Tips for Academic Success
Preparing for Class:
- Read the chapter you'll be discussing in lecture before class. Even if you don't understand it while you're reading, you'll recognize terms and concepts during lecture and be able to take better notes.
- Review your notes from the previous class. This will help you remember what was covered and prepare you for new information. Make a note of anything that was unclear and ask about it during class.
- Sit in the same seat for each class. Your body will associate this area with learning and your concentration will improve.
- If you are a visual learner, add illustrations to your notes. Draw a timeline for historical dates, diagram a scientific class system, make pie charts and graphs, etc.
- Take notes. No matter what, if you write it down you're more likely to remember it.
- If your professor uses slides and provides them to you to download, print them out before class and make notes on them during class. That way you won't have to copy down everything said during class, but you can add helpful notes to clear up confusing information.
- Focus on what the professor is saying. Listen for phrases like "The most important point...", "Remember that..." and most importantly, "This would make a good exam question..."
- Use abbreviations. Shorten words and phrases in any way that makes sense to you. This will allow you to write more quickly during class, and spend more time understanding the lecture rather than copying everything word for word.
- Mark anything in your notes that you don't understand, and ask your professor or a classmate about it later.
- Ask questions during class. Even if you think it's a stupid question and everyone else knows the answer, in most cases everyone actually has the same question and no one wants to ask.
- Sit in the front of the room. Hiding in the back may make it easier to sleep through class, but if you're napping you might as well not be there. Sitting up front provides numerous advantages: your professors will see you (and know you're attending class), you can see the board more easily, you can hear your professor better, and basically you're in the best position to get the most out of each class.
- Try to find a space where you can do the bulk of your studying and use it frequently. Your body will associate that space with studying, and it will help you focus.
- Study the difficult or boring subjects first, or the ones you aren't as interested in. Difficult courses often require the most energy, and you will more easily understand subject matter that interests you.
- Figure out what is the best time of day for you to study. Most people learn best in daylight hours, but many college students end up doing their best studying late at night. For whatever time you find works best for you, try to study at that same time every day.
- Eliminate distractions. Turn off your cell phone, computer and television. If you need to take more drastic measures, unplug the TV and disconnect the network cable from your computer to make it that much harder for you to become distracted.
- Take breaks. A marathon study session will not be as productive as a few shorter study sessions. If you have to study in a large block of time, rotate subjects and don't study similar subjects back to back.
- Keep your study space well lit. Use a small lamp right near your workspace. This will reduce eye strain and headaches.
- Use waiting time. There are a lot of periods in the day where you spend five or ten minutes waiting—for a bus, for a professor, between classes—don't waste it. Have flashcards of important terms with you or write down lecture notes that you're having trouble with and keep them with you to read over.
- When studying, keep a sheet of paper or Post-Its around to write down any distracting thoughts. That way you can focus on the information you are studying, but you won't forget about those things you are concerned about.
- If you are really struggling with a concept or a problem, leave it for a while and do something else. Sometimes just taking a break and focusing on something else helps you come back and see the information in a new light.
- Don't get too comfortable. In bed, your body gets a signal that it's time to sleep, so it's probably not the best place for studying. You need all the energy you can get.
- If it helps you to study with others, form a supportive study group. Meet regularly and stay on task.
- If someone missed class, offer to help them with what they missed. Often times explaining concepts to someone else will reinforce them in your mind, or even help you understand the ideas better if you were unclear the first time around.
- Divide information into chunks. It is easier to remember small chunks of related information than an entire list.
- Use tricks to help remember things like lists and dates. Use mnemonic devices (i.e. the "Thirty days hath..." rhyme for remembering the months, or "My Very Energetic Mother..." for remembering the planets).
- If you can't study in silence and need some sort of background noise, be aware of the type of music you listen to. Listening to your favorite songs will inevitably end up with you singing along. Play instrumental music; classical is always a safe bet.
- After studying, skim everything once more and write down anything you think you might forget or are still having trouble with. Keep it with you to review before the test, and as soon as you get the test, quickly jot down the information you're likely to forget on the test itself (a "memory dump"). That way you'll have it with you throughout the test.
- Pretend that the professor allows you to have a cheat sheet for the exam, and make one up with all the information you think you'd possibly need to know. Just the act of making the cheat sheet reinforces the ideas in your head.
- Don't stay up all night cramming for a test the next day. You'll end up being too tired to think clearly in the morning and you won't remember most of what you studied.
- Get up and eat a good breakfast on the morning of the test.
