Next comes the question of what to do with those notes. "Going over them after class kept them fresh," says Mike Katzif, Kansas State '05. "Rewriting or retyping helps you internalize them. Spending extra time makes the knowledge stay with you a lot longer."
Rule #7: Spin a web of facts.
The thing about studying in college is, you don't just need to know facts. You need to put those facts into some kind of context. Bummer!
Mike Katzif would take key points from a class or text, then place them in maps or timelines. Or he'd draw a pyramid, with the most important point at the top and supporting points beneath. Or he'd make a "spider web" that would start with a broad statement, then spin out facts to support it. "It helped me connect the dots so when I'd write about something, I would have my main points and my bullet points," he says.
Rule #8: Group therapy
Study groups don't work for everyone. You can't work at your pace. If the group members are your good friends, you might end up not studying at all.
Yet a study group can motivate and educate. Jackie Bousek is a devotee for several reasons. She benefits because she has to do work to get ready for a group and because she must explain what she knows to others (as they must explain to her what she doesn't know).
A group can also get you out of a bind. Ezra Deutsch-Feldman, University of Chicago '10, recalls a class in which nobody did any readings—the teacher made them seem optional. But then he said the final would be based on the readings. "We all panicked together," Ezra says. They took action together, too, summarizing various readings into pithy paragraphs and creating a website for their summaries.
Rule #9: Avoid laptop temptation.
You bring a laptop to class to take notes. Or is it really because you want to check E-mail and troll around Facebook? Paper and pencil present far fewer temptations.
In a similar vein, when you take the laptop out to type up study sheets or work on a paper—will you end up doing other stuff? Sharon Anderson, Williams '07, would take her computer to the library but not "plug into" the Net. She knew that if you're looking for something to do instead of studying, "you'll find it on the Internet."
Rule #10: Quantity can lead to quality.
When prepping for a math or science test, the strategy is simple: Do sample problems. The more, the better. Take practice tests, usually available online. And as they taught you in first grade, do your homework! "If the teacher is nice, the homework is pretty much what will be on the test," says math major Anna Katzif, University of Kansas '08.
A period of concentrated study can also make up for lost ground. Josh Gardner, University of Maryland '08, was getting C's and D's in calculus. One option: The grade on his final could wipe out previous grades. "I studied the hardest I ever studied," he says. "I went over every chapter, I did every problem in the book, and if I didn't get it right, I worked it out." His final grade: A.
Rule #11: Motivate yourself.
No one knows better than you what will keep your nose to the grindstone.
Karrie Jefferson likes cake. And she likes to bake. She'll put a cake in the oven—one that takes a long time to bake. She'll set the timer for an hour and start studying. When the timer dings, it's time for a cake break.
Josh Gardner likes percentages. When writing a paper, he'll keep track of the word count and calculate: 25 percent done, 30 percent done, and so on. Josh posts his percentages on his away message on Instant Messenger. "I update it every time I get 5 more percentage points. It's so exciting!"