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Study Tips for College Students

Liz Heintz

Written By: Liz Heintz

Published: 7/11/2022

It can be tricky figuring out how to study, especially if you are trying to balance work and school. Whether you're balancing other responsibilities, returning to school after some time away, or just trying to find ways to study more effectively, we've identified several tips and tools to make studying manageable and maybe even enjoyable. We'll help you determine which study techniques to use that support your learning style.

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The Four Learning Styles

It helps to understand how you learn in order to build effective study habits. We all fall into at least one style that makes learning and retaining information easier than others. Once you identify your unique style, you can create an environment and organizational system conducive to learning.

Visual learners need to see what they are learning for things to make sense. They rely on images - graphs, charts, maps - to understand subject matter.

Audio learners learn best when they are spoken to or instructed. They benefit from course lectures and class discussions. These learners also rely on repetition to memorize and learn information, and many use mnemonic devices to aid retention.

Kinesthetic learners learn by doing. They have to engage in a task to learn it. They are often referred to as "hands-on" learners. Kinesthetic learners may have to disassemble and assemble things to understand how they work.

Readers and writers learn through the use of words. They often rely on note-taking and rereading materials over and over to help them retain information. Other students often rely on these learners because they take copious notes.

These learning styles explain why some of us listen to music while studying, participate in study groups, write in book margins, or learn computer applications through practicing and applying skills. Our learning style also determines what classroom environment we're most comfortable in – some of us appreciate the interaction and engagement of an on-campus class. At the same time, our peers may prefer to work autonomously online.

Ten Tips to Help You Study Smarter

There are several tips you can use to study smarter that can also be modified based on your learning style:


Let the course syllabus be your guide.

Dr. Angela D. Thomas, BS, MPH, MBA, DrPH, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and Linfield University, suggests that you "read the instructor's syllabus several times and use it as a guide." Thomas also advises, "If you have any questions about the syllabus, ask! Understand each assignment."


Create a study environment conducive to your learning style.

Carving out study space in your home or office dedicated to your education can be helpful - if you can close it off, even better. Make sure to stock your desk with the supplies you'll need and keep some creature comforts close by, such as music, noise-canceling headphones to eliminate unnecessary background noise, a stress ball, a favorite coffee mug, or healthy snacks.


Create a study routine.

Create a study routine to avoid the temptation to procrastinate. If you stick to a schedule, you're more likely to accomplish what's necessary to finish assignments, prepare for exams, and seek help before it's too late. Plan for study sessions that last up to 60 minutes with a 10-minute break in-between, and try to avoid all night – or all day – cram sessions.


Plan a week in advance.

Be proactive and look ahead, so you know what's coming up. It may help to create a checklist so you know what you need to tackle and what doesn't require immediate attention. It may be helpful to do this at the end of each week in anticipation of the next.


Form or join a study group.

Meeting with others working on the same tasks can feel supportive. You can use flashcards to test each other, share notes, or create fun mnemonics and acronyms to learn and retain dense information. You can meet in person or through Zoom or another video conferencing application if you are a remote learner.


Utilize all the materials an instructor gives you.

Print out all handouts, PowerPoint slides, study guides, practice tests, and other supplemental materials for review, and make notes on them. You can glean a lot of information from these additional resources that may not have been included in a textbook or during a lecture.


Study what's hardest, first.

Studying and understanding the most complex ideas early-on can make studying feel less overwhelming. Read things aloud if they don't make sense, and annotate notes and your textbook when something isn't clear so you can return to it later. Plan on maintenance studying to strengthen your understanding and revisit information.


Review graded tests and homework.

Instructors often make constructive notes on papers so you can learn from your mistakes and appreciate your successes. You can create practice questions and study sheets from these assignments to help prepare for future projects and test-taking.


Rely on your own experience to gain perspective and generate ideas.

"Use your job if you're working full-time in a related field as the topic for your assignments - or something your job would be interested in," Thomas says. "It makes it easier!"


Ask for help!

Don't be afraid to ask your classmates, instructors, or tutoring center for assistance. You're in school because you are learning, not because you already know everything. It's not embarrassing, and it doesn't make you look inadequate — asking for help is actually the smart thing to do and shows you are responsible and interested in doing your best.

Study Tips for Online Classes

More students are choosing to earn their degree online than ever before. For the most part, studying for these degrees requires the same attention as studying for those on-campus. However, there are some nuances to studying as a distance learner that may not be immediately apparent.

You'll need to treat your online course as you would an on-campus course.

Try not to make a distinction between a virtual class and one on-campus — course outcomes are the same regardless of how the curriculum is delivered. Both require the same focus and dedication necessary to meet your goals.

It helps to hold yourself accountable.

It can be challenging to stay organized when you're not in a classroom. However, it's crucial for success. You may be able to use the tools available in whichever learning management system your school uses. For example, Canvas allows you to customize your user dashboard and set reminders and notifications for announcements and updates. There is also a calendar feature you can use to manage your time and meet deadlines.

You should use any campus resources that are available online.

