10 Effective Study Tips for the Busy College Student

Studying is not a one-size-fits-all activity; students learn and apply themselves in countless ways. It is imperative to test out different techniques to identify what works best for you. Some of the study tips we received in high school work in college courses as well; however, some new strategies must be implemented to succeed. Experimenting with different techniques is the best way to determine what works and does not work for you.

In order to maximize your time and succeed in college, you must dedicate a lot of time to studying on your own. Some professors suggest that for each hour you are in class, you should spend three hours studying outside of class. For many people who have jobs or are overloading on classes, this may be unrealistic. With such busy schedules, it is essential to use your time efficiently. Check out these suggestions below to try to maximize your studying efforts and get the best grades possible!

1. Manage Your Time

Managing your time means being organized and clear on when assignments are due. Plan your time accordingly because procrastination limits the amount of time you have before a deadline to put forth your best work. The first step in managing your time is recognizing how you currently use your time, and analyzing ways it can be improved. In the first few weeks of a semester, try blocking out some time each day for a specific subject. Acknowledge what time of the day you work best, and try to plan classes and study time around that. Recognizing how long you can sit and study for will allow you to accurately block out your schedule (including breaks). Incorporating short breaks while working can help you refocus and revitalize your energy. A good standard to go by is taking short 10 to 15 minutes of break time every 45 minutes to one hour of studying. Use your judgment to see what works best for you, and adjust break time accordingly.

Prioritizing assignments helps you know how much time is necessary for each task, allowing you to manage your time more efficiently. Planners and assignment notebooks are excellent tools to help you keep track of your tasks each day and allocate your time effectively. Also, keeping checklists or post-it notes of tasks is beneficial because it provides the opportunity for you to cross off those items when you have completed them; which can help you feel more accomplished! College can be demanding between school, jobs, and your social life, but being prepared for what your assignments are and having a grasp on your schedule will make your workload seem much more manageable.

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If you manage your time properly, you won’t have to do your homework on your way to school like this guy!

2. Do Not Overload on One Subject

In terms of study time, quantity does not trump quality. Rather than sticking to one topic for hours trying to master it, you should switch between a few different topics. Switching up the focus every so often allows your brain to stay fresh (and you’ll stay awake). Taking breaks while studying can also increase your productivity and preservation of material. Gregorie states “a 2008 University of Illinois study found that the brain’s attentional resources drop after a long period of focusing on a single task, decreasing our focus and hindering performance.” Taking periodic breaks, like stepping away from your work area and moving around, can increase your brain’s ability to focus, and help you focus longer. Taking time out while studying for long hours helps you work at the highest productivity level. Short meditations or 25-30 minute naps can also help boost your energy when studying for long blocks of time.

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Overloading on one subject will only create overt frustrations and tire you out quicker.

3. Make Flash Cards

This strategy has been used since elementary school and for a good reason! Flash cards enhance retention by prompting active recall. Trigger words on the front spark your memory of the definition or related topics. It is a hands-on way to visually learn the material. Creating flashcards is a form of active learning that forces you to think about the material on your own rather than just rereading it. Try creating the flashcards as you are rereading through your notes for the first time. This refreshes your memory, but it also gives you the chance to identify the topics or terms that you need to create cards for. Creating the cards as you go along gives you a full understanding of the topics while writing down all necessary information on the back of the flashcard. In addition, try using your own words whenever possible to ensure you are not just copying the statements. When you put the definition or answer into your own words, you demonstrate your understanding of the topic and tend to remember the information better.

While quizzing yourself, shuffle the cards so you cannot predict answers by their location in the deck. Separate out the ones you get correct and wrong so you have an accurate understanding of the material you need to focus on. Also, flashcards are a quick and easy way to study on the go! Carry them around with you so you can easily quiz yourself during your free time or while on the bus or train. Having your own physical copy of the flashcards is the best way to study, but if you are short on time, you can find flash cards for almost any topic on this user contributed site.

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4. Take Tests

Quizzing and testing yourself is a proven way to learn the material. The act of recalling the information over and over is what makes it retrievable when needed most – the exam. The more you quiz yourself, the deeper the information gets etched into your brain, and the more accessible it is to recall from long term memory. Testing yourself gives you an accurate picture of what you know and what you need to go back and spend more time on. Writing out terms or questions and covering the answers with your hand is one way to quiz yourself. Writing out the material helps you better understand it. Practice problems and author-written discussion questions in the textbook also provide an effective way to test yourself on the material. In addition, try enlisting your friends and family to assist by asking you questions about the material as well!

