I have written a comprehensive list of tips for succeeding in school and, specifically, college. Here are all of the things that I try to do in order to be a better student. My tips can be applied to any grade, but I have written these tips as a college student myself.
Accordion file folder: If you use a binder, keep an expanding accordion file folder in your room. There are around 10+ dividers, giving you ample space to organize your papers. All you have to do is stick the papers into their appropriate dividers accordingly. If you’d like to go the extra mile, you can even organize the papers within the dividers themselves. This works well for people like me who do not like the rigid organization of a spiral notebook. I prefer loose leaf notebook paper so that I can organize it any way I want and throw out papers or rewrite some notes without worrying about messing up the order or the other side of the paper. The accordion file folder helps me keep the clutter out of my binder and store any papers in an organized fashion at home.
Organizing Notes: For each of my classes, I would separate my notes into “lecture,” “discussion,” and “homework.” This is helpful for me so that I don’t spend extra time flipping through looking for something.
Keeping it Clean: Clean before tackling homework and studying, or do something productive you’ve been putting off (like: laundry). Cleaning is, in a way, much easier than homework because it doesn’t require much brain work. If you were to do it in reverse order (homework first and then cleaning) it might make homework seem like more of a chore and by the time you’re mentally exhausted, you might not want to do any chores at all. After I’ve done some cleaning, I feel much more motivated to do my work. It gets me into the right mindset. Plus, even if you don’t end up doing homework (but hopefully that’s not the case) at least you’ll have a clean area.
Less Binders: Bring a minimal amount of binders (for me it’s preferably 1) to school. It helps lighten the load you have to lug around campus because it keeps the papers you bring to a minimum. Bring only what you need (which will most likely be recently notes, homework). The main purpose of this is to force organization upon yourself. If you have to continually take out papers and make sure your papers can fit into only one binder, you are going to have to organize them and put them away properly.
Maximize down time while you’re on the go: Going to the gym is great for your health, and prevents your body from feeling restless if you only study all day & exhaust yourself mentally. Studying at the gym can be helpful. I’ll admit, I haven’t tried reading a textbook or notes while running on an elliptical machine…it just seems a little too bumpy to concentrate on tiny text. However, most students have iPods/iPhones and other smart phones or tablets nowadays. Record the lecture. Convert it and then import it into the iPod. Take it with you to the gym, or when you’re driving through traffic in your car, or when you’re cleaning the house. Or, create digital flash cards on your device of choice (mine was my iPod since I didn’t have a smart phone) and breeze through them while you exercise or have downtime between classes.
Get Excited: It helps to be more motivated while you study. Obviously we all have our big motivations; get a high GPA, get a good career, make money. Yada yada. But when I say “motivation” I mean small things that could mean a lot! Like getting a word processor that will get you excited to take notes. Or an awesome pen. Or a notebook that just makes you want to write in it! For example, some people are in love with MS Word’s “OneNote” which can be a very exciting way to take notes on your computer. Use colors, bold important words. For me, if it’s pleasing to the eye and organized, I am more likely to take thorough notes and actually look back at them.
Computer Programs: I have always been impressed by the number of wonderful applications on the web for your computer. I think a lot of them can be used to enhance your learning experience. One program that I loved was a flashcard-like program (called ProVoc if you’re interested). I created questions and answers, and it would test me on them. Depending on what mode I picked, it could be short answer, or multiple choice, or even just a slideshow to help me learn. It was a great way of learning actively and getting some repetition in without it feeling really boring and old. It really drills information into your brain more effectively than just by re-reading notes.
Keep track of due dates: Find a way of writing down your due dates and assignments. I personally use a small dry-erase board on my wall. Others use sticky notes on their bookshelves. Some people use agendas. Some people put them into their laptops or cell phones. If you’re lucky, you’ll have an email reminder or a reminder from a classmate. Otherwise, you’re pretty much responsible for remembering and if you don’t, it really sucks when you find out later that you got zero points because you forgot.
Keep up with the material: This is the most difficult thing for me, and many others. It’s really hard to keep on track with studying and reviewing. I still struggle with it every day. It is extremely bad to wait to cram before the test because by then, there is no way of asking the professor or TA for clarification or help if anything comes up last minute. If you DO keep up, you have the opportunity to ask a professor or TA (or even a fellow student if you are too shy – but don’t be!) about something you cannot understand despite going through all of your notes and textbooks and online research.
