Doing well in college isn’t just about being smart; it’s also about having the necessary skills to record, organize, recall, and use information. These skills include note-taking, note-making (there is a difference!), textbook reading, asking questions, exam preparation, and time management. Like any other skills, study skills are learned and can be improved. Students who are skilled studiers do well because they have developed useful and effective strategies for the different kinds of work they need to perform as a student. And because they know that the strategies needed for one class may be different than for another class, they are careful to make adjustments from course to course, professor to professor, and exam to exam.
College studying is filled with distractions: roommates (or family members, if you live at home), television, friends, and music can distract even the best-intentioned students. Students may not realize that these are distractions, but they are. Try to choose and control your studying environment as much as possible, which means creating an environment that is quiet and is suited to concentrated, focused work without interruptions.
- You may want to find out when you can have your dorm room or apartment all to yourself. Plan your study time accordingly.
- Explore the library and find a quiet place where you can work so that if you know your room or house will be noisy, you have somewhere familiar you can go. Sometimes empty classrooms are great study spaces!
- If you are studying chemistry or economics, you may need a quieter environment than if you are reading a novel for literature class.
- Keep the TV off! Even if you think it's just background noise, it's not. You will, to some degree, be paying attention to the show that's on.
- Your body is literally part of the environment in which you study, so listen to it and what it needs. If it needs some sleep, take a short nap. If it's hungry, eat a snack.
- Say no to friends' requests to talk, go out, or help them when you have planned to study.
- Put a "do not disturb" sign on your door and turn your phone off. Let your answering machine take the call.
- If you are tempted to play music and find yourself listening to the music rather than paying attention to what you're studying, either turn it off or put on a station that plays music that will become background music.
- Some students get distracted by noise from the hall or stereo/TV noise from adjoining rooms. Try an electric fan or soft music to help drown out the sounds.
Organization is essential to succeeding in college and is closely linked to time management. The goal of organizing is to bring order to your academic and social life so that you are in control. There are many ways to organize, and each individual will find things that work for him or her. Here are some suggestions:
- Keep a list of things to do on your desk so that you can always remind yourself what needs to be done. Making lists is a good way to "see" everything you need to do and to begin to take control. Lists can help you minimize anxiety.
- Buy separate, different colored notebooks for each class. You won't bring the wrong notebook to class.
- Consider buying more than one notebook for each class, depending upon the different work you do. For example, use one notebook for lecture notes and one notebook for homework problems.
- Make sure you have all the desk supplies you need: pencils, erasers, pencil sharpeners, pens, highlighters, post-it notes, paper, notebooks, paper clips, stapler, staples, index cards, etc. Most of these supplies are fairly inexpensive, so you should be able to have what you need when you need it.
- Use post-it-notes to tab important textbook or notebook pages or the pages about which you have questions. The colored tabs will act as a visual reminder. Use folders to keep papers, notes, homework, old tests, etc. organized and easily accessible.
- Keep your study area neat by keeping your books and notebooks organized. Students who pile books and papers on the desk or bed or floor can have a hard time finding things or remembering when something is due, and commonly forget to turn assignments in. And, a disorganized space can increase your level of anxiety because you know you're not in control.
Going to class is probably the easiest step to take toward doing well in college, as well as the easiest way to avoid problems. Many professors believe that part of going to college involves the freedom to decide how to behave, and so many professors leave it up to the student to determine whether or not he/she attends class. Although your professor may not take attendance, don't let that fool you into thinking that he or she doesn't notice if you are there, or that attendance is unimportant. Attending class tells the professor that you are committed to doing well. He or she will also have more of an opportunity to get to know you. You also won't miss important handouts or homework assignments, and you will be there to note important changes in the syllabus, due dates, etc.
- Get enough sleep and eat before the exam so that you will be rested and alert, two things that will help you do the active thinking the exam will require of you.
