University is an exciting place to be. There are hundreds of interesting new people to meet, thousands of challenging academic concepts to comprehend and, well, countless ruinous alcoholic concoctions to ingest – heck, somewhere in amongst this heady mix, there’s even an education to be had.
The problem is: with so many external social factors and the relentless pressure of studying, college life can sometimes become overwhelming – and this can start leading to failure.
So, what can be done to stay on top of things and ensure your time at uni is a success? Well, the truth is each student is different, and what might work for someone else might not work for you. But there are several helpful tips that are applicable to student life in general, and they can make all the difference to a successful education.
So, if you’ve ever wanted to be a model student, this is what you should be doing…
Need advice on studying? Watch this video instead for the best study tips:
1. Write – don’t type!
It can be tempting to make notes in lectures on a laptop; after all, it’s quicker and easier to type and you’ll have more information to look through later on. According to a recent study, though, students who write out their notes actually learn more.
This is because writing and typing require different cognitive processes. When you take down information by hand, the slower, cumbersome nature of writing means that you are more inclined to actually listen to and comprehend what you are being told. As a result, what you write is a succinct summary of what your brain has just understood. Typing, on the other hand, can easily become a mindless listen-and-repeat activity.
2. Surround yourself with the right people
It’s highly unlikely that you will be in the top third of your class if you share a dorm or a house with the modern-day equivalent of John Belushi. Make sure you are living in an environment that allows you to study without distractions when you need to.
Ideally, share a room or house with students who are even more bookish than you. Recent research by Dartmouth College found that the studious habits of more serious scholars had a positive impact on the grades of their less academically-inclined house-mates.
3. Find your phone’s “off” button
Procrastination is a huge issue for many students. You sit yourself down, ready to finally take on that looming midterm when, suddenly, you’re embroiled in three different WhatsApp conversations and an episode of Friends. All before the end of the first paragraph.
Of course, it’s understandable. Most people get distracted easily; I’ve checked Facebook twice already while writing this. But being able to focus yourself is an important skill to master and, unless you do, you’ll struggle to get anything done. Start by removing the most immediate distractions, such as your phone, and make sure your mind is on only one thing: your work. When you’re free of distractions, you’ll be far more productive.
4. Eat well
It’s been proven countless times that our brains don’t function at their full potential when we neglect to eat properly. Aside from being expensive, living off takeaways and half-eaten KFCs will impair your cognitive ability – and it won’t do much for your physical health, either.
Try to ensure your diet contains a healthy balance – vegetables, in particular, are good for memory retention – and that you are eating three meals a day.
5. Sleep well
The importance of a good night’s sleep cannot be overstated, especially when you’re trying to juggle several essay deadlines and an upcoming exam. While it’s good to blow off some steam once in a while, don’t spend all night every night out on the town – your grades, body and bank balance will all suffer as a result.
Conversely, if you’re up all night trying to get an essay finished, then this suggests you need to look at developing your time management and organisational skills. What’s the point of attending lectures if you’re too tired to learn anything?
6. Stay active
As well as plenty of sleep and a good diet, you should try to stay active, too. This is because being physically fit creates a sense of positivity and self-worth that you can transfer to your approach to studying; exercise is also proven to boost cognition at a neural level.
If this means walking or cycling to campus every day instead of taking the bus, then great; many gyms also offer cheaper student memberships. Even better: consider joining one of your school’s sports teams – as well as partaking in physical activity, you will also form friendships, develop your extracurricular portfolio and essential team-building skills.
7. Get a part-time job
Aside from the obvious financial benefits of working while you study, being employed boosts your self-esteem, improves your time management skills and makes you more responsible, in general. It can also make you more productive: when you don’t have as much free time any more, you learn how to use the time you do have more wisely.
8. Raise the stakes
If you’ve got a part-time job and, therefore, a little more money, resist the temptation to raid Amazon every payday; instead, try to pay off some of your tuition fees. This might sound crazy (‘Isn’t that what student loans are for?!’) but students who pay their own way have more at stake if they fail. When it’s your own money, you’ll take everything more seriously and appreciate it more.
9. Ask questions (lots of them)
At most universities, faculty staff are leaders in their fields of research, with many professors and lecturers having dedicated their entire professional lives to the study of their chosen subject. Why not take advantage of this? Ask them as many questions as you can – the amount of students that sit passively in lectures and don’t take the opportunity to pick their professor’s minds is incredible.
Not only will you learn more but you’ll benefit in other ways, too. When you ask questions and incite debate, you become much more engaged in the subject matter; chances are, you’ll then start to view it differently, too, and understand it in a completely new way.
10. Have a positive mindset
Approaching anything in life with the attitude that ‘it’s too hard’ and that you’re going to fail before you’ve even started will only ever result in one thing: failure. To be a good student, you have to adjust your mindset and be positive – everyone is capable of doing things they didn’t think they could.
Of course, positivity alone isn’t enough; you still have to match it with hard work and commitment. But if you constantly tell yourself you’re not going to pass advanced organic chemistry, for example, then you’ll start to believe it and you won’t put the required effort in to pass. Higher education is meant to be hard – but it’s not meant to be impossible.
Apply this mentality to setbacks, too. Failing one paper isn’t the end of the world – learn from your mistakes, work hard and don’t fall into the trap of deeming yourself a failure. Remember, many of the world’s most successful people didn’t get it right the first time round; don’t beat yourself up if you don’t, either.