5. Go to Class

This may seem obvious, but dedicating your time to focus on that particular subject for a decent chunk of time will allow your brain to hone in on the topics and make connections to commit it to memory. Just being present in the class is not enough. Distractions like the Internet and cell phones need to be put aside for that class in order to fully focus on the material. Some ways to engage yourself in the class are by raising your hand to answer and ask questions, writing notes to remember what was taught later on, and talking to the teacher about the material during office hours. The best way to ensure you know what material will be on the tests is to attend all classes and participate. Taking an active role in class allows you to pose questions and receive answers quickly, helps one face shyness or apprehension about speaking aloud, and provokes instant feedback and discussion from your professor and classmates. In addition, your instructor will put a face to a name and notice that you are an active member of class. Participation IS key, take a look!

6. Don’t Categorize Yourself

Students have specific learning styles, including: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. Some believe that one will only learn effectively when taught with their specific style. In a recent study published in the journal of Psychological Science in the Public Interest, psychologists found there is no support for that claim. Students use all kinds of learning styles, and benefit from alternating between them. For students, this means that reading, listening, and writing should all be used in our educational environments. Professors often provide their lessons in a variety of forms. You can learn the material in a assortment of ways: you can listen to the lectures in class, write down your notes, ask questions, write out the problems and homework, and read the textbook chapters and PowerPoints. Listening to the lectures or reading aloud to yourself satisfies the auditory side of learning. To fulfill the kinesthetic style of learning, you can create diagrams, move around while repeating terms, highlight and underline, and work in groups. Reading the text, writing notes, and creating diagrams and flowcharts satisfy visual learning. All of these are different means of taking in the material, which helps make connections and better understand the material.

7. Sleep

If you’re tired, your brain is processing information slower. A good night’s sleep provides the energy necessary to push through extensive chapters and demanding essays. It is often unrealistic to assume college students will receive the suggested eight hours of sleep per night. Seven hours a night is a good goal to have. This ensures that you are well rested and ready for the day! To get a better rest, don’t watch TV or be on your phone in the dark for about an hour before bed. Those bright lights stimulate your brain and don’t allow it to calm down before sleep. In addition, try to maintain a regular sleep schedule, as this will regulate your body and help you sleep deeper. Want to learn more about how sleep affects your performance in school? Check out this article from the Huffington Post.

8. Set Boundaries

Sometimes a new episode of your favorite show premieres during your dedicated study time, or other temptations present themselves. In these instances, set boundaries for yourself. Record the show and use it as an incentive to finish your assignment quicker. Plan your study time and relaxing time. Set small goals and reward yourself when those goals are met. It is helpful to block out distracting websites and apps so that your focus is only on work. Creating a distraction free environment will allow your brain to contribute all it’s attention to your assignments. These strategies contribute to one’s self control and allow for a more efficient and advantageous use of your time. Self-control is necessary in college and the real world, and it is imperative to recognize your responsibilities and prioritize your tasks. Here’s a link to ways to set boundaries and establish self-control.

9. Establish Stress-Release Practices

College is accompanied by stress and challenges. Identifying strategies to help balance your stress level can greatly impact your ability to succeed. Stress relievers often consist of hobbies or activities one is drawn towards during free time. Some examples are: reading, listening to or playing music, writing poetry, journaling, watching TV, playing a game, taking a walk, stretching, meditating, or exercising. Want to try meditating? Here’s a 5-minute guided meditation video

10. Change the Location

Contrary to popular belief, the library is not the single best place to study. Studies show that studying in different locations can stimulate your brain and help concentrate. Try studying outside, in the student union, at a bookstore, in an academic hall, etc. It is imperative that the location you chose is accommodating and is not a distraction itself. For example, though the mall might be stimulating and a place you like to be, it will probably distract you from your tasks. It is important to know what spots will provide the most beneficial and cultivating environment. Your brain tends to connect content and environment, suggesting greater retention of material if you study each subject in a different location. What are some alternate study locations? Look here here for some suggestions.

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Hopefully these tips can provide a framework for you to master your studying approach! Happy studying!

Written by Brittany Gorski


Carey, Benedict. “Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 6 Sept. 2010. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

Gregoire, Carolyn. “You’ve Been Taking Breaks All Wrong. Here’s How To Do It Right.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 19 Dec. 2013. Web. 29 Sept. 2015.

Murano, Grace. “12 Funniest Photos of People Studying.” Oddee. Oddee, 14 Jan. 2014. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

Roell, Kelly. “Kinesthetic Learning Style – Definition and Strategies.” The Kinesthetic Learning Style. About Education, 2015. Web. 29 Sept. 2015.

“Study Guides and Strategies.” Time Management. Study Guides and Strategies, 2012. Web. 29 Sept. 2015.

Wiener-Bronner, Danielle. “9 Awesome Study Tips For College Students.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com Inc., 8 Sept. 2010. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.