Updated April 22, 2021 • 6 Min Read

How to Assess and Advance Your Study Habits Before College

For most individuals, college will provide the biggest challenge of their academic career. And even though it usually takes two or four years to a college degree, it only takes one semester to sink a GPA or substantially delay graduation. Therefore, it's important to brush up on study habits – or even learn new ones – before college begins. After all, students can expect to spend anywhere from 10 to 24 hours per week studying in college, and it's important to make every one of those hours count. This guide is here to help students determine their current study effectiveness and equip them with the study skills they need to succeed.

“One of the biggest mistakes high school students make entering college is underestimating the amount of studying they will have to do. Students may believe that because they like the subject or excelled in it in high school, that it will come easy in college.” Dr. Marquita S. Blades

“Your attitude is key in dealing with the stress and anxiety of college. Approach your studies with a positive attitude.” Rita Schiano

4 Crucial Study Skills to Master Before College

The following is a list of study skills you'll want to make sure you have before your first day of class.

  • Note Taking Note taking is a staple study skill, even in this age of apps, smartphones and tablets. Whether it's dictating into a device, typing on a laptop or writing with pen and paper, students will have to be able to take information they see or hear and place it in written form. As information comes so quickly, students should learn how to glean key information and ignore less important points or those they can access at a later time.
  • Time Management Making efficient use of time will be one of the most important skills a college student can have. There is a way to fit it classes, studying and a social life, though sacrifices might need to be made. Even when a student cuts back on social activities to focus on school, careful management of that free time is critical. Students will need to organize their studying to fit into the time and resources available, such as that 10-minute window between classes.
  • Organization Organization is essential to keep track of the obligations, assignments and responsibilities in college. Even the best time managements skills will be useless if students can't keep track of what they have due and when. Remember, organization is very personalized. Whether it's a paper agenda, digital calendar or small notebook, students must find a way to stay organized that works for them.
  • Memorization The ability to memorize large amounts of information will be useful to create a strong foundation for learning more substantive concepts. Whether memorizing foreign vocabulary words or scientific formulas, students must find ways to repeat large amounts of information. To aid in memorization, students must figure out what strategies work best for them, such as creating mnemonics, flashcards, outlines or taking special notes.

“One of the biggest mistakes I see with my students is time management with procrastination being the biggest culprit. For some people, doing assignments very close to the due date works for them because the adrenaline helps with focus. But for many, that is not the case and stress and anxiety set in.” Rita Schiano

Common Study Pitfalls & How to Avoid Them

If you can't reach your academic potential, there's a good chance you're victim to at least one or more of the following college study pitfalls.

Pitfall #1: Cramming the night before.

Compared to high school, tests and exams are typically spread further apart. This means there will be a lot of material to cover for each test. Instead of trying to cover everything the night before (which doesn't lead to long-term learning and prevents you from getting a good night's rest), begin your test review at least a few days before the exam.

Pitfall #2: Not getting extra help.

It's not surprising that students have trouble grasping new material the first time they receive exposure to it. Sometimes it takes a few tries to learn it or an alternative teaching method before it “clicks.” Find a tutor, use a study buddy or meet with the professor during office hours to get extra help. Do it well before test time!

Pitfall #3: Allowing study groups to turn into social groups.

It's easy for a group study session to turn into a social event if group members don't remind themselves to go over the course material. Set an agenda before the meeting begins and have a deadline to help stay on task. Otherwise, it's very easy for the group to meet for three hours and only spend 45 minutes actually going over the material.

Pitfall #4: Giving in to distractions.

The solution to this pitfall will depend on what kind of distractions are preventing studying from taking place. Turning off the television, radio or phone might be adequate. However, you might need to also turn off your computer or find a study cubicle deep in your college library where it's extremely quiet.

Pitfall #5: Not getting enough sleep

Staying up all night and sleeping in until noon is a rite of passage in college. However, to get the most out of studying, you should limit this type of sleep pattern. Studying is most effective when you get enough rest the night before. This might mean not going out as often or taking two days to binge watch an entire season of your favorite television show, but you'll notice a difference when you study.

