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Academic Success

Good study skills, time management, and effective test-taking are keys to succeeding academically in college. If you would like to improve in any of these areas, check out the information below.

Strategies for Good Time Management

  1. GET A DAY PLANNER!! And, of course…
  2. USE your new day planner!
  3. In your planner, schedule all of your activities for the entire upcoming week. First, schedule blocks of time for major things like classes, work, sleeping, eating, etc.
  4. Next, schedule errands like grocery shopping, paying bills, doing laundry, travel time, etc.
  5. Then, schedule study time. It is advised that you study two hours for each credit hour of classes you are taking. More is expected of you in college than in high school.
  6. Don’t schedule marathon study sessions. Shorter, more frequent sessions are better for storing information into memory, for staying on task, and for your own sanity.
  7. Schedule time for fun and relaxation (a healthy part of a balanced lifestyle!)
  8. Schedule flexible time for the unexpected. Leave some holes of “open time.”
  9. Make a habit of reviewing and revising your schedule on a daily basis. Incorporate this activity along with an already existing habit such as having breakfast, or loading your backpack. This is key in helping you to form a new good habit!
  10. Don’t set yourself up for failure by overloading your schedule. We all have limits. Enthusiasm is good, but being realistic will serve you much better in the long run.

Adapted from: D. Ellis and D. Toft. (2002) Becoming a Master Student. Houghton Mifflin Co.

Click here for information on overcoming procrastination.

Power Reading

Power reading is an attitude. It is based on the idea that your textbooks have information that you want. It also involves your desire to extract this information through the necessary skill and energy it takes. Below are some helpful tips for effective power reading.

9 Steps to Power Reading

Before Your Reading: Pry Out Question

  1. Preview… the table of contents, flip through the pages, read the summary, read the chapter headlines, section titles, and look over the tables and graphs.
  2. Outline… the major headings and sections to understand the structure of the information.
  3. Question… what you want to gain from the reading, write down questions before you begin.

During Your Reading: Root Up Answers

  1. Read… the material, focus your attention on the words and concepts. Reduce all distractions that might keep you from focusing. Read in a quiet place at a time when you have energy for reading.
  2. Underline… and highlight to create signals for reviewing. Write in the margins, make notes to yourself, use colored highlighters to designate levels of importance.
  3. Answer… your questions, fill in your outline, write new questions, anticipate what material will be of greatest importance to your instructor.

After Your Reading: Recite, Review

  1. Recite… the material outloud, explain the concepts to another person, work in groups.
  2. Review… the material within 24 hours to store the information into long-term memory.
  3. Review Again… on a weekly basis, go over your notes, read highlighted and outlined material, recite complicated points. Create flashcards that you can take wherever you go and review during brief moments of down time.

 Adapted from: D. Ellis and D. Toft. (2002) Becoming a Master Student. Houghton Mifflin Co.

Note taking

Being a good note taker involves a few basic skills…

  • Preparing for the upcoming material
  • Watching for clues
  • Keeping your attention

20 Strategies for Taking Good Notes


1. Complete outside assignments: the more familiar you are with subject, the easier it will be to understand in class.

2. Bring the right materials: pen, pencil, notebook, text.

3. Sit front and center: you’ll do better on tests, it’s harder to fall asleep, there are fewer distractions, the board is easier to read.

4. Pre-class review: arrive early, review material.

5. Clarify your intentions: what is your intended level of participation?


6. Be alert to repetition: things that are important to the instructor.

7. Listen for introductory, concluding, and transition words and phrases.

8. Watch the board or overhead projector.

9. Watch the instructor’s eye: if he/she glances at notes, it’s important.

10. Highlight the obvious clues: instructors may give clues to the test material.

11. Notice the instructor’s interest level: if he/she is excited, it’s important.


12. Accept your wandering mind: gently refocus your attention.

13. Notice your writing: how the pen feels.

14. Be with the instructor: imagine being in front with instructor.

15. Notice your environment: feel the temperature, your chair, hand on desk.

16. Postpone debate: don’t let your internal dialogue drown out subsequent material.

17. Let go of judgments about lecture styles.

18. Participate in class activities: ask questions, volunteer, join in discussions.

19. Relate class to your goals: write them down.

20. Think critically about what you hear.

Adapted from: D. Ellis and D. Toft. (2002) Becoming a Master Student. Houghton Mifflin Co.


Test Preparation

Structure Your Review Time

  • Daily reviews before and after class help move information from short-term to long-term memory. Before you read new material, scan over your notes and the items you underlined or highlighted.
  • Weekly reviews should be more structured and a little bit longer– about one hour per subject.
  • Major reviews can be done a week before the exam to bring together concepts for a deeper understanding of the material. These reviews may be two to five hours long each session.

