It's no surprise that college comes with a lot of study time, yet the amount of work college requires comes as a shock to most students.
The general rule of thumb is that for every hour in class, you’ll have to spend about 2-3 hours studying. That means for 15 hours of class time per week, you should plan for up to 45 hours per week for study time.
45 hours is no joke, that's more than a full-time job's worth of work.
That can be daunting, especially for students who aced high school with minimal effort. Good study habits are just that: learned habits. You can always establish effective study habits.
If you’re looking for a comprehensive way to make sure you’re doing the most you can in terms of studying this year, try some of the following study methods, tips, and tricks.
For starters, sometimes the biggest improvements in grades and effort come from enjoying your major. Take a look at some of these creative and non-traditional majors that might be offered at your school.
Get organized and take breaks
Your reading and studying schedule obviously has to fit in around your class schedule. Once you know when your classes are, you can block off time between and after them to do some work.
The right time of day
If you’re a night owl, trying to study first thing in the morning may not be the best use of your time. The same idea goes for morning people burning the midnight oil – you won’t retain much when you’re tired.
Try to work your schedule to take advantage of the time of day that you function best. Then schedule blocks of time between and after classes to study. If it’s a large block of time, remember to schedule breaks.
Take breaks while you study
There are lots of time management strategies. Try some and see which works best for you!
One is called the pomodoro technique that a university student created years ago. Set a timer for 25 minutes, and spend that time focused on your work. Then take a short 5-minute break. Repeat four times. Then take a longer break of 30 minutes.
Take good notes and understand what you’re reading
Rather than trying to take down every word in a lecture, try an outline approach to taking notes. That means to write down the main ideas, with supporting ideas in point form. After class, you can summarize the key thoughts.
The subject will change your note-taking process. In a math class, for example, you’ll have to make note of equations and charts exactly as given. A class in statistics, on the other hand, might require that you make a chart to remember the information. You could use a spreadsheet, for instance, and set out methods, the definitions of those, and when to use them. All of that information would then be available to you at a glance, instead of in paragraph form.
Using this sort of recall method to summarize the main points of class can help your brains sort out information at a much faster rate.
Paraphrase and reword
Have you ever read a paragraph – or a whole page – and had no idea of what you just read? A good way to avoid this is to paraphrase everything. Put it in your own words. Putting new information and material into your own words can help you to fully comprehend and understand what you’re reading. It will also help you to retain more in a shorter amount of time.
The best way to do this is to imagine you have to explain what you just read. Instead of being the student, you’re the teacher. If you can explain the idea or concept clearly, you’ve got it.
Study best according to test style or subject
Remember how note-taking styles change according to subject? The same thing happens if you’re studying for multiple-choice exams or tests that require essay answers.
For multiple-choice or short-answer tests
Try to stay up to date in your study habits. It’s easier to review material you’re already familiar with than to try to memorize new concepts, facts, and definitions. Also, give yourself enough time to effectively study: Cramming the night before a test isn’t optimal and doesn't bode well for long-term recall either.
In that lead-up time to the exam, use study methods that work for you. These can be flashcards, using memory aids like acronyms (AIR for a finance student might mean “assumed interest rate”) and mnemonic phrases (“Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge” in music helps students remember the five lines on the treble staff, EGBDF).
For essay questions
Essay style tests and finals can be a bit trickier. You need to know the material well enough to add your own comments and critique to it. When studying, it can be a good idea to think of additional arguments and ideas of some of the major topics. This way, you’ve got a good base for some of the questions that might be asked.
In both instances, there’s nothing like doing some practice exams as part of your review. Don’t miss end-of-chapter questions in the text you’re using as well.
When you must cram
While never the best method, sometimes cramming for an exam is unavoidable. When cramming always prioritize. Study the most important chapters and concepts so that you know them very well. This focus will allow you to gain full points on at least some of the questions, and possibly score partial marks for others.
Then move on to vocabulary and formulas. This can help you understand some of the concepts mentioned on the exam that you didn’t cover as extensively in your cram session.
Consider joining (or starting) a study group
This is another case of knowing yourself and how you tend to work effectively. Study groups can be great for some students, but of no help at all to others.
- You get to talk it out. Explaining concepts out loud can help you to learn.
