1. Find Your Ideal Study Spot – The obvious choice might seem like your desk in your bedroom or the library, but be warned…I spent the majority of my freshman year using the library as a social hour. The main floor was a great space to grab tables with your friends, but I probably could have saved myself several hours a week if I had forced myself to relocate to one of the “quiet” floors where I could buckle down, focus, and see friends later. Make sure to pick one where you can genuinely focus, and save the socializing for your free time!
2. Note-Taking Strategies Will Change – Simply writing down every single thing you hear will be both a) nearly impossible, and b) not entirely effective. Strategies will definitely vary depending on the class/professor, but using a one-size-fits-all approach to how you take notes is a mistake. For example…if you’re in a huge lecture class with a professor that uploads powerpoints or lectures online beforehand, download the slides before class and take notes on the “notes” tab. This way, you’re only writing what isn’t on the slides, and you’ll pay better attention (plus save yourself some serious hand cramping). Figure out the best way to minimize your time spent furiously scribbling things down, and maximizes your ability to genuinely listen – it’s a lot more important than it was in high school!
*Pro Tip – college professors have a tendency to say things in class you could never hear or find in any textbook, powerpoint slide, or lecture note. Probably in part to combat students that skip classes…and these side comments seem to always make it into the exam*
3. Plan Ahead…Very Ahead – One perk of college is it tends to eliminate the surprise element of big assignments. At the end of your first week, take note of all big exams, projects, papers and assignments for the entire semester. These are usually all listed out in the syllabus. The very important second step to this strategy: Go back through your agenda/planner, and write down *reminder* notes about those big dates 1-2 weeks in advance, depending on how much prep time you will need.
So many times in college I would have written down the exam on day one, but not seen it until I flipped to my planner on a Monday morning and realizing that the exam was that coming Wednesday. Giving yourself pre-emptive heads up notifications will spare you from any shocking and scary approaching deadlines!
4. College is a different kind of learning – I absolutely perfected the strategy of highlight + write down + make flashcards + memorize + exam in high school. It was down to a science for me, and it frankly wasn’t a very effective method of maintaining information. As you go through college, more and more of your classes and exams will focus more on “the big picture” or the overarching concept behind the lecture or class topic. Simply memorizing vocabulary words or facts from a textbook will not always apply to what questions you find on the exam…you’re in the world of higher education, and being able to do things like apply a concept to a question and demonstrate/create an example is something that is expected of you now. Keep this in mind as you’re attending classes, and if you think a concept is unclear, speak up or go to office hours now!
5. Take Breaks of All Kinds – You will definitely hit days where you have hours upon hours of continual homework and studying. The key to surviving these and retaining new information is taking mental breaks. If you have a long night ahead, set your phone to notify you ever 45 minutes to stand up, stretch, get a drink and maybe chat with friends. Come back 10-15 minutes later feeling refreshed and hit the books again! You might get stressed that you are “wasting time”, but in the long run you’ll be much more productive and effective.
It’s also important to take breaks from any sort of distractions when you are trying to keep your eyes on the books. I didn’t start utilizing “Do Not Disturb” mode on my phone until senior year, and I really wished I had. If you seriously can’t go a few hours without knowing whether your best friend or “that guy” texted you, you can always change the settings to only allow certain people’s messages through. I promise everyone else will still be there when you’re done (or on your next 15 minute break!)
6. Exam Schedules Don’t Have to be Fair – No matter who you ask in college, everyone seems to agree that regardless of your course schedule or time of year, you will somehow constantly manage to have multiple exams + projects due in the exact same week. This is not exclusive to midterms and finals. The general rotation of college classes stays on a very consistent and aligned pattern…this is why step number 3 is so important! Plan ahead and spread everything out, or get excited to experience your first all-nighter…
7. Do Your Research – Going into a classroom with a new professor can be really intimidating, especially when you have no idea what to expect. Every school has those “horror” professors you’ll hear stories about and warnings to avoid…so websites like Rate My Professors can be a life-saver. There is a certain level of bias, but sometimes you can find great tips like where the teacher tends to pull exams questions from, or the fact that they love to give you hundreds of short answer questions. It never hurts to check!
The most important thing to keep in mind is the importance of finding balance. College is designed to ensure you can have a life outside of your classes (especially if you’re smart about scheduling classes), and if you dedicate a small amount of time to each thing that’s important to you every day, you really can make it all work. You can study, complete assignments, get some exercise, enjoy a good Netflix binge, have a relationship, join an organization, and still have time for the most coveted thing of all in college…excessive hours of sleep.