Guide to Good Study Habits, Part II

by UMaineCLASAdvisingCenter


In our previous post, we talked about some study tips, including studying in a group, finding good places to do your work, and setting up a studying schedule. But studying is rarely a one-size-fits-all activity. What works for some may not work for all. So today we’re going to explore a few more study tips.

Many study tips seem rather obvious, but often obvious things get overlooked. For instance, one of the most important things you can do is keep up-to-date with the material you’re studying. Don’t fall behind. Falling behind and playing catch-up is a sure-fire way to add stress and frustration to your life. As I mentioned in the previous post, you need to create and follow a studying schedule. Another reason for this is that it breaks the studying up into smaller, more easily digested pieces. Instead of seeing a mountain of material that needs to be learned over the course of the semester, the month, or the week, you can focus on a few specific things for that study session. It makes studying more manageable and less intimidating. It keeps you on top of the material, so you can participate in class. And it means you won’t have to stay up all night cramming before an exam. Better, happier, healthier.

Another obvious tip is to ask for help if you need it. If you don’t understand something in the lecture or the textbook, ask the professor in class. Odds are, other students don’t understand it as well. Or if you don’t want to ask in class, go see the professor during his/her office hours. The vast majority of faculty would be thrilled to have students come see them with questions during their office hours. If the class has a teaching assistant, you can go see them for questions, too. You can also contact the Tutor Program, see if they have Drop-In Tutoring or semester-long Group Tutoring available. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, as some students seem to view it. Instead, it’s a sign of intelligence, that you know where to look for answers, and shows that you’re not afraid to use the resources at hand to find the answer.

Good studying means good organization. And the basis of good organization is making lists. Write down everything that you have to do and then prioritize the list. List by day, week, month, and for the whole semester. Convert each task into real time. That is, if you have to read 20 pages, figure out how long it’ll take to read 20 pages. Once you’ve figure out a total time amount for your list, it’s a good rule of thumb to add an extra 20% longer. There’s almost always a hiccup along the way, something that takes longer than you assumed. Then go through the list, checking things off as you do them. But you’ll also be adding things to the list as you get more items to do. It’s a constant, on-going process, and mastering it in college will benefit you once you get out into the work world.

Here’s another counterintuitive tip. Common sense would say that if you want to become an expert in a topic you should immerse yourself in it. After all, as I mentioned before, it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to master something. However, according to this New York Times article, immersion is not the best method. Instead, studies show that varying the material studied within a single session actually increases retention. So don’t just sit and study for one particular class in one particular way. Change it up, study different things in different orders. You’ll learn more and retain more, which sets you up for greater success.

One key to college success is time management. You have classes and the necessary studying that goes along with it. You have family and social engagements to think about. There’s campus events to go to and organizations to get involved in. And many people have part-time (or even full-time) jobs. The reality is that when people talk about college students finally getting real jobs after they graduate, they miss the truth that going to college is a job. As a college student you are employing your time in gaining an education. So treat going to college as a job.

When you treat college as your job, you make different decisions. One popular method is to get to campus at the same time every day. Don’t assume you can just sleep in if you have a later class that day. Give yourself a set amount of time on campus every day, putting in the work. Optimally, you’ll be spending roughly 35-40 hours per week in class or studying. Though that might seem like a lot, you’ll be surprised how much you retain when you put that time in. By setting a work-like schedule, you’ll then have the rest of your time free to socialize or get involved in campus activities without the stress of thinking about how much you still have to do. It lowers your stress and allows you to relax, which is an incredibly important component of college success.

As I said above, studying is rarely one-size-fits-all. Some of these tips will work for you, others won’t. But to find out, you’ll have to give them a try. You might be surprised at how much success you experience when you do.