Studying is a Complex Art

Studying is so central to college life. But, as I’m sure you know, that doesn’t make it simple! As you read the study tips ahead, you will see that studying is more like a complex art. Don’t let yourself become frustrated if studying is not one of your strengths. Instead, learn how to simplify your studying and make it effective.

Organizational “Musts”!

First things are first! If you want to study well, you must first know your assignments. Using an assignment book will be essential for studying effectively. Write down each assignment and the date it is due. Bringing your assignment book to class will ensure you never forget to write assignments down.1

Second, you don’t want to lose the assignments you have worked so hard on. Commit to saving all your assignments on a disk! It will be helpful for you have a separate disk for each of your classes. You never know when you might lose a paper copy of an assignment and need to reprint it.2

Third, have an organized desk at which you study and keep all of your books and school supplies. You might want to have a calculator, dictionary, thesaurus, and even an encyclopedia. At night before you go to bed, make sure everything is in its place. Get out the books you will need for classes the next day so when you wake up, you see what you need to have with you that day.3

Are you Listening…or Just Hearing?

Now you know how to get organized. The next think you want to focus on is absorbing the information from your class. During class lectures, engage in “active listening”. This is when you attempt to tune out distractions, and actually understand and think about what your instructor is saying. There is a difference between hearing what your professors says, and actively listening to what you hear. To help yourself actively listen, make a decision to find the class lectures interesting and useful. Here’s a fun game to play with yourself: pay such close attention to what is said that you even try to predict what your professor might say next. Such active listening might be easiest if you sit in the front of the classroom and make eye contact with your professor.4 Furthermore, active listening is easier when you take notes.5

Taking Notes…Not Passing Notes!

Here are some tips for making the most of your note-taking. First, review your previous notes before going to class. This will keep the material fresh in your mind and prepare you for what you will learn next. When taking notes, brainstorm about “shortcuts” to writing out entire words. For instance, use abbreviations for longer words. There is no limit to creative abbreviations, as long as you can understand them! You can also use symbols instead of words; for example:

& instead of “and”,
b/c instead of “because”,
psych instead of “psychology”,
med instead of “medical”

Get the idea? Furthermore, short sentences and lists will be faster to write than complete sentences, and will help you keep up with the professor.6 Finally, put a question mark in the margins next to class material you don’t understand; you can find answers in your textbook or from a friend or professor after class.

It will be very convenient for you to keep all your class notes in three-ring binders. It is easy to flip through your notes this way, instead of fumbling through piles of loose paper in a folder. If you lose notes, you can copy the notes of a friend and easily insert them into the right place in your binder.7

Harness Your Wandering Mind

It is hard to concentrate when you have a wandering mind, environmental distractions, anxieties and cares, and class material you find less than interesting. It might help you to have a special place designated just for studying. Choose a special chair or table with a lamp that provides good lighting.8 Consider turning off your cell phone and checking your messages when you are finished studying. Making a “Do Not Disturb” sign for your door will keep away untimely visitors. If you listen to music while you study, make sure it does not become a distraction.

Do you study better in the morning, afternoon, or evening? Choose the time you tend to study with the most concentration. Before you begin, take a few minutes to decide what you plan to accomplish during that time. Having specific goals and tasks in mind will help you focus until they are completed.9 It might help to alternate between reading and another activity to break up the monotony. Take scheduled breaks during your study time to help you persevere. Give yourself an incentive for completing your studies effectively. For example, plan on doing something you enjoy afterwards such as having a treat or a phoning a friend.

Who Needs Cramming?

Studying for a test doesn’t have to mean cramming the night before. Did you know you can start studying for a test at the beginning of the semester? First, write down the dates of your exams in your assignment book. You also might record the percentage of your grade each exam counts for.10 Decide you will review all of your class notes weekly. This way, you will prepare for your tests all semester instead of at the last minute. When reviewing your notes, make sure you look up answers for all questions or missing information. Then you won’t have to find all of this information right before the exam.11

Why Procrastinate?

Procrastination is the problem of knowing what you should be doing, but not doing it. Procrastinators often find that attempting to stick to schedules doesn’t work. It is more important to get to the root of the problem and figure out why you may procrastinate. Some simple reasons for procrastinating are as follows: thinking the task is too hard, dreading how long it will take, and fearing failure. To combat this, change your thoughts. Tell yourself the opposite of these negative thoughts. Tell yourself the task isn’t hard, that it won’t take too long, and that you will learn to succeed in doing well. It is tempting to believe procrastinating will offer you relief. However, it will only increase your sense of helplessness. Tell yourself that by tackling the task ahead, you will feel strong and capable.

Digging Deeper into Procrastination

There are more complicated reasons for procrastination, however. Perfectionism is one. Sometimes people are afraid to accomplish their goals for fear they won’t do a perfect job. It will bring you great relief to abandon unrealistic standards of perfection.12 Anger is another reason for procrastination. If you are upset with a professor, or with parents who tell you to study harder, your anger may compel you to procrastinate.13 Remember that procrastinating will not eliminate the sources of anger, but rather it will hurt you. Another reason for procrastination is getting frustrated too quickly. If tasks and assignments overwhelm you easily, you may have a habit of putting them off until you “feel better” about doing them. The problem is you will feel even more frustrated if you put them off till the last minute.14 Lastly, minimizing your abilities can cause procrastination. Are you afraid of success? If so, you may put yourself down when you do well and use procrastination to avoid doing well.15

Wrapping Up

Maybe a little organization is what you need to begin mastering the art of studying. Perhaps you are realizing concentration is one of your struggles. Talking with someone else may help you uncover the study challenges unique to you. For help with improving your study skills, consider talking to a counselor. To make an appointment with a member of the Georgetown College Student Wellness Center’s counseling staff for help on this or any issue, please call 502-863-7074. Counseling staff include:

Lynda Fereday
Russell Hall
Sarah Joyner
Ruth Riding-Malon
Jean Tzou
Audrey Wagner
Dr. Macy Wyatt
Dr. Edward Marshall

By Audrey Wagner

1 O’Brien, Linda (2006). How to Get Good Grades in College. Dayton, OH: Woodburn Press.
2 O’Brien, Linda
3 O’Brien, Linda
4 Good Listening in Class. Retrieved from on February 14, 2007.
5 O’Brien, Linda
6 Good Listening in Class.
7 O’Brien, Linda
8 Landsberger, Joe (2006). Concentrating While Studying. Study Guides and Strategies. Retrieved from on February 14, 2007.
9 Landsberger, Joe
10 Test Taking Strategies. University of Minnesota Duluth. Retrieved from on February 14, 2007
11 Test Taking Strategies.
12 Procrastination (2006). Student Academic Services. California Polytechnic State University. Retrieved from on February 14, 2007.
13 Procrastination
14 Procrastination
15 Procrastination