- During the exam, make sure to stay relaxed. Anxiety is very distracting and can drain your energy.
- Read all of the questions first. Sometimes you will have a choice as to which questions to answer. Decide which you understand the best and which you can do the best job on. Also, get a sense of how many minutes you can allot to answering each question.
- Read the question carefully, underlining important parts of the question and determining exactly what the question is asking for, i.e., note the kind of work the question asks you to do: compare, define, evaluate, etc.
- Outline before you start writing. Use this outline to record immediate ideas and facts, to brainstorm, to list important supporting information to include in the answer, and to decide on an organizational structure. Organization is often crucial in a successful essay exam; it's not just what you know but how you present it.
- Don't get off track. Remind yourself of your outline and of the question, so that you don't get sidetracked and forget what you are answering.
- Provide plenty of supporting detail.
- Use transitional sentences to make important shifts in your thinking and in your answer. They help your professor read your answers and follow your thinking.
- Check the clock often. Don't get too caught up in one question and forget to move on and leave time for others.
- Reread your answers to check for sentence-level clarity, spelling, and grammar, all of which count!
- Don't worry if others seem to be writing more than you or are finished ahead of you. You have no way of knowing what they are writing, so don't jump to conclusions that shake your confidence. Focus your energy on your exam!
- Get enough sleep the night before the exam so that you are rested and alert during the exam.
- Before you begin, make sure you survey the entire exam. Make sure to count the pages and get an overview of what the whole entails. You will need to get a sense of how quickly you need to work and which questions are worth the most points.
- Read each question carefully to make sure you know what is being asked. If the question is phrased in a long sentence or contains multiple parts, underline exactly what the question is asking.
- Be alert to key words in the question such as
- All but
- If the test is multiple choice, try thinking of the answer before you look at the choices.
- Also, consider all the options before making your choice.
- Mark any questions that you've skipped or that you've answered but are unsure of. Return to them when you are finished with the questions you have confidently answered and give them careful thought.
Make sure to check all of your answers before you turn in your exam.
Most of us feel the best or work the best during a particular time of day; some of us, for example, are "morning people," and some of us are "night people." Knowing the times of day during which you concentrate the best may help you with your studies. Too often, students let other students dictate their study habits and times. You must learn what is best for you.
Tackle the hardest subjects or most complex projects when you have the most energy and save the easier ones for when you typically have less energy.
When you find that the material you are studying for a course is difficult, and you are having trouble understanding it, there are several things that you should do:
- Admit that the material is too hard. Don't be embarrassed or ashamed that you don't understand, and don't pretend that you will understand it at a later time or fool yourself into thinking that it's not important or that it won't appear on an exam.
- If there is an opportunity to ask questions in class, ask!!! If the explanation you get doesn't help, ask again!
- Talk to your professor outside of class about the difficulty you are having. He or she will probably be able to help.
- Seek tutoring.
During class, you were listening and trying to record important information. Hopefully, you wrote down all of the important information. But writing the information down in class is only half the point of taking notes. Making your notes into a useful study tool is also important!!!
There are different ways to make your notes a useful study tool. Here are some suggestions:
- If your notes are sloppy, you can copy them more neatly. It will be easier to study from the more legible notes later. Copying will also give you an opportunity to review the information.
- Although it takes time, rewriting your notes can be very productive. Rewriting is not the same thing as re-copying. Rewriting your notes entails customizing them, so to speak, so that they take a shape that makes sense to you and that you find useful for studying, learning, understanding, and remembering. For example:
- Reorganize your notes in a way that fits with the way you think and remember, since how you organize may be different than the way your professor presented the information in class.
- Make lists or devise new categories for sorting information.
- Identify and emphasize connections between information.
- Cross-reference your class notes with notes you take from your textbook. If you take notes from your textbook, you can do this. You might add to your lecture notes a note to see a particular page or pages of your textbook if there is a helpful chart or an important example that coincides with your notes from class.
