Learning How to Effectively Study: College Edition

Is it easier said than done?

In all honesty, I learned how to effectively study in college. Even then, it took me multiple trials and errors to find the best way for me. Studying in high school wasn’t necessary for me since I thought my work was easy to remember without checking my notes, which eventually led to me procrastinating a lot of my work. Once I came to college, I realized that simply remembering the material wasn’t enough. I remember taking an exam for my class, and the questions weren’t as easy as “what is the definition of…?”. It was more like, “Apply this concept to…” and forced me to use the knowledge I gained about a particular topic and use my critical thinking skills. The PowerPoint slides that my professors created didn’t have all of the notes; instead, it was bullet points, and the professor would then explain the bullet points or read the detailed notes on their sheet of paper. Sometimes, I was required to read a textbook for the class and then the professor would give their lecture based on the assigned readings. College humbled me pretty quickly and taught me that the bare minimum isn’t enough if you want to succeed. The saying goes, “work smarter, not harder”. Working smarter also means testing out new approaches and adjusting your attitude towards things to be more efficient. So here are some ways to help your productivity:

Handwrite your notes

Studies have shown that handwriting notes is more helpful than typing. While writing your notes, you’re more likely to summarize the words you hear in a lecture that could improve your comprehension of the material. Seeing the notes you have written down can help you engage with the material because you want to make sure that you have enough information to study for quizzes, exams, or homework. I’ve always preferred to write my notes because I find them to be more beneficial. I still have notebooks that I use. Sometimes, I use binders as notebooks when I run out of notebook space. I take some loose-leaf paper, clip it into my 1-inch binder and it serves as a notebook. Also, I can use the binder for two classes since binders have pockets for any loose papers, and I can buy a divider to split up my notes. Most importantly, handwriting is also a method to limit distraction. Using your laptop to take notes could potentially lead to you checking your email, Instagram, or doing other classwork. If you want to retain and understand the information you learn in class, you must not distract yourself.


Quizlet has come to my rescue on several occasions. You can use the online flashcards, the matching or gravity game, write it out, or review the concept and its meaning. It’s a great way to test yourself on the material. I find it helpful when there is more than one study set because I can find information in one study set that I probably can’t find on another. If you can’t find a study set, try making your own. It’s free to create an account, and you can edit it all on your own if you prefer. It might even be a fun test for you and add a bit of [positive] pressure for you because you know that other students will be using your study set to study.

Study groups

To my fellow introverts, I understand how this sounds nerve-wracking, but it’s helpful. It doesn’t have to be 3-4 people, it can be one classmate you wouldn’t mind going to the library with after class to exchange notes or catch up on the material. You and your partner(s) may have information or perspectives that no one else has. You might even learn a new study habit from someone else. We’re all college students who want to do well. There’s a very high chance that your classmates would like to find a study partner or group if that means doing well in class. If you’re too nervous to ask for their phone number, ask for their email. It doesn’t hurt to try and reach out to a classmate or two.

Office Hours

What better way to study than to go to the source? You don’t have to see your professors (or TAs) only when you attend class. One thing that I wish I did earlier in my college years was attending office hours often. Sure, I have my notes, I can ask a classmate for assistance, and Quizlet is accessible, but if I’m genuinely confused and need to make sense of it all, your professor is the best source to ask for help. I believe it’s important to note that the more you go to your professor and ask for help, the likely you are to build a professional relationship with them. I make it a goal to participate in class regularly and talk with my professors, in hopes of them learning my name. It’s small, but it can go a long way if you take initiative and reach out to your professors for help. Even if you understand the material well enough, you can attend office hours to reassure yourself that you genuinely understand by asking questions or engaging in a discussion about the material. Put effort into your work, turn it in on time, engage in class discussions, and ask questions. Your professor can become a mentor, especially if they are a professor within your college major. They’re the experts, after all.

Try new locations

When it’s time for me to study, I move around pretty often. Some days, I decided to go to the Undergraduate Library and work at the tables. My newest location has been the front patio at the Illini Union. Sitting under the umbrellas, breathing in the fresh air, and having a table to myself is very comforting (pro-tip: the tables closest to the windows of the Illini Union have outlets close to the ground). I’ve been to the Gies College of Business, restaurants on Green street, the Café Courtyard inside the Union, my apartment, and empty classrooms. There are so many places on campus to sit and study, and you might find your favorite spot or want to change up your environment from time to time. Have fun with it, and think of it as a fun scavenger hunt.

Here are some ways to adjust your attitude towards studying

  1. If you need to set a bedtime for yourself, do it. You can’t think properly when your energy is low or your mind is foggy.
  2. Can you remember deadlines? If not, consider using a planner, writing in a calendar, print out your syllabus, set reminders, post sticky notes around your room. Do what you need to do to ensure that you know when assignments are due.
  3. iPhones have a new “Focus” feature. It silences notifications when you turn it on. Your phone and all of the notifications will be there for you to check when you’re finished.
  4. Be creative, try different approaches. If writing your notes doesn’t work for you, try typing. However, if you know you get distracted easily, consider silencing the notifications on your laptop. Think of fun ways to study (I like to create games or write my humorous notes on the side of my class notes). Try using highlighters to color code or different color inks.
  5. Study consistently, but take breaks when you need to. Don’t overwork yourself, or else you may end up becoming frustrated.
  6. If you find listening to music is helpful for you, definitely incorporate it into your study routine. For me, music helps to drown out other noise that I may find distracting or overwhelming.
  7. Drink water and set timers, if necessary!

Studying doesn’t have to be difficult or overwhelming, which is why I try to take different approaches to the way I study. Even if I change one small thing, I know that it will work best for me. I encourage everyone to think about their goals and work towards them. Remember that you can do anything that you set your mind to!



Class of 2022
Born in Chicago, Illinois, I am a senior pursuing a degree in Communication-based on my interests in writing and media. Aside from writing, I love to listen to music and roller skate! I hope to inspire people to discover the great resources and opportunities that UIUC offers and ways to enjoy the college experience!

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