The new semester is here; the school work will soon follow. Sure, it all seems manageable today, but wait: midterms are around the corner! Before you know it, you do one of the following things:
- Sob face-down into the carpet, convinced that you will fail out of school and end up a penniless bum on skid row if you don’t ace this one particular exam.
- Tear around your home or dorm room in a panic, in a desperate search for the textbook you are not sure you ever bought.
- Defiantly throw caution to the wind, go out with your friends and party in a frenzied panic while repeatedly mumbling, “I don’t care if I fail…and I don’t need no stinkin’ college degree anyhow!”
Chances are, though, that you’d prefer a little less drama and a lot more academic success! A good way to avoid all the last minute panic that many students put themselves through is to put together effective ways to build your set of proven study skills. But it can be overwhelming to sort through the hundreds of websites that offer study tips, including excellent suggestions from many prestigious universities.
That’s why I’ve culled the best, most universally effective tips and boiled them down to their essential components. Pay attention to these and your academic success may not be assured, but it certainly will be less painful to achieve!
- Study and attend class regularly: This is the single best study advice I can give anyone. If you try to cram the night before an exam, or push through an all-nighter to write a paper, you are not going to do as well as if you had maintained a steady habit of reviewing your notes, because that long-term process creates greater understanding of the material. Additionally, regular attendance is beneficial because professors usually repeat the important lessons they want you to learn and reinforce information through diverse examples.
- Develop your concentration skills: It’s so easy to get distracted, especially when you are studying a subject you don’t particularly like or enjoy. The University of Pennsylvania offers a useful worksheet to help you avoid distraction and focus on your course content. One suggestion is to establish a regular, consistent study schedule; another is to keep a clean and uncluttered study environment to minimize distractions.
- Organize your subjects and study accordingly: Professor William J. Rapaport at the University of Buffalo suggests you study your most difficult or challenging subjects first: ”do those subjects first for which you need to be alert and energetic. Leave the easier, or more fun, subjects to later.” He could not be more correct. Do you want to be tired and cranky when you hit the chemistry books?
- Use the SQ4R Method: Texas A & M University provides an excellent list of effective study habits; one of the best is their suggestion that students use the SQ4R method, in which students work through the following steps to master and retain many varieties of course content: Study; Question; Read; Recite (W)rite; Review. For more information, check out their site.
- Create your own study materials: While many students may not have time for this step, for those with memory challenges it can be a lifesaver. The very act of writing down, and re-writing, main points will help reinforce the content in your memory. While the online learning world offers many pre-made sources, you may find that self-created note cards, concept mapping, mnemonic devices, and any other method you devise can be effective supplement to instructor-created materials.
- Ask your professor to review your notes or study guides: Many students take copious but inaccurate notes, highlight their textbooks until entire pages glow yellow, and in other ways sabotage themselves by creating faulty study materials. Make sure that the material you study is the correct material. This is one reason I’m always wary of study groups-there’s no guarantee that the material contributed by the members of your groups is accurate. Stop by your professor’s office hours or e-mail your study guide to them and politely ask if they have time to quickly check for accuracy in your notes. Most will be happy to do this-and are thrilled that you are taking the initiative.
- Create study groups and self-test: Consulting with your peers is one way to generate enthusiasm for your studies, make good friends, and cover all your bases in terms of your course content. Check out the study group scene in the medical school comedy Gross Anatomy. While there are certainly a number of hijinks in the scene because it’s part cheesy melodrama and part comedy, the essentials of group study are present: collaboration, broad coverage of material, and a variety of resources from different points of view. Just keeping in mind my above caveat about study groups and make sure you’ve put together a group of reliable people.
- Build connections between subjects: Many students make the mistake of compartmentalizing their learning. But you can double the effectiveness of your studying when you realize that some subjects correspond with one another very well. When my history students realize that they can merge certain concepts from their literature, economics, and political science courses, their depth of understanding and critical thinking skills expand exponentially.
- Value learning for learning’s sake: If you’re just chasing after a grade, you’re probably not learning the material thoroughly, in a way that incorporates it into a larger body of knowledge that you can use throughout your life and in many different career positions. Education is not simply a gateway to employment: it’s a gateway to opportunity of all kinds. Don’t learn for your parents, your future career, or a compulsive need to excel at everything. Learn because it’s good for you and will benefit you in many ways. This point-of-view can provide you with a great deal of internal motivation, which can be a life-saver when you’re stressed, tired, or unsure of the value of what you’re studying.
- Rest. I’m not kidding. I’ve watched far too many students struggle through an exam because they thought that studying all night long would save their grade at the last minute. I’ve even seen students fall asleep during an exam, or stay up all night writing a paper only to succumb to exhaustion in the early morning hours and sleep through class-and I don’t accept late papers. The key to doing well is clear thinking, and you’re not going to have that if you run yourself down the night before a paper is due or during exam week. If you’ve followed the steps above, you shouldn’t need to pull an all-nighter. You can get good rest and be bright-eyed and focused the next day.
There are many other effective study tips, especially those that are focused solely on one academic field (e.g., “how to study algebra”), but these 10 basics can be applied across the board. Successful students incorporate these habits so well that they become second nature and lead to even more effective study habits.
Do you have a unique study habit that works especially well? Share it here!