By Sydney Nolan
College classes by no means are scary experiences—if you’re prepared. Preparing properly for class to maximize your time spent in the classroom is huge when it comes to doing well academically, regardless of where you decide to attend school. However, you don’t need to wait until you’re actually registered for all those love-em-or-hate-em freshmen classes to start studying like the smart collegiette you’re bound to be! Check out the following five keys to success in a college class that you can start doing while you’re still hitting the high school books.
1. Learn to motivate yourself.
Woohoo! College means you’re on your own in a lot of ways, including deciding how much you want to prepare for class in the first place, when you complete work outside of class and how well you do on exams, tests and quizzes. But that safety net of parents, teachers and other people keeping you on track and helping you if you start struggling? It probably won’t follow you to college.
Get in the habit of creating study routines and sticking to them. That’s not to say you have to follow the same pattern every day, but having a general idea of when things need to get done and giving yourself the optimal time to finish them in is a great idea. Creating your own routine also means you’re taking the first step in holding yourself accountable—you’re taking a look at what responsibilities you have as well as paying attention to deadlines and setting time aside to work on tasks. Congrats, you’re working on becoming your own safety net!
Start figuring out how to use resources wisely as well. While your safety net from high school (i.e. Mom and Dad) won’t follow you to college, there are definitely things you can do now that can be great resources for when you go to college. Whether that means teaming up with a buddy or two to keep one another on track, finding a mentor you can keep in touch with as you move from high school to college or trying out some new fun, clever study hacks to spice up your motivational toolkit when it comes to studying, it’s never too early to start seeking out different options to find what works to keep you focused.
2. Start thinking long-term.
In high school, many of us benefit from the luxury (in some people’s eyes, anyways) of having tests sprinkled throughout the semester. The scores on these exams then collectively make up a semester grade.
This isn’t the case in many college classes. Instead, large chunks of your grade will most likely come from two tests: a midterm and final exam. This requires you to draw on information from an entire half-semester or, in the case of a final exam, the entire semester… for one test!
It’s definitely not too early to get in the habit of looking over notes, homework and readings more than once, just like you’ll probably do at some point in your future college career. The key is “working with the information daily,” explains Ruth Bolstad, an academic strategist and consulting coordinator at the Academic Support Center at St. Olaf College.
For your next test or quiz in a class, consider typing up or consolidating notes from the last several weeks of class in one place, like you might do with lectures in college when you’re prepping for a midterm or final. Pull together things that seem related, organize information under different headers, place events in order and make sure all of your notes follow the same style. Even if you’re used to understanding something the first time it’s introduced in a class, realize that simply attending a lecture and hearing material presented once might not be enough for success in larger lecture classes you’ll take at a college or university.
Make sure you also take tests seriously. Although they might count for a smaller percentage of your overall grade in high school, use the opportunity to figure out what’s most helpful in terms of preparation for quizzes or exams. Try different study techniques, like getting together with a study group of friends or classmates, breaking things into smaller chunks and focusing on one topic at a time, connecting things in class to material from the book or whatever else works for you. You’ll go into your first year of college with a more solidified idea of what works best for you when it comes to tackling tests with much higher stakes attached to them.
It’s also a good idea to start thinking at a deeper level for your studying instead of just regurgitating whatever was recited by a teacher in class or printed in a book. “The types of exams are essentially the same,” says Peder Bolstad, an academic strategist and consulting coordinator at the Academic Support Center at St. Olaf College. “I think what’s different is the level of thinking expected.”
Peder Bolstad suggests looking “for causation rather than just the facts.” He recommends figuring out moving beyond the “what” and “how” of a topic when reading (just memorizing the basic facts and details presented in whatever it is you’re looking at) to starting asking “when” and “why.” That is, make a point to ask yourself when to use an appropriate formula or technique to solve a problem, or why you give the answer you do instead of just memorizing what’s printed on the page. This level of higher thought is what many college professors are looking for in their classes.
Finally, start embracing the idea of learning for learning’s sake, instead of focusing on memorizing a set of facts for a test or quiz and promptly forgetting it all the next day. “The biggest transition I believe is moving from ‘doing for a grade’ to ‘learning for personal growth,’” says Ruth Bolstad. “It's about the depth of learning, not just knowing the facts.”