Create Your Review Tools

  • Checklists can provide you with a structure for recognizing the material you need to study. Make lists of reading assignments, dates of lecture notes, problems you’ll need to solve, and other to-do items. As you review each item, cross it off the list.
  • Study maps can be diagrams or images of relationships among concepts. Ideas tend to be linked to each other. Draw out these relationships using lines, arrows, or categories.
  • Flashcards may be created using 3″x5″ or 4″x6″ note cards. On each note card, write down a separate concept, definition, formula, date, problem, etc. Carry your flashcards wherever you go and review them when you have free moments such as standing in line, waiting on a friend, or before your next class begins.

Plan Your Testing Strategy

  • Practice runs can help you prepare for the actual test. Test yourself in a variety of ways including short answer, multiple choice, or true/false questions. Anticipate how you will be tested based on previous tests or what you know about the instructor.
  • Consult the instructor about important material and how you will be tested. Let him or her know you are interested in doing well and that you would appreciate any advice about how to succeed on the exam.
  • Review old exams that might be available from the instructor, previous students, the library, or department. Use these to get an idea about how and what to study. Check with your instructor about the policy on using previous tests as guides.

 Adapted from: D. Ellis and D. Toft. (2002) Becoming a Master Student. Houghton Mifflin Co.

20 Strategies for Effective Studying

  1. Study for the hard or “boring” classes first. If you study the interesting material first, you will likely be too tired for the more difficult material later. It’s like dessert, save the best for last.
  2. Study at your best time of day. Do you study and learn better in the morning? Late afternoon? Early or late evening? Learn when you are at your peak times of energy, alertness, and motivation.
  3. Study while you are waiting. A few minutes reviewing notes here and there while standing in line, waiting for an appointment, or passing time between classes can really add up.
  4. Study in a regular place. This will train your mind and body that when you arrive at your regular place, it’s time to focus and work.
  5. Study where you’ll be alert. Not while sitting on your bed! Your mind and body recognize the bed as a place to sleep. Study at your desk, in the library, in a study hall, etc.
  6. Study in the library. That is what it’s designed for. It’s quiet, and it has few distractions, appropriate lighting, large tables, and good, solid chairs that encourage students to stay awake.
  7. Notice your attention. Your mind will wander now and again. That’s okay. When it happens, write down your thought with the intention of addressing it later. Then, bring your focus back onto your work.
  8. Agree about study time with roommates. Make explicit rules for yourselves about when study time will be, what sounds/noises are allowed, whether phone calls will be answered, etc.
  9. Don’t get on the phone. Let your friends know when your study time is so they won’t disturb you. Let the answering machine take a message. Unplug the phone. Be assertive and cut your calls short.
  10. Be assertive. Learn to say “no” courteously. Don’t let others misuse YOUR time with interruptions.
  11. Put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door. This works. People will not barge in on you while you are engaged in some quality study time.
  12. Reduce distractions. Turn off the television and radio. If you like background noise, then make sure it is not something that will draw your attention from your work. People, food, room decorations, and video games are other things that should be managed if they are distracting for you.
  13. Take small steps. For large projects, complex exams, or other big jobs, choose one part of it to accomplish. Then choose another part. Pretty soon, the large job is much smaller and more manageable.
  14. Prioritize your tasks. Don’t do what is important while ignoring what is urgent. Make a “to do” list, and prioritize each item with a 1, 2, or 3. An item should be assigned a 1 if it is urgent and must be done immediately. Assign a 2 to an item that is important, but not as important as a 1. Assign a 3 to what needs to be done, but not right away. Work on the 1’s first, then the 2’s, then the 3’s.
  15. Be honest with yourself. Notice when you give yourself “permission” not to study. Notice when something more “important” seems to come along, or when you set up a situation that is incompatible with your goal of studying.
  16. Make a public commitment. Announce to your best friend your promise to study according to your plan. Allow your friend to check back with you and see if you followed through on your commitment.
  17. Know your study preferences. Each of us is unique. Some people are more productive studying for short periods of time with brief breaks in between, while others prefer longer study sessions with longer breaks. Learn how you study best.
  18. Challenge yourself. Be careful about setting goals that are too easy and unrewarding. When we push ourselves just a little, we can feel good about what we accomplish. Consider setting goals that are just beyond what you have accomplished in the past.
  19. Make choices. There may be times when you have to make tough choices about how to prioritize your study time. For instance, it may be critical to get an ‘A’ or ‘B’ on a particular test, while you can afford to earn a lesser grade on a test for another class. Allocate study time to those classes accordingly.
  20. Reward yourself. Plan ahead for a nice reward that you will give yourself when you finish studying as planned. This could be watching a favorite TV show, hanging out with friends, going out to eat, or anything else you enjoy.

Adapted from: D. Ellis and D. Toft. (2002) Becoming a Master Student. Houghton Mifflin Co.

