The key to good grades is studying the material so that students understand the concepts and can apply them in the classroom. However, many students don’t practice effective study methods in high school, causing them to either memorize and forget information, or not fully grasp the concepts. These bad study habits can roll over into college – making the transition into a college course load even more difficult. You can avoid this by following some simple but effective study tips.
How to Build Good Study Habits
Good study habits can lead to good grades – which is important because colleges look at all four years of grades when evaluating applications. Grades are the most important application component that admissions officers will consider, so it’s important to develop good study habits early in order to perform well in the classroom and on test days.
You don’t want a few bad marks to hurt your chances of admission at your top-choice college. That’s why it’s important to understand why you may be getting less-than-stellar grades – and many times poor study tactics is the culprit.
11 Study Tips and Note-Taking Skills
Your grades matter from freshman to senior year, so it’s never too early to develop good study habits. To do this, however, you must also hone your note-taking skills. Not sure where to start? These 11 study tips can help you establish good study habits no matter what grade you’re in!
Take Notes Efficiently
Nobody will see the notes you take in class except you! You don’t need to write in complete sentences or worry about grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Use shorthand and abbreviations to develop your own notetaking system. As long as you can understand the notes, cutting down the time it takes to write them will allow you to pay more attention to the material.
It’s important to differentiate between saving time by abbreviating versus saving time by typing and highlighting, however. This classic studying technique isn’t a great method and can actually hurt more than it can help. Typing your notes and/or highlighting your textbook may save you time, but you risk copying the information verbatim rather than digesting the material itself. By summarizing long passages, you force yourself to actually learn and understand the material rather than just writing it all down to come back to later.
Read through everything once with out highlighting, underlining, or taking notes, first. Then, read through a second time, taking notes as you go along. It’s okay to highlight a passage or phrase here and there, but incorporate it into your note-taking – don’t just study the highlighted portion word for word. Be sure to only highlight key information instead of just turning your textbook yellow. Most importantly, make sure you understand how what you’re highlighting connects to the overall concepts and integrate that into your notes.
Make the Most of Your Class Time
Your time in the classroom matters! Actively listen, engage in class discussions, and ask thoughtful questions. Participating will not only help you remember the information better, but will also help you to actually understand what it is you’re trying to memorize. Textbooks can be hard to read or digest, which is exactly why your teacher is there. If you have questions about the material, whether it was something you learned in class or read at home, be sure to ask so you don’t risk falling behind.
Be sure to use your time wisely during class. If your teacher ends class early, take advantage of the extra time by rereading your notes, asking clarifying questions, or getting a head start on your homework.
Get to Know Your Teachers
Teachers love chatting with their students. Taking time to get to know your teachers outside of class is so important. In addition to understanding their expectations for you as their student, it also gives you an opportunity to ask questions about the material and show your interest and motivation. This can also be helpful when selecting teachers to write letters of recommendation. The better you know your instructors, the better chance you have of getting a great recommendation when it comes time to apply to college.
Don’t forget to use your teachers as a resource. They’re there to help you succeed, after all. If you’re worried about figuring out the most important lessons to take notes on, or whether you’re digesting the information properly, have them read over your notes and offer feedback. They can direct you on whether you’re taking notes efficiently or if you need to focus on different aspects of the material.
Review Your Notes Each Day
One of the most important study tips we can offer is to actually study. This doesn’t mean sitting down and burying your head in a textbook all evening, but rather taking the time to review the information when you learn it. Now that you have efficient and detailed notes, be sure to reread them every day. Doing this will help commit the material to your memory. It will also help you catch small points of confusion before they become big ones. Understanding the material is the best way to memorize it!
Create the Perfect Study Space
Your study space should be a distraction-free zone with all the supplies you need in order to make the most of your study time. Find a dedicated study space, whether that’s your room, another room in the house, or simply your living room. Carve out a spot that is just for your studying and go back to it every time you need to do homework or review class materials. Keep your materials organized with systems that work best for you. This could be dedicated binders, a filing system, or some other method for keeping all your study guides and classroom materials tidy and organized.
Your laptop should be free from distracting web browsers, and remember to put your phone on silent – or maybe even leave it in a different room! Your space should be comfortable, have good natural lighting, and be a positive place that you enjoy.
Use a Planner and/or a Calendar
Utilizing a calendar or planner can be extremely helpful. With so many styles and formats to choose from, you can find an option that works best for you. If you’re not into writing things down in a physical planner, use your phone’s calendar app or any of the many organization apps out there! Remember to block out time for more than just school-related items. Try scheduling your time based on certain tasks and deadlines. And don’t forget the importance of scheduling breaks!
Settle Into a Good Routine
Now that you have a planner or organization system, create a schedule and stick to it! Determine what your schedule will allow for study time for each subject – including your test prep. Block off 30 minutes to one hour for each prioritized subject, and factor in your test dates and deadlines. Then, set aside an hour or two per week for test prep. Settling into a steady routine will help you make the most out of your day. Plus, it will help you be more efficient, instill good habits, minimize procrastination, help you prioritize, and reduce stress.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
When a big project or long paper is assigned, begin by picturing the final product of all your work. Break the assignment into small pieces that, when complete, will leave you with the final result you want. This can mean approaching a history paper one paragraph at a time, or working on one component of a science project per week. Then, schedule time to work on it each day or check in on your progress. This way you won’t be pressed for time right before the due date and you can be confident you’re turning in your best work.
Make a friend (or two or three!) in every class. There are a lot of benefits to studying with friends. Not only is it more fun, but you can learn from each other, fill in gaps from notes, share materials, and gain new perspectives. They can also offer you their own study tips that may help you as well!
Studying with friends also gives you an opportunity to “teach” the subject to each other. Once you know a topic well enough to teach it to someone else – and be able to explain it effectively – then you know it well enough to understand and be tested on it. Teach your friends about a subject you’re studying, as if they don’t know anything about it. Have them ask you a range of questions that could be on a test, and listen to their feedback if they don’t understand what you’re trying to explain.
Learn How to Manage Your Stress
With school, homework, tests, projects, and other obligations, it is easy to get stressed out! Don’t let one bad grade get you down. Instead, think positively about your progress and develop a plan to improve the next time around. Be proud of your academic accomplishments and reward yourself. Take time to do things you enjoy with your friends or family if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed. Working while stressed can often hurt your performance, so don’t be afraid to take a break if you need it – or ask for help. Honing your executive functioning and stress management skills can also help you manage stress and practice self-care.
Practice and Study Over Time
Great study skills and retention of what you learn don’t just materialize overnight. It takes practice and dedication to perfect. Studying in multiple sessions, rather than all at once (no all-nighters) gives you time to process and understand information – and absorbing it in small chunks over a long period of time will help you remember and perform better. After all, your brain can only absorb so much at once. As you practice studying over longer periods of time, the process of studying itself will come more naturally and you’ll develop more effective ways to help you retain information.
Don’t forget to try out multiple study techniques (using flashcards, “teaching” the material to a friend/family member, finding different ways to reword and summarize the material, taking practice tests, etc.). All of these are beneficial strategies as they force you to recall and process the information – the same thing you’ll need to do on an actual test.
Incorporating these study habits into your routine can lead to a successful school year and help you to feel confident and capable when it comes time to test or turn in a big project. If you feel like you need additional resources to ensure you’re staying on track academically this fall, download our free Academics and Test Prep Checklist for guidance on making strategic academic and test prep decisions.