Learning How to Study in College: A guide for those who never needed to study previously or who need to change their ways and re-learn! #college #university #studyI’ll admit it, don’t hate me, but in high school I was one of those students. The students who never had to study, always thought “oh no I failed that test,” and always ended up with an effortless good grade when the exams were passed back.

When college started, that changed. All this time I had spent learning not to study.. I never learned to study. It hurt my GPA a bit, and I’m still recovering from it.

I quickly learned that the same work habits I had in high school weren’t going to cut it anymore. Something needed to change.

Luckily, I had a great support team of friends and fellow bloggers who gave me tips and tricks to help me finally learn how to study in college.

1. Take Notes in Class

No matter if you’re copying everything down off a PowerPoint, making bullet point lists based off a lecture, or throwing some ideas around in a discussion, never go to class without some paper and a pen.

Writing something down is the first step to remembering it. If you’d rather take notes on your computer for a faster paced class, give it a shot, try it out and see what works best for you.

What I prefer to do is take my first draft of notes all nice and messy in a binder on a scratch piece of paper.

2. Get a Planner

Learn to Study Use a Planner

If you don’t know what you need to study or work on, you’ll never actually do it.love planners.

It doesn’t matter if you have a simple classic day planner, or a more in depth expensive planner, or if you’re like my boyfriend and you just carry a small notebook in your back pocket all the time to write down your to-do lists, use something.

Not sure where to start on your planner search? Check out my complete guide to choosing a planner.

It is way too easy to come back after a day of classes, sit down on you couch and think “well that’s done!” and open up Netflix. In reality, you have 3 papers to write, 2 exams to study for, and your notes from the day to review. Getting into this habit of jumping on work and studying is a hard one to form, but having a planner to remind you is a good way to start.

3. Re-Read the Notes

I’ve heard it everywhere, the best way to remember material is to re-read it after your class.

Sorry to break it to you, but after you first take those notes in class, your job doesn’t end there. Make sure that you re-read your notes, preferably within 24 of when you originally took them. Refresh your mind on the material learned.

I scheduled my classes this semester specifically toward this. I have at least an hour and a half in between every class, so that I can buckle down and focus on going more in depth on the material I just learned to help it stick better.

Now, if you’re like me you might be reading these tips as a last minute attempt to figure out how to study for that exam tomorrow. Also if you’re like me, you’ll read this tip and think “oh well, I didn’t re-read my notes right away.. so it’s too late for this!”

No, stop. Take out your notes, that’s right.. right now.. I’ll wait.

Now read them. Yep, now! Come on, get it over with. It’ll help, trust me.

4. Re-Write the notes


Now that you’ve re-read the notes, you might have noticed how sloppy they look. Taking notes by hand in class can be daunting, difficult, and rushed. Some of the things you wrote might be in short hand, some might be hard to read, and some might not make any sense. Make them look pretty.

That thought alone is enough to make me want to go through and re-write all my notes!

Take highlighters, colored pens, pencils, post-it notes.. whatever it takes to motivate you and get to work. This is why I take my notes on a separate sheet of paper in a binder when I’m in class. I have a notebook divided into sections where I copy and color code all my notes. This way I have really nice looking, well organized, and concise notes to look over when I’m studying before a test. This also works as a great reference if you have classes in the future that continue off this one (for example if this was a Biology 101 class, when you took Biology 234 it might include some of these terms and you might want to reference them!)

This isn’t just for cosmetic purposes. Science has backed the fact that writing it down helps you memorize it. And that writing it again, and again, and again, definitely helps even more.

I also recommend reading it over again after you finish re-writing it!

5. Write out the essay prompts ahead of time

If you happen to be the lucky few with a professor who gives you the essay prompts before the test, take full advantage of that! Especially if it is a subject you are struggling in.

I suck at history. I do, I’m awful at it. When my Global Studies professor gave us 5 essay prompts before our midterm, telling us that part of the exam was to answer one prompt of our choice in class, I jumped on it. I did research, gathered sources, wrote out my points, organized the essay.

Then I wrote out my entire essay: introduction, conclusion and all.

