By Ceanna Hayes Daniels
June 20, 2022

Study Strategies

One of the best things about college is that you’re no longer constrained by the limits of your high school self. You have the opportunity to take up sports you never played before, or to study books or philosophers you’d always been curious about but never had time to read. You might choose to completely change your style, or to go by your full name instead of that childhood nickname you want to outgrow. You have the chance to become the person you want to be, not just the person you’ve always been.

While that opportunity for growth most immediately affects your perceived identity, it also affects your habits. When you get to college, you might try out being a morning person, implement a new evening routine to improve your sleep schedule, work on maintaining boundaries, or start bullet journaling. Just as importantly, though, you should also experiment with new study strategies, because your old high school methods won’t necessarily match your new college workload.

Timeframe?

One of the most important aspects of studying in college — as well as one of the most important aspects of scheduling your classes — is picking the right timeframe. Ask yourself, “when am I most productive during the day?,” then allow the answer to inform your schedule. Maybe you have amazing focus when you first wake up, so you decide to take afternoon classes and use your mornings to study and work on papers. Alternatively, maybe you’re a night owl who needs to be awake for a few hours before your brain can get into gear. In that case, devote a few evenings each week to tackling especially complex reading assignments or to brainstorming for upcoming essays.

Whatever schedule you decide on, be sure to schedule both time with friends and time to study so that you maintain a healthy work-life balance. Don’t fall into the trap of procrastinating your homework until the last minute so that you could hang out if anyone asked, but don’t let yourself become a recluse, either. Community is crucial to enjoying college, so try to balance homework and developing friendships.

Timeline?

Second, think about how long you need to study for each assignment. This will vary from class to class, and from assignment to assignment. It’s important to give yourself time to settle into each class and figure out the amount of time you need for the kinds of assignments your professor gives. As a general rule, assume that you’ll need to devote three hours of study per week to each credit hour of a class. Enrolled in a one-credit exercise class? You’ll be working out roughly three hours that week, or about one hour every other day. Taking a three-credit English class? Expect to spend about nine hours a week working on the readings and preparing for quizzes.

However, some classes won’t match up to that timeline. Maybe your chemistry professor assigns several chapters from a dense textbook each day, so you can’t complete the reading assignments as quickly as you had planned and have to reevaluate your timeline. This is exactly why it’s important to give yourself a few weeks to figure out the best schedule for studying. There’s nothing embarrassing about adjusting your expectations, and you’ll only place unnecessary pressure on yourself if you believe that you have to have it all figured out from day one. Rather than panic about getting it right immediately, focus on making your schedule and study strategies work for you over time.

Ideal Volume Levels?

One factor that’s easy to overlook in a study space is its volume level. Some students need the hustle and bustle of a communal space to stay motivated, while others need absolute silence to focus. Try studying in different locations to see what works for you. Remember to try them at different times of day, as well; sometimes your perfect study spot is only perfect when it’s early morning and you can work in tranquility. If that’s the case — but you want to study there in the louder afternoon as well — consider noise-cancelling headphones and study playlists. Rain sounds, classical music, white noise, and lofi are all great options!

Individually or with Friends?

Study groups can be your attention span’s best ally or worst enemy — it all depends on the group’s size, the material you’re studying, and the people in the group. For example, you’re more likely to stay on track when studying for an exam with one or two classmates than in a large group. Remember, what works well for one class or assignment might not work for another; you might be able to study with talkative friends while reading a textbook, but seek solitude and quiet when writing essays.

Yet again, the key is flexibility. Figuring out what will work on an individual day given the homework you have is more important than unilaterally decreeing that you only work alone or only work with friends.

Keep experimenting with study strategies throughout college, especially during your freshman year! Figuring out on a case-by-case basis what will be most effective — for both your productivity and your mental health — is often more helpful than attempting to enforce one unchanging system across every class and assignment. Be patient with yourself and stay open to new ideas or methods; finding effective study strategies over time is more important than seeming like you have it all figured out freshman year.

Ceanna Hayes Daniels

Ceanna Hayes Daniels is freelance writer and editor. In 2022, she graduated Hillsdale College summa cum laude with a degree in politics. In her free time, she continues to enjoy studying philosophy, political theory, and literature. She and her husband live in Michigan, where the two enjoy perusing bookstores together for new books and old records.
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