- Number the pages of your notebook so that you can cross-reference your class notes. Perhaps something a professor covered in class two weeks ago is related to something he/she covered today. You might indicate what earlier page from your notebook you need to reference while you are preparing for an exam
- You can highlight or underline the important information from your notes as you might highlight your textbook.
There are two important reasons to review and customize your notes after class:
- You can discover what you don’t understand long before you open you notes to study for an exam. If you discover that you don't understand something, you can ask the professor or read your book to develop an understanding. The last thing you want is to be surprised while studying for an exam, finding out that something you covered in class three weeks ago doesn’t make sense!
- You can prepare for the next class by having a better grasp of what you did the class before. The material in courses is provided to students incrementally, meaning that what you learn one day is the foundation of what you will learn the next. Learning the foundation will make it easier for you to learn the new information each time it comes.
Think of all the commitments, often conflicting, that you have. First, you attend classes a certain number of hours/week. The average student will spend approximately 15 hours/week in the classroom. You have to prepare for your courses by doing the assigned reading and homework. You have exams and papers due for your classes, sometimes in the same week or on the same day. Some students have part-time jobs that require a portion of the time they have free outside of class. Of course, students have friends and want to socialize and have fun. Sleep and other forms of rest/relaxation are also necessary. Learning to manage your time is essential to your success as a student. Managing your time means developing ways to make sure that you get done everything that you need to, and that you do it well.
If you've experienced even just one of the following, you need to improve the way you manage your time:
- Feeling like you've got so little time but so much to study
- Not knowing where to begin
- Feeling that there's too much to remember
- Feeling overwhelmed
- The exhausting all-nighter
- Cramming before an exam
Here are some tips on how to manage your time:
- Avoid taking too many courses with heavy reading loads in the same semester. For example, you might choose not to take a course in the British novel if you are taking a history course and a philosophy course. Avoid taking more than one course you feel you will have difficulty with in the same semester; for example, if you are weak in math and science, try to avoid taking math and physics, or chemistry and biology during the same time. If you don't like to/are not good at writing, avoid taking too many courses at once for which you will have to do a lot of writing.
- Schedule time between classes. Try to avoid scheduling too many classes back to back, since by the time you get to the classes you schedule later in the day, you will have a hard time concentrating. Some students try to schedule their classes so that they have one or two complete days "off" during the week. This may not be the best approach. Also, scheduling free time between classes gives you the opportunity to review, do some homework, eat, or relax.
- Learn to think like a planner! Planning is really a way to visualize your time, a way to gain control over the many responsibilities you have as a student. Even the best students can get overwhelmed when assignments for different classes are due in the same week or on the same day. Planning can help you avoid becoming overwhelmed and anxious (two major reasons why we procrastinate). There are two kinds of planning to master, and both are necessary:
- The first is shorter-term planning, which applies to class preparation and keeping up with the reading for each of your courses. This kind of planning entails getting a sense of your daily and weekly schedules, learning how much preparation each of your courses generally takes, and a great deal of discipline.
- The other kind of planning is longer-term planning, which applies to studying for major exams, writing papers, or preparing projects. Because your daily class prep and reading don't cease when you have an exam or paper due in a particular class, you need to be prepared for how to allot and use your time.
An effective way to plan is to use a calendar to map out your time:
- Get a calendar and record on it when your classes meet and the due dates of all your exams, papers, and projects. Doing this will allow you to visualize the time you have leading up to and between major deadlines.
- Place this calendar where you will always see it. For example, on the wall above your desk or, if you buy a desk calendar, on your desk. If you use a wall calendar, it is helpful to tear the separate pages off and hang them side by side on the wall so you can see your whole semester at once. Refer to the calendar often; recording dates isn't going to help you unless you refer to it frequently.
