Studying right can help you get that degree

photo of two students studying with laptops in the Ludden LibraryFor many Americans, it’s pretty clear pursuing a degree or certificate after high school results in great outcomes. But lots of people who want to have economic security and access to its benefits are nervous about attaining that degree once they're registered for classes. Time commitments, exams, presentations and other exercises of academia require a great deal of effort. We can’t mince words — it takes hard work to achieve something worthwhile in college.

Research shows there are habits that help make students successful in college. Some of it can come down to common sense, but it’s worth taking a look to make sure we’re on the same page.

Look at how you learn

Students who engage in active learning, such as note-taking, concept mapping and self-testing are better positioned to recall information when the critical times come.

Taking a holistic perspective on active learning, the Louisiana State University Center for Academic Success outlines what is called the study cycle, or a method to retain information in an academic setting. Previewing material, attending class, reviewing information, studying and checking your understanding by self-testing provide the best opportunity for learning. Those things might seem like no-brainers, but many students find reasons to skip over one facet or another, which impacts their ability to learn effectively.

Note-taking can take different forms, as students have their respective ways of what works for them. The Cornell University Learning Center offers the Cornell Notes system, which advises dividing your note-taking pages into three categories: cues, or questions to prompt a piece of information you need to recall; notes, or the facts that answer your cues; and summaries at the bottom of the page.

It’s not as important that you take notes exactly as others do; Cornell experts point out that what’s really important is what you do with the notes afterward. The Learning Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reinforces this point, emphasizing that reading your notes repeatedly is not studying — actively engaging in material is the best way to retain information.

Chapel Hill’s Learning Center recommends using your notes to develop concept maps, or visual representations of information. Charts, graphic organizers, tables, flowcharts, Venn Diagrams and more can be powerful study strategies because they help you see the big picture and make connections with details in meaningful ways that increase retention.

You can quiz yourself using flashcards or practice exams, where you want to see if you can recall things without looking at notes. Self-testing and peer teaching can be exceptionally effective methods for making sure you understand what you’re being taught in class. If you can explain it to someone else, chances are you’ll nail it on the exam!

Time and focus

Managing your time will make a big difference in making sure your study methods are effective.

If possible, scheduling study sessions to avoid cramming is recommended by experts. A researched-based article published by the American Psychological Association highlights the importance of spacing study sessions (instead of cramming) and recommends interweaving subjects rather than focusing on one for long periods of time. The Learning Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill also recommends intensive study periods running about 30-45 minute sessions on a single topic. If you can really put aside the distractions for a reasonable amount of time and focus, experts say you’ll see better results. Take a break from a subject, then go back and see if you can recall the information without looking at your notes. See? We’re connecting the dots here.

While many of us try to multi-task throughout our days, most of us know that we’re less effective at tasks when our attention is divided. A 2012 study published in the academic journal Computers & Education found that students who reported using social media or other non-academic related tasks on their smartphones or computers while also doing school work had lower GPAs overall. A study published this year looking at Ethopian university students found that those who reported being addicted to social media faced more challenges academically. A 2022 study published in the journal Perspectives in Psychiatric Care found that social media addiction had a negative impact on nursing students’ sleep patterns.

Mind and body

Obviously, getting consistent and quality sleep is important. Two Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors found a strong relationship in a 2019 study between students’ sleep habits and their grades. A study from the universities of East London and Westminster found that being hydrated also had a positive effect on students’ academic performances. And anyone will tell you that eating a balanced diet and making sure you’re not skipping meals will make a significant difference in your ability to focus.

There’s help

If all of this sounds intimidating, it’s understandable. There are, however, resources at colleges like Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne that can help. Students who were at risk for facing academic challenges showed improved results in a study published this year in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education after receiving tutoring help. At LCCC, the Learning Commons is there to assist those who could use some help studying or understanding the information they’re supposed to learn.

Being successful in college is challenging for almost every student who takes on the journey. But at LCCC, we have faculty and staff determined to help you find your way. The best advice we can give is to ask questions if you’re not sure.

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