Schedule for finals: In my case, I don’t follow my strict, planned schedules for very long whether it’s out of laziness or just the different events of each day that interfere. However, when the week before and the week of finals hits, it’s really crunch time. It doesn’t matter if I’m lazy or if there are other events to attend to. They are FINALS EXAMS. The big whamo. It’s what we’ve been studying for all quarter (or semester). Nowadays I don’t do this anymore, but during my freshman year this worked for me. I created a very strict and rigorous schedule for myself. I planned each hour. When to study, when to eat, etc. I had it written for each day. And during that time I whip out the schedule and I told myself that I MUST follow it. No exceptions. This method is best for the kind of person who functions better when every single hour is planned out, or else they would end up doing nothing productive for hours.
How to study: Everybody learns differently, but this is what worked for me. I wish I had discovered it much earlier into my college career. Focus on understanding the WHY part of it. Think of everything as “everything happens for a reason.” Once you get why it happens, it’s so much easier to remember it on a test. During the test, you’re not just trying to spit out what you remember – rather, you reason your way through and figure out the answer. Once you understand how everything works, make flash cards, so you can actively learn while you review, rather than just glazing over notes that you simply read. Most professors tell you to focus on lecture (I’ve only ever had a few that liked to pull out random questions out of a textbook) – this is now my immediate cue to study off of lecture notes and lecture recordings. I am bad at picking out important details of a book – spending too much time with the book will only leave you with excess information rather than on things that your professor emphasizes on.
Find the ideal places to study: Never ever study in your dorm if you live in one, or a noisy room. Don’t be like me; for almost a whole quarter I believed I would be able to study in my dorm room during my freshman year. That’s a joke…you’ll never get anything done unless you have good discipline and you can study with noise. It’s probably good to change it up to keep yourself from getting tired and bored. Study rooms, libraries, quiet park areas, etc.
Refresh yourself when tired at the library: When you’re feeling really sleepy and unproductive at the library, take a 15 minute nap. If you feel weird napping where people might see you, get a cubicle. It’s less noticeable and no one can see you anyway. The nap usually helps and you’ll be able to focus much better afterward. If you’re with a friend, have them wake you up, or set an alarm on your phone just in case.
Find help when needed: Always take note of something that you don’t understand so that you may research it further or ask for help. Make sure you complete any extra worksheets or homework assigned. Professors assign that stuff because it might show up on the test. Go to free tutoring and get a paid tutor if you need to. If anything, at least go to free review sessions. They are usually very helpful for the exam. Get help if you need it, but don’t expect it to be the magical factor that will get you your “A.” Tutors can only help you for a limited amount of time, but they are not the ones who will be taking the test. You are the one who needs to put in time to review and study the material, and ask questions where it is needed.
How to motivate yourself to go to office hours: The truth is, most people don’t go to office hours. I didn’t. I think the best way to motivate yourself into going is to take one day where you visit all of your office hour locations and write down the times. Now that you know when AND where they are, you have a better chance of going to them. In some cases, I would plan to go to office hours, but I didn’t even know where they were, so I got lazy and didn’t bother going. Prepare ahead of time, so that you know what to ask your professor. If you don’t, you will say, “I don’t know what to ask,” and you won’t end up going to office hours.
Beware of study groups: Meet up with a study group only if you’re caught up in your individual studying. Being in a study group is less efficient if you don’t know your stuff already. Think of it as more of a reinforcement. This means you’ll have to make sure you’re caught up if you ever want to have a study group.
One last study session before the test: Get out sheets of paper, and take summarized notes on key points of your notes. Yes, we’re taking notes of our notes. Especially focus on stuff you’re still a little wobbly on. Then right before the final, you’ll have ample notes of the most important things in summarized form so you can quickly glance over them before your final. For me, it’s a good way to review the material one last time, jog my memory, and get myself to feel more confident for the test.
Digital vs Paper: Know what works best for you – digital or paper. It depends on you personally and on the type of class as well. For classes like physics, math, and chemistry I used paper. For biology classes and other general education classes, I used my computer to take notes. I am a much faster typer than I am at handwriting and typing is the only way I would be able to keep up with the professor. If your computer has this feature, you can also record the lecture while you’re typing your notes. Plus, it’s really easy to reorganize my notes on the computer and pull them up quickly & easily when I need to.