- Get an overview of each week's assignments, and make a plan for what you will study and when you will study it. It may change from week to week, depending upon what work is due or what course is the most difficult. The point is to make a plan in the beginning of the week so that you know what you can and can't do that week. Sunday night may be a good night to plan for the week ahead; it makes a good transition out of the weekend and into the school week.
- You might develop a system for making major due dates stand out, such as writing them in red ink or in all capital letters.
- You might also add due dates that you set for yourself, ones that allow you to plan your time in preparation for a due date. For example, if you have an exam on a Thursday, you might note to begin studying the Thursday before, or note day by day which chapters you will cover. Plan ahead for exams, papers, or other big projects.
- Schedule study time on more than one day for an upcoming exam.
- As you plan your study time, make distinctions between the kinds of work you need to do and how much time it will take you to do it. Reading chapters, organizing/ rewriting class notes, and doing problems probably require different amounts of time than writing papers or preparing for exams. For example, you may need to dedicate 3 hours for studying notes and 3 hours on two separate days preceding an exam for reviewing homework problems.
- If you have major social commitments, such as family birthdays, friends' parties, holidays, etc., record them on your calendar. You will be able to "see" that either you do have time for these events or you need to devote that time to studying.
- Take advantage of small blocks of time. Time between classes can be used for effective study, and can diminish the time you need to spend studying at night.
Professors who give essay exams generally look for students to master broad concepts and relationships rather than memorize facts or details. Professors not only want to see that students know the material at hand, but also that they are able and willing to think about it, provide supporting details, identify and explain significance, etc. So, when you are preparing for an essay exam, study by looking for relationships between or among the information you've covered or read, identifying similarities and differences, learning and understanding definitions and key conceptual terms.
Generally, essay exam questions ask students to do this kind of work through the following kinds of questions:
Discuss/explain a point or concept and provide related information, with an explanation of why the information is relevant.
Discuss the significance: focus on how an event, discovery, etc. impacts other things.
Compare: point out and explain similarities.
Contrast: point out and explain differences.
Define: provide the meaning of something. Keep in mind to what class or category something belongs and how it is different from other objects in that class.
Examine: carefully look at a topic or issue by presenting information and by commenting upon the significance of that information.
Explain: present and clarify the main principles.
Illustrate or demonstrate: give specific and detailed examples of how some general concept applies.
List: present a concise itemized series of details, elements, facts, etc.
Argue for or against: provide evidence in support of your point of view.
Describe the sequence or process: give detailed explanation of steps, stages, or events that lead up to some event or that are part of a process.
Relate: identify and explain the relationship between things.
Evaluate: present a careful analysis of an idea or event, including pros and cons, benefits and consequences.
Interpret: provide your explanation of something, including your sense of its meaning and significance, and provide evidence to support the validity of your opinion.
Objective exams (multiple choice, short answer, fill in the blank)
- Make sure to ask the professor what material he/she will cover on the exam, and also what format and what types of questions you can expect. Knowing, for example, that you will be responsible for definitions, solving problems, etc. will help you know how to study.
- Use tests you've already taken and gotten back to help you study. Review the kinds of questions the professor asked on earlier objective tests to give you a clearer idea of what to expect and what to study. If, for example, you were asked definitions on your first test, you can guess that you'll be asked definitions on future tests. The same is true for dates, formulas, etc.
- If you will have to use formulas, memorize them and work examples of the kinds of problems you will likely see on the test. Work the hard problems, too, so that you can go to your professor ahead of time and get help. You want to be able to do the problems well and quickly, since time may be a factor.
One of the most common mistakes students make is not preparing for class or feeling that they don't have to prepare. Often, professors don't check to see if students have done the reading, and often, they don't collect homework. So, while you may not receive a "0" for work you didn't do for class, you will suffer the consequences on an exam, or even a pop quiz. You also risk falling behind and playing catch up at the end of the semester.
Moreover, when you don't prepare, you place yourself at another kind of disadvantage. You are less likely to ask questions and are less engaged in the discussion or the lecture. You put yourself on the outside of the class instead of really feeling like you are a part of it.