Then, I wrote out a very simple outline on a blank sheet of paper which covered the basis of the points I cover in the essay. I memorized this first, reading it and writing it over and over and over again. This way, if I couldn’t retain anything else I would at least know the basis of what I was talking about.

Then I printed out the essay, and made a highlighting color coded system. I highlighted everything I absolutely needed to get correct and have memorized (such as any statistics or quotes I was including) in pink. I highlighted every point that I needed to include, no matter what phrasing I used, in orange. Finally, I highlighted a few extra points that I would be proud of myself if I memorized in yellow. I read this, re-read this, read it again. Then I gave it to my roommate and tried to recite the entire thing from memory. This took some practice, but it worked.

It paid off so well that I got 100% on that essay. I repeated this for the final.

Doing this one trick definitely saved my grade for that class.

6. Consider making Flash Cards

Flash Cards

In high school, I never used flashcards. In college, they became my best friend.

If you are studying for any class that requires memorization, chances are that flashcards will benefit you. On the blank side, put the keyword or phrase. On the lined side, put the definition or description of that keyword/phrase.

This tried and true trick is a great way of quizzing yourself, especially if you are learning a new language or new vocabulary.

There are even fantastic apps that you can use to create virtual flash cards that you can pull out on your phone for studying on the go!

7. Change your scenery

I have a confession to make: My Freshman year of college, I never went to the library.

I had friends who lugged all their stuff over there and set up in a cubicle for the entire Finals week, sometimes nearly spending the night there. I thought they were crazy. Then, the last day of Finals week I found myself with 9 essays still left for one class, and only 5 hours to write them.

I forced myself to change the scenery from my dorm room, and found myself at the library. It was the best choice I could have made. I knocked out all 9 of those essays in only 4 hours, leaving me an extra hour to turn it in and reward myself with some Starbucks!

If you’re not into the library, going outside to get some fresh air is one of my 3 Tips to Staying Focused that I often forget myself! Don’t underestimate the power of changing up your location. Sometimes that is all you need to get yourself in the zone and get some work done.

8. Try it with music, then try it without

Music is a fantastic study tool, but it isn’t for everybody. There has been a lot of studies surrounding the fact that music boosts productivity and motivation.

I often listen to a playlist of instrumental music or my favorite film soundtracks to help motivate me to get my work done.

If you find that music doesn’t help you, then try turning it off. It’s possible that you trying to force yourself to listen to music all these years has actually been deterring your focus! Everybody is different, so try it out and see if it helps.

9. Get a Friend to Quiz you or Make a Study Group

Back in point 5 I told you all about my struggle with my Global Studies class. When it came time to prepare for those exams, I was so nervous I called my friend Mario over. I handed him my essay and outline, color coded and all, and had him help me. He sat on my couch as I paced back and forth for nearly two hours reciting the essay over and over and over again. Anytime I missed a point he would stop me, back me up, and give me hints until I remembered what it was. 

He helped me come up with little tricks to memorize pieces of the essay that I forgot. Even simple things like “REMEMBER THAT WHEN YOU FORGOT THIS POINT I JUST YELLED IT OVER AND OVER AGAIN UNTIL YOU GOT IT RIGHT” came in handy. I found myself thinking during the test “oh this was the point that Mario kept yelling!” It was a little silly, but it paid off. It worked so well for the midterm that when the final came around I immediately called him over for help again!

This trick of getting help can go so many ways for so many different subjects. Create study groups for subjects that you are most worried about. I have found that I work best in study groups if I am the one quizzing everybody else. I learn by teaching. Go over your notes and ask questions about them to your friends. This will help both of you remember the material, read it repeatedly, and talk it through so you understand it better.

10. Read: How to Succeed in College

How to Succeed in CollegeIf you’re looking for more tips and tricks to get you on the right track, I highly recommend checking out Sara Laughed‘s brand new E-Book: How to Succeed in College.

This E-Book shares all of Sara’s amazing and true tips that took her from getting a D in remedial math to getting A’s at Oxford! Sara was incredibly kind enough to allow me to be a part of her launch team, meaning that I got to check out the E-Book for free. I’m going to be completely honest: I have read through the entire thing, and I am so excited to put her methods, tips, tricks, and guides to the test this year!

