This resource was prepared by the Business Communications Lab at the Sam M. Walton College of Business.
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Effective study habits can be difficult to form, especially if you are just starting college. There is so much advice out there that it can be difficult to determine what works and what doesn’t. These 4 study tips are the aspects of studying we find to be the most important. 

The Importance of a Study Space

Finding a study space that’s right for you can make studying a lot more enjoyable. Studying in a coffee shop, library, or any public place has a lot of advantages. Being somewhere you can grab your favorite cup of coffee or bite to eat can be a quick and easy thing to do when you take a break and provide an incentive for when you complete a task. These are also great places to meet with others if you’re in a study group, especially if that location is on campus. If you’re going to have to spend a lot of time on campus anyway, finding a good place where you like to study can ensure you’re making good use of all your time. However, public places can also be distracting. If you are easily distracted by the background noise of a public place, or you love to talk to others, a public place may not be the best choice for you.

Studying in a private, quiet place, like a study room or even in your own home, has its own advantages. Private study spaces are usually much quieter and freer from distractions. If you like to think out loud or pace around the room while you study, a private place can be a much more comfortable study area. Since you have control over your study space, you can play ambient music, and even light a candle to make your studying as cozy as can be. However, private study areas come with their own set of distractions. If you’re studying at home, television, social media, video games, and even spending time with your roommates can be very tempting when you’re trying to study. If you’re easily tempted by these distractions, studying in a private place might not be best for you. It’s important to find out where you can study hard, efficiently, and free from distractions. Try a bunch of different places out and see what works for you.

Finding Time to Study

All too often, people don’t study because they think they don’t have the time. It’s a common misconception that you need to sit down for hours to get anything out of studying, and this just isn’t true. Studying for any amount of time can be helpful. If you have five minutes before class starts, spend five minutes going over your notes. If you have fifteen minutes before you leave to go out with your friends, spend fifteen minutes doing some of the reading for class. Not only does this make the best use of your time, but constant, small study sessions throughout the day can be very beneficial to your understanding of the material.

On that note, planning out your study time makes a big difference. Before you start your study session, you should know what you want to study, how you want to study it, and how long you plan on studying. Some people prefer a traditional paper planner, but you can use online calendars and planners as well. Not only does keeping a study plan make your studying easier, but it’s also a way to hold yourself accountable. Next to your study plan, take note of how closely you followed it. This helps you hold yourself accountable, and it lets you know whether your plans work for you or not so you can make better study plans in the future. Most importantly, if you follow your study plan throughout the week, reward yourself! Positive reinforcement will encourage you to keep studying.

Reviewing and Condensing Your Notes

By the end of the year, you will likely have hundreds of pages notes. Using all of these class notes to study is extremely difficult, and not an efficient use of your time. That’s why you should set aside time every week to condense your notes into a smaller, easier to digest format. One good way to condense your notes is by making a course outline, where you take the most important information you need to know and place it into a bullet-pointed document. You can find an example of a class outline here (your outline doesn’t have to be this long and detailed, just put in as much information as you need). A course outline is great for taking all the information you learn in class and putting it in a short, easy to follow format.

If outlines seem a little too bland or dense for you, there are lots of other good ways to condense your notes. Making flowcharts, diagrams, and tables can help put complex information into an easy to understand format, especially for visual learners. You can draw these out yourself on a piece of paper, or you can make them with free online software. Of course, flashcards are an excellent study tool as well. While they help with testing your memory of class concepts, they can also be a good tool for condensing your notes. Simply take the basic information from your notes and divide them up onto many different flashcards. If you don’t like handwriting flashcards, here is a free online tool to help you out. No matter how you do it, taking time out of your week to condense your class notes is a surefire way to success.

The 3 P's: Practice, Practice, Practice

While some may think studying means just reviewing class material, that is only one step in the study process. Practice exams are some of the most effective ways to master class material. Knowing the material won’t help you on exam day if you can’t apply your knowledge in multiple-choice, short-answer, and essay formats. The first thing you want to do is to prepare everything you need for your practice exam. Find out how many questions, and what kind of questions, are on the exam, how much time you have, and whether you can use notes or not. Second, find some practice questions. You can try asking your professor for practice questions, but you can also likely find some in your textbook. Once you have all the information and materials, you’re ready to take your practice exam.

Before you take the practice exam, try to recreate the test environment to reflect what it will be like on test day. Completely remove yourself from distractions and set up your workspace to reflect what it would be like on test day. Then, set a timer for the amount of time you would have to take the exam, and take it. After taking the exam, go over your answers and see what you did well and what could be improved. Not only will taking a practice text help to prepare you for exams, but it will also help you to know what material you struggle with so you can focus on that during your study period. Additionally, consider setting up an appointment with a professor to go over your practice exam. Reviewing the exam is just as important as taking it.

Here is a video made by BCL staff on Effective Study Habits.


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