Back to School | Study Tips

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Back in high school, grades were just never a priority for me. It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized my education and my grades were indeed important. Four years ago I struggled making a 3.0, and now as a junior in college, I have never had my GPA slip below a 3.5. I also got accepted to my university’s Honors College this past summer, and I got accepted to my dream school, the London School of Economics. Making good grades and studying definitely take discipline and hard work. They don’t always just fall into your lap. I get asked all the time about tips for school/studying and what I do to study for exams in college! Here is what has worked for me over the past two years:

1.) Get organized

Anyone that knows me knows that I am a complete, disorganized mess. For years I have blamed this habit on the fact that I am ‘artistic’. It’s taken so much discipline for me to get organized and keep my things neat, but it has really paid off. When your space is cluttered, it can be really difficult to feel calm and collected. Keeping an agenda really helps me organize my life because I can pencil in when things are due, when to clean my room, and specific tasks for the day.

2.) Find a quiet environment

Some people have no problem studying anywhere, but for me, I need complete silence to really focus. I use to study in my bed, but I would find myself falling asleep or pulling up netflix. I’ve learned during my time in college that I need to go to the library or a studious environment to really get work done and to focus on the material. Find your perfect study place whether it’s a park, library, or empty classroom on campus. Though the library is usually a great place to study, it can often be loud, especially during finals week. When I can’t find anywhere quiet to go, I put in my headphones and listen to ‘white noise’. It sounds totally weird, but for me, it really helps me focus and tune out the rest of the world. When I listen to real music, I get distracted and end up singing along or focusing on the lyrics. White noise and other study music resources really help me concentrate. This one below is my go-to:

3.) Study groups

It can be really helpful to find friends in your classes to study with. For me, it really helps to talk about the topics and concepts out loud. I also like writing practice tests for my friends as it helps me learn by coming up with questions, and it helps them as well. Starbucks and other coffee shops are always great places to meet and study with classmates. If you’re ever confused on a topic or due date, you have someone you can ask!

4.) Make time to study

This is a hard one. With our busy schedules it can be hard to find time to study and get schoolwork done. I try to find time everyday to go to the library and study. Having a planner/agenda really helps you find time in your packed day to sit down and review your notes. Also, find which time of day works best for you. I have a very, very hard time studying at night because by the end of the day I am very exhausted and my brain is dead. However, I have tons of friends that can only study late at night. For me personally, I love to wake up bright and early to study!

5.) Don’t skip class

This seems like a no brainer, but skipping class is a very bad habit that a lot of college students struggle with. Even missing one class can really, really get you behind in the material, especially if your professor doesn’t post the notes online. Do your very best to always show up to class. If you attend class daily and on time, you will form good habits that you will carry with you for the rest of the semester. On a side note, it can also help to sit at the front of the class. There have been studies that prove where you sit in the class can actually highly affect your grade. When I sit near the front of the class room, I feel more inclined to pay attention to the professor, and I can see the notes on the screen better.

6.) Don’t be afraid to ask for help

It’s 100% okay to not understand a topic or concept in class. It’s completely normal, and I can promise you that you will not understand everything that you learn in college. It’s okay to go to your professor for help. Office hours are incredibly helpful and are a good time to get all of your questions answered, get help on tricky topics, and get to know your professor better. You can also email your professor with questions about specific topics or concepts that you are having trouble with. If it can not be explained over email, they can help arrange a time to meet with you! Professors in college are typically very, very helpful and want to do their best to help students that put in the effort.

7.) Find the study method that works best for you

We all have different ways that we study and learn. I have tried so many methods over the years to find what works best for me. Some people love flashcards, some love studying their handwritten notes- there are so many options out there. For me, I personally like typing my notes on my computer because I have terrible handwriting. I then print them and put them in plastic sheet protectors in a binder. I re-write the notes in a notebook just because it’s been proven that writing things down (not typing) helps you remember things better. I continue to study the notes in the sheet protectors. On the morning of the test, I extra-cram. I will take the notes out of the sheet protectors and highlight, staple them, and then write all over them. I usually write myself a little practice test the week before as well, which really, really helps! There are some pictures at the bottom of this post of how I like to organize my notes and my school materials.

8.) Cut out distractions

I have serious ‘screen addiction’, and I know I am not the only one. It can be difficult not to reach for our phones every five seconds or to casually just check our facebooks and instagrams. My best advice is to turn off your cell phone when you study and turn off your wifi on the computer so you aren’t tempted to surf the web. Technology can be really helpful, but it can also be a huge, huge distraction.

I recently discovered a super cool app called ‘Pocket Points’ that I use here in Oxford. You get ‘points’ when you put your phone on lock during class. You can use these ‘points’ to get rewards around your campus like free chips/salsa and discounts at bars, restaurants, clothing stores, tanning beds, and much more! Putting away your phone in class will help you take better notes and will help you soak in so much more information.

9.) Don’t cram

Procrastinating is something us college kids do best, but it isn’t a good habit to have. It’s best to break up your studying into sessions and do a little bit each day. It can be overwhelming to pull out your notes the morning of the exam only to realize you know none of the material. Try to study a little bit every day the week before the exam instead of putting it all off to the night before! It’s important to get a good night’s sleep the night before a big test.

10.) Your grades don’t define you

This one is so hard for me and has been my biggest struggle in college. I had a very hard time with letting my grades define me this past year. I became obsessed with my GPA, and I let every single grade I made determine my happiness, which isn’t healthy. I would make these completely unrealistic academic goals for myself that would make me miserable trying to achieve. I had to realize that it’s important to aim for progress – not perfection. Do the best you can and always learn from your mistakes. If we do not reach every single one of our goals, that’s okay. It doesn’t make us any less important or valuable. It makes us simply human. Somethings just are also out of our control, and we have to realize that as well. I had a professor last semester that really helped me with my problem. He compared my GPA obsession to the stock markets. They go up and down, but we can’t obsess over them and watch them every hour. We have to look at them as a ‘big picture’ over a time span and see improvement instead of torturing ourselves over every ‘bump in the road’. Perfection in any form is not attainable, and if that’s all we yearn for, we will always, always be miserable. From looking at things as a ‘big picture’ of life, I was able to realize that I am still proud of who I am and how far I’ve come over the past two years. I never could have imagined back in high school that I would be where I am now academically. I have to just appreciate every step of improvement and growth, and enjoy life for what it is.

Here are some pictures of how I like to study and organize my academic work:

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I hope these tips could help! Let me know what your top study tips are. Hope you all are having a wonderful Labor Day!

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11 thoughts on “Back to School | Study Tips

  1. Loved reading this! I’m a senior in high school, and while its a bit late for me to finally get my studying act together, I can work on studying to help me in the future: college! Thanks for your insight! 🙂

    1. Thank you so much, Zoe! It’s never too late to get your studying act together! I hope you are having a fabulous senior year!

  2. Hello Mackenzie,

    Thank you for sharing! I particularly liked the last point that you touched on and I share the exact sentiments. Despite consciously reminding myself not to let these tangible things define me, I unwittingly allow the desperation to inundate me. Hope it gets better so that my self-esteem doesn’t crash easily. Also, I like the design of your site – clean and classy.

    All the best to you! 🙂

    Gwyneth

  3. Hey girl! I always come back to this post when I’m in a ‘studying slump.’ I noticed you use binders, but do you also use notebooks in class to take notes, or do you record your notes in the binder? I’m a freshman at UGA and I haven’t found any study method that has worked for me yet.

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