11696385_10153605599060757_849452715898245705_oHere’s what Sara has to say about the book:

When I came to university, I was completely overwhelmed. There are so many facets to the American college experience, from getting motivated to writing a college paper to taking your first final exam. How to Succeed in College is an 80-page guide to every aspect of my college process, broken down into actionable steps for anyone who is currently where I was. It is designed to be easy to put into practice, both for students who are new to college and for those have been in school for a while.

To learn more about the book please check it out on her blog, Sara Laughed! It is available starting today for only $8.95!

If you can’t tell already, I feel passionately about this book. I’ve read a lot of E-Books or blog posts about this specific subject in which the author beats around the bush and doesn’t provide any real and truly helpful advice. Sara, goes above and beyond providing advice, and instead provides a step by step guide on how to conquer some of the most difficult aspects of college work.

This book has it all. An in depth guide how to find motivation, how to schedule classes, taking notes in class, writing the perfect essay, reading different types of books, and dealing with stress.

Seriously, this is so worth the money. Sara knows her stuff.

What are some of your favorite tricks for studying or succeeding in college?



Pushing Past Academic Plateaus: How to Study in College
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11 thoughts on “Pushing Past Academic Plateaus: How to Study in College

  • August 10, 2015 at 11:41 am

    I am many years past this but I have taught these how to’s to high schoolers (and would add how to read for main points and content) in the hope it would “catch”, with my adult kids and now with my HS teens. They ebb and flow with applying these very good tips. Now I have data to back me up for consistency! Thanks! Linda

  • August 10, 2015 at 11:49 am

    These are truly some great tips…except #6. So many classmates swore by flashcards but perhaps the minimalist in me couldn’t stand the sight of all that clutter. However, if I’d have anticipated essay questions that would have covered a lot of info at once.

    • August 10, 2015 at 2:59 pm

      Yeah, some tips aren’t for everyone! It’s all about trying things out and seeing what works for you, these are just to give students who are just now trying to study some tips to get them going.
      I completely get the minimalist in you not liking all the clutter of flash cards, that is one reason why I love the fact that flash cards are now incorporated into a lot of apps! Makes them a lot easier to use and easier to look at!

  • August 10, 2015 at 11:52 am

    I feel like people in college don’t realize how important it is to take notes. I remember seeing people just sit there and after ask people to help them study. Also, a planner is probably the most beneficial thing ever!

    • August 10, 2015 at 3:00 pm

      I completely agree! I see a lot of people in my classes just sitting there, and it confuses me so much! Even in discussion classes I always have a piece of paper and a pen out to write down points that stand out to me that I can reference later.

      And I swear by my planner!

  • August 10, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    It’s been quite a while since I was in college but your post resonates because I had to adjust to college and “learn how to study” too! Great tips!

  • August 10, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    I cannot wait to have my 15 year old son read this!!! Thanks for the fabulous tips and reinforcing what I tell him!!!

  • August 17, 2015 at 3:31 am

    Great! I’ll try this method 🙂

  • September 3, 2015 at 5:50 pm

    Just a set of college study methods and some common sense behaviors that when consistently followed will increase the likelihood of any student getting an A in any class in college. The beauty is that this is simple, common sense stuff, but it works.

  • October 16, 2015 at 4:28 am

    Very nice blog! I really liked your tips that you had mentioned. These all tips are really very helpful for me as I am also a college student. In school, we generally have spoon feeding habit and teacher always teach each and every thing. But in college teachers only teaches the main topics. Thanks for sharing such useful tips and hope it would be helpful for me.

  • March 25, 2018 at 6:03 pm

    One way I really have found is best for me to study is to listen to some really pumped up music on about medium volume. Otherwise, I won’t be able to hear myself think. I look over the study guides, power points, and the book. Finally, I write out the sentences on paper, circling, underlining, starring important points, and then rewriting the main points in a fashionable manner in which I will remember. The type of music I’ve found helpful is classical; however, it’s not your typical idea of classical. There’s a station on Pandora called Pop Goes Classical. And, just as the name states it’s your typical songs you would hear on the radio in instrumental form. I’m also hoping to expand on my studying ideas, and that these study tips will further help me.


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