My biggest fear while starting college? Studying.
Yes, I am serious.
I was one of those people who, all throughout high school, never really needed to study that hard. This made the thought of ‘leveling up’ and needing to focus on my school work and studying incredibly overwhelming and nearly unheard of.
Luckily, I quickly got the hang of it.
I’ve probably read at least 20 posts about study tips while trying to wrap my head around the concept… but the tips all tend to be the same. Plan ahead, take breaks, write and re-write the material, use note cards, etc. However, those tips don’t usually work for me.
Through trial and error I’ve discovered that what works best for me are some strategies for studying that people don’t normally think of doing, or don’t normally share that often, so I wanted to share them with you!
Looking for more straight forward study techniques? Need to learn or re-learn how to study? Check out my guide: How to Study in College!
Studying with a group is a well-known concept.
When it comes down to the last few weeks before the test, contact a couple of the other students in your course and create a day to do a group study. Try to keep the group generally small, no more than 8 people, or you will be fighting to stay on topic the whole night. Plan to meet up at a location on campus like the library or Starbucks, and cram together!
Have someone quiz you: One of my favorite ways to study, especially when I’m cramming last minute, is to have a person who is not in my class and does not know the material quiz me. I give the other person my notes, note cards, textbook, or study guide and have them ask me questions from those materials in a random order. If they do not understand the material then I have them ask me more questions regarding it, which helps me learn the material better by teaching them!
For my history midterm I had to write an essay at home, memorize it, and then re-write it during class on the test. To study for this I highlighted the important points that I needed to cover, gave my friend the essay, and recited it over and over again to them. They were incredibly patient and helpful leading me through this. Reciting the essay back and forth with them definitely helped it stick in my memory and I got a 100% on that test because of it!
2. Beware of Caffeine
I know, it may seem like a God-send at first, but having that coffee shop on campus could be killing your grade.
While there is no harm in having a little coffee to perk you up in the afternoon to study, drinking a lot of caffeine anytime in the evening could be harming you. According to the National Sleep Foundation it takes about 6 hours for one half of the caffeine effects to be eliminated.
This falls under the category of “get sleep” when you’re studying for finals or doing school work. Sleep is mandatory for your brain to function well and, despite some preconceptions, pulling all nighters for studying is a bad thing that will more than likely make it more difficult to retain the information you studied.
Also, if you’re like my roommate (sorry, Tori!) even a little caffeine will make you jumpy, jittery, and hyper! This makes it difficult to focus on your work and in turn will also make it difficult to fall asleep.
3. Move Around
This may just be me, but I don’t learn well while I’m sitting still. While I was reciting my essay back and forth with my friend, as I mentioned in the first tip, I was pacing around, jumping up and down, gesturing with my hands, and changing the volume of my voice constantly.
For me, test taking environments are hectic. Even in complete silence, where everyone is sitting down, in my head we are all jumping and screaming and pacing. So studying in this environment helps it to stick with me when I’m in that environment taking the test.
(I might even gesture to myself in my seat while taking the test to help me remember it…)
Moving around also helps my mind remember what I’m learning as it causes me to focus on multiple things at once.
4. Color Code and Highlight
As I mentioned in the first tip, I highlighted the important points in my essay that I needed to memorize. I am very much a visual learner.
Colors help our brain and eyes pull out information to store. When I was studying that essay I would highlight the main points that I needed to memorize word for word in pink, the smaller points I needed to touch on in any words in orange, and other points that I would get extra credit to mention in yellow. When I was writing the essay in class my brain would instantly hop from color to color to remember the words I highlighted.
Even when I take notes in class I use different colored highlighters or pens to make things stand out: categories, key words, vocabulary, important pieces of information.
5. Finish Assignments First
When it comes to studying I will do anything to procrastinate, even if it means doing my other school work.
We all think ‘it’s not procrastinating if its productive! I’m still getting work done’ but you’re avoiding something else that you need to get done, that is procrastinating. When it’s time to buckle down and focus on studying for a test, make sure that your other assignments (projects, power points, papers, etc.) are complete before you start. This will eliminate some of the most distracting factors, even those that are still productive to procrastinate with!
