Study Like A College Student

By Joan M. Azarva, Ms.ED


It’s not unusual for students who do well in high school to struggle academically their first year in college • Learning how to study like a college student now will prepare you for the academic rigor of higher education—and may also embellish your high-school GPA in the process

There’s more to effective studying than memorizing. While that may work in some lower level high-school classes, by the time you’re a junior or senior, your teachers are likely looking for higher level thinking as a way to help prepare you for your post-high school years. In college you’ll be expected to analyze material and make inferences based on what you’ve learned—not just regurgitate what you’ve memorized.

Use the time in high school to learn how to study for the next level. Mastering these strategies now will help ensure a smooth transition and propel you to success in college.

  1. Contrary to popular belief, chapters should be read only once. That’s the time to annotate (highlight and mark) your textbook or take notes on the main ideas and supporting details you’ll need to learn for the exam.
  2. Review notes within 24 hours to slow down the “forgetting curve.” In order to get information into long-term memory, it needs to be repeated right away and then again later. Students who do not reread their notes in a day’s time will find the material unfamiliar when preparing for a test and will have to re-learn it.
  3. Make a study plan. Look at your academic planner for assignments in the near future. Decide when to begin studying, so you can review frequently.
  4. Optimal study sessions are short and frequent. Students who say they’ve studied for five hours probably haven’t. After 30 minutes, or whatever the length of their attention span, they become inefficient. To study effectively, take a short break the minute you feel your attention wandering; resume when your concentration returns.
  5. Study actively to stay engaged. Ask and answer questions aloud, act out scenes from a novel or history book, teach someone else, make up a practice test with an answer sheet, etc. Study groups may be helpful but only for students who are strong auditory learners. And to assure staying on topic, groups are best limited to three highly committed students.
  6. Make flashcards from annotations or notes taken from your textbook and class lectures. Write a question or term (in your own words) on the front of the card and write the answer—in list form—on the back. Why a list? Lists are easier to memorize using techniques like mnemonics, or word tricks.
  7. Vary your study methods to ward off boredom. The more senses you employ, the more likely the material is to make its way into your long-term memory where you can retrieve it for an exam. The internet offers countless options to change up your routine: videos, tutorials, simulations, interactive games, practice tests, etc. Khan Academy is one example of an excellent free site with different activities on a wide range of subjects. Wisc-Online is a great source of multi-modal activities; it even lets you create your own game to test yourself (see “gamebuilder”). To find other options, simply Google “interactive + (subject)”, “simulation + (subject)”, or “game + (subject)”.
  8. Finally, if you want to optimize learning, make studying the last thing you do before going to bed. Research shows that sleep enhances learning and retention.
Virtual Flashcards
Studying flashcards on your phone allows you to utilize normally wasted 5-minute intervals to your advantage. Electronic flashcards can be made on sites that are free, versatile, and in many cases easy to upload to personal digital devices. Study Blue or La Flashcards are two such websites. Study Stack, while not capable of uploading to a phone, offers more than a dozen ways to study flashcards on a computer.

Joan M. Azarva is a college learning specialist who focuses on the transition from high school to college for students with LD and ADHD.

Related Smart Kids Topics