When it comes to healthy study habits, many high schoolers tend to think they study well, until they get to college. However, this doesn’t mean that you haven’t been studying well this entire time, but rather that college-level courses and the pace at which new material is presented to you changes completely, and what worked for you in high school might no longer work for you in college.
So, in order to stay on top of your work, you might have to re-evaluate some of your habits, and work towards building new skills. Some classes might take much more focus for you to succeed in, while others come naturally. Some might require you to do more memorization-based studying rather than big-picture analysis, or some might require you to demonstrate your knowledge through creative projects/interpretations while others require a researched and cited paper. In any case, here are some tips to get you started with building those healthy study habits, and set you up for success in college-level courses.
Step 1: Get a planner!! I cannot emphasize this enough: I use my planner for everything. Write down when your classes are, what homework you need to get done when it is assigned, longer-term project due dates/checkpoints, exam dates, appointments/meetings, work-shifts, you name it. There is so much going on in our day to day life (especially now that everything is just a zoom call away), and you don’t want to miss important deadlines/events! All of this can be way too much to keep in your head alone, so write it down somewhere visible where you can constantly check back in and keep important dates in the front of your mind (for instance, when you flip to a new month already filled out with long-term assignment due dates, you’ll see what might be due at the end of the month, and you’ll give yourself a lot of time to get started on that project so it doesn’t just sneak up on you).
Step 2: As mentioned briefly in step 1, write down the assignments you have RIGHT when they are assigned to you. This goes for long-term assignments, but particularly class-to-class homework. That way, you won’t be caught in a situation where your professor is expecting work to be turned in at the beginning of class, and you panic because it totally slipped your mind. Additionally, you won’t have to shuffle through workbooks and loose papers trying to figure out where you wrote down what was due for next class or find the underlined section meant to be completed that night. Write your daily assignments out as a checklist, so you can visually see what you have done, and what you have yet to do. You can also gauge the amount of work you have that night, and see if some of it should be prioritized or if it can move to another day.
Step 3: Figure out what kind of studying you need to do for your classes.
Step 4: Create a productive solitary study environment - block out time where you put your phone/messenger aside and focus on studying alone. Although group studying can be helpful, it’s really important to know that you can comprehend the material on your own, and then figure out what you have questions on. Try to get in a space where you really zone out and focus (whether that is in complete silence, with some music in the background, or simply white noise/in nature). Then, make a list of what you come across that you don’t understand/have questions about, and bring them to your next group study session or professor office hours!
Step 5: Join a study group. Once you’ve figured out how to study on your own and really be productive, it’s a great idea to find a group to study with. I often advise doing this after you’ve tried to study on your own a little bit, just so that you’re not just relying on other people to do the work for you. That way, you build your own foundational understanding of the material, and then you seek out insight and perspectives from other people that can add onto your own knowledge and clarify things you might be having trouble with. Oftentimes, your classmates will have helpful ways to memorize terms, or you can collectively collaborate on a long study guide that you’ll then go back and review/annotate on your own. Be careful not to rely on these study groups alone to get you through tests - you should really make sure that you take the time to personally internalize the material.
Step 6: Office hours! At most colleges, professors and TAs/Graduate Student Instructors/Assistants are required to have office hours where students can come talk to them about any questions/concerns they have. It sounds cliche, but TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS TIME! During remote learning, this will most likely take the form of an online sign-up sheet or by request, so make sure to reach out. This can be really scary at first, and might feel awkward, but if you prepare your questions beforehand, you’ll feel less anxious about coming unprepared. If you feel yourself caught in the spot of “I don’t even know what I don’t know,” do some studying on your own at first, or meet with your study group. That way, when you go to talk to your professor or teaching assistant, they’ll be able to see that you really have done some initial work and have made an effort to understand, and they’ll be much more willing to help you out.
Step 7: Review your tests/midterms/finals when you receive your score. Although this can sometimes be a tough thing to do (especially if you didn’t do particularly well on your test), it is the most productive way for you to bounce back from a bad score and learn from the mistakes you made. Make note of the problems you got wrong, why you got them wrong, and what the correct way to do the problem would be. Use them as practice problems when studying for your next exam, and make sure to go see your professor about any problems you still cannot figure out. Then, keep those notes in a safe place for you to go back and review later on. This is especially helpful when you are in a class that has multiple cumulative tests: if you did poorly on the first exam, chances are that same material will pop up on the final, so you want to make sure you do your best to improve!
Step 8: Look for available “adjunct” courses. Oftentimes, universities will offer additional 1-2 unit courses that don’t necessarily count towards your major/degree, but are there to help you succeed in a core class. For me, I enrolled in an adjunct course for Calculus, which simply meant that I met for 2 additional hours per week and reviewed additional practice problems, mock exams, and theorem explanations with those that were also enrolled in the adjunct course. It helped me budget my time and put in more of an effort working on the material from my core class since I was sort of forced to do the additional work (practice makes perfect!), and I ended up improving my grade in the course accordingly.
Additional Strategies: Still having trouble? Here are some small strategies I used to help me study and memorize material:
Sarah is a Consultant on the Study Hall College Consulting Team. Sarah graduated from UC Berkeley in the class of 2020 where she majored in Architecture and minored in Spanish Language and Literature. For more college application and essay tips, check out our Study Hall College Consulting website at: shcollegeconsulting.com.