Find your degree
College is an exciting time full of new people, experiences, and opportunities. But it also comes with a lot more work. For some undergrads, the amount of studying involved can be overwhelming, especially when there’s so much information to learn. But good study habits in college are essential to earning good grades and successfully completing your education.
Though you might have had a lot of work in high school, college is a whole different environment, and you may be wondering if you need some new methods of studying, too. Whether you struggle with procrastination or are looking for ways to improve your grades, there are many effective ways to learn. You just need to find what works best for you.
In this post, we’ve listed 11 terrific ways for undergraduates to build solid study habits that will help with feeling more focused and maintaining a balanced lifestyle during college.
You may also like: 30 Career Tools and Life Hacks for Students
1. Take Detailed Notes in Class
Rather than just listening to a lecture, taking notes can help you stay focused and process the information better. Since there is so much to learn in just a couple of hours of class, it isn’t easy to retain everything you hear. That’s where taking detailed notes comes in handy.
When you are back home and ready to study, you want to make sure you have all the information you need. Your notes will be essential during your study sessions because they may contain information that is not in your textbook.
Taking good notes allows you to not only listen but break down and understand the material as well. They act as a summary of what you have learned and can highlight the essential pieces of information that you need to know.
And before you decide to ditch the pen and type your notes on a tablet or laptop, at least one study has shown that longhand may be a better way to retain all that new information.
Either way, improving your note-taking skills early on in college will serve you well for the rest of your academic career.
2. Keep Class Materials Organized
Organization is the key to building good study habits in college. Loose papers and scribbled post-its everywhere can cause unnecessary stress. When you know where everything is located, learning is more manageable.
Use one notebook and folder for each class. Clearly label each folder and notebook so you don’t get them confused. You can also color-code your binders for each class to organize your materials by topic, so it’s easier to know what to study when an exam comes up.
By keeping loose handouts for your classes in separate folders or binders, you won’t need to search frantically for missing papers.
Decluttering your backpack once a week can also help you stay organized and avoid creating a distracting mess. Look over all the notes, papers, and handouts you have accumulated throughout the week and consider whether you should separate them into different folders or keep them together. Then, throw away or recycle whatever you don’t need.
Staying on top of the clutter will help you stay cool, collected, and focused on your studies.
3. Make A Weekly Schedule
If you’re involved in many other activities, you may feel like you don’t have time or are too tired to study. However, time management is one of the most critical skills you will build as a student, and it will become essential throughout your career and personal life.
Creating a weekly schedule can help you commit certain times and days to review your notes and class materials. Visually seeing your study schedule and setting aside a certain number of hours will also help you stick to it.
Blocking out the time for yourself will mentally prepare your brain to study. You can do this using a calendar, datebook, or even a time management app. You don’t need to decide what you will go over during those times. Just focus on making time and committing to it.
If you can, also plan to give yourself a study-free day! It will give your brain a rest, making you feel refreshed and ready to start studying the next day again.
4. Design a Study Plan
Make a study plan to keep you on top of all the material you need to cover. It helps focus your study times and ensures you don’t miss anything when you strategize what to study ahead of time.
You can create an action plan at the beginning of every study session. Start by setting goals of what you want to achieve during your session. Some examples are: “Memorize 50 biology terms,” “Complete my math assignment,” or “Read chapters 1-4 of the textbook.”
With a goal in mind, think of the most critical steps and how you will get there. For example, to memorize biology terms, you might create flashcards and then spend time reviewing them, even making it a fun memory game for yourself.
To complete your math assignment, you might first read over your notes from class, read the assigned chapter, and then work on a certain number of problems.
Having a study plan will help you focus on what you need to get done at the moment instead of becoming overwhelmed by all of your classes. It can also help you prioritize which materials you need to cover immediately over others that can wait until tomorrow.
5. Remove Potential Distractions
When it’s time to study, creating an optimal environment can increase your focus and motivation. That means removing any potential distractions or going to a quiet place where you can read and do research without interruption.
The first step to removing potential distractions is figuring out what those are for you. It could be your phone, games, group chats, or even other students. Here are some examples of how you could get away from distractions:
- Turn off your phone or put it on Airplane Mode.
- Mute group messages.
- Study in a cubicle at the library to avoid people.
- Log out of all social media accounts.
- Wear earplugs.
6. Study With a Partner or Group
Before a big test, getting together with other members of your class can be helpful to ensure you are fully prepared.
