It’s finals week (or close to it) for many of the universities, so it seems a fitting time to talk about academics. Unless you’re just in school for the parties, most students want to succeed academically, and we can always use more tips for doing just that.
Different study and learning techniques will work for different people with different personalities and learning styles, but there are a few ideas that work across the board. These are my top five tips for achieving academic excellence, which I used all the time when I was studying at The Ohio State University. Share what works (or worked) for you in the comments!
1) Study Concepts
I think some of the best advice I received was to study with the goal of understanding the ideas behind a subject instead of just memorizing specifics. Knowing facts and formulas can get you through a test, but if you understand why the fact is true then you’re more likely to get high scores.
“B students” can answer questions; “A students” know why the answer is right (that’s not the only difference, but it’s an important one). With this method, you’re not cramming your head full of facts right before a test hoping you’ll pass — you’re studying the subject consistently, trying to really understand and learn it.
2) Take notes by hand.
There’s something about the act of writing things down that helps it stick in your mind. When I was in school, I’d take notes in lectures, while reading textbooks, and as a study aid when preparing for tests – especially for the subjects I struggled with.
This is partly because my primary learning style is “Read/Write,” but psychology studies indicate that it’s true for most, if not all, students. Students who take longhand notes do better on exams and have more accurate long-term recall of facts and concepts than students who take notes on their laptops.
3) Take breaks.
If you’re studying something you love, this isn’t so much of an issue, but for something you’re not passionate about your mind will start to wander. I had to discipline myself to sit down and study for a certain amount of time, then take a walk or work on something else for a few minutes before going back.
You might think it makes sense to stay up late cramming for an exam or get a few extra hours of study in, but it may actually do more harm than good.
Sleep plays a critical role in thinking and learning. Lack of sleep hurts these cognitive processes in many ways. First, it impairs attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning, and problem solving. This makes it more difficult to learn efficiently.
Second, during the night, various sleep cycles play a role in “consolidating” memories in the mind. If you don’t get enough sleep, you won’t be able to remember what you learned and experienced during the day (WebMD).
On WebMD’s list of 10 effects from lack of sleep, it lists forgetfulness, impaired judgement, and lower cognitive abilities — none of which is good for academic excellence. Know how many hours of sleep you need on a regular basis, and make sure you get it.
5) Talk With Teachers.
When I was in college, it helped me to get to know the professor a little. Some are happiest if you answer questions in a precise way, others will encourage more creativity in assignments. Knowing what they expect of you, and planning your responses accordingly, helps ensure higher grades. And it’s not just about improving grades — some of my most valued connections during my time at university were with faculty members.
Making time to talk with your teachers and ask a question or two lets them know you’re interested in their classes. They’ve spent many years studying the subjects they teach, and love it when students actually take their classes seriously. Be genuine — if you love the class, then it’ll be easy to talk about, but even if you don’t like a class, you can still ask honest questions like “Do you have any study tips? I really want to do well in your class.”