Academic Success Study Strategies that Work

Study Strategies that Work

Donald M. Pearl, Ph.D.

As a Georgia Tech student, you will learn that you have to do more than read the book and cram the night before exams. Learning is a process that requires active engagement with the material over time, but more than anything else, it requires doing the assignments completely and correctly, whether this is solving the problem, doing the writing assignment, or working on the design project.

Students often say that they are studying for many hours, but are not getting the A’s and B’s that they expect from all of their hard work. Spending a lot of time studying is not necessarily going to help if you’re not using the time wisely and employing good study habits.

Successful study strategies are not always easy and may not yield quick results. However, if they are applied consistently over the course of a semester, they will result in better grades and a deeper understanding of the course material. 

STUDY STRATEGIES THAT WORK

Be prepared for class

  • Prepare for class by reading through the material beforehand. You may feel lost, but that is fine as you are just starting to learn some new and complicated material.
  • You should not feel the need to have a great understanding of concepts by doing the initial reading, you just want to be familiar with the key terms and formulas.
  • This will also help you pay special attention in class, as you will know where the instructor is headed and why they are stressing certain concepts.

Be engaged in class

  • Attend every class because every class is important. You will not have the same understanding by reading someone else’s notes or asking the teaching assistant later. Certainly, do not expect the instructor to tell you the “important” parts of a lecture you missed.
  • Be awake in class and fully concentrate on what the instructor is saying. Anticipate next steps in a solution, and attempt to answer any questions posed by the instructor even if you do not get called or raise your hand. You are looking to test yourself about how well you understand the lecture.
  • You need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night to be fully awake in class. Falling asleep in class occurs because you are not sleeping enough at night and not as the result of a boring lecture.
  • Sit in a seat with a clear view of the teacher and board, which will reduce distractions. These seats tend to be towards the front and center of the classroom.
  • Take enough notes to jog your memory, but do not try to transcribe every word that is written or said. Once class is finished, you may go back and fill in blanks while the material is fresh in your mind. This allows you to focus on what is happening in the class and gives you an opportunity to reinforce what you have learned through recall.
  • Turn off your phone and all other electronic communication devices. You are in class and should be focused on what is happening there. If you are reading a message on your phone then you have just missed something important that will be on the next test.

Be sure to complete all assigned work

  • Welcome to college! Most assignments are going to take more than one sitting to complete, so start working on them the day they are given.
  • Working on a problem over a couple of days will often help you solve it. You will find that you often give up on a problem one day then come up with the solution the next. “Sleeping on it” is often a good study strategy, assuming you have given yourself time by starting early and do not give up on finding the solution.
  • If you find you have problems you are not able to solve, then you need to seek help from study partners, teaching assistants, tutors, or instructors. You should assume that anything you do not know how to do will be on the next exam.
  • Review assignments, quizzes, and exams that have been returned. Fix any mistakes and make sure you know the answer to every question.

Be prepared for exams by studying early

  • The first assignment is the first step toward preparing for the exam. Not only do you want to complete the assignments, but you want to study from them for the exam.
  • Continue to review the earlier assignments as you do new ones. Generally, the new concepts build upon the older ones, so reviewing earlier assignments should help you complete the current assignments and prepare for the exam.
  • Redo every problem from an assignment or quiz to prepare for an exam, and redo the exams to prepare for the final. Just looking over the old work is not sufficient; you need to actually rework the problems from the beginning.
  • Work with partners to quiz each other and explain solutions. Sometimes one can get the correct answer to a problem, but not really understand why it works. Working with a partner encourages you to fully understand a solution.
  • The most important thing you can do to prepare for an exam is to go to sleep early and get a good night of rest. Even if you feel like you should have put in more time studying for an exam, staying up late just means you are underprepared and tired.
  • After a good night’s sleep, look over your problems and notes before class.

Be on time with long term projects

  • You will have some projects that will take several weeks to complete. It is easy to let work on these slide until you realize that you are running up on a deadline, which requires that you pull the dreaded “all nighter”. Avoid this by creating a timeline for completion of long term projects with specific deadlines for steps in the project.
  • Like a good engineer, you should set your project completion for several days ahead of the actual due date to account for unexpected setbacks, which you should expect.

Be a great Georgia Tech student

  • Never underestimate the value of sleep, exercise, and healthy food. Once you start neglecting your health, your ability to perform declines.
  • Work on your classes every day, including weekends. Daily reinforcement is a more effective learning strategy than cramming the night before.
  • You should perform those tasks that you will have to do on the exams. If the exam consists of solving a number of problems, then you should prepare by doing lots of them. If the exam consists of writing in response to prompts, then you should prepare by writing responses.
  • Make sure you complete all of the problems in every assignment and can do them again as part of your exam preparation.

All materials in this section are licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC 4.0.