Last Updated: Nov 20, 2018
Studying is a dreaded pastime whether you’re in high school or college. Having just started my freshman year at Harvey Mudd College, I’ve learned that firsthand. It’s easy to get bogged down with homework and tests and classes, so here are all the study habits that have kept me sane during my first semester.
1. Study with friends
This one is huge. I wouldn’t have been able to do my homework without help from friends. Trust me—it’s normal to not understand class material entirely, but it’s highly likely that someone from your friend group gets it. It’s also likely that they’re struggling in a subject you feel confident in. Set up a quid pro quo relationship, where all of you can help each other with subjects that you feel comfortable with, and you’ll gain a better understanding of the material. Just make sure you stay focused.
If you’re new to high school or college, don’t stress if you don’t know anyone to study with yet. The best way to find people is to talk to your classmates. After class, just say something like, “Hey, I’m planning on doing this homework later—want to join me?” And you should be able to quickly form a study group! Everyone works better together as a team; it’s no fun studying all by yourself at the library or in your dorm room all the time.
2. Stay organized
I wrote another article on staying organized and managing your time, so I won’t go into too much detail with this. In short, just try to keep things tidy! Wherever you’re studying should be a quiet, neat space where you have room to spread out and get comfy. You also want to keep your homework neat—it’s scary when you have to frantically search through your bag for your papers as the teacher is collecting them. Try to avoid having loose-leaf papers everywhere, as that can add to your stress when working.
3. Talk to your teachers
It can be scary to talk to your professors and teachers, but it’s really important! In high school, a lot of teachers are open to meeting with you if you need extra help. They don’t want to see you fail. Try talking with them after class to set up a meeting, or if you’re too nervous (as I often was), email them! They can help you figure out where you are struggling and how to fix it.
In college, most professors hold office hours so you can ask them questions about the material. You can also talk to them about just about anything. Attending office hours is a great way to build a relationship with your professor, which can be important later on if you need letters of recommendation or want to get involved in research.
4. Use outside resources
Sometimes you might need help outside of lectures, class time, and talking to your teachers. There are a lot of great outside resources that you can find online! Khan Academy is one of my personal favorites, along with YouTube. You can find just about anything by looking up the topic that you’re trying to learn. Don’t feel pressured to only stick with the material that you are given in class!
You might also try finding a tutor. Many schools will compile a list of tutors for each subject, so you can find people on that list. My school also offered tutoring through NHS and CSF (volunteer organizations). If you can’t find anyone through those, you can ask your teacher, and they might be able to suggest an upperclassman who already took the course and did well in it.
Related: The Writing Center 101
5. Find a note-taking method
Note-taking is something you’ll use throughout high school and college, and there are a lot of different ways to take notes. During high school, you might think it’s not worth it to take notes during class, but I promise you, it is. Writing things down helps you remember them later when you have tests! Your notes should be organized in a way that makes sense to you—that could mean using your own shorthand or drawing pictures that help you understand the material. You want to be able to go back to your notes after a couple weeks and still understand what you were writing about.
In college, it’s becoming more common for people to take notes on laptops. This is perfectly fine (I often take notes like this), but make sure you’re still organizing your notes well. Personally, I love using Microsoft OneNote, but find something that works for you. If you’re not remembering things well, you may want to take notes by hand, as that normally helps things stick in your brain.
Overall, the most important thing to remember is that you have to find something that works for you. What works for your friend may not be right for you, so feel free to experiment a bit. It’s the beginning of a new school year, so now is the time to build good study habits before exam season. I wish you all the best of luck as you start a new year! (And remember to enjoy yourself and take a couple study breaks too.)