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Post University Blog

The right time to ask how to be a successful college student is right now! This holds true whether you are already well into your college career or if you have yet to embark on your postsecondary education journey.

Covering topics ranging from study habits to time management, here are 14 essential study tips to help first-year college students perform to their full potential:

1. Know the Difference Between Studying and Reading

While they should learn to differentiate the two by the time they graduate from high school, far too many students enter college believing that studying and reading are synonymous. You should thoroughly read all required texts before you even begin studying. Then you can start to engage with the material through activities that extend beyond a simple re-reading of the text. No matter how many times you read your class materials and notes, you will be unlikely to fully recall and understand the information they contain unless you practice active studying techniques. From creating study guides and practice quizzes to developing flow charts, Venn diagrams, and other types of concept maps, there are countless active studying techniques to choose from. Do a little research to find the techniques that work best for you.

2. Avoid Cramming

Make no mistake about it – procrastination is the enemy of the college student. While cramming at the last minute might allow some students to pass a final exam, the American Psychological Association reports that long-term information retention requires multiple, shorter study sessions.

Make a Plan

The best way to curb procrastination and avoid cramming is to create a study plan that includes study sessions as well as what you will do during each of them. Plan to study at times when you will be most alert and in places that are free of distraction. Of course, you must fully commit to adhering to your plan once you have made it!

Take Reasonable Breaks

Any longer study session should be broken up by periodic breaks. When planned and restricted, breaks can give your brain the time that it needs to effectively absorb what you are studying. The National Institutes of Health have published research showing that taking short breaks between study sessions engenders significant gains in information retention.

3. Find How You Study Best

Each person is unique, so their study techniques should be unique as well. While one student might be able to ace an exam after a marathon cramming session, another will find that this approach only leads to disaster. While your classmate might use flashcards to prepare for a weekly quiz, you might need to develop a shorthand for new concepts that connect them to your personal experiences. Take the time to experiment and discover which learning approaches work best for you.

4. Understand the Study Cycle

Based on the PLRS (preview, lecture, review, study) system of Frank Christ, the Study Cycle has a proven ability to support improved student learning. This overarching guide to the entire studying process begins with previewing course materials before you even attend class. The Study Cycle subsequently leads students through processes of review and studying before ultimately testing their knowledge to ensure full understanding. This comprehensive study approach is particularly helpful for students who are tempted to skip steps and cut corners.

5. Keep Sessions Short and Intense

We have already discussed the dangers of cramming at the last minute, but it is important to note that marathon study sessions are generally ineffective, even if they are planned well in advance. Study time is best kept short to give you the time that you need to process, collate, and internalize information. Shorter sessions also promote better concentration and more intense study.

6. View Problems as Your Friends

As in many areas of life, it can be helpful to view challenges as opportunities while studying. In fact, working (and often reworking) through problems plays an important role in the studying process. So instead of becoming frustrated when you encounter obstacles, learn to approach them as tools that will allow you to master course materials.

7. Learn to Teach the Subject

Beyond coming up with solutions to learning problems, you should be able to explain exactly why that solution worked. To accomplish this, you may want to role-play as a college professor and pretend that you must teach others the material from your course. By conveying the key concepts and information from this material in your own words, you can actually teach yourself!

8. Let Music Help You “Tune In”

While some people need absolute silence to study, others might find it easier to concentrate with a bit of background noise. Given just how easy it is to access their favorite songs no matter where they happen to be, many students find that listening to music really helps them “tune in” their thoughts. However, you may want to keep the volume relatively low and limit your listening to instrumental music.

9. Get a Change of Scenery

The “Make a Plan” section above stresses the importance of studying at times and in places that promote concentration and productivity. However, studying in the same place day in and day out can lead to a routine that feels dull, and that is antithetical to effective learning. Ideally, you should have a few study locations outside of your home, whether on campus, at a café, or under a tree at the local park. That way, you can plan to study in-between classes over the course of your day and avoid your study sessions becoming stale and boring.

10. Study With a Buddy

Many people find studying with a classmate extremely beneficial. If nothing else, scheduling study sessions with someone else is a great way to keep you on track. Beyond reaching out to classmates, you can improve your class performance by joining an official study group or securing the services of a qualified tutor.

11. Take Advantage of Your Resources

Beyond campus study groups and tutors, your college may offer any number of programs and resources to help you succeed. Post University’s First-Year Experience, for example, focuses on the unique challenges faced by freshmen who may be inexperienced when it comes to long-term, independent study. You can also rely upon the support and expertise of your academic advisor.

12. Do Not Be Afraid to Ask for Help

When you are struggling with your studies, your school counselor can be an invaluable resource. You may feel that a professor or a classmate might be a better option for help. No matter who you turn to, it is essential to speak up and reach out when you are having trouble in a class. The college environment lends itself to collaboration and support. You do not need to go it alone!

13. Reward Yourself

While a short, scheduled break is an excellent way to reward yourself for diligent study, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to incentivizing your study. A great grade on an exam is certainly a motivating reward in and of itself, but you might want to consider other ways to treat yourself for a job well done. For example, buying yourself an ice cream sundae is a tremendous way to “sweeten” the study deal that you make with yourself. Remember that it is important to reward ongoing progress in addition to final results to maintain your momentum.

14. Continuously Review

Effective studying requires constant review. There are no true shortcuts to learning. Go over course materials repeatedly using various techniques until the information is fully integrated into your long-term memory.

Use Downtime Well

Studying can be time-consuming, so wise students must learn to use even short periods of downtime for a quick review session. For example, if you have a lighter work week with some free time, consider studying ahead to better prepare for the busier weeks that are certainly in your future.

How to Be Successful in College During Your First Year

Do you want to hone your study skills and hit the ground running during your first year of college? Your choice of college can make a real difference. At Post University, we know that the transition to the college environment can be overwhelming at times, so we designed the First-Year Experience (FYE) to help our students as much as possible. As a first-year student, you can participate in FYE through any number of webinars, workshops, mentoring, or degree planning initiatives.

Thank you for reading! The views and information provided in this post do not reflect Post University programs and/or outcomes directly. If you are interested in learning more about our programs, you can find a complete list of our programs on our website or reach out directly!

Please note jobs and/or career outcomes highlighted in this blog do not reflect jobs or career outcomes expected from any Post program. To learn more about Post’s program and its outcomes, please fill out a form to speak with an admissions advisor.