As I am writing this, I am about a month away from the end of my first semester of college. Going into college, I expected academics to be a lot different, especially compared to my high school days – but simply being aware of the differences was not enough to fully prepare me for the new ways I would have to study. Here are some lessons I learned during my first semester of freshman year; I even included some tips geared towards high school students to start preparing for the future.
Explore a variety of study methods
“Studying” is not limited to reading through notes, scrolling through lecture slides, and glazing over textbook chapters. In fact, in this day and age, there are multiple resources and methods that can help take the “dying” out of “studying” by your review sessions more interesting and interactive. Here are a couple to try for yourself:
Quizlet allows students to create flashcard sets and browse through other pre-made flashcards. I like using Quizlet because the website also generates tests and other “game”-like memorization tools to help practice the material. The online flashcards are a good option for tests with large amounts of short key terms or vocabulary words. There is even a feature to have the term and definitions “spoken” (with a kind of creepy Siri-esque voice) in addition to seeing the words on the screen. Users also have the option to print out their flashcard sets. (Bonus: There is even a free Quizlet app…perfect for on-the-go studying!)
Even with the option of Quizlet, I still enjoy making classic flashcards. Handwriting the terms and definitions is a helpful, beneficial way to re-learn topics. Sometimes, it’s nice to use Quizlet and traditional flashcards together for a healthy balance of technology and handwriting.
Situation: You have an exam around the corner and you want to do some re-reading to jog your memory of material from previous chapters…but there is no way you are going to read ten textbook chapters word for word in a short amount of time. Instead, grab your highlighters, pens, and sticky notes and crack open the pages. Summarize complex ideas or terms in your own words, circle and doodle if it helps, and flag pages with practice questions or important ideas you know you will need to remember for the test. Physically taking notes in your book may take a little longer than simply skimming through the pages, but thinking about the words and meanings is an important step in the study process – and it is well worth the extra time.
Study sooner rather than later
Timing is a key ingredient in the complex recipe that is studying for exams. The idea of “cramming” – leaving the bulk of studying for the day, night, or hour before the exam – is typically not the most effective method for most students (although people do it all the time). This is not like high school where studying could begin a few days or even the day before the quiz or test; in college, exams are jam-packed with larger amounts of information and question formats that may seem unfamiliar or just downright tricky. As I discussed earlier, there are many resources to make studying more interesting and even a little less painless – but you have to give yourself time to actually use these methods. You can’t wait until the night before a big exam to make hundreds of flashcards, complete two practice exams, and realize you have big questions about the material.
Pre-College Tip: Even if you feel it may be unnecessary to start studying one to two weeks prior to a big test, try spreading out your reviews and practices a little further from the test date. After a while, you will get in the habit of thinking ahead to important dates and preparing further in advance, which could make the transition to college academics a bit more seamless.
Make your own study guides
In high school, it was commonplace for teachers to give study guides – lists with the topics and key ideas – before quizzes and tests. High school students, enjoy these days while you can, because most college professors do not believe in study guides. It took some getting used to at first, and maybe this is just my inner-nerdiness shining through, but I actually find making my own study guides to be semi-fun and relaxing. DIY study guides can come in all shapes, sizes, and formats. Some students use word processing documents, but I opt for handwritten notes because I find that rewriting old notes in a neater, more clear way is a beneficial way to relearn the material. (This article from The Guardian explains the cognitive benefits of handwriting notes.)
Pre-College Tip: Start making your own test topic lists in addition to using study guides from your teachers. You may find that the additional practice helps to solidify foggy concepts – and you might actually find it kind of fun, too.
Trust yourself and your abilities
No matter your age or year in school, it’s important to not be too hard on yourself, especially when transitioning from one level to the next. When studying for your first college exams, give yourself time to test out the waters, and remind yourself that it’s OK if you don’t get the grades that you got in high school, especially right away. College differs from high school in many ways, not just academically; keep this in mind before you put too much on your plate. Even with all the preparation in the world, moments of stress and confusion are inevitable – just remember to do your best, take it day by day, and trust yourself. The rest will fall into place.