How to Take Good Notes: 4 Study Tips for College Students

A student realizes how to study in college and take good notes.

It’s likely that at some point in your college life, you’ve pressed a textbook to your forehead, wishing you could magically transfer its content into your brain. You probably also found that studying doesn’t work like that. 

Learning can be overwhelming, especially for college students. One survey showed that the average student spends 9.7 hours studying and 16.5 hours working per week. When schedules intensify and assignments pile up, how can you effectively manage your study time and successfully meet college’s academic demands? One of the best ways to make the most of the time you spend studying textbooks and increase your understanding is to use learning strategies. 

Here are four methods to help you know how to study in college.

1. Connect new information with what you know.

We often draw from what we already know to understand new ideas. If you find yourself caught in a confusing section of text, look for sentences or words that make sense to you. Try to understand who or what is the subject of the text. You can even think about how the information or sequence of events is similar to something you’ve seen or read before. 

One helpful way to relate what you’re reading to what you already know is to use mnemonic devices, or take what you want to remember and pair it with a word, phrase, picture or song. You can also try the memory palace technique, where you visually pair what you want to remember with a familiar place or thing. 

2. Preview, set a purpose and predict.

Before you start reading, you should preview the chapter for the big picture. Glance over titles, pictures and summary paragraphs to get a general idea of the content. Once you have an idea of what the chapter is about, think about the purpose behind your reading or what you need to learn from the section. 

Then make predictions before you start reading. Think about how you might solve the questions presented in the text or how you think an event or experiment might turn out. Even if the text seems boring, you can trick your mind into engaging with the information by asking questions and being curious about what you’re learning.

3. Engage with the text.

It’s important that you engage with the content you’re studying. Instead of just reading the text, find ways to connect and process your thoughts about the content. You could make annotations on post-it notes, keep a double-entry journal, where you ask questions and document what you found interesting, or try mind mapping

Improve your reading by writing down key points, clarifications, connections and questions. Finding ways to engage with your text will keep you from zoning out while you study and help you remember what you’re learning

4. Review and practice.

Be sure to summarize and review what you have learned. Chat with a classmate, teach the content to a friend or family member, create a study guide for the chapters you read, write down everything you remember in a “brain dump” or reassess the predictions you made prior to reading. You could also test yourself by using Quizlet or creating and answering your own questions without looking at your notes. The more you review what you’ve learned, the more you will understand and remember what you’ve read. 

Studying may seem exhausting at first. But the more you engage with what you’re reading, the easier it will be. If you’re wondering how to study in college, experiment with new strategies to see what works best for you. Don’t be afraid to try different memory techniques or ways of engaging with your text. Practicing and engaging with what you’ve learned will help your study times be more productive and help you better understand what you’re reading. 

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