Making the transition from high school to college requires an adjustment to greater academic expectations. Students often need to adjust the amount of time they study and have a deep understanding of academic strategies while monitoring their own progress and learning process. To develop learning and critical thinking skills, students should attend office hours and utilize resources to support learning in their classes.

Metacognition: Think about how you think

We recommend starting by reflecting on how you think. To help in this process and improve your ability to succeed in classes, our teammates in ASSETT created a video series called Metacognition: The Video Series That Gets You Thinking. By applying metacognition strategies, you can become a more active and engaged learner.  

General Academic Tips

  • Everyone needs extra help. If you’re having difficulty in a class, seek out the support you need early and seek out support even before you think you need it.
  • Get to know your professors—go to office hours at least twice for each class during the semester for each class.
  • Make an appointment to meet your advisor and be prepared for your advising appointment.
  • Form study groups. It is helpful to test your understanding of what you know and what you do not know by interacting with others. Working in study groups helps you form a network of support, and you are more likely to have a better understanding of what you need to learn. 
  • Get involved—balance is key, and one key predictor of success is who you choose to surround yourself with. Try one student organization or campus activity, and surround yourself with those who bring out the best in you.
  • Make sure that if you work it’s no more than 15 hours per week, especially if you are a full-time student.
  • Repeated exposure to the material you are learning is essential to retaining information and storing it into long-term memory. Do not only review to remember and remember to review, but also actively recall and self-test on information by engaging with your lectures, notes, and readings often and through thoughtful reflection.
  • Adopt a growth mindset so that when challenges or obstacles arise you embrace them as learning opportunities.

Academic Skills Tips

Time Management

  • Consider how you balance your priorities. Be sure that you allow plenty of time to start on long-term assignments and prepare for exams at least seven days in advance of each exam.
  • Start with a month-by-month calendar that outlines all of the major tests and assignments for the entire semester. On the calendar, include your study routine and write down when you need to start preparing for each deadline. Once you have your roadmap for the semester, reflect on the calendar. What weeks are going to be busy? How can you adjust your planning to create as much efficiency and balance as possible?
  • Remember this formula:  for every three credit hour class, you should spend six to nine hours outside of class on that course each week. Therefore, if you are in a 15-credit schedule, you should plan to spend 30-45 hours a week outside of class on your academic tasks. Schedule in daily study time on your month-by-month calendar.
  • Prioritize your tasks through written or electronic to-do lists. There are many free web apps that help with prioritization. Wunderlist is one example.
  • Ensure that you schedule in plenty of daily study time. If you do not currently use a planner or calendar, try using a weekly scheduling tool to plan your week ahead.
  • Start your homework early—don’t wait until the last minute! Starting early gives you time to ask questions if needed.

Study Techniques

  • After taking notes in lecture, actively review them by writing key concepts from your notes on the front of a notecard and examples of those concepts on the back of a notecard.
  • Annotate – There are many ways to annotate a text. Underline main ideas; circle important words and words you do not know; and write notes in the margin of your textbook that summarizes key points and main ideas. Finally, write questions about the content in the margins. After you annotate, write a summary about what you read and/or try a few practice problems.
  • Self-test on concepts for each class every day for a few minutes. For example, quiz yourself by reviewing notecards; try practice problems without study aids; and write questions about what you learned in class.
  • Teach others the concepts to help cement them in your memory. This could be great to do with a friend or study group.
  • After you take an exam, use the post exam review to understand where you missed points. Consider using this as a study tool moving forward, and bring it to office hours to discuss with your professor.
  • Learn and review course material in daily blocks of time that are varied and repeated throughout the week through time-spaced learning
  • Review the Lecture Capture if your lecture has one.
  • Try a SMART pen.
  • Try concept mapping – a variation on outlining in which you diagram main ideas and supporting details to learn concepts covered in class.
  • Manage Distractions - The Pomodoro Technique is a study strategy and productivity tool to help you stay focused and gain momentum to successfully complete assignments and stay focused during studying. Also, use apps such as Cold Turkey to block certain applications and your phone for certain periods of time if you are distracted by your phone or computer.

Note Taking

  • Try the before, during, and after process. Before lecture, set up your notes by listing the learning objectives at the top of your notes and comparing those to the notes you took on the readings and/or Power Points prior to class. During lecture, listen for and note key points, main ideas, and explanations of concepts and steps. After lecture, actively review your notes by summarizing them; creating note cards from them; and writing down key questions from the lecture, for example.
  • While taking notes during lecture, expand your understanding by writing questions in your notes to revisit after lecture, and ask the questions during class when time allows.
  • Work on your listening skills. Notice when your mind starts to wander and quickly jot down your distractions on a scratch piece of paper. Then, shift your attention back to the instructor. Refocus by leaving a space in your notes with a question mark to fill in as soon after lecture as possible.
  • Compare your notes from lecture to the notes you took on your reading. One way to do this is by creating a Venn Diagram of the two forms of notes.
  • Try the Cornell note taking process.
  • Try adapted Cornell Notetaking. Take notes on the right side of the margin and condense or expand them on the left hand side. Check out this article, which discusses different note taking formats.

Reading Assignments

  • Stay up-to-date on all reading assignments. Students often say they should have spent more time on the reading assignments for class, and when they start to engage with the readings more proactively, they notice their outcomes improve.
  • Preview the chapter before you read the assignment by skimming paragraphs, titles, charts, introductions, and conclusions. Write the learning objectives for the chapter at the top of your page. Then, read the assignment before you go to class, and annotate the text as you go. Take notes on your reading to keep you focused.
  • Review your reading notes and compare them to your lecture notes. What connections can you make between the two?
  • Try a reading log. 
  • Try the SQ3/4R reading strategy.

Test Preparation

  • In the first week of classes, document all of your first exams on one page using the first exams of the semester template.
  • If available, utilize practice exams and old exams to prepare. Simulate the testing conditions for the practice exams as much as you can so you have a clear roadmap of your strengths and challenges. To simulate the testing conditions, take the practice exam in the same amount of time with the same study aids (if any) that you will have on the exam. Try to take the practice exam in a similar location in which you will be assessed.
  • Utilize as much active practice as possible through practice problems and by applying these critical thinking words to self-test. Remember, do not simply study to remember; study to have a thorough understanding and analysis of the concepts.
  • Find practice problems and/or questions in your textbook, from your professors, and through other resources such as open access textbooks for example.
  • Prepare for an exam at least one week prior to the exam, and ensure that you quiz yourself daily on the material.

Goal Setting

  • Utilize the SMART goal process to ensure your goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time oriented.
  • Monitor your progress toward your goals by journaling about your progress and telling others about your goals for an extra layer of accountability. If you are not making progress toward your goals, seek out additional support.

Connections and Campus Resources

  • Utilize resources and support even before you think you need them.
  • Move outside of your comfort zone by introducing yourself to someone in your class; forming a study group; meeting with your professors and TAs; and trying a campus organization.
  • Attend office hours to introduce yourself to your professors and meet with them consistently throughout the term.

How Do You Choose A Strategy?

  • Meet with your professors during office hours to discuss your academic success strategies, and talk to academic support professionals  on campus about which methods may work best for you.

Additional Resources