The College Guide to Studying Smarter

It’s not always about studying “harder.”

Okay, raise your hand if you’ve ever felt like you studied so hard for something – a test, quiz, final – but when you got your grade back, it didn’t quite reflect the effort you made.

Now raise your hand – or keep your hand raised – if maybe you didn’t study a lot before the test, but you really crammed the night before.

And keep that hand raised – or raise it now – if “studying” meant highlighting and skimming over the chapters, and maybe leafing through your class notes.

How’s that hand feeling? A little tired? Okay, okay – go ahead and put it down.

The point here isn’t to make you feel singled out, it was just to point out that we all fall into similar study habits that maybe worked in high school but just don’t cut it now.

It’s about studying “smarter.”

As someone who could breeze by in high school with doing more, what I call “passive” studying – highlighting the text, skimming through notes, reading slides – college was a real challenge at the beginning. My old study habits simply didn’t cut it. I needed to study smarter.

College exams, essays, presentations, etc., are less about memorization and fact recitation. College professors are less interested in seeing that you know terms and definitions and more interested in seeing you dig deeper into the material. Can you connect concepts, analyze them with your own critical thinking skills, and apply them to support your own arguments/ideas? (Okay – this isn’t for every class. Some professors will be fine with more surface level understandings. But generally – and especially in the upper-level classes – deeper thinking is required.)

Once you know what’s expected of you, it makes it easier to adjust your studying to satisfy these requirements! And studying for these types of assignments means you need to practice more active studying techniques that will use more than just your reading and highlighting skills!

Using these active study techniques enforces deeper understanding and better memory by forcing you to process these concepts actively, repetitively, and with greater focus.

Here are our best study techniques!

1. Flash cards, flash cards, flash cards! 

Seriously. Flashcards should be your first (ok, maybe second after note taking!) step in studying! As I said before, most college classes are more than just terms and definitions, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. Getting the base-layer – the foundation – is as important as the material grows more difficult.

2. Make your notes before class. 

Note taking is one of the most important things you can do, but it can only help if you do the grunt work up front. Completing your notes in advance helps you so much in the long run: instead of trying to cram-read the text the night before, you can re-read the important concepts in your notes, you can follow along with lecture and ask any important questions during class, and you begin to encode the information earlier and better.

3. Mind-mapping. For real.

Mind-mapping was a fairly unheard of concept for me freshman year. But once I started using it to study, I was hooked. It can take a fair bit of practice to really feel comfortable with it, but it is invaluable for classes like chemistry, anatomy, biology, etc., where many concepts interrelate and overlap. What I like about it, is that if you’re a visual person, it can help you grasp concepts so much faster.

4. Teach a friend.

This is one of my favorite ways to study. I actually think this is the best technique for me, as it forces me to organize concepts for someone else, making me understand it better myself. In freshman chem, we’d all take turns trying to teach each other the concepts we’d been struggling with the most. Because these usually differed person-to-person, it was a great way to check and see if we were actually understanding the material, and a great reinforcement for concepts we were already grasping pretty well.

5. Employ your senses!

Ever seen that picture of someone studying with gummy bears on their textbook? Well, that’s not quite what I mean – but it’s close. Using your other senses to reinforce the material is very helpful for your memory. Things that spark your sense of smell (wearing the same perfume when you study as the day of the test) or taste (chewing gum while you study and when you take the test) can help you better recall concepts on exam day!

6. Mnemonic devices are your best friends!

PEMDAS!! Or silly, rhyming poems. Short stories. Whatever it is (and here’s a list of ideas) mnemonic devices help your brain encode concepts for longer and better than highlighting and reading. These are designed to be like “shortcuts” for your memory, and I recommend them for concepts you have a difficult time with or repeatedly get stuck on.

7. Repeat it ’til you bleed it.

Sounds a little intense, but the key to mastering these concepts is to repeat, repeat, repeat! Do a little every night, instead of trying to do everything the night before the exam. Two weeks before the exam, make a ‘BINGO’ board to keep track of how many nights in a row you study. When you’ve got a row cleared, reward yourself!

8. Make it fun!

Yeah, I know. It’s studying, and there’s no way around the fact that it’s probably never going to be the most entertaining thing in the world (except for all of our Hermione Grangers out there). But you can make it more interesting than note revision and highlighting! Use the techniques discussed above to spice up your usual routine and don’t be afraid to scour the internet for cute, free study printables.

In addition to these tips, remember that supplemental instructors or teaching assistants, tutors, and your professor’s office hours are invaluable resources that you should take advantage of in addition to your studying.

I hope these tips help you earn the grades you deserve! Remember: grades do not define you. We all occasionally mess up. But try and remember that your intelligence and resourcefulness has carried you this far. You can do this!

We’re rooting for you!


Madi and the rest of the Gilded Twenties Team.

Gilded Twenties is a lifestyle blog designed for twenty-somethings. If you liked this post and would like to follow our adventures, you can click below to subscribe to the blog or click here to check out more posts.

If you want more tips and tricks to college success, relationship advice, inexpensive decorating ideas, and more, delivered right to your inbox, you can sign up for our newsletter here.

For additional information about the blog and our team, click here.








Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.