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Successful Study Tips

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.

  • Essay Exams

    • 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!

    Objective Tests

    • 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
      • Not
      • All
      • Except
      • But
      • 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.