As you approach your first midterms of the year, you may find yourself forgetting the material covered early in the term. All college students can benefit from reviewing their notes and reading assigned texts, but everyone has different study habits, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to acing exams.
We reached out to former students throughout the country to get tips on what helped them study effectively. Whether it's creating a conducive study atmosphere or chewing gum to enhance your concentration, the best study tips help you remain focused and engaged for long periods of time. Below, we've compiled some of our favorite tips and tricks for studying for your next college exam.
List of Study Tips for College Students
Number 1 Study Tip
Create an Atmosphere Conducive to Studying
As with many events and activities in life, it's important to create the proper atmosphere. Studying is more effective when you establish the proper conditions and environment.
One proven way to create an atmosphere is through the senses. While the effects of essential oils are still being studied, the essential oil industry has grown exponentially in the past five years. Writing for The Los Angeles Times, Lily Dayton says that while essential oils may depend on the placebo effect, "since aromatherapy has few adverse effects, there's no harm in giving it a try if you enjoy the smell of essential oils."
It has long been thought that certain essential oils can help boost productivity. The American College of Healthcare Sciences, an accredited holistic college, recommends essential oils like rosemary and bergamot to increase productivity and infuse your workspace with an uplifting scent.
I recommend trying essential oils and soft music together. [In my opinion] the best essential oils for studying are rosemary oil, peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil, and lemon essential oil.
Ivan Orville, a health and lifestyle editor at Shiny Leaf, speaks to how essential oils helped in college: "I recommend trying essential oils and soft music together. [In my opinion] the best essential oils for studying are rosemary oil, peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil, and lemon essential oil."
Orville also recommends combining scents with sounds to create an ideal study atmosphere. "Diffuse any of these essential oils in the room," Orville said. "Then pick a playlist or album you like to play. Together, they can work to give you a fresh and stimulating atmosphere that boosts mind function and memory."
While an essential oil diffuser is ideal, there are several other effective ways to use essential oils while studying, including through the use of spray bottles, cotton balls, or tissues. No matter what method you use, however, be sure to research how to use essential oils safely.
Number 2 Study Tip
Take Frequent, Timed Breaks
Former student Joe Flanagan, who is currently a lead App Developer at GetSongbpm, gave some study advice all students can get behind: "Make sure you take a break," Flanagan encouraged. "Breaks may seem the opposite to what you are being told, but keeping your mind focused on studying for too long can actually cause a reduction in focus and attention. Set a timer and take a break for a few minutes every hour."
Breaks may seem the opposite to what you are being told, but keeping your mind focused on studying for too long can actually cause a reduction in focus and attention. Set a timer and take a break for a few minutes every hour.
Although most students imagine being trapped in the library for hours while studying for a test, breaks are proven to boost productivity. In his article for Forbes, Kevin Kruse encourages students to work in small time increments and to view breaks as a productivity tool.
Kruse writes, "Instead of trying to cut out time for breaks or exercise, realize that these activities can actually be used to boost your productivity." Use breaks to get up and move around, or even take a short walk. Doing so can help you reset for your next study session.
Oregon State University's Academic Success Center offers a helpful study guide on when and how to take a break. Tips include taking a break after studying for 45-60 minutes and setting a break time limit.
Number 3 Study Tip
Take Organized Notes
Whether you prefer jotting down notes by hand or on your computer, note-taking is proven to increase knowledge retention. Flanagan agrees: "Notes make it easier to study, so be sure to take notes in classes, when reading through textbooks, and whenever you do research. Next, keep these notes organized."
Since we all process information differently, the art of note taking is a matter of tailoring your notes to your individual learning style. To begin with, there are five popular note-taking styles, including the Cornell and mapping methods. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages, so consider what will work best for you.
Reviewing your notes is just as important as your note-taking style. Take time to think about what the professor is saying and write down relevant questions. Consider organizing or rewriting your notes — doing this can help you retain information more accurately.
A 2015 study by Edwin A. Locke found a positive correlation between taking notes on course material and getting good course grades. Locke also discovered that the thoroughness of note-taking declined with the length of a lecture, so remember to stay focused. Important material is often covered during the second half of a long lecture, so don't doze off during the latter half of the class.
Number 4 Study Tip
Take Your Studying With You
Although flashcards can be a nuisance to make, they are highly effective and proven to help memory retention. Jessi Beyer, a personal development coach and graduate from the University of Minnesota, used flashcards as an undergraduate.
"Make your own flashcards," Beyer suggested. "This study tip has two benefits. First, as you rewrite and summarize the material onto flashcards, you'll remember it better. Second, flashcards are a great way to get some quick studying in. Five minutes in line waiting to check out at the store? There's a chance to study. A few spare minutes before bed? There's another chance. Flashcards are simple and portable, and they really do work."
Five minutes in line waiting to check out at the store? There's a chance to study. A few spare minutes before bed? There's another chance. Flashcards are simple and portable, and they really do work.
A 2007 study, by Nate Kornell and Robert A. Bjork, found that students use flashcards as a form of self-regulated study. Similarly, a 2012 study by Jonathan M. Golding, Nesa E. Wasarhaley, and Bradford Fletcher evaluated 415 undergraduate students and their use of flashcards in an introductory psychology course. The results found that, "Students who used flashcards for all three exams had significantly higher exam scores overall than those students who did not use flashcards at all or only used flashcards on one or two exams."
Since flashcards are portable, they are especially helpful for college students who have busy schedules. You can review flashcards during a bus commute or while waiting in line for coffee — every bit helps. If making flash cards yourself is too much, there are plenty of apps for your phone that can make the process easier.
Beyer also recommends another successful studying strategy: "Teach someone else the material. Even if you aren't an expert in the material, tutoring a classmate or even helping a friend will cement the knowledge in your mind like nothing else. It forces you to take a difficult concept, pull out the important parts, and simplify it into easy-to-understand sentences. This process will help you understand the information at depth and realize what's actually important for you to remember."
Number 5 Study Tip
Chew Gum to Improve Concentration
This tip is certainly unconventional, but it works. Ciara Hautau, a digital marketing strategist and a recent graduate from Clemson University, used chewing gum as a study hack while in college. "Chewing gum, as weird as it sounds — this helped me a ton," Hautau said. "Whenever I had gum to chew while I was studying, it kept me feeling focused. I believe it also kept me somewhat less hungry, which eliminated the additional distraction of constantly wanting to make a snack."
Whenever I had gum to chew while I was studying, it kept me feeling focused.
Studying and chewing gum has been heavily researched and proven to increase alertness. A 2018 study, by Paul Ginns, Theresa Kim, and Eleni Zervos, saw a positive correlation between chewing gum and good test performance. Various scientific studies examine how chewing gum increases concentration. Other studies have linked chewing gum to improving memory.
Hautau added, "I think I also started to associate chewing gum with studying and focusing, so whenever I didn't feel focused, I would reach for my pack of gum, and that automatically put me into study mode."
Like many habits, chewing gum is something that puts you in "study mode" and signals to your brain that it is time to sit down and concentrate. When you're heading into your next study session, consider bringing a pack of gum.
Be Creative With Your Study Habits
Whether you're heading into your first midterm as a freshman or finishing up your final few courses before you graduate, it's never too late to learn effective study methods. Figuring out how you retain information and remember course material is an important part of college and will help you well after graduation.
Different methods work for different people, whether it's taking a moment to organize your notes or diffusing essential oils at home. No matter what your habits are, remember that what seems conventional for most college students may not be the best study method for you.