If you’re still in school (or grad-school, like my best friend Layne will be starting in January #ProudFriendMoment) then you’re likely approaching or have already encountered your first major round of midterms or exams.
Which means you may have already figured out by now…that college is an entirely different ball-game when it comes to knowing how to study, how often to study, and what to study. Simply attending class and taking casual notes is no longer a fool-proof strategy for success, and it’s going to completely vary from teacher to teacher to determine what will help you be successful!
That said, there are a few really concrete do’s and don’ts that are pretty applicable regardless of your teacher’s style, and they took me a couple of semesters to master, myself!
1. Do the Ground Work | Some of the absolute best tips I ever found out about a teacher were from people who had already taken the course. Whether you have an older friend in a club or organization you’re a part of, or can look them up on sites like Rate My Professor, having those small advantages make all the difference. Some teachers might get all exam questions from their practice quizzes, some might love to throw in surprise quizzes on Fridays…whatever it may be, this “veteran” info is invaluable!
2. Segment Your Day | Prioritizing things by day, week and month is essential. Cramming for an exam for 24 hours straight is completely grueling, and while I was totally guilty of this from time to time, by senior year I learned that in the 7-10 days leading up to an exam if I just dedicated 30 minutes to an hour of studying, I could space it out without it really feeling too miserable, and was still able to absorb a ton of information in time for the test.
You can spend an hour on a quiz, an hour on a homework assignment, squeeze in a workout, read some flash cards, watch a few Netflix shows, and grab dinner with friends all in one day without having to lock yourself away in the library!
3. Note-Taking Strategies Are Different | Simply writing down every single word is not going to cut it here. For one thing, you’ll burn out after a week. If you’re in a huge lecture with powerpoint slides, print them out beforehand and only write down things your professor mentions that aren’t on the slide (these side comments always seem to make it onto the exam).
If there are practice problems, be sure to write down how you got there – not just the answer. Otherwise, you’ll get to the homework and realize you can’t follow a thing! The point here is really just to be sure to adapt every single class, every single semester, to the style of the course.
4. Take Important Breaks | You will absolutely run into times where you are studying for days at a time – you may already have! 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 every 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, I promise!