Tips on preparing for class:
- Listen and accurately write down all assignments that the professor gives at the end of class so that you know exactly what he or she expects of you for the next class.
- Read everything that is assigned, whether it's a chapter in a book, an article, a whole book, etc. The professor has assigned it for a reason and expects you to have read it. Take notes to help you retain and understand what you've read.
- Prepare a list of questions to ask in class. One of the best ways to prepare for a class is to determine what you don't understand or what confuses you.
- Do any problems that are assigned. If the professor goes over the homework in class, you will be able to ask questions about problems that were difficult for you to do. If the professor doesn't go over problems in class, you can get help or ask questions during his/her office hours. If you think about the purpose of homework problems, you'll realize that they are meant to give you a way to determine what you do and don't understand about a chapter or lecture. So, take advantage of the opportunity!
Often, professors expect you to read, understand, and to make use of your textbook on your own. They will, it is true, often structure classes to correspond with assigned chapters, but their lectures generally will not cover everything in the chapter. Students often make the mistake of thinking that if material is not covered in the lecture, it's not important. This mistake results in the common complaint that a question on an exam reflects material not covered in the lecture. This complaint is usually followed by the embarrassing discovery that the question was derived from material in the textbook, the reading of which was expected!
It is not uncommon for students new to college to find that they have not developed the kind of reading habits or skills that will prepare them for success in college. Students need to change their understanding of the place that reading has in their courses and also how to read for college. Too often, students rely on reading habits that got them successfully through high school. Maybe you have one or more of the following habits:
- You don't read, but rely on the teacher to tell you what you need to know.
- You read in bed or in front of the television, or while eating or listening to music.
- You read each assignment only once.
- You didn’t take notes on what you read.
It's possible these habits didn't interfere with your success in high school. But, if you read now with the television on or while listening to music, there's a good chance you aren't paying the kind of close attention necessary for success in college. Also, if reading your assignments once worked for you in high school, chances are good that what you were reading probably wasn't very difficult and that habit will have to be changed if you are to understand the material you read in college.
Keep up with the reading
Doing the assigned reading each week for all your classes is important and will go far toward helping you do well in your classes. Too often, students think they can skip a chapter and make it up later, not realizing that this puts them in the position of having to read and understand old and new material at the same time. It also means that as the class moves ahead, you are left reading old material that you may lose interest in. Often even your good intentions won't motivate you to catch up on the reading, especially when you continually have new assignments to read. Students sometimes wait to read chapters just before the exam, but this kind of rushed reading may result in poor concentration, comprehension, and recall.
Success in college requires active reading. Active reading takes place when you are engaged in the text you are reading by marking it in such a way that records your understanding and assessment of it. When you read actively, you are thinking. Your thinking takes the form of underlining important sections or words, writing notes or questions in the margins, noting connections in the margins, etc.
A note about highlighting:
Students highlight when they read to mark important information and to save time later when they study. When students highlight or underline text, they make decisions about what information is important. However, what typically happens is that the reader will highlight certain things without indicating his/her reasons for doing so. Later, the highlighted text must be reread, and the reader must try to remember why he/she thought it was important. The student finds that he or she hasn't saved any time at all. And, readers will tend to highlight everything, which in effect defeats the point of highlighting.
Instead of, or in addition, to highlighting or underlining, make more substantive comments to yourself about an important point or section by writing in the margin of the book. Note why the information is important, indicate if it connects to or relates to other information, identify groups or categories into which the information might fall, etc. Writing out questions in the margin is useful. You can also try noting in the margin the page number of your notebook to which the text corresponds. Also, it's a good idea to wait until you finish each paragraph or section before you begin to highlight. You can go back and highlight what's important after you have a better sense of the information in context.
Read slowly. Active reading takes time.
Read and reread!
