Most students can coast through high school with bad study habits. In college, however, students are offered more freedom and relied upon to study independently; most colleges maintain a 1:3 classwork:homework ratio. Without solid study habits, even the brightest students will inevitably fail. Similarly, cheating doesn’t cut it: your grades are usually based on essay-tests, where it is impossible to fake a thorough knowledge of the subject matter. The only way to succeed is to buckle down and study–a skill that many high schools don’t teach to their students.
Fortunately, though you can’t gain good study skills overnight, the concepts are easy to grasp, and good habits will slowly become second nature if you persevere. Although most students don’t know where to start and sometimes feel overwhelmed, the task isn’t as daunting as it seems.
Step 1: Environment
First of all, you need to establish an environment where you can study without distractions. Turn off your cell-phone (gasp!) and other electronic devices; if you are working on a laptop, establish the rule that you will give $10 to charity every time you go on a website not related to the task at hand (including email!). Make sure you have all needed materials (it’s kind of hard to pass a course without the textbook). Don’t study in your dorm unless you’re absolutely sure that there won’t be any distractions; otherwise, there are plenty of places on campus for you to study in a quiet environment.
Step 2: Establish a schedule, and strictly obey it.
Now that you have a great environment for studying, make a schedule for yourself regarding both when and what you are going to study. Estimate how much time you need per course, and schedule when to do that homework. In one sitting, it’s best to do one-half of what you need to for each class; in this manner, you will be able to both break up the studying so that you are able to retain it and also to stay focused on one subject without jumping around too much. Don’t plan to study too late at night; try studying at least a little on the weekends (and not on Sunday night).
Step 3: Optimize your study time
In the time that you’ve allotted for studying, you could just sit blankly and stare at the textbook, or you could be highly productive. To aim for the latter option, come in to your study time with a goal and a plan of how to accomplish your goal. Structure your study time; try studying hard and taking notes for twenty minutes and then taking a three-minute break. Find a study:break ratio that is most effective for you.
Step 4 : Take Notes
Unfortunately, many high schoolers don’t know how to take proper notes. First of all, you must read everything that is assigned; you can spend your entire study period reading. Take notes too: I find that Cornell Notes are the format that works the best for me; find a note-taking style that works for you. I recommend typing your notes, as they will a) be more neat b) be easier to make and c) available in cyberspace in case you lose a hard-copy. You also need to find a balance between writing nothing and rewriting the textbook in your notes; in general, try to write down information that will be relevant to the exam, especially names, dates, and concepts..
Step 5: Deal with the harder subjects first
So hopefully you don’t procrastinate (too much), but there’s an even more insidious type of procrastination: working on easier assignments before harder assignments. You want your full brain power for hard assignments, so knock them out before you go for the easy assignments. Not only will you do a better job, but you will also feel less anxious about those subjects.
Step 6: Know when something’s good enough
You just put more stress on yourself when you’re a perfectionist. Understand that not everything needs to be perfect, and that the time you spend on changing that 95 to a 97 could be spent on other assignments. Don’t aim for 70’s, but don’t hold out for A+’s either.
Step 7: Make use of campus resources
Every college campus has tremendous resources: teacher assistants, professors, writing centers, etc. Furthermore, don’t be shy to ask your friends questions–in many circumstances, you will need to work in groups in order to succeed.
Step 8: Have fun
Studying and having a good time in college aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, social activities and getting exercise will help you focus more when it’s time for you to study.
Remember, these skills aren’t acquired overnight; however, if you firmly adhere to your schedule create a productive learning environment, and stay on task, these habits will eventually become second nature.