While it may be true that not everyone learns in the most effective way by doing the same things, there are certain fundamentals that you can follow in order to virtually guarantee yourself academic success during your time at University. No matter what degree you take or what College you’re enrolled in, University classes are all structured in similar ways. Lectures, text book readings, assignments, projects, quizzes, midterm and final exams. Knowing the format of the class beforehand allows students to create a strategy that when implemented and stuck to, results in good grades and less stress. Here are our top 10 study habits you should try to implement into your strategy for academic success at University!
#10 – Take Extensive Notes
Probably the most tedious of our top 10, taking good notes is hard to do consistently. In our ADHD world, many students find it difficult to maintain their focus long enough to record the information given out during lectures. However, when it comes time to write a quiz/test/exam you’ll be glad you have that pile of notes to review and refresh your brain with. Taking good notes is in itself an act of learning, as one cannot write something down that doesn’t make sense on some level. This small act goes a long way in creating the foundation for a solid understanding of the material being covered. Taking notes also has the added bonus of keeping your brain occupied and awake by staving off restlessness and boredom. An excellent method I learned in my first year of Engineering was to scribble down everything that seemed useful in some manner, almost as if you were transcribing the lecture. Later that day, transfer and rewrite the notes into an understandable form in another notebook. This will cement the information into your mind, moving the material from your short term memory into your long term. Lastly, notes have become a source of income for many students as those who take excellent notes are often sought after by the lazier students who are willing to pay a premium for a great set of notes to study from. You will not only get good grades, but you will be getting paid to do so as well. If that’s not a win-win I don’t know what is!
#9 – Obtain Old Exams and Assignments
If possible, try to find exams and assignments from previous years to give yourself a good idea of what subject matter the instructors are most likely to test you on. They don’t have to have the answers to be useful and in fact for many students they are even more useful without because this way the student can attempt the exam/assignment as a check of their knowledge, identifying any weak areas that they should go back and re-study. Old exams and assignments are often made available through class websites, student union websites, or through College clubs or associations. One common tactic many students use for science classes with a lab section is to find a graded lab notebook from a previous year. Labs are notoriously difficult in terms of time constraints and for what’s expected from a student lab report. Having a format to follow along with is an incredible help and knowing where not to make mistakes is invaluable as well.
#8 – Begin Studying For Exams EARLY
Between academics and your social life, time is not something you’ll have lots of throughout your University career. But one thing you should always make time for is exam studying. There’s nothing worse than leaving all of your studying for the night before an important test or exam. The stress causes your brain to panic and when you panic, you won’t learn as well as you normally would. Studying a little bit each night during the week leading up to the exam will not only make you better prepared but it will remove most of the stress you’d have if you had left your studying for the last minute. Early exam studying allows a student to identify weak spots in their understanding and to prioritize their studying accordingly. Just imagine studying until the early morning of the day of your exam only to find you’ve completely ignored a section that you have little to no understanding in. Don’t let that happen by studying EARLY!
#7 – Use a Laptop During Class If Possible
If permitted, use a laptop for note-taking during your lectures. Most students can type faster than they can write so they will be able to record much more information than they normally would. If the classroom has WiFi you’ll have the added ability to research topics you’re unsure of during lulls or breaks in the lecture. If a professor uses a word you’ve never heard before, just alt-tab over to dictionary.com and look it up! Or, if the lecture is completely flying over your head, e-mail the professor from your seat and set up an appointment to discuss the day’s lecture. There are many uses for a laptop during class, I’ll let you imagine the other not-so-academic uses. Many students have grown up with a computer being a staple in their lives so it’s only natural to use it as a tool for learning as well. It’s an easy transition for your brain to go from Facebook to Powerpoint! If a laptop purchase is in your future, refer to our article for tips on choosing a budget laptop for students.
#6 – Use Your Time Wisely
In between classes as well as before and after school, there are many opportunities to sneak in some studying or homework that many students either don’t realize or just don’t use. I’ve known people who would study on the bus during the ride to and from school. I’ve also known people that would combine their time at the gym with their study time! Just bring your notes and instead of watching the TV’s and listening to your iPod, wear ear plugs and read your notes. You get a workout for your body and for your brain! Always keep your notes handy and try to use any spare time you have even for simple review to make sure you’re on top of the material. All of those small moments you fill with studying will really add up to a solid understanding and you’ll find that you require less studying when exam time arrives. That’s huge.