If you encounter difficult material (YOU WILL!), don't simply read it once and give up. Try several times, if necessary, working to understand what you're reading. Active reading can help here, since a good practice in a situation such as this one is to note in the margins what confuses you. Is it a word you don't understand? If so, you know to look it up. Write the definition in the margin somewhere, and try reading the section again. Is it the concept that's difficult? If so, make a note to ask your professor to explain it. Is it the solution to a problem you can't understand? Try to work through the explanation, if there is one, step by step. Sometimes, to understand something you read in a current chapter, you find you have to reread something in the chapter before.
Determine if you should read before or after the lecture
Most people who offer advice about study skills suggest that students read the material before it is covered in the lecture. Ideally, you should read both before and after a lecture, but that's unrealistic, given the amount of time it can take to read and the fact that you have lots of reading to do. So you can experiment and decide which works best for you.
Reading the textbook before the lecture
The benefit of reading a chapter or chapters before the professor's lecture is that you will become familiar with new terms through your reading (when you have time to think about them) rather than hearing them for the first time in the lecture. The lecture will reinforce your comprehension of the chapter or chapters you've read. You will have the opportunity to shape questions about certain parts of the material that the professor can answer in class. You will also be ready for any pop quiz the professor might give the class! Of course, if the class is a discussion class, such as a literature class, and the discussion depends upon everyone having read the text, you MUST read before class.
Reading the textbook after the lecture
The benefit of reading the chapter after your professor lectures is that you will comprehend the chapter better after attending and taking notes on the lecture. There may be many points or sample problems in the chapter that you won't fully understand until after the lecture. You can also use your reading of the chapter to help you review and reinforce what was covered in class. You can also use your reading to "build" or complete your notes.
Too often, students rely on cramming for an exam instead of studying for shorter and more regular intervals. Regular, consistent study is a much more effective means of test preparation and academic success than last minute, frantic cramming.
Take Short Breaks
It is important to take breaks when studying. Just as studying too infrequently can diminish your success, studying for periods of time that are too long becomes ineffective. How much is enough? How much is too much? Listen to your body.
Take a short break if you are
- having trouble concentrating
- getting sleepy
- making lots of mistakes
- becoming easily distracted
But, limit your break so that it doesn't turn into wasted time. Try to take breaks that don't involve friends or other people, or watching TV. Too often, they can be draining and can wind up lasting longer than you'd like. Try doing things like taking a short walk outside or around the hallway, getting a snack, closing your eyes for a few minutes, or taking a shower.
Study Skills and Time Management Resources
- My Daily Schedule
- Time Management Calculator
- How To Study
- Group Study: Some Guidelines
- How to Study videos
The obvious reason for taking notes is that they provide you with a record of class and book content so that you don't have to rely on memory as you prepare for an exam. But the act of taking notes is also in itself a valuable practice. Recording the content of the lecture involves careful, thoughtful listening that will help you to keep focused on what the professor is saying. Similarly, taking notes on the material in your textbook will keep you focused on the reading. Note taking involves two steps: recording information and making the notes you take useful.
Taking notes in class
Taking notes in class is an essential part of academic success. As you look around at students in your classes, you will observe that some take lots of notes, while some take no notes at all. Seeing students take no notes may mislead you into thinking that it's not really necessary to keep a written record of what is said in class. The only way to assess the usefulness of note taking is to consider not what other students are doing or not doing, but what kind of a student you are, what kind of a student you want to be or could be, and how taking notes can benefit you.
Not all of us are natural note takers. In fact, note taking is a learned skill. So, if you have difficulty knowing how to take notes or when to take them, you're not alone!
Tips on recording information:
- Sit where you can hear the professor and see the blackboard clearly.
- Begin by dating your notes, and if relevant, indicate to which chapter in your book the lecture corresponds.
- Pay attention!!!! Probably the single most important factor in taking good notes is staying alert all through class. This is a win-win situation: trying to take notes will make you pay attention AND paying attention helps you take better notes.
