Studying is important. It’s how you got into college in the first place. But now that you’re here, things are a little different. High school tactics won’t do the job in a college class. Studying the night before or quickly looking over the key terms before a quiz won’t carry you to that “A” anymore. The classes are harder. They have fewer opportunities to get points. And the exams are longer and harder than ever before. Let’s face it: You need some college study hacks.
College study hacks are different than those entry-level methods used in high school. It’s the big leagues now, so you’re going to need to think differently. Some courses require mass memorization. Other professors will ask you to write an essay about any covered topic on the spot. Most exams will demand you do both. And there are three to four other classes demanding your attention.
We gathered all the best time-tested, gimmick-free study hacks to help improve your information access, retention, and exam performance. Here are the WayUp Guide’s five best college study hacks.
1. Form A Group ASAP
Studying with other people is a really powerful thing. Study groups combine the various strengths and different interests of multiple people. And, when done right, these groups can make each of their members fully prepared to get an A. There are a couple ways to do this.
You can study together in person. This way, you’re all forcing each other to be productive while you’re together. Plus, if any questions come up, you can talk to a real live person working on the exact same thing as you are. This is also a great social opportunity, too. You can make friends or connections you might’ve never met!
However, if you’re a lone wolf, like many people are, then there’s a way of group studying without meeting up. Just ask people in your class to put their emails into a shared Google Docs folder. After you’re all on the document, you can pool your knowledge, answer study guide questions, and have a solid understanding of what other people are studying.
It’s really important to do this ASAP, like during the first or second class. If you’re the person to pull out your laptop and say, “Everyone type their email in here and we’ll make a Google Doc,” then you’re in control. You can set up meetings, build a shared study doc, and benefit from everyone’s knowledge.
This can be especially important if you’re not so sure about the material. At the very least, you can organize the study group. That can be your contribution!
2. The Test Answers Are (Usually) Already Out There—Go Find Them!
This is one of the most surprisingly well-kept secrets of the college world. It’s true: Most of the time, test answers and questions are already available to you.
They usually take the form of practice tests, homework sets, practice problems, and other such student resources. If your school uses an online platform like Blackboard, you can usually find practice tests or problem sets on there. While the specific numbers might change (and that’s only a maybe), the stuff your professors and TAs have distributed was usually done so for a reason. They gave you practice problems because they thought it was important material. Don’t waste that opportunity to get a look behind the curtain!
Even if your teaching staff didn’t give you a practice test, your homework and problems that were done on the board during class are usually really important indicators of what’s going to be on the test. Tests are (usually) not deviously assembled to give you a hard time. The teachers are judged on your performance, too, and they want you to succeed.
3. Don’t Go To The Library If It Doesn’t Help You
This goes for any of the “classic” study tropes that might not apply to you. If sitting at a desk doesn’t work for you, then don’t do it! If writing stuff down doesn’t work, then don’t do it! You want to be comfortable, but alert, and definitely not anxious.
It’s hard to ensure that you’re going to be calm, cool, and collected because, you know, you can’t stop thinking about this looming exam. However, finding something that works for you emotionally, physically, and—of course—intellectually is the most important thing.
If you live far away from the library and only plan on studying for 2 hours, don’t waste 30 minutes commuting there. Just go to your dorm’s lounge or a nearby Starbucks. Spending too much time thinking about the place is a waste of your own time. Just do what feels right and don’t feel any pressure to study the way someone else does—unless it actually works for you.
Same goes for methods of studying. Professors love to tell students how much research there is about the memory differences between typing out notes and handwriting them. But it’s just not the case for everyone. Many people excel with tools like Quizlet that don’t involve any handwriting.
Do what’s right for you!
4. Space Out Your Studying
There’s a well-observed phenomenon known as the “Curve of Forgetting.” Essentially, what the research concludes is that you’re much better at remembering stuff when you review it again later. This means leaving all your studying for one day (or even one session) is usually a bad idea in terms of mass memorization.
This also goes hand-in-hand with “chunking.” Also somewhat well-documented in the academic psychology world, the theory states that breaking up information into chunks of related ideas helps you remember it better in the medium-to-long term. For example, it might be easier to remember that Cookie Monster is blue if you also learn that he loves cookies and speaks like a caveman. The combined facts form a more cohesive story that is easier to remember. It’s not quite Sherlock Holmes’s famous “Mind Palace,” but it’ll do.
No matter what you believe, the point is that it’s best to study with a method.
5. Of All The College Study Hacks, The Best Is…Actually Study!
This one might sound snarky, but it’s true! It’s so easy to feel like you’ve spent a ton of time studying because you’ve been sitting in the library for hours or staring at your screen all day. But studying is the actual act of learning and memorization.
Be comfortable, don’t waste your own time, and study in bursts during which you can actually focus. Break it up with some light exercise to get the blood flowing and stimulate brain activity. And finally, don’t agree to any plans during your designated study time. However, on the flip side, don’t designate all your free time for a whole week or weekend to studying, because you’re just setting yourself up for failure.
College study hacks are great, but nothing beats the real thing! You can break it up however you like, just make sure you actually do it. If you’re someone who over-prepares for things, try not to. The stress of studying more than you need to can actually make you perform worse if you lose sleep or concentration.
Finally, when it comes to the critical moment of test-taking, just breathe, relax, and answer what you can.
For more back-to-school tips, tricks, and college hacks, be sure to check out the WayUp Guide!