Making the transition academically from high school to college requires students to realize that there are greater academic expectations at the college level. Students in engineering often have to alter the amount of time they spend studying and the way they study in order to be academically successful. The key to academic success in college is to learn and select new study strategies appropriate for the academic task, monitor your academic progress, and evaluate your learning process.  

General Academic Tips

  • Everyone needs extra help. If you’re having difficulty in a class, seek out the support you need early.
  • Get to know your professors—go to your faculty member’s office hours at least twice during the semester.
  • Make an appointment to meet your advisor and get to know him or her.
  • Form study groups. Working on a team is a critical part of being an engineer and study groups help you perform better as you create a network of support. 
  • Get involved—balance is key in engineering and one of the biggest predictors of success is who you choose to surround yourself with.
  • Make sure that if you work, it’s no more than 15 hours per week.
  • Repeated exposure to the material you are learning is essential to retaining. Review to remember and remember to review.

Taking Notes

  • Go to class and take notes.
  • Make sure you label example problems, equations, theories etc.
  • Check out this article which discusses different note taking formats.
  • Be sure to write down any explanatory remarks your professor makes about a problem (i.e. how do you get from one step to another or why a particular method was used with which particular conditions).
  • After class, read over your notes and either condense (humanities/social science classes) or expand (engineering classes) your notes in the left hand column of the paper.

Reading Assignments

  • Preview the chapter before you read the assignment.
  • Read the assignment before you go to class.
  • Take notes on your reading to keep you focused.
  • Review your reading notes.

Time Management

  • Consider time management more about managing your priorities. Your goal should be to use the time you have more efficiently, not necessarily to spend more time doing everything.
  • Start with backwards planning, which allows you to see the big picture of where your time should be going each week. After you complete backwards planning, then choose a time management strategy to help you stay focused and get things done day to day.
  • Consider tools like personal kanban to help you structure your to do lists and remain focused.
  • Prioritize your tasks.
  • Divide your study time into one-hour blocks and vary them throughout the week. If you do not currently use a planner or calendar, try using this blank calendar template to plan your week ahead.
  • Do your homework! Homework is usually 20 percent or more of your grade.
  • Remember the general guideline that for every credit hour of an engineering class, you should plan to spend three hours outside of class on that course during the week.  If you are taking 15 credits of engineering coursework this means you should prepare a seven-day schedule that allows for approximately 45 hours of non-classroom study.  
  • Start your homework early-don’t wait until the last minute!

Test Preparation

  • Check out this great video about test preparation created by Thomas Frank at College Info Geek
  • If available, work old exams.  The methods with which your engineering professors want you to demonstrate your understanding of the material is often radically different than high school.  Even if you’ve been exposed to material before, keep in mind that chemistry, calculus, and physics exams in college are different than chemistry, calculus, and physics exams in high school.
  • Find practice problems either from homework or exams from other insitutions who teach similar courses such as MIT, Stanford, Colorado School of Mines, and Georgia Tech
  • Join a study group to learn information and solve problems covered in class.
  • Predict test areas & prepare for an exam at least one week prior to the exam.

Study Strategies

  • Check out these resources on studying created by the Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering. These resources are for all students and capture many of the tips below.
  • Understand how the learning and memory occur in your brain can be important in improving your studying. 
  • Time-spaced learning – learning and reviewing course material in blocks of time that are varied and repeated throughout the week. 
  • The Pomodoro Technique is a study strategy and productivity tool to help you stay focused and gain momentum in getting things done.
  • Check out recommendations from Thomas Frank at College Info Geek about learning on your own outside of class.
  • Annotation – writing notes in the margin of your textbook in your own words
  • Adapted Cornell Notetaking – taking the notes on the right side of the margin and condensing or expanding on the left hand side.
    • Check out this article which discusses different note taking formats.
  • Concept mapping – a variation on outlining in which you diagram main ideas and supporting details to learn concepts covered in class
  • Outlining – representing the ideas presented in the text by separating main ideas from supporting ideas using an outline structure
  • Teach others the concepts to help cement them in your memory. This could be great to do with a friend or study group.
  • Predicting test areas – reviewing notes and selecting topics for exams
  • After you take an exam and get it back, use the CPS model to understand where you missed points. Consider using this as a study tool moving forward, and bringing it to office hours to discuss with your professor.

How do you choose a strategy?

  • Talk to academic support resources about which methods may work for you.
  • What do you know about the subject?  (prior knowledge)
  • How well must you understand and remember?
  • How difficult is the textbook, manual, or article for you to read?

Additional Resources