College is different from high school in so many ways. The main difference is that you have greater freedom over how you manage your lifestyle; namely, you have more opportunities to do what you want to do. As someone who likes having a plan and sticking to a regular schedule, this was frustrating in some ways: everyday looks different to me, and I have to make room for flexibility/change of plans. However, this has also allowed me to explore and experiment different things to do and different ways to do things.
I’ve also realized that, though I have fewer hours of class each day, I spend more time after class preparing, studying and reviewing for my classes. Part of the learning comes from lectures and class discussions, but a large part of it also comes from independently studying the material assigned to you. In order to do this effectively, it’s important to understand how you study and work best.
1. Schedule what you want to do as well as what you actually do.
Scheduling what you want to do helps you be more oriented towards accomplishing those goals. I use the iCloud calendar to schedule all my classes, office hours I want to go to, workout/exercise times, as well as personal time for socializing, blogging, and others. But rarely do I do things by my schedule down to the exact minute, I also schedule what I actually do to see the times in which I’m most productive and can work uninterrupted for periods at a time.
2. Take notes by hand in class, and paste your notes digitally after classes.
In all my classes, my professors emphasize the importance of taking notes by hand. At first, I was skeptical by this idea. How could I possibly take notes by hand as fast and as neatly as I do digitally?
However, over time I gradually switched to taking notes by hand 90% of the time. Why?
- Physically taking notes forces your brain to process the information being presented to you better so that you can write it down as concisely as possible, whereas taking notes on your laptop often leads you to typing down everything you think is important, verbatim.
- You can map out your notes, making it as visual as possible to aid your understanding. It’s harder to do that when you’re typing on a laptop.
- You’re less prone to surf the web when you go old style, and less prone to distracting others as well. Whenever I sit towards the back of the room, I always get distracted by people with laptops in front of me, surfing the web mindlessly. It can be really distracting, annoying, and definitely unnecessary.
You can use pen and paper or a table to write down your notes. Though I have a Surface Pro (a tablet-laptop) that I can use as a notepad, I noticed that I prefer the regular pen and paper style much more. Figure out what suits you best, and stick to it.
Additionally, it’s useful to practice taking notes by hand quicker by learning to write in cursive relatively quickly and neatly. This way, you can actually take notes at a regular speed and understand your notes when you go review them. Talking about reviewing, I have also found it helpful to pass (important) notes to my laptop after classes. I mix my class notes with my reading notes in such way that I can understand them, as having my notes all in one place is useful when it comes to revision.
3. Make a cheat sheet even if you don’t have to.
Similar to taking notes, making a cheat sheet forces you to narrow your notes down to the most important points. It’s impossible to remember every fact, formula or explanation down to the very last detail, so by creating a cheat sheet you’re actually forcing yourself to understand and jot down what you believe is most important to your learning. If you can’t fit everything in, you’ll naturally want to fit in what’s most important.
4. Note down the methods of revision that work best for you.
Each class tests you on different materials and in different ways. Thus, you can’t study for one class the way you study for another. This is how I study for my classes this semester:
Science: I am taking an Astronomy class that is heavy on Physics material, and the midterms and finals are multiple-choice. There are a lot of resources from my class notes, textbook, and online, and these are the ones I usually use:
- Watch Crash Course videos on Astronomy, to refresh and strengthen my understanding
- Re-write slide notes, as test material comes directly from the slides
- Read “Concept Review” from textbook, which provide a nice summary of each chapter
- Review multiple choice questions from each chapter as preparation for the tests
- Learn formulas and when to use them, as a handful of questions comes from knowing which formulas to use and how
- Revision sheets, from class activities/handouts
Language: I am taking Chinese, which means that I have to do at least some revision every day to strengthen my long-term memory. It’s a lot of vocabulary, memorization, and just practice. This is what I usually do pretty much on a daily basis:
- Quizlet, to revise the newest set of vocabs and/or to revise old ones. I try to squeeze these review sessions in between my classes, when I’m waiting for something, or when I’m just procrastinating on my phone. It’s called good procrastination 🙂
- Read the textbook, to see how the vocab is used in context and to practice grammar. Ideally, I do this every morning before heading to classes
- Practice writing, as I have to hand write the characters for my writings and tests. It’s also good practice, as I gradually improve my Chinese handwriting and memorize the vocab better.
I recently found this “spaced repetition” memory technique on Thomas Frank’s website, which I think is really clever if you are seriously looking to expand your language learning beyond classroom usage.
History: This is a Hollywood class on both Film and History, very heavy on reading material and classic films. For this class, a lot of the revision lies in how well my notes are from class lectures, readings, and films. I’m also taking a Philosophy class, and I study and review for it in a similar manner to a History class:
- Read the assigned reading materials by noting down the argument, as well as specific examples. For Philosophy, I find it very helpful to read other people’s summaries on the Philosophers/texts that I have to read, as I can get different views on the same topic. However, there are pretty much zero summaries/reviews online for my Hollywood class, so I can only trust my reading skills to get the main ideas of the text before discussing it class.
- Review my notes, especially while I copy my handwritten notes to my Word document with all my other notes for the class. This helps to refresh my memory of the material dealt with in class that day, as well as piece my thoughts more coherently.
- Draft, draft, draft. For the writing assignments, it’s good to write one, two or even three drafts before turning them in. I do this by getting my first draft done days before the assignment is due, and then sleeping on it and coming back to it and seeing if my ideas have changed or not.
5. Use your school/college’s resources as MUCH as you can!
This means going to review sessions and office hours, signing up for peer-to-peer tutoring, and even conferring with friends about homework or test material. As an introvert, I’m not a fan of doing “extra” academic work that includes socializing. But more often than not, they have helped me understand the material quicker and with a different perspective:
- Office hours: whenever I’m given an assignment and I have doubts or concerns about my paper, the best way to clarify them is to go directly to your source.
- Peer-to-peer tutoring: some classes offer this service wherein another student helps you with your homework or assignment. Though the student may not always provide the help that you need as well as your teacher would, they are definitely helpful in providing you a different approach to your way of doing this.
- Other resources that your school offers. It’s definitely ‘extra work’ to ask for help outside of class, but it really helps for classes that you have most trouble with and when a big assignment is to be due. If you’re particularly interested in the class, it allows your teacher to see that you’re truly engaged in it!