How to Be Successful in College

Tips and techniques for raising your GPA and reducing your stress

College students listening to a lecture in lecture hall
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Nearly every college student detests cram sessions. Intense, high-stress study sessions can have detrimental effects on both your GPA and your health. And while there's no guaranteed roadmap to success in college, changing your study habits and adjusting your approach to your classes can make a big difference. The following tips are a great place to start.

Use Two Notebooks

Bring one notebook with you to class, and use it to scratch and scribble down everything you can. It doesn’t need to look neat—it doesn’t even need to be legible. After class (within an hour or so), transfer your notes to your second notebook. Take your time with these notes: highlight key points, mark subject areas your professor emphasized, look up definitions, and record questions for the next lecture.

The two-notebook method will help you retain information you might otherwise forget within days. Reviewing all the new material immediately after the lecture will keep it fresh in your mind. Plus, writing things down instead of typing them leads to better retention, according to the Scientific American.

Find a Study Buddy 

Make friends with someone in your class during the first week of the semester and schedule a regular study session. During your study sessions, review complicated chunks of information and explain them to each other. Think of the process like storytelling—turn your homework into stories, and tell those stories to each other. In addition to making a new friend, you and your study buddy will keep each other accountable all semester long. 

Get Enough Sleep

The importance of hydration, nutrition, and especially sleep cannot be overstated. Your ability to remember can drop by as much as 40 percent if you haven’t had adequate sleep. Aim to get adequate sleep as many nights as possible, and try to keep the same sleep schedule every night, even on weekends.

Know When You Work Best

Speaking of a sleep schedule, it’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all study schedule. There is plenty of research indicating benefits for both nighttime studying and early morning studying, so you shouldn't feel pressured to maintain an uncomfortable schedule. As long as you are getting enough sleep and keeping up with your commitments, your schedule is up to you. If you work late at night, make sure to give yourself space and time to sleep in every morning (don't sign up for 8 AM classes if you can help it). Not everyone is a morning person, and that is perfectly okay.

Try The Pomodoro Method 

The Pomodoro Technique is a focusing method that relies on short bursts of intense work and plenty of breaks. To try the technique, set a timer for 25 minutes and work on a single task. When the timer rings, take a five-minute break, then set another 25 minute timer and get back to work. After four 25-minute intervals, take a longer break. You may find that the Pomodoro Method helps you get more done in a shorter period of time without feeling burnt out. Plus, short study breaks are known to improve concentration.

Optimize Your Learning Style

Figure out your learning style, then adapt your study techniques to suit that style. Remember to experiment with a few strategies to find what works best for you. If none of the three primary learning styles feel like a great fit, you might benefit from a study strategy that combines two different styles.

Go to Office Hours

And not just when you’re struggling. Open lines of communication with your professors early in the semester so that, when questions arise, your professor will know you have a vested interest in the class and the material. Developing strong relationships with faculty will also help you if you are considering applying for scholarships or you need letters of recommendation for graduate school.

Bring Back Mario Kart

Or, more specifically, integrate the music into your study sessions. Music enhances brain activity, and the video game music is specifically design to stimulate brain activity and keep you focused. The wordless, upbeat songs will keep you motivated without distracting you.

Space Out Your Studying

Spacing out your studying is beneficial for long term retention of the material. If you review your notes each day for 15 minutes, you'll be able to retain what you learn in your classes for the long term. Try not to skip review days, or you risk losing what you have retained (especially if it’s new material).

Sweat and Study

There is a massive body of research that links exercise with good grades and improved learning and cognitive skills—especially if you exercise first and study second. If you are stuck in a study rut and your don’t have time to hit the gym, go for a quick walk. Fresh air and a change in environment will help you create connections and solve problems.

Change Locations

If you're struggling to focus in your study space, try studying in different locations. For some learners, a change in location builds stronger connections to the material that aren’t dependent on the location where they were originally learned; as a result, the information is more easily recalled later.

Consider a Part-Time Job

If you’re having trouble managing your study time, you might think getting a job will only compound the problem. However, research suggests that students who work part-time jobs while in school tend to get better grades because the experience improves time management skills.