For most students, studying is a mandatory part of the college experience. Unfortunately, most students work far too hard and only see a marginal improvement in test scores while also suffering extreme burnout.
But how are students supposed to succeed in college while dedicating so much time to reading, memorizing, and recalling information? The answer lies in studying technique – studying “smarter” and not harder!
How To Study Smart in College (Not Harder)
Let us take an in-depth look at sixteen of the most effective studying techniques for students who want to learn how to study smart in college, not harder!
Take the Time to Take Good Notes!
Taking notes in class can be tedious – especially when friends talking proves distracting – but remember, your class notes are all you have to come back to during your studying sessions.
Inferior quality class notes leave students with too many questions. Poor class notes can even lead to a complete misunderstanding of important class concepts.
Good notes should be:
- Short (write in shorthand!)
- Straight to the point
Always Get Class Notes When You Miss Class
As mentioned previously, notes are crucial to your understanding of class material since once a class is over, you lose daily lectures for good unless you have class notes to reference.
Because they are so important, any time that you miss class, make sure to connect with other students and ask for a copy of their notes. Not all students will be willing to oblige – particularly if you abuse the privilege but having a “note swapping buddy” ensures that you both have a resource for daily notes when you need them and displays how to study smart in college.
Not all studying tricks are new techniques – they are also a reminder of information that students already know but fail to practice. For example, most students already know that studying in a room with distractions is not conducive to success; however, they continue to revise in loud and busy areas where they cannot pay attention to their studies.
Studying with distractions has numerous drawbacks, including –
- Information stored in the brain may merge studied material with distractions (for example, song lyrics) to create a jumble of information.
- Distractions successfully draw attention away from studying, leaving students unprepared for study group questions, tests, quizzes, and exams.
- Distractions also throw ongoing studying off schedule and wind up leaving students in a perpetual state of “catch up.
Organization is Crucial!
Organization is another crucial aspect of creating a “smart” study strategy and one that applies both to note-taking and the study area.
Organization in notes is necessary because it makes it easier to go back to class notes in the future and clearly understand lecture topics.
To meticulously organize class notes be sure to use plenty of headings and highlight key concepts.
Organization in a study area is also necessary because without immediate access to any materials needed or with too much clutter, studying is disorganized, and students get distracted.
To organize a study space, ensure that all necessary study materials are on hand and arranged neatly and all unnecessary materials are out of the way.
Find a Study Buddy
It is also helpful for students to become study buddies with one or more classmates as early as possible in the first semester/quarter.
A study buddy holds students accountable for regular study sessions and offers the opportunity to discuss class material in a more meaningful way.
Some students make use of group study sessions weekly and forego the study buddy situation. However, having a daily study buddy and a weekly group study session helps to reinforce newly learned information.
Record Lectures If Possible
Not all students thrive when note-taking. In fact, many students complain that they are so busy taking notes in class that they do not have time to process what they are writing down.
For students with this type of problem, a voice recorder is a great tool to have on hand.
Even if students do not have trouble processing information while writing notes, recording lectures on an audio device is a great way to review lecture information in the future while ensuring that there is no ambiguity in-class notes taken.
Figuring out how to study smart in college, not harder, is a bit of a process, but utilizing recorded lectures is a great way to be smarter and more productive.
Do not Leave Studying Until the Last Minute
Many students are guilty of waiting to study material until the night before a test or exam. Everyone knows that this is not a good study strategy, yet students continue to do it!
It is far more beneficial to study in short daily sessions and slightly longer weekly sessions instead of cramming at the last minute. Breaking study sessions up in this way is better for the comprehension of future lecture material, and helps with the question, how to study smart in college.
Splitting study sessions up also allows students to learn cumulatively, building up information gradually rather than trying to force weeks or months of class information into a single study session!
Do not Just Memorize!
Students often make the mistake of memorizing material rather than making sure they understand the information.
Memorizing information means that students regurgitate facts. Memorization, however, does not allow for students to apply that information in various situations.
Learning information, however, ensures that students understand base concepts before building onto those ideas in future lectures.
Take Regular Breaks
Dedication to studying is admirable, but students must also take regular breaks and know when to take those breaks.
Related: Research-Tested Benefits of Breaks
Students do not just lose interest in material the longer study sessions are; long study sessions also cause fatigue. The more tired a student is when they study, the less information they will retain and the more likely revision mistakes are.
Taking regular breaks helps students avoid lulls in activity that can induce tiredness.
Related: Top 5 Exam Prep Tips
Find a Few Good Study Spots!
Where students study has a significant impact on the studying experience. For example, a student lying on their bed to study will get tired quickly.
A student sitting at their desk, though, will not feel the same coziness, and since they are sitting upright, they are less likely to fall asleep.
However, a desk in a dorm room is not the only place to study. Students should choose a few different study spots that are quiet enough for studying without too many distractions. Switching between these study locations keeps one location from becoming too comfortable and helps to keep students focused.
Study At a Desk or Table
We mentioned above that sitting at a desk is more conducive to learning than laying on a bed is – this is simply because a table or a desk provides plenty of room to study.
Studying at a desk also replicates a more scholarly environment, and studies have shown that this type of similarity can help to improve recall come exam time!
Step Away When You Get Frustrated
It is not uncommon for students of any age to get frustrated, but once frustration sets in, it distracts students, and revision becomes increasingly problematic.
Stepping away to cool down when frustration begins is the best way to re-center and ensure that study time is as productive as possible.
Get a Tutor If You Need One!
When students have difficulty with the subject matter, they often try to power through and make sense of things themselves. This power through attitude is a mistake because it –
- …is time-consuming for students to try to figure out concepts on their own.
- …is easy to misunderstand or misinterpret information when studying alone.
Hiring a tutor to clarify information and help with revision is a helpful solution in this situation. Although getting a tutor means additional weekly study time, overall, studying is easier – plus students’ can use their time much more efficiently.
When we think of how to study smart in college, having a tutor is literally one of the best things you can do for your own educational success.
Offer to Tutor Someone Else
When students understand information but need more time to revise, becoming a tutor can be a fantastic way to get that revision done.
A tutor must take a fresh look at lecture material to explain it, so it is more understandable to students. Rewording and repeating content in this way is a form of revision without the “torture” of sitting and reading and revising – which can be monotonous.
Create A Daily Study Routine
Humans are creatures of habit, so creating a specific study routine and sticking with it is a great way to encourage regular study sessions. After always studying at one time, it becomes instinct to do just that. The chance of students skipping revision sessions decreases because it feels unnatural, so a steady study routine decreases.
Maintaining a daily study routine also encourages revising in stages rather than cramming everything in at once!
Set Up Weekly Group Study Sessions
In addition to daily study sessions, weekly group study sessions are beneficial because they create a more interactive learning environment where students can discuss topics at length, ask questions, and clarify any information that seems ambiguous.
Group study sessions are also a terrific way to hold students accountable for revision because students depend on each other for study help.
We must understand the impact study techniques have on student well-being when we talk about “how to study smart in college (not harder).” Studying smart vs. studying hard is the difference between a frazzled, burned-out college student and a healthy, successful college experience.
Implementing new study habits, creating daily study routines, and attending group study sessions weekly go a long way toward attaining that how to study smart in college goal.
Catch you soon
Hey, I’m Kris Taylor. I’m a Learning and Development professional currently in the healthcare field, with over 8 years of experience in the area of corporate education. I have created numerous instructional content for various corporate projects including eLearning, in-person facilitation, and virtual training across a wide variety of learning interventions and sectors. On Taughtup, I discuss topics ranging from how to succeed through K-12 to college all the way to instructional design tips for L&D designers.