7 Good Study Habits for the New Year

If you’re not exactly proud of your overall grades last semester, or remember all too clearly the stress of your last-minute cramming for finals, the New Year provides a clean slate to start afresh and improve yourself as a student. Making a few good changes and breaking some bad habits can boost your performance in your spring classes, help you better cope with college stress, and prevent you from falling behind. Here, we’ll explore seven resolutions for the New Year that you should actually keep to impact your studies for the better.

  1. Minimize distractions. In our increasingly interconnected world of smartphones, social networking, MP3 players, and instant messaging, we are constantly being bombarded with sensory stimuli that make it difficult to concentrate on studying. In class and during study time, commit to turn off your cell phone and television and use your computer for studying purposes only, such as taking notes, researching, or completing assignments. Also, listen to music only if you have proven that it serves as a help and not a hindrance, and keep the volume low and non-distracting. When studying for multiple classes at once, reward yourself with the occasional 15-minute social networking break between each subject to give your mind a rest.
  2. Commit to plan out each week. Planning out what you will need to do each week to keep one step ahead of your studies is a mark of an organized student. Whether you buy a traditional planner or use a planning application on your smartphone, make note of when each assignment and project for your classes is due, and when each exam is scheduled, blocking out the appropriate amount of time each day you will need to prepare for them.
  3. Complete all assigned readings and take notes while doing so. Many students ignore their professors’ reading assignments because they find them too overwhelming. However, most reading assignments are actually reasonable if you complete them in the time allotted between classes. Readings tend to become daunting only after you let several of them stack up through procrastination. As you complete your readings, take notes of the important themes you come across, particularly if you remember your professor mentioning them in class. File your reading notes alongside your lecture notes for future reference when studying for exams.
  4. Fill in the gaps in your lecture notes immediately after class. Some professors talk so quickly that it’s hard to get everything down that they are saying during their lectures. Make a habit of speaking briefly with your professor or a classmate right after class to fill in any gaps you may have in your lecture notes. After this chat, rewrite or retype your notes as soon as possible while the information is fresh on your mind. This ensures you have the most complete lecture notes possible for studying, while the process of writing out the lecture notes a second time helps you commit them to memory.
  5. Quiz yourself periodically on the course material. You don’t have to wait until exam week to start studying. Many textbooks and study guides come complete with discussion questions and quizzes at the end of each chapter that you can use to review the material weeks before your first test. If your textbook does not have thought questions, or you don’t think they are sufficient, you can devise your own self-quizzes from your professor’s slides or your own lecture notes. Many students find index cards helpful for quizzing themselves on material. By quizzing yourself periodically, you will find the week of exams is less about cramming and more about reviewing what you already know.
  6. Begin assignments as soon as you receive them. It’s not always feasible to complete assignments in their entirely as soon as you receive them, but it’s smart to get started on them right away, breaking down what needs to be done each day to get the assignment done by its due date. Whether you nail down an elusive research topic, draft a skeleton outline, complete a handful of math problems, write a few paragraphs, or schedule a first meeting with your team for a group project, even a small start is a good start, and helps you identify problems early on so you’re not stuck desperately trying to get your professor’s help the night before an assignment is due.
  7. Study when you’re at your prime. Studying when you’re most alert is vital to retaining information in a class. For many students, this means studying in daylight hours, since studying at night tends to make you drowsy. Even if you are a night owl, don’t let this trick you into thinking you don’t need as much sleep as others. A well-rested student is much more likely to remember what he or she studies than someone who is dragging from lack of sleep.

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