. Make sure it’s something you’re excited about and you’ll find it’s a great way to get you through the exams.
3) Have Fun on your Breaks
To study effectively, you need to take breaks frequently. Aim to study for 45 minutes with a 15 minute break afterwards. This gives your mind plenty of time to unwind and allows you to focus better during study time. You’ll also need to take longer breaks after 2-3 study blocks. These should be an hour in length so you can grab some food and give your mind time to digest the information you’ve taken in.
During these rest periods, try to do something fun. Go for a quick walk, read something, play a video game etc. Whatever is fun for you. It may seem like 15 minutes isn’t a long time but you can still fit a fun activity in that time frame. Not only will it make you feel better about facing a day of study, it will also allow your mind the time it needs to process the information you’re trying to store.
4) Track your Progress
It’s really important to track your progress, not only so you know how many topics you’ve got covered, but to give yourself a constant sense of accomplishment. To do this, you need to break down your goals into smaller ones. So larger subjects get broken down into certain topics etc. By doing this, each goal seems much more manageable and you are able to tick off topics as being done on a more frequent basis.
It’s very easy when you’re studying to feel like you’re not getting through everything or that you’re running out of time. By breaking up goals into smaller accomplishments you’ll be able to get through them more quickly and each time you tick something off you’ll get a surge of motivation to keep going. In the study plan template we provided there is a section to tick off your tasks. Make sure you use the and set yourself achievable goals.
5) Visualise the End
Similar to the why, visualizing the end allows you to focus on getting through all of your study and gaining your awards at the end. Whether you picture yourself graduating, or in your new job etc. it’s important to have some picture in mind when it comes to thinking about finishing your studies.
If you find it hard to hold that image in your head, find pictures that represent this to you and put them up on the walls in the room you study. They’ll always be there when you need them and on tough days you’ll be able to remember that this will eventually all end and you will have improved your life drastically in the process.