College is hard! Figuring out how to study and when to study is one of the biggest challenges you will face. I survived, and you can too! Whether you are an incoming freshman or struggling with senior-itus, or your goal is the perfect GPA or just better than last semester, I’m here to help! These 5 things got me through college and they can help you too!
1. Buy a planner
For some people this is a hard habit to get into. Not for me, I freaking love planners. They’re cute, they’re organizational, they make me feel like I have my crap together, even when I really don’t.
The trick to planners is set them up at the beginning and then it won’t be work to keep up with them. You’re first two days of classes you probably won’t have anything major to do, so take a break from the dorm organizing and parties and take a few minutes to write out all the assignments in your syllabi in your planner. Then in either () or a different color pen, indicate what chapters need to be read by certain dates.
JUST DO IT. Please don’t skip this step. Putting assignments in a planner allows you to visually see how much time you have until assignments and major exams arrive and allow you to prioritize your time. Without a planner you run the risk of forgetting about assignments altogether and getting a 0, having a friend remind you at the last minute about an assignment that you now have to rush on and therefore get a bad grade, or you forget you have multiple assignments in multiple classes around the same time/date and run out of time for all of them.
Don’t get overwhelmed by all the fancy, gorgeous planners on Pinterest. I simply used a typical academic planner and wrote in the assignments in no fancy way other than to use different colors on occasion.
2. Go to class
If you are an incoming freshman, this sounds stupid. But there will come a time when you realize you don’t have to go. No one is looking over your shoulder. A nap sounds so nice. That professor is so boring. I’ll just learn the material on my own. All of these things pile on and we last minute decide to skip. I’m not going to lie, I’ve missed some classes in my day. But my attendance was always between 80-100%.
Listening to professors and taking notes is probably the easiest way to study. Having read and heard the material means you’ve now absorbed the material in two different ways making you that much more likely to recall the info on the exam. Also, some professors test off lectures rather than book materials. Missing class could mean missing future test answers, changed exam dates, clarification on assignments, and a whole slew of things that lead you down the path of slipping grades.
3. Read the books
I’m not joking. I know you think nobody reads their college textbooks. Nobody. But here I am to tell you that some very few people read their books. I’m also here to tell you that some very few people get through college with straight As. It may be a coincidence that sometimes those are the same people, but I think not.
I’m not telling you to read every textbook cover to cover. But if you have tests or assignments over certain chapters, make sure to read them in entirety.
Yes, this will take a lot of time. It may seem like you’re doing so much more work than your counterparts, but you will also reap more reward. It will also save you time and energy when it comes to study time and working on assignments. Having already read the chapter allows you to write papers more freely with the knowledge in your head. It also saves you time by familiarizing yourself with where to find certain things in the chapter rather than playing the ever so common search-and-find in the textbook.
If you’ve gone to class (point 2) and read your book, you’ll be surprised to find how prepared you are without cramming, all-nighters and stressful pre-exam studying.
4. Make study guides for exams
Most professors will give you hints as to what to expect on an exam. They might even tell you some of the questions. Have a certain OneNote or Word document open on the side when you take notes, where you collect all of their helpful hints and points.
If you’re teacher does a review day or hands out a study guide then that’s even better. They may give you a study guide with questions, if so, take the time to answer all questions just as if it was an assignment.
If they simply do a review and tell you general topics to expect on the exam, write them down. Then go to your textbook or lecture notes and copy the most valuable information over into your document.
Once you have built your study guide, make your questions or topic headings one color and the answers a different color and print it off. Then read through it once a day until the day before the test. Then the day before read it a few more times. And right before the test, read it through as many times as possible before the professor starts the exam.
I cannot tell you how prepared I felt for exams this way.
Bonus tip: If you use Amazon Kindle for your textbooks then you can copy and paste sections of your textbook directly into your study guide!
5. Find Balance
After everything I just said you might think that’s impossible. I said read your textbooks, go to class, write in a planner AND do extra work to make study guides?? How can you find balance with that? But I’m here to tell you, you can. And you need to. You still need a social life in college. You also need time for healthy activities (working out, playing sand volleyball, going for walks) and sleep. If you don’t take care of yourself physically, then your mind won’t be able to function as well as it should. You need this.
To key to success in a social / study balance is finding friends who are just as driven as you are. The ones that want to get into med school or a graduate program, or at least want to do well. Create study dates. Go and try out all the local coffee shops to study in. Bribe yourselves, if you do homework for three hours Saturday morning in the library then you can go get dressed up and go into the city for dinner or to a party. You don’t have to work hard alone. Just find friends with goals other than being known as the “life of the party”. Don’t miss out on college to be successful. I’m here to tell you, you can do both. Just make sure to use your planner so you’re prepared.
Just be creative to make it work. I dated a piano performance major in college (and married him shortly after). He had to spend hours playing piano every week. During hectic weeks if I didn’t join him in the practice room then I didn’t see him at all. He would play piano and I would sit in a corner with textbooks and laptop strewn out working while he played. That was a very typical night for us. But at the end, I got to spend time with my boyfriend, got some free classical background music, and got stuff done.
If you’re body doesn’t feel good, you won’t be motivated to do anything. Take care of yourself. Eat well. And workout, even if that just means walks. I tried to make time to go to the gym everyday. I would use it as a way to break up long days of homework or study sessions. Rather than sit for 4 straight hours on a paper, I would do 2, go to the gym for 1 and come back for the last two. I always seemed to come back with renewed focus and motivation.
Also for me, the gym sometimes helped me clarify my thoughts on whatever I was working on, getting me out of the haze of books and screens and giving me a new perspective. Sometimes just thinking clearly while working out cut down on the time that I would have had to spend thinking of what to write in my papers.
Some people master the reading books and studying while working out. That never worked for me. Bouncing on machines was never conducive to me reading and I just liked to move too much. I found just working out and letting my mind wander worked best. Sometimes I would think about my workout, my sport, my friends, and sometimes I would think about my assignments.
If you find yourself in a rut, staring at a screen for a long period of time, go for a walk! Fresh air and a change in scenery can help refocus yourself.
You might think I am ridiculous now, but I did and so can you! I hope this helped! For more tips and tricks and future posts, sign up for email newsletters below!