I also tend to make sure that my workspace is clean, my laundry is done, my bed is made, and the trash is taken out, all before I start. Or, knowing myself, I will do all of that instead of studying.
6. Log Out
I know this seems drastic. Logging out? Can’t I just close the browser?
Nope. Log out.
It’s too easy to think ‘oh I have to look this up..’ and opening your browser to go Google a piece of information for your project, only to find Facebook as your homepage, or to find yourself tapping the Tumblr bookmark button out of habit, and then finding yourself getting distracted by something on the first page. Next thing you know, it’s 3 hours later and you’ve done exactly nothing.
Log out. That way when you click that bookmark button or somehow unconsciously end up on Pinterest, you won’t see any status updates or pictures of kitties or cute marshmallow snowman recipes to distract you.
7. Hide Your Phone
Or have your roommate do it! Drastic times call for drastic measures. Phones are another distraction!
8. Treat Yo’ Self
There is a time for work, and there is a time to relax.
Every once in a while during a particularly stressful or frustrating time I take my roommates out to do something fun. Midnight In-N-Out runs are one of our favorites! Or if I know there’s a particularly stressful week coming up (such as finals or tech week) I’ll go to the store and stock up on a ton of my favorite candies.
Another thing that I do is I treat myself with one small candy for every page of work I finish. I started this technique back in middle school when I was struggling with finding motivation to do my math homework. I would set out a handful of chocolate chips or Cheez-It’s and eat one for each math problem I finished.
9. Acronyms, Poems, Songs…
GMOBSERITC. To you, that’s gibberish. To me, that’s the ten steps of the Stanislavsky system that I had to study for my Acting class midterm.
Studying straight facts is the most difficult thing for me. Memorizing, memorizing, memorizing. Making acronyms tends to help me (and my roommate who helped me study that) cram for important facts, even if the acronyms don’t make real words they still aid in getting all that information crammed in one space.
As for songs, the first thing that I think of is that episode of Hannah Montana when Miley makes a song (and a full dance) about all the bones of the body to help her on a test. I personally haven’t used this system, but I have friends who have and they say it really works!
10. Dance Party Breaks
One of my roommate’s and my favorite things to do is to break up a long portion of stress with dancing! No matter if we reenact a full choreographed version of “We’re All in This Together” from High School Musical, jump around the room like maniacs to “Shake it Off”, or get competitive with some Just Dance 3 for our X-Box Kinect… it always helps to relieve the stress and get us back on task when our break is over.
11. Write & Re-Write
Ok, so this is one of the ‘normal‘ tips that I mentioned that everyone says. But it really does work!
I use this as a form of quizzing myself on the material by writing it over and over again. There’s something about how writing things by hand helps you remember it. I’m not just talking about writing notes by hand in class but also writing by hand again and again to help improve your memory of the material.
Before you know it will reach 3am the morning before the test, and you’ll be asleep on your textbook. Know your limits. Don’t let that happen.
While sleep is important, rest away from work is also important. I had a rule during high school: If it’s not done by 9:30 it’s not worth it. I stuck with that (sometimes extending it an hour if it was an important assignment or if I had been procrastinating a ton) and I still managed to get through high school with great grades.
Now, in college, I have bumped that rule up a little bit. Considering that I don’t normally go to bed until around midnight or later now, the 9:30pm rule would not be realistic. I’ve made a mental rule that when I feel exhausted or done: to stop. That’s it.
Most importantly, my mental health and physical health matter more than my grades. I will try my best, but I won’t beat myself up over it. That’s my motto.
Are you one of those students who never needed to learn how to study in high school, so you need to learn how to study now? Or perhaps you just want a refresher course on the best ways to study in college? Check out my guide, 10 Tips for Learning to Study in College!
Do you have any creative study tips? What works for you? Tell me in the comments!