For many students, the new school year is a chance to begin again. Perhaps they didn’t do as well as they could have last year, and they are hoping to find some strategies that lead to greater academic success. Or, perhaps they want to do even better than they did in the previous term, and they want some practical ideas that can help them reach their goals.
In her book FOCUS on College Success,Fourth Edition, Constance Staley offers students a number of suggestions designed to help them study more effectively and intentionally. We’ve summarized them below. If students put these twelve strategies into practice, they can approach their studies with a positive and proactive mindset that fosters academic success. Share these suggestions with them!
1. Don’t guess at what your instructor wants or expects; be certain about it. If you’re unsure about the directions or expectations for an assignment, be sure to ask for clarification.
2. When making a study plan, consider the past, the present, and the future. Ask yourself: What study tools and strategies proved effective in the past? What do you need to know and do now, and how motivated are you to put in the effort? And, what can and will you do to complete your work and learn what’s asked of you?
3. Coach yourself by verbalizing what you need to know and do. If you’re feeling challenged by what you’re learning, don’t be afraid to talk yourself through it! Sometimes hearing yourself speak your questions and comments out loud can help clarify matters and focus your mind on the next steps you have to take.
4. Pay attention to detail. Take the time to read through instructions carefully. Check your work for errors in spelling or calculation.
5. Take a break. Pause every half hour or so to stretch, walk around, or get yourself a glass of water or light snack. You’ll appreciate the time you take for some mental and physical refreshment!
6. Vary your study schedule. Instead of devoting several straight hours to the work for one class, study for your various courses in chunks of time. Read your Art History assignment for an hour; practice your conversational Spanish with a study buddy; complete your Calculus assignment; work through your HTML tutorials… the variety will help you stay focused and engaged. Studying in different locations can also provide a boost of interest and alertness.
7. Before you sit down to study, estimate how long it will take you to complete the assignment. For example: “I think it will take me forty-five minutes to read this chapter in my Economics textbook.” Once you’re done, take note of how long it actually took you to do the work. Were you right on—or, did it take you more (or less) time to finish? The more you do this, the better you’ll be able to estimate how long it will take you to complete similar assignments in the future… which, in turn, helps you better manage your time.
8. Recognize that different courses require different study skills. For Physics, you may spend much of your time-solving equations, whereas in French, you might use flashcards, and in Literature, you need to read and take critical notes. Try out a variety of techniques and apply those that prove most effective. (You might also visit your school’s tutorial center or website for assistance.)
9. Choose an earlier study time. If you can study during the morning or afternoon, rather than during the evening or at night, do so. Not only will you be more alert, you’ll have more time to get the rest you need at night.
10. Endeavor to complete the work early. Have a History paper due on the tenth of next month? Challenge yourself to complete it by the fifth. By setting this early deadline, you’ll give yourself a buffer in case any interruptions, technological mishaps, or personal emergencies arise. (Those mishaps do always seem to happen at the last minute!)
11. Think of school as you would a job. Just as you’d have a work schedule with defined hours to “clock in”, create a school schedule and follow it in a disciplined and attentive manner. As an example: on Tuesdays, you attend class from eight to eleven. Then, you have your lunch break, get some exercise, and plan research and study time at the library from one to five. Put your effort and focus into studying during those hours (while taking some brief breaks). Then, the evening is free for other responsibilities, or for fun with friends and family!
12. Stay committed. Go to class regularly and on time. Make that study schedule, and stick to it. Get the help you need along the way. You’ll see success in due time! (Staley, 92-95)
Would you add any strategies for academic success to this list? Share them in the comments!
Reference: Staley, Constance. 2015. FOCUS on College Success, 4th ed. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.