Studying in College
So I’m sure you’ve heard: college courses are not quite like high school classes. You don’t have a teacher who wants to know your name (unless you give them reason to—like by asking questions, attending office hours, and taking interest in their research). You don’t know the three-hundred some peers who are simultaneously taking the course with you, and you do not all enter with the same background or major or interests. The course will not always cater to the least common denominator, making an effort to be inclusive, but will probably assume some familiarity and the initiative to study independently to acquire background knowledge.
The most important study habit is probably to be resourceful. Don’t depend on your instructor to give you the material you need to learn. In most cases, knowing someone who took the same course in a previous semester is your best resource as they can give you their old materials and guidance for what to expect. Be able to effectively use online resources to find what you need to learn or to make connections and supplement how your instructor presents the material. A major difference between high school and college is that college professors are often conducting research in the field that they are teaching, so they present the material with an authoritative stance and from their own perspective. This is, in part, what makes your college education invaluable—because you are being taught by the brightest minds of the field—but this can also make introductory courses more difficult than they need to be.
Read the textbook, especially for lower-division coursework related to your major. It will give you additional background and help you connect ideas between your courses. It will also help you overcome your instructor’s bias to give you a better-rounded introduction to the subject. Reading before class also allows you to become familiar with the material at your own pace, not the pace the instructor sets during lecture. It gives you the opportunity to embed the concepts into pre-existing schemas and to prime yourself to retain the information when you see it in lecture. Repeat exposure to the material by attending supplemental sections. By the time an exam rolls around, it shouldn’t be a struggle to learn all the material, but an exercise to recall what you’ve already learned. It is empowering if it’s done right.
Forming study groups with your classmates is a good way to convince yourself to put aside time for studying that you may not have done on your own. Attend office hours and supplemental sections to identify what material you are expected to learn. Knowing what you are expected to learn will be an early and critical step towards developing a firm grasp over the course and mastering the material. Allocate time regularly to each course, and anticipate how much material you will cover be able to cover in a given sitting. Get to know your own tendencies and how much you can push yourself. It can be a quite calculated endeavor if you isolate your studying from distractions and other commitments. It is an important life skill to be able to focus on one task. Find a place where you can work without distraction. Silence and stash your phone. If it helps, put on music conductive for studying. Make the effort and hours count, and you will see the results.
College is a great time. Effective study habits early on will make you successful academically as a student and will greatly reduce pressure and stress that will make you more confident and happy socially. Realize that stress before finals is inevitable, but studying early on is the best remedy to reducing this. For those who’ve found themselves overwhelmed, we also have a list of our top 10 stress relievers. All in all, establish good habits to work hard, the right way, and play hard, again, the right way.