7 Study Tips for College & Grad School

If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s school. I’ve just always been really good at school. This is not me bragging that I’m super smart or a genius (faaaar from it), but I’ve always been really good at taking notes, studying, writing papers, etc. Maybe it’s because I’m a perfectionist/Type A and I can focus for long periods of time? But studying has always been one of my strong suits (it’s okay, you can totally call me a nerd).

However, I realize that studying can be super challenging for some people. And as I transition back into grad school after not being in class for 2 years, it was definitely a challenge for me as well. So here are 7 study tips that I’ve personally found helpful through my academic career. These are great for either college or grad school–I’ve done them in both cases. Honestly, it’s really all about knowing yourself and what works for you. Always set yourself up for success. Keep reading to find out more!

The AP style guide: my constant companion

Deactivate your Social Media Accounts

Yea, it sounds drastic, but in college, one of my best friends Andrea used to make me change all her social media passwords and not tell her what they were until after mid-terms/finals were over. True story. She knew she tended to procrastinate (on social media) when she got stressed, so by eliminating her accounts, she could focus more on her work & studying. Don’t want to completely disconnect? Just delete your social media apps of your phone. We’re all guilty of mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or sharing countless Buzzfeed articles when we’re stuck in the library for 7 hours. Just get rid of the temptation so you can focus a little easier.

Find the perfect study space

Your “perfect study space” is totally unique to you and your studying style. It also may depend on what kind of work/studying you have to do (i.e. writing an essay vs. memorizing facts). Take some time to think about what makes you feel most productive. Do you like complete silence or background noise? How important is having a window/access to outside? Do you need an outlet or printer nearby? Can there be a lot of people around you or do you prefer being by yourself?

Once you figure out those things, find a study space that meets most (if not all) of your preferences. For example, I absolutely hate doing work in complete silence. Some people absolutely love it, but it weirds me out and makes me anxious. So I always choose to do work in coffee shops or parts of the library that allow conversation. (I even have a very specific table at Villanova’s library where I love to write papers because I’m a weirdo). Here are some suggestions for study spaces that I or my friends like:

  • Library (either your school’s or a public one nearby)
  • Empty classroom on campus somewhere (sometimes you can reserve them ahead of time)
  • A public park
  • Your room
  • Lounge in your dorm/apartment building
  • Dining hall
  • Student/community center
  • Coffee shop (try out a couple to get the right vibe!)
  • Panera/similar chain (seriously I had one college friend exclusively study at Panera)

It doesn’t matter where you decide to study, just make sure you’re comfortable and can be productive.

Set a Schedule

Besides knowing where you’re most productive, you need to know when you’re most productive as well. Again, this is totally a personal preference. For me, I’m a morning person by nature, so I was always the first one at the library during finals week and make it a point now to do my grad school work during weekend mornings. I’ve never pulled an all-nighter (although I’ve been close) because I get cranky and unproductive at night. On the other hand, some people function way better at 1 a.m. and rather do all their work then. Whenever you’re most productive, schedule some time then to study. Oh, and actually stick to it. Saying “I’ll study from 9 p.m.-2a.m.” is not an excuse to procrastinate ;)

Find a Focus Playlist (& one for breaks)

I have an abundance of study/focus playlists. They vary about what kind of work I’m doing, but generally I like instrumental music, specifically movie soundtracks (Hans Zimmer is an absolute genius). However, if you’re more into listening to music with lyrics, go with that! It’s nice because Spotify has a bunch of focus-worthy playlists (I love Productive Morning, Coffeehouse Blend & Afternoon Acoustic) but I’ve also made my own depending on my mood.

Besides your focus playlist, have a playlist for your breaks.  For breaks, I give myself 3-5 fun, non-focusing songs to catch up on my texts or Pinterest (I like to think of it as a “focused study break”–you’re not studying but you’re not completely mindless either). Your non-focus playlist is good to reset & re-energize before you get back to it. It’s something that’s always worked for me.

Outline Your Essays. Seriously.

You would think as a communication major in undergrad (where I would write at least one essay almost every week) that I’d be a master of outlining. Wrong. I actually never outlined my papers until I started grad school. I’m not sure what took me so long because outlining makes it WAY easier. Take it from a writer: nothing is more intimidating than a blank screen with a blinking cursor. But when you’re outlining, it takes that pressure off. I usually start just with a big main point and brain dump everything I know about it from my notes/readings and then organize it afterwards. It seems like an extra step/extra time, but it makes writing your papers ten times easier later, trust me.

Write & Talk It out

Even though I said I’ve always been good at studying, I’m not the best at memorizing. Unless it’s something I care deeply about (communication/english!!!), I’m probably not going to be able to memorize it (looking at you, science). But not everything can be essay-based (ugh, I wish) so I found a way to help me memorize: physically writing it out. Yes, with a real pen and paper like the good ol’ days. Re-writing my notes a dozen times (and sometimes more) helped me memorize the facts I needed to. Repetition was key for me so I took the time to write things out. A lot.

Something else that used to help me, specifically in high school and when I had more tests vs. essays, was talking things out. I remember I used to sit on my kitchen floor and explain my notes about American History to my mom while she made dinner. Being able to explain things clearly (& answer my mom’s questions about it) cemented the information in my mind. Take some time to talk through the material with someone in your class. You’ll find out really quickly what you do (and don’t) know for your exam.

Sleep, Sleep, Sleep

There are scientific studies that prove sleep helps your memorization. So even though it’s tempting to pull 3 all-nighters in a row, don’t do it. You’re only hurting yourself. And if you do need to pull some all-nighters, at least take a nap at some point during the day. Just try to sleep. Even just for 20 minutes.

I hope these study tips will help you ace your mid-term or final exams! Do you have any tips or tricks that you absolutely swear by? Leave me a comment below &.

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