Regardless of what year you are in school, you probably want to get good grades and succeed academically. As someone who has gone through college and law school (and I currently teach college level finance classes), I have had a lot of time to cultivate and polish my study habits to ensure that I study efficiently and successfully. So, today, I want to share my tried and true tips with you on how to create good study habits, get even better grades, and how to make what matters happen:
Pick a study corner. Studies show that if you consistently study in the same space, you can program your mind into study mode whenever you’re present in that space. So, try studying in a few different places to see what works best for you. Places to try: the library (try a private room versus a study carrel or just a table in the library), your apartment or dorm room, a local coffee shop, a study room at your local public library, or in one of the study areas around campus (many schools have lounge areas with quiet study areas). Once you find a place that works best for you, try to study there each day until it becomes a habit.
Clear the clutter. Once you find a study space, keep it clear of everything but your books and necessary study supplies like pens, highlighters, and sticky notes. I personally find that if I display all my books on my desk, the stack becomes quite intimidating as I think about all the work I have to do. Plus, all that extra stuff takes up room, which can be quite distracting and frustrating if you have to keep adjusting things. This also applies beyond just your desk though! If you’re studying in your apartment, keep the room clean as well. There is nothing worse than sitting down to study and realizing that you really should be cleaning instead!
Budget your time. Scheduling out my study times has been a lifesaver for me in law school. Every morning, I pull up iCal and schedule out my day to the hour – first I fill in classes, then meetings, and finally I fill in the rest of the day with the study times and other responsibilities. For example, if I know my contracts reading takes me two hours, then I will mark off a two hour slot for doing my assigned contracts reading. Although I rarely stay between those allotted times, it helps to keep me on track and make sure that I get all the assigned readings done in a reasonable amount of time.
Stay up to date on assignments. Procrastination is something that plagues a lot of college students, especially when it comes to big projects that you have a lot time to work on. To stay on top of those projects, give yourself smaller deadlines. As soon as you get the assignment (usually syllabus day!) make appointments with yourself to touch base on different areas of the project through out the semester. Then stick to those deadlines as if you were truly turning something in at that time. This takes a lot of discipline, but you’l be so grateful you’re not pulling an all-nighter the day before a 10-page research paper is due!
Minimize distractions. I struggle with this one so much, but it’s the biggest waste of my time – taking mini breaks from studying to check Facebook, reply to a text or just browse online. So, I’ve set some boundaries for myself like not checking Facebook throughout the school day (usually 9-5), and putting my phone on silent while I study so that I’m not distracted by every new notification.
Get some sleep. In college, it’s easy to have a weird sleeping schedule – you stay out late with your friends and then don’t schedule your classes until mid-morning so you can sleep in. Or you just rely on your youth and good health to trick yourself into thinking you really don’t need that much sleep. I’ve been there and I’ve experienced how much that harms you physically and emotionally. It’s a miracle how much happier and more productive you are if you consistently get 7-9 hours of sleep per night! Plus, it’s the worst when you keep nodding off while you’re reading your textbook – by the end you are frustrated, tired and have no idea what just happened in the reading.
Prioritize. I love making to-do lists, but in reality, I rarely get everything done on my list. So, I’ve created a system where every morning, I list out 3-5 things that absolutely must get done that day and then underneath I’ll make a separate list of reminders – things that I need to do, but don’t require my immediate attention (the stickies software on Macs is perfect for this!). Keep your priority list as specific as possible.
For example, instead of listing out do homework for Thursday, I will write out each assignment as a separate item. Since this is much more manageable, you’ll feel so accomplished as you check off each item! Then, if I have free time after I get my priority list done, I start working off my reminders list. This really helps me keep my head clear of random reminders (like call mom or pick up dry-cleaners), so that instead I can focus on getting stuff done.
Master a note-taking system. Each one of us studies in a different way – some people prefer to type their notes, some hand write everything, and others tape their notes via a voice recorder. Find what works best for you and stick to it. If you color-code everything, then try color-coding your notes using highlighters. Do you prefer OneNote or a plain Word document? Pen or pencil? Note paper or notebooks? Bullet points or full sentences? These may seem like little things, but having this consistency will keep you focused on your work, not trying to figure out if you typed those class notes or wrote them down in one of the dozens of notebooks scattered across your dorm room.
Utilize office hours. Almost all professors have office hours for students to come in and ask questions about the class. This is an invaluable resource that most students don’t use, so take advantage of this extra (and free!) tutoring you can get. Don’t be shy to go in and ask your professor to explain in another way what you just covered in class. Even if you don’t have questions, stop by and chat with your professors – you’ll get to know them, get extra tips on succeeding in their classes, and in return, they’ll get to know you (something that comes in handy when you need letters of recommendations for internships!).
Regroup. In law school, we outline our course material to use as study aids for finals at the end of the semester. This means that in order to stay up to date on these outlines, you need to occasionally take time to go through all your class notes and materials and then summarize them as cohesively as possible into outline form (some people do this monthly, others do it every weekend).
I wish I had done this in undergrad! Taking these breaks to go over your notes through out the unit shows you what you know and what material you need help with. The outlines you create serve as an awesome study aid when it comes time for exams. As your fellow classmates scramble to make sense of the pile of notes scattered across their desk, you’ll have a simple outline of all the important material which you can use to study from or use to make flash cards. Plus, some things just don’t make sense until you see where they fit in the big picture of the class!
To tie it all together – the key is consistency and doing what works best for you!
Above all though, remember that you’re not alone. You may study for days, but without the Lord’s help there is only so much you can humanly remember.
My best advice on succeeding in school is to pray and use the resources God has given you through His infinite grace and power.
Pray before exams and even as you study each day or head off to class. I start every day praying for the Lord to open my mind to the new material and make my brain into a sponge that just soaks up all the information in class and in my readings for future reference.
Looking back, there have been so many times when I just didn’t understand the material, but after taking the time to pray about it and seeking out that extra help from my professors, things just clicked.
We trust God with the big things in our lives, so why not trust that He will also provide for the little things like our studying and exams?
How do you prefer to study? What are your best study tips? What study habits are you cultivating?
// cover image courtesy of www.RekitaNicole.com
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