My first semester of college, I had a part-time job at the local radio station and an internship. Well technically, I had two internships. One was helping with tailgates and the other was helping with a radio show three days a week. But together, they were about the same time commitment as a part-time internship. I was also involved with an organization on campus and was taking 14 hours of classes. My second semester looked pretty similar. I no longer had the internship helping with tailgates (football season was over), but now I was taking 16 hours. Through all of this, I was able to keep a 4.0 GPA as an honors student at Texas A&M.
I made good grades in high school, but let’s be real here. I memorized my notes, took the test, and forgot everything I had just crammed into my brain. I knew this wouldn’t fly in college so during the first week of school, I went to the academic success center at Texas A&M and met with an advisor who gave me some great tips for taking notes and studying. Her advice helped me not only do better in my classes but also be less stressed about school.
No matter where you are in school, you can always improve your study habits. Below are tips that I have used to keep a 4.0 GPA throughout the craziness of life.
1. Keep a Planner
During the school year, I keep two planners. One is for school work (due dates, test dates, homework) and one is for my life (work, doctor appointments, organization meetings). This keeps me super organized. At the beginning of the semester, I take all my syllabi and write down all the test dates and due dates. I color code each class to make it easier to read. Each Sunday, I plan out my week. I write details about my homework on the daily section of my planner and make sure my study time, work time, and other commitments don’t overlap. Having both an overview for the month and details for the week helps me stay organized and not become overwhelmed.
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2. Take Notes That Work for You
I usually take notes on my computer with the help of bullet points. I will put the biggest idea at the top and when a detail is introduced, I indent the following bullet point. It helps me keep track of the big ideas and understand how everything fits together. This works really well for me, but maybe you don’t think that way. I once knew a girl who only drew pictures during the lecture. That’s how she learned and remembered the information. If you’re a STEM major, you might be writing out equations in your notes so a paper and pencil might be best for you. Try different note taking techniques until you find the right one for you!
3. Start Studying Five days Before the Test
I know what you’re thinking. Five days? Really? Isn’t that a little much? Nope, it’s the perfect amount. Break your notes into four sections. You can do this by chapter, lecture, or by difficulty. Start with the chapter or lecture you learned the longest time ago. If you divided your sections by difficulty, start with the most difficult section. Then, follow this guide:
Day 1: Study section one.
Day 2: Study section two and quickly review section one.
Day 3: Study section three and quickly review sections one and two.
Day 4: Study section four and quickly review sections one, two, and three.
Day 5: You have studied everything. Use this day to review everything one last time or to spend more time on the most difficult section
By starting to study five days before your test, you will feel prepared and a whole lot less stressed once test day comes. You also won’t be cramming or pulling an all-nighter the day before the test.
4. Think About Your Thinking
Okay, stay with me on this one. When you are studying, use metacognition (thinking about thinking) to be sure you understand the material. Before you even start studying, ask yourself these questions.
- How do I study best?
- Where do I study best?
- What study methods help me the most?
As you go through your notes, ask yourself even more questions.
- When should I use this formula/strategy/concept/etc?
- Do I understand this?
- How did I get to this answer?
- Why did that formula/strategy/etc work?
- Why does this concept work?
- What grade do I think I will get on this test? Why?
- What can I do to get an A? (plan this and carry it out)
For every question, answer as specifically as you can. This will help you tremendously. I took a psychology class on memory and did a presentation on metacognition. There are a ton of studies that prove metacognition helps students learn the material better and make better grades on tests. So talk to yourself! And think about your thinking!
5. Teach Yourself (or the wall)
Teaching yourself the information is another way to use metacognition. It helps you see what you know and what you need to study a little more. If you can explain everything, you are good to go. If you are having difficulty explaining something, you’re going to need to study that information a bit longer.
I literally sit in my bed or at my desk and teach my wall whatever I’m learning. I take my notes and I will read the big idea then try to teach my wall everything that is under that idea. Afterward, I read through the details to see if there was anything I missed. Yes, I am actually talking out loud, to my wall. You can call me crazy, but this tip has helped me keep my 4.0 GPA.
6. Study Groups
If talking to a wall isn’t your thing, try study groups. They are a great way to learn from others as well as test your own knowledge by teaching others. To make study groups effective, prepare before you meet with your group. Do some studying on your own first, that way you can contribute. Also, prepare some questions to quiz those in your study group and bring any questions you have about the material. By the time you leave, you should have all your questions answered and really understand the material.
Creating a group text with your class can also be really helpful! Almost every class I have been in has had a GroupMe chat. Through that, you can ask questions about due dates, the lectures, get notes if you missed a day, and find study groups. Last semester, one of my classes had around 200 students in it. For every test, someone would make a blank study guide and send it in the GroupMe. We could all contribute to it and use it to study.
7. Assign Meaning
Another way to learn the material is to find a way to make it mean something to you. To help you remember vocab words, create mnemonics (a fancy word for a way to remember something) like acronyms or taking a part of that word and assigning meaning to that. For example, une falaise is French for a cliff. What do people do at cliffs? They fal(aise). Well, hopefully they don’t, but it’s a good way to remember the word. I know it sounds silly, but things like that help me remember vocab words.
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8. Tell A Story
I love stories and they help me remember the material. Stories can be easily used in history classes, but they are good for other classes too. In my psychology classes, it was often helpful to make up a person and explain how that person was affected by the things we learned in class. When you get to the test, I always found it easier to remember what ‘Sarah’ did when she was anxious rather than what the textbook said a random person might do. This can be a fun way to take what you learned in class and apply it to the (kind of) real world. It’s also a really good way to see if you understand how topics you learned in class work.
9. Apply What You Learn to the Real World
As you go through your notes, find ways to connect what you learned to what happens in your day to day life or what is happening in pop culture. This helps you understand the material further. As you make these connections, be sure to explain how and why they connect. You will be thinking about the material on a deeper level. When you get to the test, it will be easier to remember a concept or term because it now applies to you.
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10. Take Care of Yourself
While it’s important to study hard, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Eat nutritious food, drink lots of water, get some exercise, and get plenty of sleep. While you are studying, be sure to take breaks. Our brain can only hold so much information. Last, but not least, think positive. It sounds silly, but those who believe that they can accomplish a goal are often the ones who do. You’ve been studying hard, you’re going to ace this test!
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What tips and tricks do you have for studying? Share them below!