The 11 Best Study Tips for College

College students spend hours studying. But are there better ways to study in college? These 11 study tips will help you study smarter, not harder.
portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
Read Full Bio

Contributing Writer

An award-winning historian and writer, Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D., has published multiple scholarly articles and a book with the University of Chicago Press. She currently works as a writer and consultant. She holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern...
Updated on January 24, 2022
Learn more about our editorial process is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Turn Your Dreams Into Reality

Take our quiz and we'll do the homework for you! Compare your school matches and apply to your top choice today.

  • Effective studying starts even before you head to class.
  • College students tend to study better when they create a schedule and take good notes.
  • Identify your personal study weaknesses to create custom study hacks.
  • Don't forget to take regular breaks and reach out for help if you need it.

Can you ace your midterms or get through finals week without pulling a series of all-nighters? How can you upgrade from memorization to comprehension? The best study tips help you reach your goals, whether that's earning higher grades or mastering complex materials.

Ideally, studying is more than simply cramming the night before an exam. Understanding the best study tips for college students means starting with the study cycle.

A five-step process that entails taking and reviewing notes; attending class; and studying in short, focused sessions, the study cycle can determine whether your study sessions will succeed or fail. Leave out just one step and you'll have to work even harder to catch up.

Use this cycle and the following 11 study tips for college to help you succeed in school.

1. Make a Study Schedule

So many college students find themselves overwhelmed halfway through the semester because they never created a study schedule.

Early in the term, sit down and block out time on your weekly calendar to study. A session might include reading assignments, reviewing concepts, or preparing for an exam — depending on the class and week. Then, do your best to stick with that schedule.

2. Take Notes the Right Way

Skip class and you're at a disadvantage when it comes to studying. It's not surprising, then, that multiple studies have found a connection between attendance and grades.

But attendance means more than just showing up — it means paying active attention in class and taking useful notes. That's because your notes will likely serve as one of your best study tools. Professors typically base their exams and assignments on the material covered in class.

3. Think Strategically About Where to Study

Where should you study? The answer depends on the person. Some students need absolute silence with no distractions to focus effectively, while others prefer to study in public spaces like the library or a cafe. Try out a few locations to find what works best for you.

4. Join a Study Group

The accountability of a study group helps many students stick with their study schedules. So consider joining a study group, particularly in subjects where you could use the most support.

Alternatively, you can create a study group if none are available. Reach out to students in your class and schedule a meeting, then discuss your goals and how you'd like to organize the group.

Some study groups meet multiple times a week, while others meet before midterms and finals. Figure out what works best for you, and build a group to support your needs.

5. Prioritize Comprehension Over Memorization

It's easy to think memorizing the textbook counts as studying. But in college, memorization will only get you so far.

When studying, prioritize comprehension. That means making sure you understand the material instead of simply reading and rereading the same pages in your textbook.

Yes, some classes do require a lot of memorization — whether it's equations or verb conjugations. But as UNC-Chapel Hill's learning center points out, the first step in memorization should be making sure you understand the material.

6. Incorporate Review Sessions

Reviewing material helps with memory and comprehension, so be sure to incorporate regular review sessions into your study schedule.

A review session might mean reviewing notes to identify your weakest areas or taking practice tests. Go back to your reading assignments and class notes to address anything that is unclear. If you still have questions, reach out to your professor or study group.

7. Identify Your Study Weaknesses

Everyone has a studying Achilles' heel. And knowing your study weakness can significantly improve your study sessions.

Are you easily distracted? Eliminate distractions by putting your phone on silent (or in the other room entirely) and using it as a reward after a focused study session. Are you prone to procrastination? Set a schedule — and stick with it. Do you work best in short bursts? Research the Pomodoro technique and keep your study sessions brief.

Ohio University recommends a variety of study strategies for different challenges. By understanding what derails your studying, you can set yourself up for success.

8. Know What to Study

Ever spent all your time reviewing concepts from the textbook only to have the test draw upon lecture materials? Knowing what to study plays a huge role in studying smarter.

What you should study, of course, depends on the course. Look at the syllabus and listen to your professor — those two sources should tell you where to devote your study time.

For example, will the exams use short-answer questions or multiple choice? Do you need to write essays? Understanding the assessment methods in your classes will guide you toward what to study.

9. Plan Ahead for Exams

It might feel tempting to pull an all-nighter before your midterms or finals. But did you know that staying up all night can impair your cognitive functions as much as being drunk? It's also terrible for your memory — the exact opposite of what you need to do well during an exam.

This is why it's important you plan ahead to avoid all-nighters. By sticking with a study schedule, you'll find it easier to wrap up studying and get a good night's sleep.

10. Take Breaks

Study breaks can actually improve the quality of your studying. So make sure to schedule breaks — and throw in a reward for productive sessions, too.

As University College London explains, breaks can improve your memory, reduce stress, and give you an energy boost. They're good for your physical health as well. Combine your break with some fresh air or physical activity to see even more benefits.

11. Reach Out for Help

What if you're using your most effective study tips for college and you're still struggling? Reach out for help when you need it. Consider contacting classmates or your study group first. If your class has a discussion board, you might post about specific problems.

Another option is to reach out to your professor by sending an email or going to office hours to ask for help. You can also look into tutoring services and writing centers at your college.

Finally, if you're struggling with test anxiety or other mental health issues that affect your studying, contact your school's mental health services office.

Feature Image: PeopleImages / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Compare Your School Options

View the most relevant schools for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to finding your college home.