#5 – Get Your Questions Resolved ASAP!
University classes tend to operate with the “snowball effect” as the primary method for topic progression. That is, the information is cumulative and the last stuff you learned will be instrumental in understanding the next stuff! So anytime you don’t understand something or have a question about the subject matter, get your question answered as soon as you can. Whether by asking during or after class, through an e-mail or phone call to the prof, or even by asking a fellow student, you need to stay on top of the subject matter in order to be ready for the next stuff that’s coming. Don’t let the holes in your understanding be knowledge pits for the future!
#4 – Get To Know Some of Your Classmates
This one can be extremely difficult and stressful for many people these days. Meeting people is becoming increasingly difficult in a world of social stigmas and fears of disapproval. I’m not going to tell you how to meet people, just that when you do, the benefits will be immediately apparent. Having a buddy to sit with during class, having someone to lean on for notes from a lecture that you missed, being able to bounce questions and ideas off of somebody, and most importantly having someone to check your assignment answers with before you hand it in, are all spectacular reasons to swallow your nerves and start saying “Hi! My name is….” to the people in your class.
#3 – Explore Other Class Resources
Many class outlines will have “optional” reading listed along with the required textbook. This is often a HUGE opportunity for easy marks and guaranteed success in the particular class. Professors are humans just like me and you. Their job is to relay the required material and then test you on it. If they’re using the required textbook as reference for the learning part, where do you think they’re going to get the material for the testing part? If you said “the required textbook”, you’re wrong and you need to stop thinking like a high school student! Professors will often take test questions out of their favorite textbooks, resulting in quality assessments from a trusted source. Those favorite textbooks are often listed as optional reading material either on the class website or on the course outline. Also don’t forget the mighty Internet. YouTube is an insane resource for How-to’s, recorded lectures from other schools, and general knowledge videos on every subject matter imaginable. Use Wikipedia and Google as well to find extra(often better!) resources on whatever it is that you’re struggling with.
#2 – Pre-Read Lecture Material
I discovered this one by accident, even if it is, or should be common sense. One night I was bored. Really bored. I grabbed a text book for a class whose lecture I had the next morning and I began reading from the point we stopped at in the previous lecture. It was difficult to understand and took a lot of focus to push through it but the next day in class while listening to the Professor, it crystallized in my mind and was easy from then on. It had the added benefit of being committed to my long term memory giving me a greater and more thorough understanding of the material. It makes sense if you think about it, I was essentially learning the material twice. Once independently and once with the help of an expert. These combined into a solid understanding that I still possess to this day. Now I’d love to suggest that you do this for every class, every night. But we all know that isn’t reasonable so what I do suggest is that you use this technique for anything that you deem to be very difficult or abstract. That way you’ll have a great head start on understanding and mastering the hard stuff, leaving plenty of time for filling in the gaps with the easy stuff!
#1 – Go To Class!
While going to class sounds too simple to be our #1 most effective studying habit, it truly is and I’ll tell you why. Going to class not only keeps you disciplined and focused on what you’re at University to do, but it also lets you absorb the subject matter simply by sitting through the lectures. If you’re an auditory learner this is huge because just listening to the lectures will create an understanding that should be enough to pass the class in itself! If you’re a visual learner then watching the notes being written on the board or reading through the slides during the presentation will give you the necessary understanding to pass the class. Going to class also ensures you have the latest news on assignments, tests, quizzes, and exams straight from your Professor’s mouth. You don’t want to be that student that shows up for class once a week only to find there’s a scheduled test on that day! Simply going to your classes like you’re supposed to is much more powerful than most students realize. If you look at the nine tips before this you’ll see that most of them actually require this step as a pre-requisite so that should also be an indicator of how important it is to attend your classes without fail.
As a student who has both failed classes and received honors in classes I can definitely say that the above tips and techniques will work for you. Whether you use some or all of them is up to you, but just remember that University is an individual sport and you’ll only get out of it what you’re willing to put in! I hope you’ve found these tips useful and informative, good luck and stay classy!