7 effective study tips for college students

Many colleges offer study tips to improve academics, but often don’t include effective study tools to help college students study better and retain what they’ve learned.

Good study tips include choosing the library over watching your favorite TV show. (Credit: Sufen Wang)

Good study tips include choosing the library over watching your favorite TV show. (Credit: Sufen Wang)

Student success depends on having the right tools for the job and knowing how to best use them. Here are some lifehack study tips to improve college habits and gain a student advantage.

List of study tips

1. The textbook. (Yes, actually read the book!) Before diving straight into a chapter, first read the title and subheads, then the introduction, the bold-faced terms and captions to the graphics and illustrations. This will give you an overall sense of the material the chapter explains. Then you can start reading the text.

“After reading a paragraph or section, stop and play Jeopardy! What is important here? What is a possible test question? Write questions in the textbook margins and underline the answer,” suggested contributors to Michigan State University’s “Best Study Tips” booklet. Another tip is to read the seemingly extraneous material, such as pull-quotes, sidebars, definitions, footnotes and maps. Everything in the chapter contributes to the overall message.

2. Highlighting. We all do it, but there’s an art to highlighting. Instead of feast (highlighting everything in sight) or famine (highlighting words that don’t really help you understand), here are some study tips from Clarion University’s guide “Underlining and Highlighting”: “Never underline or highlight until you have read the entire paragraph. After reading the paragraph, decide which is the main idea and what the supporting details are. [Select] your own words to underline or highlight. It is not necessary to underline or highlight each word in the sentence. Just the core parts will be sufficient to get the full meaning.” Other study tips are to use different color markers and different types of marks (circles, arrows, underline) to denote different types of information. 

3. Solution manuals. These give you the answers to all the end-of-chapter questions in the textbook and include explanations for those answers. Solution manuals can be invaluable for fully understanding the material. If you understand all the questions and answers—and more importantly, the why and how of the answers—then you should be well prepared for the class exam. Solution manuals can be found online for free or for a fee.

4. Study guides. Some textbooks offer study guides and course packs for an additional charge. These might be worth the extra cost if they help you grasp difficult material. For example, CengageBrain offers CourseMate, a complete set of tools (such as interactive learning, exam preparation, practice quizzes, flashcards and videos) to work with your textbook. Some study guides are available as apps for your phone.

5. Flash cards. They may sound old school and low tech, but they do work. To make flash cards, write on note cards (or use cool new apps like Evernote Peek) fast facts, lists, important material, discussion points, or anything you need to know at a glance. Flash cards condense vital information into tidbits that you can recognize and digest easily and quickly. And you can carry them with you and study them wherever you are—on the bus, at lunch, at the gym. You don’t want to re-read a 20-page chapter fumbling through your highlights to refresh your memory on the main point of the lesson.

6. Smart phones. No, not for your daily LOL Cat. “Yes, [a phone] can be a distraction, but it also is an incredible tool that can transform classroom learning and late-night studying. Savvy professors and students are starting to explore what the smartphone can contribute to learning—and there is a whole host of apps to help that process along. There are also plenty of apps to help students with the less academic parts of college life,” said Mark W. Smith in “8 tech tools for college students,” posted August 16, 2011, in USA Today.

Search iTunes App Store, Android Market and Google Play for apps. There are apps to make flash cards, record lectures with time-stamped pictures (good for math or art classes), organize homework assignments, download study guides, scan (photocopy) documents, practice foreign language vocabulary, create a day planner or appointment book and even calculate what grade you’ll need on a test.

7. Carbs and protein. Seriously, healthy food is a study tool. Complex carbohydrates (whole grains, brown rice, oatmeal, beans, starchy vegetables) and protein boost brain power.

Do you have some effective study tips you’d like to share? Tell us in the comments.

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