11. Find a good study playlist
Adding an epic soundtrack to your gruesome revisions could do wonders in helping you stay motivated. This is because music while studying is thought to activate the brain’s reward systems, which in turn boost our mood and reduces anxiety.
With most popular audio streaming services being saturated with playlists, how do you know you’ve found the one? One characteristic of a good study playlist is that it consists of slow, instrumental songs. This is because listening to lyrics can prove more distracting than helpful. Another thing to look out for is any music that stirs up strong emotional reactions for you. If you’re fresh out of a breakup, don’t go for the emotional piano ballad playlist.
12. Make time for the things you love
At this stage in life, school is one of your biggest commitments. However, there is such a thing as overdoing it with studying, no matter how dedicated you are to achieving good grades. If you’re not careful, your zealous efforts could lead to academic burnout.
Participating in your favorite extracurricular activities as much as possible is a great way to clear your mind after a long day of studying. Just as important is to devote time to relaxation. A warm shower, a cup of hot chocolate, or a slow walk around the neighborhood will help recharge your batteries.
13. Arrange study dates with friends
Choose a time, a place, and your favorite people, and go on a study date. Study dates will hold you accountable to your friends as well as yourself, which means you’ll be more likely to show up.
An effective study group also provides room for constructive conversation. Discussing topics with your peers can help you better retain the information you’re trying to learn. Being in the presence of your friends will also make studying more fun and relaxed, which contributes to the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates memory and increases attention.
14. Set realistic goals
When creating a study plan, rely more on reason than wishful thinking. Dividing reading materials into chapters and breaking up assignments into sections can help you accurately estimate how long they will take. Don’t forget to add any extracurricular activities or work commitments to your study schedule, too!
A good idea when planning in advance is to aim to have completed your assignments a couple of days before they are due. This way, if a task takes longer than anticipated, you won’t have to rush through it.
15. Caffeinate yourself wisely
Coffee: the bean juice that makes you focused, alert, and sometimes jittery! While it’s widely known that caffeinated drinks can enhance concentration, a Johns Hopkins University study has also shown caffeine to be beneficial to memory.
However, drinking too much could lead to undesirable effects, such as restlessness, dizziness, and sleep deprivation, which would only get in the way of studying. As the old line goes, everything in moderation!
If you are more of a tea person, you could turn to caffeinated teas, like black and oolong, to boost your performance during study sessions.
16. Learn some time management skills
We all have a friend who seems to stay on top of everything. They get the highest test scores, do plenty of socializing, cook their own meals, babysit for money, and jog every evening. So, how do they do it? Could they be living in a parallel universe of 48-hour weekdays?
The good news is that managing time is not some magical, innate ability, but rather one of many study skills that can be learned. It requires a combination of planning, prioritization, and self-discipline. Using a calendar to keep track of commitments, breaking tasks into smaller pieces, and holding yourself accountable will teach you to be consistent.
17. Use a bit of self-bribery
A little self-induced positive reinforcement never harmed anybody. In fact, working on a task in anticipation of a reward can almost guarantee that you won’t get sidetracked as often.
Since rewarding desirable behaviors is an incredibly effective way of building habits, think about what it is you’re missing most. Is it an afternoon lifting weights at the gym? An evening at the movies? Perhaps you can’t envision a future without video games, and what you’re really longing for is an hour of uninterrupted gaming. Whatever it is, add it to your schedule and use it as a motivating force to push through your study time.
18. Sit near the front
Yes, we know, this isn’t what the cool kids do. But sitting near the front of the classroom or lecture hall can minimize distractions and improve your understanding. One of the reasons for this is that sitting close to your professor allows you to maintain eye contact with them, which can help you focus better on their words.
Sitting at the front of the room will also make you less tempted to chit-chat, check your phone, or doze off, even when you’re not particularly interested in the subject matter being discussed.
19. Plan trips to the library
Can you think of a more distraction-free environment than a library? These peaceful havens of information won’t just help you maintain your focus, they will also give you access to tons of digital and print resources.
Though an online survey has shown that most students choose the library for solitary work, the space itself provides a feeling of connectedness. Whether you’re in a group study room or a common area, you’re still part of a shared experience. This sense of togetherness, coupled with the absence of noise and distraction, makes for a setting that cultivates productivity.
20. Always ask for help
Many people dislike asking for help, equating it to admitting defeat. But this is absolute nonsense; asking for help is a sign that you are determined to succeed. If you are having trouble understanding a particular topic or concept, ask your tutor for help before things get more advanced and you really start to struggle – after all, that’s why they are there.
Also, if the pressure of exams and/or life in general is starting to take its toll, it’s even more important that you reach out to someone, whether it’s a friend, family member or someone on the faculty. Being stressed is completely normal, and nobody will think any less of you for it. The only thing worse than admitting to someone that you’re struggling is keeping it to yourself; the odds are you’re not the only one feeling anxious, anyway.
Sometimes, it can seem as though the best students just naturally excel, but academic success is often based on hard work and consistency. Whether you’re in high school or a university student, implementing these study tips will help you stay on track.
- Prioritize learning some time management skills, as these will prove beneficial now and in the long term
- Maintain interests and a social life outside of studying. Devoting all your time to studying is counterproductive
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions — asking for help is often essential in learning the material
- Arrange study groups with your friends — preferably at the library
- Reward yourself for your achievements, no matter how small, as this can help you stay motivated.
And there you have it! If you want to become a more successful student, following these tips will truly help you get there. Keep at it, and before you know it, you’ll be bringing in those As.
Originally published on January 17, 2018. Updated by Electra Michaelidou.