wikiHow to Study for College

Three Methods:Before the Study SessionDuring Your Study SessionRight Before the Test

Do you have exams coming up soon? Are you worried about how to study for them? Maybe you could roll through high school half asleep with your hands tied behind your back, but unfortunately college is a slightly different level. Do you need some good tips? Then you should read this!

Method 1
Before the Study Session

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    Make a schedule for all of your exams. Arrange them by date so that the one you are having first comes at the top, then your next exam, then the next etc. Read the syllabus that comes with your classes.
    • By the time finals roll around, your time is precious -- every minute counts. Which is why scheduling is essential during the weeks (er, days) prior to exams. So as not to go totally bonkers during this stressful time, make a realistic study schedule for yourself, too. Leave yourself time for breaks -- you'll be taking them anyway -- and be sure to prioritize according to which class you'll need to study for the most. [1]
    • The syllabus is one of the most important papers your professor will give you. Hold onto it! Use it when you're studying for your finals as a sort of outline.[2] It may also make it clear what topics your instructor finds interesting and important -- certain topics may pop up more than others and those are definitely the ones to crack down on.
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    Start highlighting and creating. Do you have to study just words? If yes, type them out in a word processor and print them. The words you already know should not be on the list. Make absolutely sure that you know them before you take them off the list!
    • Go through your notes and highlight major vocabulary words and concepts (in different colors!). Manipulate the material to your liking. Create charts and index cards to help yourself study.[3] Make cards in different categories -- some for terms and/or concepts, some for formulas, and some for specific quotes from reading assignments.
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    Coax a friend to come with you. And if they're in your class, all the better (for them and you). However, make sure it's someone who's serious about studying -- goofing off together won't be very productive. A friend is beneficial if you can stay focused.
    • Take turns explaining terms and concepts to each other. Odds are if you can explain it to someone else (and they can follow), you have a good grasp on the material and that'll show up on the exam.
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    Scope out a nice area to study. Study in a quiet place that has a nice chair you won't hesitate to spend large chunks of time in. If you find the perfect chair in a not-so-perfect area, move it. It's not glued to the floor for a reason.
    • Or, rather, scope out nice areas (yep, that's plural) to study. Believe it or not, several (again with the plural) studies have found that if you switch up your environment while learning, retention is increased. Somehow, magically, keeping your brain surrounded by new stimuli makes the information more interesting and therefore easier to remember.[4] So if you get antsy, listen to your gut and find a new armchair to sink into.
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    Gather all your materials (and some goodies, too). When you leave your dorm room or home, make sure you have everything you need and then some. Grab all your papers, folders, writing utensils and books you need, but make sure to not forget the almost more important stuff: a water bottle, some money (just in case), your headphones, and snacks to munch on.
    • Magically, chocolate is starting to be deemed the new "super fruit." It's high in antioxidants and healthy plant compounds, even more so than most fruit juices.[5][6] So don't feel guilty about grabbing your dark chocolate bar when you hit the study room. You may actually be doing yourself a favor.

Method 2
During Your Study Session

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    Start writing. Whatever you think will work for you, do it. There are dozens of studying tactics out there -- experiment with as many as possible and see what seems to be sticking.
    • Write summaries. If you have to learn for science or history, you need another system of learning. Make a summary for each chapter and learn it.
    • Use mnemonic devices. Why did the US enter WWI? Duh, everyone knows that's because of SPRENCZ.[7] What's SPRENCZ? Uhh, Submarines, Propaganda, the Russians, Economic ties to Europe, violations of Neutrality, Cultural ties with Britain, and the Zimmerman note, obviously. With the device, it'll jog your memory and you can easily expand in essay form.
    • If you make study cards, recite them out loud. It'll help you remember. Reading the cards silently is too passive.[7] Carry them around with you and go over them when you find yourself with a bit of free time.
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    Take frequent breaks. It won't help if you'll study continuously for 5 hours. Your body (and even your brain) needs a break. Eat something and drink a glass of milk or water. Study for 20-30 minutes, have a 5 minute break and then study again for 20-30 minutes. You will learn much more.
    • According to the Dartmouth Academic Skills Center, you should study in 20-50 minute increments and give yourself a 5 to 10 minute break between each session. For best results, study throughout one full week.[1]
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    Listen to music. Most people have heard of the Mozart effect. That's where you listen to Mozart and miraculously you get smarter. Not surprisingly, most of it's crap. But there is a thread of something tangible there, and it's in all music.
    • That original Mozart study was done on young adults, not babies (so you're in luck!). And while the music by no means made the participants smarter, it did increase the brain's alertness for about 15 minutes afterward. When the study was extended, it showed that any music (so long as the participant enjoys it) can stimulate the brain, not just Mozart. And, in fact, getting up and running around or doing jumping jacks can do the same thing. So whatever it is, find a way to get your brain jogging.
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    Mix it up. Not only will your attention span appreciate it, but your brain will more easily take it in as well. Instead of sticking to vocabulary, cover it and then switch to concepts and reading passages.
    • You know how musicians practice with a mix of scales intertwined with actual pieces and rhythm practice? And how athletes never do the same drills two times in a row? They're doing what you should: using a panoply of skills in one session. Your brain will be more impressed.[4]
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    Study in a group. Study groups can motivate you to get started when it's hard to motivate yourself -- plus, explaining difficult concepts out loud will help you figure out what you understand and what you still need to go over, and getting a group together will allow you to divide and conquer definition of terms and explanations of concepts. And if you can get each member to bring a snack, that's incentive to actually meet![1]
    • Have each student prepare for the practice session by bringing in a couple of practice questions or prompts (maybe what they find the most confusing). Together, the group will work through the answers, solving each person's most burning questions. However, don't take a group mentality and get off track though! And make sure everyone shares accurate information; otherwise, the whole group will get lead unintentionally astray.

Method 3
Right Before the Test

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    Get some sleep. Pulling an all-nighter is risky business. While most college students think that studying all night will help them learn more for an exam, all-nighters can actually damage grades. Exhausted students can't concentrate on exams, and cramming for a final can actually reduce the amount of information you remember. Well-rested students, on the other hand, are much more relaxed and alert when it comes time to take exams. Make time to sleep -- you'll thank yourself later.
    • Cramming isn't worth it. This is known as a "freshman trick," meaning that good, veteran students learn very quickly that it is futile. What you may gain from extra study time won't compensate for the loss of alertness and ability to concentrate due to lack of sleep.[3]
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    Eat breakfast. Not only is this good for your body[8], it's good for your mind, too. It’ll be more difficult to concentrate if you’re hungry. Don’t eat anything that may upset your stomach, though.
    • Avoid the temptation to hype yourself up on caffeine. It may just make your more anxious. Stick to your normal breakfast -- your routine will be comforting.
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    Be confident. It may sound like a load of baloney, but being confident and thinking you'll do well can help calm you down and, ultimately, make you do well. And let's be honest, you've done what you could. So whatever makes you think you've got it, do it. It'll pay off when you're not breaking out in a sweat, fingers twitching in nerves
    • When we intend to remember without having confidence that we can remember, the intention is weakened into mere hoping. The memory strengthens as you lay burdens upon it and becomes trustworthy as you trust it. Try to form the habit early on of relying on your memory before referring to your written reminders.[7]


  • It is necessary to have regular 5 minutes breaks! Don't feel guilty -- they'll help you learn.


  • Do not try to study for a whole day. Divide each day into 4 or 5 sections with regular breaks. This will help you to learn MUCH more. Your brain cannot soak in everything.

Article Info

Categories: College and University Study Techniques | Learning Techniques and Student Skills