- You can learn a new study style you might not have previously tried on your own.
- Less work, more collaboration. This means notes, note cards, and organization might be a bit easier and take less time.
- It’s easier to get distracted.
- People learn in different ways. The students in your group may not like flashcards, for instance, when you live and die by them.
Try studying with music
Studying with certain types of music in the background can be a great way to focus. While everyone has different music preferences, research has found that songs (music with lyrics) can be distracting. You might just end up singing along instead of memorizing dates and definitions.
For most people, instrumental music is the best option. It doesn’t have to be classical, although Mozart may help you focus. Ambient music, which emphasizes tone and atmosphere instead of rhythm, can also be helpful.
How to study for online classes
With many students transitioning to online classes for the upcoming fall semester, it's more important than ever to maintain strong study habits.
Small differences in how you plan your days and weeks can lead to real changes in your GPA.
Treat your online course as a real course
Although you might feel that online courses should be easier since there's no teacher watching your every move, try to avoid that logic.
Treating your online course as you would an on-campus course is the first step to being successful. It ensures a no B.S. mindset and allows you to get right down to business.
In fact, online courses may require more discipline. You need to set aside the time to learn the course work vs having a scheduled time to attend class.
Hold yourself accountable
Set weekly and daily goals to hold yourself accountable.
For example, maybe one week your goal is to time block your schedule out in your online calendar or planner. You can go even further and schedule breaks and what times you'll be exercising, eating, and sleeping.
Whatever goals you set for yourself, pay attention to how they help your overall productivity and focus and start to implement what works into your daily study routine.
Establish strong time-management skills
This is the best skill you can develop as a student taking classes remotely. Likely this will transfer to a job someday if you work remotely so expanding on this skill now could be crucial.
Here are some ways to strengthen your time-management skills for online courses:
- At the beginning of the semester, read your syllabus thoroughly (we know, boring). However, do this to mark every assignment due date in your planner. Pay attention to how much your grade could drop if you turn an assignment in late and put it on a sticky note in your planner.
- Take this one step further and mark any other prior commitments you know you might have. This will help remind you if anything is coming up that you may need to plan a bit more for.
- Create weekly benchmarks according to the content you need to get through. Some classes may outline this better than others to keep you on track, but it's good to be prepared if they don't.
- Establish the best times of the day for each type of studying. Maybe you're better at digesting information in the morning but taking exams at night. Whatever works for you, tailor your day around this. Read more above to find out your best time of day to study.
- Track your progress week over week. Pay attention to how much time your spending studying for each subject in relation to your grades. Be mindful of evenly dispersing your time across each class.
Create a study space that's dedicated and organized
It's easy to say one day you'll work in the kitchen, the next in your bed, and the next at your friend's house.
Rather, create a dedicated space in your house or apartment that is solely for doing school work. This will establish a routine and when you sit down your brain will know it's time to get to work.
Having a dedicated space also ensures that you always have internet connection, computer power, any books and study materials, and even your headphones for listening to lectures.
Experiment with different spots across your house that allow you to focus more and increase your productivity.
Other study tips and tricks
A few other general tips and tricks include:
- Caffeinate (but not too much): If caffeine works as a stimulant for you, a cup or two may help keep your mind sharp. This can help when you’re tired, and have to learn new (or boring) material. While it won’t replace sleep, some strong coffee might just get you through an all-night cram session.
- Keep your study space organized: A clean and organized space is indicative of a conscientious person who is disciplined and focused, according to environmental psychologist Lily Bernheimer. During exams, try to keep your area for studying, and don’t do anything else there. When you sit down to work, you won’t expect or be tempted by distractions.
- Watch what you eat - especially during midterms and finals: If you’re downing lots of greasy, fast food while you work, you’ll slow your body down and it’ll make you tired. Neuroscientist Lisa Mosconi says the top brain foods include fish, greens, dark chocolate, berries, and sweet potatoes.
- Drink. A Lot. Of Water. As Mosconi puts it: “Of all the tricks I’ve learned for keeping my mind sharp, staying hydrated may be the one I follow most religiously, starting with a glass of water first thing in the morning—which is essential after a night without fluid intake—and ending the day with a cup of herbal tea.”