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Seven Tips for College Students

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So it’s that time of year again, midterms. Many students have difficulty knowing how to study, what to study, where to study, and a litany of other pressing questions. When midterm time comes around, it can be very easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information one is required to retain. Talking with college students, many individuals have nice little tips for studying.

That being said, I figured I’d list them so that others can benefit. Some of the best advice often comes from your peers. So here are some tips I received while walking around campus during midterm week.

1. Find Your Study Space

This was a big deal for many of the students I talked to. Your study space is your learning sanctuary. Therefore, it needs to be a place where you can absorb and retain all the information I’m sure you’ve been studying throughout the semester or quarter. Some important things to remember about your space are how to limit distractions. Coffee shops are nice, but can sometimes get a little loud. If you are the type of person who can’t stand any noise while you are trying to study, then you may want to consider some place like a library, or maybe the comfort of your own room. However, if you are someone who is easily pulled away from work by video games, the television, or friends, then you may want to find some place where none of those things will be. Your study space is the foundation, and therefore it is tremendously important.

2. Pick Some Nice Music or Stick with Silence

There are two groups of students, those who can study with noise, and those who cannot. If you like silence, then music may not be your thing. However, if you can deal with noise, then music can sometimes be a great tool for learning. The type of music you select is up to you. However, some experts claim that classical or orchestral music can sometimes help learning by unlocking different nerve centers in the brain. That could be accurate; you never know unless you try. Remember to simply do whatever helps you focus more. If dead silence makes it so you can read for hours on end, then go for the silence. If hearing a band play guitars as loud as possible while screaming into the microphone works for you, then go for it.

3. Take Short Study Breaks

Never underestimate the power of a nice, short study break. Academic experts often say that cramming for exams is very counter-productive because the brain is forced to intake a substantial amount of information in such a short period of time and is unable to process it all. With studying, you don’t want to remember a little fact and then forget it less than ten minutes later. You want to learn the material so well you can reproduce it on the test with no problem. This can be made easier by short study breaks. After reading a huge chapter, take a few minutes to “digest” the material. Get a drink of water, use the restroom, or simply take a lap around your library (or wherever you may be studying). Put in longer breaks (like a break for a full meal) between switching subjects. Moving instantly from one subject to another is never a good idea, especially depending on the material. My one friend was a language major, and one time he spent a whole evening switching between studying Japanese and Spanish. Needless to say, I don’t think his Japanese teacher was too pleased with seeing “Hola” written on the test.

4. Be Rested before You Study

Getting good rest the night before the exam is important. However, so is getting rest before you study! It does no one any good to sit and try to study on little sleep. Your brain will not be rested enough to truly take in the information. More than likely, you’ll end up getting very tired after only a little study. If you know you are heading down to your study space the next day, make sure you get some rest. If you are extremely tired the next day, take a quick nap before studying. The goal with any learning is to make the mind a sponge, capable of taking in all the information you need it to. If you are studying half asleep, you might as well not be studying at all.

5. Be Fed Before You Study

Have you ever been hungry? Have you ever been hungry and tried to accomplish a task? From personal experience, I can’t complete anything if all I’m thinking about is food. That goes for studying as well. If you are trying to learn the history of Eastern Europe, and you find yourself reading the section on European cuisine over and over again, it might be time for a nice food break. Studying with a full stomach is great for your mind. There are all sorts of vitamins and nutrients available for your brain to use while it’s working overtime. Also, you won’t be thinking about food, and you’ll be able to focus more effectively on the material.

6. Come Up With a Study Plan

Dealing with midterms is a lot like war, you have to know how to attack the enemy. In this case, the enemy is the material. Coming up with a study plan is extremely helpful. It also helps you stay on pace. If you write down a schedule and give yourself two hours for one subject, and two for another, then you are forcing yourself to give equal time to both. One year I didn’t make a schedule and ended up spending almost all my time on one class and, as a result, very little on another. What ended up happening was I got a great grade in the one subject, and a not-so-great (in fact, pretty bad) grade on the other. Had I divided my time equally, I could have easily achieved decent grades on both examinations. Schedules can also work against procrastination. If you know you only have two hours to study a certain topic, then you had better spend those two hours studying it.

7. Relax, but be focused

The single biggest mistakes students make (especially those who may have not had midterm experience before in college) is to panic. Panicking and studying do not go well together. You won’t learn anything by racing through books and trying to memorize everything you possibly can in a short span of time. If you are feeling overwhelmed, just take some time to calm down. If you’ve already started studying too late, nothing can be done to change it, and panicking will just exacerbate the problem. Calm down, and come up with a plan of attack for studying. Study what you can, and memorize what you can. Stay focused on the task at hand and you’ll probably do better than you would have if you just kept panicking.

So there are seven tips. They may not be Earth-shattering, but they should certainly help you to do better on midterms. The important thing is to have a good plan of attack, a good setting, and state of mind. If you have those three things, then the rest is simply studying, which isn’t too difficult. Remember also, it never hurts to study with a friend, so after you’ve learned all you can learn, find someone to help test you; it could make a big difference.

Susan Jacobs is a freelance writer as well as a regular contributor for CollegeDegree.com, a site helping students to lean more about distance learning colleges. Susan invites your questions, comments and freelancing job inquiries at her email address susan.jacobs45@gmail.com