Advice on How to Study in College

Our panel of experts reveal their secrets for hitting the books without letting them ruin your life.

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Here's what many freshmen think college life will be like: Party, party, party. Here's what professors think college life should be like: Study, study, study. As Hamlet would say, "Ay, there's the rub." You may meet Hamlet one day in a college English class—he's the star of a play by some dude named Wilson Shakespond.

Now let's say you're reading Hamlet and don't know what "there's the rub" means—you were up late watching drunken puppies on YouTube, and you fell asleep when the professor explained it. And you didn't ask during office hours because you didn't want the teacher to think you were, like, dumb or anything.

The great thing about being a college student is you can look up "there's the rub" on the Internet. So you write down what told you: "there's the rub = something that you say when you are explaining what the difficulty is in a particular situation."

Whew, so you aren't going to fail that class!

Now, let's review what we've learned. You can rock your brains out at college parties. But there's a catch, aka "the rub": You also have to study. Twenty-six or so hours a week, according to professors. Or else you'll flunk out.

There's another rub. Many freshmen do not know how to study. In a survey conducted for this article, 11 out of 14 people admitted as much. Asked if high school prepared her for college challenges, Katarzyna Dolinska, Cornell '07, stated, "Oh, God, not at all!"

"I used to study half an hour for a test in high school," confesses Alana Gardner, Indiana University '11. "Omigosh, you have to study at least two hours for a test in college!"

Prepping for tests is just part of your load. College students must take notes on lectures, read maybe 100 pages a week, and tackle two major tests or two 15-page papers. And that's just for one class. So how do you study properly? We could have asked study experts for their advice. But really, who knows better than real-life collegians?

Rule #1: What color is your study style?

You may not know it, but you have a study style. You just have to figure out what it is. Visual learners are drawn to computer screens and paper. Their brains retain the printed word; they benefit from recopying class notes. Melody Kramer, University of Pennsylvania '06, says she "created color-coded notecards because I can remember colors." Wielding eight different pens, she'd write down facts in designated hues—blue for presidents, red for vice presidents. Come test time, she says, "I would think back to what color I wrote the fact in and be able to remember it."

A visual learner might need images as well as words. Katarzyna, aka Kat, aka the girl whose name Tyra Banks couldn't pronounce on the last cycle of America's Next Top Model, had the option of buying notes for classes at about $30 a pop. She thought she could skip class. But she came to realize a set of packaged notes wasn't as good as being there. "Seeing the professor write something on the board or show a diagram—that helps me recall it easily."

If you're an auditory learner, hearing words out loud imprints them upon your cerebrum. Karrie Jefferson, University of Maryland '08, used to write things down for study sheets. And forget them. Then she started "reciting everything." Memories were made. Karrie also learns by doing...hand motions. A criminology and criminal justice major, she'd flash gang signs when studying about gangs.

Rule #2: Fear the vampire.

We're not talking about the blood sucking. We're talking about students who sleep by day and emerge from their dorm rooms at sunset. Here's how collegians cross over from day person to night person: They stay up late because everyone stays up late and there are no annoying parents to say, "Go to bed already; it's midnight." The next thing you know, it's 4 a.m. The students sleep a few hours, then stagger off to class. Where they promptly fall asleep. Later that day, they're still tired, so they take a nap, then stay up late again. Soon the semester is over.

Ari Hartmann, William and Mary '08, has been there. "It's so easy to get behind in a class, then just give up," he says. His way back to academic success: turning in at midnight instead of 3 a.m., and getting up around 9 or 10. Fortified by sleep, he no longer nodded off during lectures.