You can quiz each other and compare notes to see if there’s something you may have missed. Having someone keep you accountable in your studies can also keep you disciplined. This tip is especially beneficial if you tend to procrastinate.
However, be discerning regarding the people you choose to study with. If you meet with friends you don’t get to see very often, your study sessions may turn into socializing. Others may be more interested in taking breaks too often.
When creating a study group or finding a partner, make sure that the other person or group will help you stay focused, so you can all help each other feel more prepared. However, if this also becomes too distracting, studying on your own may be more beneficial for you.
7. Take Opportunities to Review Material
If you have breaks between classes, you can use that time to look over notes and review materials to make sure you understand the subject. These impromptu study times can help you feel less overwhelmed when preparing for a test.
Every day after finishing your classes, you can also take some time to review the new knowledge you learned that day. You can do this by looking at your notes or re-reading the chapter in your textbook. This will help you remember what you learned and make a smoother transition from short-term memory to long-term.
Professors also sometimes offer extra credit opportunities or study sessions, so make sure to attend those as much as you can. These sessions can help you prepare better for exams and show your professors that you take the initiative in your learning.
8. Figure Out What Motivates You
Ever feel like you’ve hit a wall and just don’t feel like studying even though you have a test next week? We’ve all felt that at some point in college, but it’s essential to find ways to keep yourself motivated.
Everyone finds motivation differently. Rewards or consequences drive some people to work harder. Set aside realistic rewards for yourself, such as: “After I finish this chapter, I will eat a scoop of ice cream.”
Others are driven by other people or need someone to keep them accountable. Studying in a focused environment with others can help you feel more motivated to study hard when you don’t feel like doing it.
Sometimes positive self-talk can help motivate you when you’re in a slump. For example, telling yourself things like, “I will do my best,” or “I can do this,” can help focus your mind and pump you up to keep going.
It’s not realistic to expect yourself to be motivated constantly. Taking regular breaks to rest is crucial to avoid burnout. But when you need to motivate yourself, figure out what works for you so you can keep going strong.
9. Eat Right and Get Plenty of Rest
Taking care of yourself by eating and sleeping well is one of the most crucial ways to improve your undergraduate study habits. In fact, these habits will serve you well in all areas of your life.
Though you may think pulling all-nighters and surviving on coffee may help you process all the material, getting enough sleep will improve your memory and allow you to store the information you need longer. So get between seven to nine hours of sleep a night to make sure your body is rested, refreshed, and ready to learn.
You may not be able to avoid all-nighters at times, but try not to make it a habit. Losing too much sleep will affect your ability to think critically and learn effectively.
Eating well also plays a role in how well you function. Though fast food and instant ramen might be stereotypical college staples, try to avoid eating unhealthy food as much as you can.
Instead, seek out foods with fatty acids that will support optimal brain health. Some examples include:
- Citrus fruits
- Dark chocolate
10. Find Ways to Relieve Stress
Taking care of yourself is another way you can improve your study habits. If you let stress build up, it can become detrimental to your physical and mental health. Learning how to manage stress in healthy ways early on as an undergraduate will prepare you for stressful situations later on at work, home, and other places.
At least 20 to 30 minutes of regular exercise is one of the key ways to help reduce stress and increase your concentration. It also allows you to learn quicker and improves your mood.
You can do other things to relieve stress before an important test to help you feel less anxious. Some examples are cleaning your room, doing yoga, meditating, or taking care of plants or pets.
In addition, scheduling time to relax might seem counterintuitive, but it will reduce your stress in the long run. You’ve got to recharge so you don’t become overwhelmed or anxious with your academic workload. So take a scheduled break to take care of yourself and give your brain a rest before hitting the books again.
You might like: How to deal with stress and anxiety in college
11. Ask for Help When You Need It
Professors aren’t just there to teach the material through lectures; they are usually eager to help you learn it! Use your teachers as sources of knowledge when you don’t understand a concept or want some help on what you need to study.
A teacher’s assistant, or TA, can also be a great resource if a professor is too busy. The TA can help narrow down what you need to study to prepare for a test and provide valuable guides or additional review sessions. As a peer, they can also give you helpful tips on how to study in college.
Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions to make sure you fully understand the material. After all, that’s why professors and TAs are there!
Now that you’ve read through all of these study habits, it’s time to put them into practice!
Start with one study habit and build on that until it becomes part of your routine. Then add in another, and so on.
It’s never too late to begin building good study habits in college. By putting these into practice, you’ll start seeing A’s replace those pesky B’s and C’s, and you’ll find yourself enjoying life more than before.