“Studying with friends can be a mistake. Students don't always know their learning styles so studying with people who learn differently can actually be a waste of time, not to mention, a general distraction.” Dr. Marquita S. Blades

Study Methods for College-Bound Students

There are almost as many methods to study as there are classes to study for. Below are some of the fundamental study methods most college students will need to learn to reach their college potential.

“Students should also be willing to try several study techniques in order to find what will work and have patience with themselves as they navigate this transition!” Dr. Marquita S. Blades

Study Method #1: Create a study routine.

This routine can refer to a variety of factors, such as time of day or location. It might include using a specific study cubicle on a particular floor in a library right after dinner. Or perhaps it includes going to the gym right before a study session to relax the body. Whatever it is, develop a routine. It will help with learning and make it easier to create a learning mindset before you actually study.

Study Method #2: Active recall.

Taking notes and rereading the material is helpful, but it can lead to overconfidence. Instead, try to actively recall the information by removing access to the material, such as by closing the textbook and avoiding looking at the notes and course materials. Self-testing can include talking it through or writing down what has already been learned, then comparing it with what needs to be learned.

Study Method #3: Review of information.

Never assume you can learn something new in class, never review it again, then have perfect recall of it on the test several weeks or months later. The human mind simply doesn't work that way. Instead, get organized and review the information gradually, over time, in small study sessions that help integrate all the material. These reviews might include rewriting notes, outlining, completing study exercises or rereading the material.

Study Method #4: Teach the material.

Nothing proves understanding better than teaching the material to someone else who doesn't understand it very well. This is one of the key advantages of study groups, as they provide the opportunity to explain key concepts to a fellow classmate. Not only does teaching it to someone else aid in retention and understanding, but any gaps or holes in understanding will quickly become evident when trying to teach it to someone else.

Study Method #5: Take practice tests.

A practice test can not only help identify areas of weakness but can provide familiarity with the format and style of the test. Additionally, catching the wrong answers can help pinpoint where more studying needs to take place. Talk to the professor about practice tests that will accurately reflect the format and style that will be presented on exam day for even more test-taking study power.

“Create a dedicated study space, whether in the dorm, library, or campus study rooms. Make a schedule and devote blocks of time for studying. During that time, it is critical to put away the cellphone and disengage auto-notifications from social media sites.” Rita Schiano

8 Apps to Improve Study Skills

If you're heading to college, you'll probably have a smartphone, tablet or laptop and can take advantage of one or more of the following apps to help you study.

“With today's generation being much more digital than ever, I recommend that students find an online resource with videos that they can watch to support their study efforts.” Dr. Marquita S. Blades


Exam Countdown Lite Free, with premium versions costing extra

For those who procrastinate or easily forget deadlines, this app lets students know when tests or exams are scheduled with a handy countdown daily timer.

iStudiez Pro $2.99

iStudiez PRO helps college students stay organized with their assignments and grades.

Note taking

AudioNote LITE Free

AudioNote LITE is an app that synchronizes and indexes conventional notes with audio recordings. This allows users to find a specific piece of information in a voice recording without having to listen to the entire recording.

Evernote Basic Free, with premium versions costing extra

Evernote is one of the most popular note taking apps for mobile devices. Besides taking handwritten or typed notes, users can record voice notes, scan anything and use a variety of sharing options.

Study aids

Cold Turkey Free, with premium versions costing extra

Cold Turkey is the ultimate tool for blocking distractions. It can prevent you from using your computer or mobile device to access the internet or specific websites for a set period of time.

Memrise Free, with premium versions costing extra

Memrise helps with learning foreign languages through a variety of tools, including videos, games and pronunciation guides.

SimpleMind $7.99 - $46.49, depending on operating system

SimpleMind is an expensive piece of software, but it's one of the best for creating mind maps to organize complex relationships and ideas, expressing them in tangible form.

Quizlet Free, with premium versions costing extra

Quizlet allows the creation of flashcards. Students can also use flashcards made by other Quizlet users to help with studying that involves memorization.

“Set study goals. Before you begin studying, summarize a few objectives, gather what you will need, and determine a general strategy of accomplishment. Lastly, reward yourself upon completion.” Rita Schiano

Additional Resources for Students to Improve Study Habits

Looking for more help on how to study for college? Check out the following resources.

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