Most schools make campus resources available to their distance learning students. There's usually a library with an online librarian you can chat with, a writing or math center for tutoring and editing, and a career center. Utilize these services that you help pay for with your tuition!

Try to browse with intention and stay off of social media when studying.

You can create folders on your computer or web browser for each class and the materials you need. This way, you can go directly to what you need without getting caught up in what you don't, such as social media sites. It can be too easy and tempting to open a new tab and start mindlessly scrolling and wasting valuable time.

Connecting with others virtually can help you feel less alone.

Don't isolate yourself as a distance learner though you may often feel disconnected from the course material, your instructor, and other students. Connect with a classmate or two you can trust who have the same work ethic as you to ask questions and complete assignments. You can learn a lot more from your peers than you may realize!

Taking the initiative to problem-solve on your own can help you learn.

It can give you a sense of pride and accomplishment to try to research and find answers to your questions before reaching out to an instructor via email. Most online instructors try hard to make as much information available to their distance learners as possible to eliminate confusion and save time.

For more information about online degrees, explore our Trends & Insights hub, where we feature expert insights and data-driven articles.

Study Advice From a Non-Traditional Student

You may be considered a non-traditional student if you are considering going back to school after an absence spent raising a family or working. Many adult students feel overwhelmed by the thought of balancing their return to higher education with a job and other responsibilities.

Thomas was a non-traditional student while earning her bachelor's in biopsychology, an MBA, and a master's and doctorate in public health. She knows what it's like trying to find time to do everything, yet never seeming to have enough. When asked about her advice for other non-traditional students finding it hard to study, Dr. Thomas says, "Block the time and stick with it! When I was working on my bachelor's, I was as non-traditional as you could get as a 17-year old mother with a 5-month-old baby living on the campus of University of Michigan," Dr. Thomas recounts. "My schedule was regimented — drop my baby off at daycare, go to class, go to work, come home to study, pick up the baby, put the baby to sleep, study more, and repeat."

So, using that syllabus as a Bible, I planned my work and stayed disciplined to my schedule for studying. It worked!

Undaunted, Dr. Thomas continued with her education beyond her undergrad degree. "Fast forward to my doctorate when he was in college. I didn't have the same issues, but I had a full-time job as a healthcare executive and many other commitments to my community," she explains. "Monday and Tuesday evenings and most Saturdays were my only times I could devote consistently to studying. So, using that syllabus as a Bible, I planned my work and stayed disciplined to my schedule for studying. It worked!"

Study Resources For Students

The internet is full of resources you can use to help you improve your study skills. While some require a fee, many are free or have a free option with basic features. For example, you can find resources that help you with time management and organization, help you write and compose assignments, build your knowledge, take care of your mental health, and ensure you get enough sleep. These applications can be used on a laptop, tablet, or mobile device, which can often sync with one another.

Organizational Tools

Resources Description Cost
Dualless Dualless is a chrome extension that can split your screen so it simulates two monitors. Free
Evernote Evernote can help you track assignments and projects, take notes, and monitor your progress. $0-$14.99  per month
Schooltraq Schooltraq is an academic planner for students to create study schedules that can be synced to your smartphone. Free
Todoist Todoist is a Chrome extension for creating to-do lists and managing your assignments and projects. Free

Writing and Grammar Tools

Resources Description Cost
Grammarly Grammarly can be added as a Chrome extension and is a text editor that helps correct spelling, grammar, and syntax. $0-$15 per month
Hemingway Hemingway is also a text editor that is especially helpful for sentence construction and syntax. Free
PowerThesaurus PowerThesaurus is a Chrome extension that helps find synonyms, antonyms, and definitions. Free
Purdue Owl Purdue Owl can help with MLS, APA, and AP formatting styles which is especially helpful when working on essays. Free
WordTune WordTune is a Chrome extension that can help with sentence construction and syntax and suggest alternatives. $0-$9.99 per month

Test Preparation Tools

Resources Description Cost
Chegg Chegg helps you create flashcards to help with memorization and test preparation.  Free
GoConqr GoConqr can create flashcards, mind maps, slides, and flow charts.  Free
HippoCampus HippoCampus has tutorials to help augment your learning. Free
Quizlet Quizlet has flashcards, study sets, quizzes and other test preparation tools. Free

Stress Reduction Tools

Resources Description Cost
Calm Calm is a popular phone app that delivers meditations, bedtime stories, and white noise to help you relax and sleep. If you have Amazon Student Prime, you can sign up at a discounted student rate. $0-$69.99 Per Year
Insight Timer Insight Timer is a phone app with timers, meditations, and bedtime stories to help ease anxiety and promote relaxation. Free
Marinara Timer Marinara Timer offers fun timers you can set to help pace yourself while you study. Free
StayFocused StayFocused is a chrome extension that temporarily blocks internet sites that can distract you while studying.  Free

The Bottom Line

Dr. Thomas offers this final piece of advice for students, especially those juggling studying, work, and family. "Schedule study time! But also schedule family time! Don't neglect them. They are your support and need your time too!"

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