- When taking the test, skip over questions that you don't know the answer to or aren't sure about. Finish the questions you know and go back to the others if time permits.
- Chew gum. Since Roman times mint has been thought to stimulate the brain and increase concentration. Peppermint has been shown to stimulate the area of the brain responsible for alertness. Also, cinnamon is supposed to improve cognitive processing, memory and attention.
- Ask your professors to provide a study guide for an exam, and if possible, sample test questions.
- Rewrite or type up the notes you take for each lecture. Not only can you make them more legible and clean up abbreviations, but it will reinforce the ideas in your mind.
- If your textbook comes with an interactive CD or web site information for supplemental instruction, use it. These resources often contain study guides and sample questions, and sometimes problem solutions. Also, many books (generally math or science) have problem answers or solutions in the back.
- Break big jobs down into smaller tasks. Get the easy ones done first.
- Use free support on campus. The Learning Resource Center (providing tutoring and supplemental instruction), the Writing Center, Career Development, the Counseling Center, and the Office of Student Success can help you succeed academically and socially on campus.
- If your class has TAs, use them. They are getting paid to help you, so make sure you get the most out of them.
- Get a tutor before it's too late. Don't wait until you are failing a class—at the first sign of trouble get help.
- Do more than is required. Read the chapter even if it wasn't specifically assigned. Answer review questions at the end of the chapter, and do extra problems that weren't assigned for homework. Ask your professor to look over your answers.
- Take hard classes in the summer. Summer classes tend to be better for some subjects, like languages or math, because you're not taking any other classes and you can focus all your attention in that area.
- Make sure you know your professors. If they know you by name and can recognize you in class, they are far more likely to give you an A- over a B+, or where it really counts, a D over an F.
- Balance work with play. Don't forget to take time to hang out with friends and forget about class for a while. You'll be far more successful if you relax and work hard when it counts.
- Attend all classes. It's very tempting to sleep in or skip that boring lecture, but remember that unlike high school, college is voluntary. You made the choice to come here—take advantage of everything the university has to offer and learn as much as you can while you're here. You are paying a lot for this education!
- Use the library. It not only provides great resources, it's also a great quiet place to study. Usually there are different areas which are louder or quieter if you can't work in complete silence.
- Learn how to use technology. Universities are getting more and more technologically advanced—take advantage of it.
- Check and use your school email address. Important information will be sent there, and often professors won't even respond to emails that come from other accounts.
- Find a way that works for you and stick to it. Whether it's study methods or how best to take notes, what works for someone else may not help you at all.
- Attend university events and seminars. Again, this falls under taking advantage of everything the school has to offer. Some are geared towards certain majors and concentrations and can be extremely helpful for the future. In some cases your professors might offer extra credit to attend certain functions.
- Get to know other students in your classes. You can help each other with homework assignments or studying for exams, and if you have to miss a class, you have someone to get notes from.
- Keep track of your grades in each class. If you know how you're doing right along, you will know the moment you need to get help. It's also nice to be able to predict what grade you'll get at the end of the semester.
- Get enough sleep. Simple, yet effective. You'll be more energetic and it will keep you healthy, and your time will be spent more productively overall. Getting into a regular sleep pattern can also make it easier to get up early in the morning.
- Try to plan classes so that you have breaks in between, but not huge chunks. The daylight hours are the most often wasted if you don't have anything to keep you on task. Schedule classes close together, but allow yourself some breaks to clear your mind and prepare for the next class.
- Allow for flexibility. Don't pack your schedule too tight, because inevitably something will come up. If you miss a scheduled study time, make sure there's open time later on to fit it in.
- Analyze your use of time. If you pay attention to how you are spending your time, you'll notice where you're wasting it. Eliminating simple time-wastes can open up hours during the day and leave you free to relax in the evening.
- Procrastination can have advantages. For some people the pressure of a deadline to meet makes them get stuff done. But this usually only works for short assignments or math homework. Longer papers or big projects are generally almost impossible to get done at the last minute.
- Socializing is as important as academics. No matter what you do in life, you'll need to interact with people. Talk to people in your classes and get to know professors and other people in your department. Do as much as you can to get more comfortable talking with new people.
- "100 Suggestions for Success." Eastern Illinois University.
- "35 Quick Study Tips." University of South Carolina.
- "The Ultimate Guide to Being Successful in College." The Students' Blog.
*The tips on this site are a combination of selected tips from these sources and personal contributions from individuals at SJU.