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The transition from high school to college, in terms of academics, feels like being thrown into the pool—before you’ve learned to swim, without your floaties. If you weren’t used to studying in high school and just coasted through, generally speaking, college is going to be a real bitch. But it’s never too late to develop some quality study skills that you can implement throughout your college years.
I’ve decided to help you out a little bit and put my nerd brain to good use by providing some study tips on learning your individual study style and how to use that to optimize your study time — 4.0 here you come!
1. Decide Which Study Method is Right for You
There are seriously an endless amount of different studying methods and styles to choose from (it’s like an academic buffet). But, like a buffet, you’re not going to like everything that’s being served just as you’re not going to fit all the study methods. What type of learner you are makes a big difference in which study tips you should try, so the first step is to figure out which one you are. Once you’ve done that you’ll be better able to understand why you learn better by writing things down rather than listening to someone else talk, or highlighting in the text as opposed to flash cards.
The only way to know which method works for you is through trial and error. Give each one a try and see what sticks! If you find multiple methods that work for you, that’s great! That means you can combine or interchange methods depending on the type of studying you’ll be doing and the class you’ll be doing it for. For instance: for math, you’re usually going to be practicing problems—so you might want to just rewrite them; for sociology, you’ll be doing more reading and memorizing—so you could highlight and type notes for that class. Either way, you’re just finding which way allows you to maximize your learning capabilities and kick some ass.
2. Have a Study Plan
Each week I sit down and look at all the tests, quizzes, reading, homework, and whatever else I have to complete and prioritize which subjects I need to study for on which days (and sometimes how long I’m going to spend on each item). This helps me stay on track and keep myself accountable for the work that has to get done. I specifically make a study plan because I tend to put off studying for subjects that I dislike — and I think most of us do. For instance, I love to study and work with math problems (I know, I’m a freak), but I hate studying history so I find myself doing extra math problems and spending way too much time on that — even if I have a huge history test coming up.
Now, I understand that you might not want to be as detailed as I am with your plan — and variation is completely fine. You could just define which subjects you should study for the week as a whole and then giving yourself a little more freedom on the time and days in which you complete that. You could even look at your studying in terms of months instead of weeks — this is easier in college because most teachers will give you an extremely detailed syllabus that tells you all tests, quizzes, or whatever they grade you for. The point of this article is to explain that studying is individualized and there’s no real way that I can tell you which way would be best for you (because I don’t know you personally and, more importantly, I’m not you). So relax and plan out however much or however little of your time you need to in order to make the grades you desire.
3. Find Where You Can Study Best, and Actually Go There
Almost as crucial as finding how you study well is finding where you study well. Studying can be done pretty much anywhere: on the bus, in your dorm room, at lunch, outside, or (more typically) in the library. As fun as it is for me to sit around with my friends and talk about 90% of the time while memorizing the occasional element or sociological term, it’s not practical for me. I work best in a quiet space with my headphones to drown out any little noises that bug me. Just because I know this about myself, doesn’t mean that I always follow it — sometime I go down to the nosy first floor of the library with my friends and goof off. But, for the overwhelming majority of my studying time, I’m in a quiet place without any people around me that I would be tempted to talk with.
Others work well even in noisy places (and how I envy them so). Some people just need to be away from people but can listen to music — this is me. So, identify where you feel the most comfortable and can get the most work done and go there. In college it’s so easy to get wrapped up in spending time with friends and end up neglecting your studies but if you’re focused and devoted in the time that you do study you’ll be able to get done quicker and spend more time with those friends you love so dearly. If you want to make good grades as well as have a social life, it’s completely possible (I mean look at me) you just have to recognize how you learn well and get shit done.
4. Take Breaks
Everyone has experienced that point in the studying process where their brain feels like it’s about to pop out of your skull. When this happens, the best study tip I can give you is to take a break. I love study breaks (and who doesn’t?) for multiple reasons. First of all, it’s nice to just take a step back from material — especially if you’re having a hard time grasping a topic. Second, you’re actually able to retain information better when you take small breaks while learning. And third, well, do I even really need another substantial reason to love breaks?
Personally, I use my self-allotted down time to play a few rounds of 2048, but you can do so many things to get your mind off the work for a bit. For instance, you can walk around, chat with friends, eat something to eat, listen to music, or even take a power nap if you’re able to do that. It’s important to keep your breaks to less than 20 minutes because after that you’re probably dangerously close to giving up on studying altogether — and that’s the opposite of what we want to happen.
5. Be Willing to Adapt
While it would be great to just wake up and know exactly how best you learn, in reality that’s not how it works. Just like anything in life studying involves experimentation of different study tips and lots of hard work. So, don’t be afraid to change things up and try new methods — you just might find the perfect one for you when you least expect it. If something isn’t working that has in the past, don’t freak out, just adapt by finding something that does.
Sometimes you’re going to have to step away from your friends and get down to business. Sometimes you’re going to have to miss out on a party or social event in order to get the grades that you want — but just keep in mind that there will always be another party but you can’t always retake a class. Also, it’s perfectly fine if you’re not as big into studying as I am — most people aren’t. What’s most important is that you set personal goals and adapt your skills to make those happen, whether that be a certain letter grade in a class or overall GPA. Happy studying!