Students often feel overwhelmed with the amount of material they are required to learn in college, especially when the study habits they developed in high school are not sufficient to manage course work that is generally more substantial, and more complex.
- Review: Take 10 minutes immediately after each class to organize your notes, fill in missing information, and clarify concepts. Your notes will be much more useful at study time, and you'll find that it helps with later recall.
- Get comfortable: When studying, pick a place where your ability to focus is maximized. It should have good lighting and temperature, comfortable upright seating, ample space to spread out your materials, and minimal distractions. You can sometimes find an ideal spot in the library or in one of the study halls. If you live in the residence halls or on a busy street, try masking noise by running a fan, or putting on music at low volume.
- Eat to concentrate: Don't eat large meals before studying. When you eat large meals, your brain has to compete with your digestive system for blood flow. This is why many students find it hard to pay attention during classes scheduled right after lunch. Eat small, healthy snacks around study time to help you stay focused.
- Know your rhythm: Study with your circadian rhythm. Pay attention to how alert you are at different times of the day. If your ability to focus peeks in the afternoon, then plan your study sessions around this time.
- Use time wisely: Use small and large blocks of time wisely. Periods of less than one hour are best for reviewing notes, or completing short assignments. Attempting large projects during small time blocks may prove unproductive, because just as you are warming up, you'll have to stop what you are doing. Big assignments are best tackled when you have two or more hours to focus on them.
- Take breaks: For every hour that you study, take a ten-minute break. Get up from your seat, walk around, stretch, use the restroom, and/or grab a snack. This gives your brain a chance to process what you've studied so far, and helps to prevent burnout.
- Buddy up: Study with a buddy. Having study sessions with friends or classmates not only keeps you accountable to studying, you may also talk about the material with your study group, which increases understanding and retention.
- Set boundaries: Avoid the temptation to do other things during study time. Although cleaning your room, running errands, checking email, and returning phone calls need to get done at some point, don't use them as excuses to avoid studying. Also, set boundaries with friends by telling them you'll catch up with them later.
- Have some fun: Down time is important. Plan leisure activities for after you have studied. This gives you something to look forward to, and you'll feel better about taking time off if you've already done your work.
Take care of your body: Eating healthy, exercising, and getting regular sleep not only puts you in optimal physical health, but helps with mood, concentration, and memory. These are all important for successful studying!
For more information about maximizing your study skills, check out these resources:
Hettich, P. (1998). Learning skills for college and career (2nd ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Co.
Nist, S. L. & Holsehuh, J. P. (2003). College success strategies. New York: Longman Publishers.
About the author: Shannon Ulrike is a former member of the counselor faculty at San Francisco State University Counseling & Psychological Services. Shannon enjoys working with SFSU's multicultural student population to address a wide range of concerns. She has particular interest in helping students understand social-cultural influences on personal development, and in overcoming internalized oppression. Her expertise is in working with women as a marginalized group, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities, the disability community, and the deaf community. Shannon is fluent in American Sign Language.