Tips & Tricks for Students

FIVE Steps to Acing your College Courses

It’s no secret that college courses can be tough. Long gone are the days when you didn’t have to study, or even pick up a book, to do well in class. Too often I meet with freshmen who earned straight A’s in high school and are now barely passing. Aside from being upset, they’re also confused. What is going wrong? Well if you didn’t have to study to do well, then chances are you don’t even know how to study. That’s where the study cycle comes in. Let’s jump in!

Step 1 – Preview

Studying should begin before you ever step foot into the classroom. Sounds counterintuitive, I know, but hear me out. Our brains are not a big fan of learning brand new information on the spot, especially when our attention is being pulled in many different directions. Think about it: you’re sitting in class, trying to pay attention while taking notes while trying to understand what is being said while also participating…my brain is spinning just typing this. To help with this, review the topic of discussion BEFORE you attend the lecture on it. That way, your brain is primed for the information and will be much more receptive to it. In addition, you’ll know ahead of time what concepts make sense and which ones you could use more clarification on, which will allow you to pay extra attention when they’re being covered and ask questions when needed.

Step 2 – Attend

Go to class! Yes, even the ones that don’t count attendance. Too many times I meet with students who tell me that they don’t go to class because the professor uploads the slides and they can just review those. That’s all well and good but your instructor might say something crucial during lecture that’s not on the slides. They might go over the format of the next exam or give extra credit opportunities. Not to mention, if you need an instructor to write you a letter of recommendation one day, it would help for them to know who you are.

Step 3 – Review

You lose about 80 percent of what you learned in lecture within 24 hours…let that sink in for a moment. Just when we thought our brains were brilliant! So, you should review your notes within 24 hours after the lecture. This serves multiple functions: if you shorthand notes to keep up with a fast talker, you can elaborate on that after class. If you wait until a week later, chances are you won’t remember what you were trying to say. Reviewing will also make sure that the next step is not cramming but instead:

Step 4 – Study

If you review your notes consistently each week, then when it comes time to prepare for an exam, you will really just have to review your notes and brush up on concepts that you’re confused about. What you don’t want to have happen is having to re-teach yourself material from two weeks ago. In addition,going to tutoring and/or review sessions can, and often should, be a part of your study routine. It definitely can’t hurt!

Step 5 – Assess

Now it’s time to put your notes away and see what you remember. Either make a practice test, answer provided discussion questions or have someone quiz you. Taking the exam should NEVER be the first time you’re tested on the material. A frequent refrain I hear, “I do well on the homework but then I fail the exam”. If this is you, chances are that you’re using your notes when completing homework. It’s important to practice the material with none of your notes within arms reach. In fact, taking a practice test in a quiet room with a timer can help prepare you for the testing environment. This is especially important if you struggle with testing anxiety.

There you have it! Five easy steps to ace your college courses. The good news here is that you probably already do some of these things. Now we just need to fill in the gaps!

Have you tried any of the steps above? If so, share your thoughts below!

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