- Listen carefully to definitions, and try to be as accurate as possible in recording them. Write down the term’s significance, or why it’s definition matters, since simply defining the term on an exam may not be enough.
- Don't write down every word, but write down what you need in order to be able to understand the information later. Sometimes, you will need to write more than at other times. It's better to take too many notes in class than too few; it's easier to decide something you wrote isn't important than it is to try to find or remember necessary information after the fact.
- Note questions the professor asks and write down the answers.
- If you find it useful, take notes on how the professor approaches something, i.e. note the steps he took to doing a problem, not just the answer. What did he/she say about his/her approach? Did he/she say something that made it all make sense? Write that down so you'll remember it later.
- Remember that the goal is to record the information you need. Try to be neat, but if being neat slows you down, you can recopy them later. Also, experiment and develop a shorthand system of your own so that you can abbreviate certain words and take notes more quickly. For example, if you are studying reactions in chemistry, write RX for "reaction" or EQ for "equilibrium."
- If your professor draws pictures or graphs and you find them useful, incorporate them into your notes but also add written explanations of why the pictures/graphs made sense at the time. It's possible (and common) that they won't make sense later!
- Use spatial cues as part of your note taking method. Cues such as indentation, numbers, dashes, capital letters, large writing for important points, underlining for emphasis, or spacing between major points or topics can help you group or separate information.
- Listen for cues from your professor that identify what he or she thinks is important:
- "The main point is" - "Remember"
- "Rule" or "law" - "To repeat"
- "Important" - "Essential"
- "Significant" - "In addition"
- "Other examples" - "Furthermore"
- "On the other hand"
- Be alert to other cues that can help you identify important information. If the professor does one of the following, you should include the information in your notes:
- Writes information on blackboard or points to something already written on board
- Asks if you have it written down before erasing it from the blackboard
- Repeats information
- Slows down and/or speaks more loudly to emphasize a point
- Reads a passage in class, looks at a particular page, problem, etc.
- Makes a reference to material from a past lecture
- During a discussion, listen to not only your professor's questions but also to his responses to your classmates. Be aware that he will very often use students' responses to make or emphasize his own important points. Sometimes, we tend to think that if a classmate is talking or if a discussion is taking place, we can stop paying attention for a while. But that's a mistake, since the professor is listening to students' comments and trying to use them to introduce his points. Moreover, a classmate may ask a question that will elicit important information, clarification, etc. If you weren't listening to the question, you may not hear the answer or it may not seem important to you.
- Ask questions. If you have been listening and taking notes and paying attention, don't be afraid to ask questions!!! Ask a professor to repeat something, explain it, explain it again if necessary, clarify, etc. If you missed it, so did other students, guaranteed. If you've been daydreaming or doodling, you aren't really prepared to ask questions.
Taking Notes from the Textbook
Even if you attend every lecture, take detailed notes in class, and pay attention to every word, you still need to read your textbook and master the material you have been assigned to read.
As well as provide you with a record of what you think is important from the book, taking notes is a very useful way to help you read and comprehend. A common problem that students have when reading academic textbooks is that they understand but don't retain what they've read. Sometimes, this is the result of not paying enough attention to the reading. Just as taking notes in class forces you to pay attention, taking notes when you read also keeps you focused and attentive to what you are reading. It is less likely that your mind will wander or that you'll be distracted by things around you if you are focused and taking notes. Writing always reinforces reading, so chances are your reading will stay with you longer and in more productive ways if you make written notes.
You can also use your class notes when reading your textbook and taking notes. If you take good class notes and most of the material your professor covered in the lecture comes from your textbook, you can take notes from your book by determining how the book helps you fill in gaps in your notes. Your text can provide helpful examples, sample problems and solutions, provide more detail about the information you received in class, rephrase material in a way that provides you with greater insight, etc.