Memorization Strategies

  • Make it meaningful. Look at the big picture. Know what you want from your education. Make connections between your goals and what your are studying for your class, even if it seems like a stretch.
  • Create associations. Relate the new information you are studying to knowledge you already have. For instance, suppose you are introduced to someone named James. Create an association between the new person and someone else you know named James, even if the person is a celebrity or someone you do not know first-hand.
  • Learn it actively. Stand up, walk around the room, and gesture while reciting the material aloud. Get your whole body involved and read with energy and passion.
  • Relax. Not in opposition to the active learning mentioned above, engaging in relaxation before and during reading can also be effective. This is not the same as being drowsy. Instead, it is a state of alertness, free of tension, during which our minds can take in new information. Check out the online relaxation exercises on this web site.
  • Create pictures. Draw cartoons or diagrams to help connect information with visual imagery. In this way, you can “see” the information for later recall. This activity captures information in a way that is different when you simply read it in text form.
  • Recite and repeat. As creating pictures helps store information in a different way than reading, so does reciting it out loud. Hearing yourself say the information is the first step, with repetition being important as well.
  • Write a jingle. Using the major concepts of a topic, write a little jingle to the tune of a song you like or a popular commercial product. Sing it out loud. Don’t forget to repeat it over and over.
  • Use mnemonics. A mnemonic is a method of creating a word, rhyme, or phrase to remember a concept or series of information. For instance, the start letter in each word of the mnemonic, “My Very Enormous Mother Just Served Us Nine Pies,” is also the start letter of each of the nine planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, etc.).
  • Combine memory strategies. Use several of the suggestions listed above to memorize a concept. One technique may be helpful in remembering portions of information, with the rest being filled in with another technique.


To Begin…

  • Answer the easiest, shortest questions first. This gives you the experience of success
  • Next, answer multiple choice questions, true/false, fill-in-the-blank
  • Then, do the short answer and essay questions


  • Look for answers in other test questions (e.g., terms, dates, other facts)
  • Your first instinct is usually best

Multiple Choice Questions

  • Read the instructions carefully
  • Answer each question in your head before you look at the answers
  • Read all answers before selecting one
  • If you have no clue and need to guess, then…
    • if two answers are similar, except for one or two words, choose one
    • if two answers have similar-sounding or similar-looking words (intermediate, intermittent), choose one of these answers
    • if the answer calls for a sentence completion, eliminate the answers that would not form grammatically correct sentences
    • if two quantities are almost the same, choose one
    • if answers cover a wide range of numbers, choose one in the middle
    • if there is no penalty for guessing and none of the above techniques works, GUESS!

True/False Questions

  • Read carefully, sometimes one word can make a statement inaccurate
  • If any part of the statement is false, then the answer is false
  • Look for qualifiers like “all,” “most,” “sometimes,” “never,” or “rarely”

Short-Answer, Fill-in-the-Blank Tests

  • Concentrate on key words and facts, be brief
  • “Overlearning” the material pays off!

Essay Questions

  • Carefully read the instructions, know what the question is asking. If the question asks you to “compare,” don’t “explain”
  • Before answering, make a quick outline. This might help with…
    • writing your answer faster
    • you will be less likely to leave out important facts
    • if you don’t have time to finish your answer, your outline could win points
  • When you start writing, get to the point. Lengthy introductions can irritate instructors
  • Start with the most solid facts and then support your ideas and points


While cramming for an exam is usually not effective as a sole strategy for studying, most students cram at one time or another, If you do cram, here are some tips you might consider.

  • Make choices about what you will focus on. Don’t try to learn everything all at once. Instead, pick some of the most important topics and learn those very well.
  • Create a plan to make the best use of the short time you have. Rather than panicking and jumping in to studying, set time limits for studying portions of the material.
  • Use flashcards, outlines, notes, and other materials you already have. Drill yourself using these materials.
  • Recite out loud over and over to “burn” facts into your brain. Tape record yourself and listen to it as you fall asleep at night and as you get ready in the morning when you cannot use your other study materials.
  • Relax your body and mind as you cram. Use relaxation techniques both before and during the exam. Check out the online relaxation exercises on this web site.
  • Don’t “should” yourself. Be careful not to put more pressure on yourself by telling yourself you should have studied earlier. The self-criticism and guilt this creates can interfere with your ability to study and retain information. Let yourself put off these self-judgments until after the exam when you can more easily consider how you would like to do things differently next time.

Adapted from: D. Ellis and D. Toft. (2002) Becoming a Master Student. Houghton Mifflin Co.

Test Anxiety

Most students experience some level of nervousness before or during an exam. Some anxiety can be very helpful since this can motivate us to do our best on exams. Feeling anxious also tells us that we want to do well and that we care about our performance on tests. Too much anxiety, however, can become a problem if it interferes with our ability to do our best.

What Causes Test Anxiety?

  • Inadequate preparation:
    • cramming the night before the test
    • managing study time poorly
    • failing to organize the study material
    • having poor study habits
  • Worrying about:
    • past performance on tests
    • how other students are doing
    • the negative consequences of failure

What are the Effects of Test Anxiety?

  • Nervousness:
    • having difficulty reading and understanding the questions on the exam
    • having difficulty organizing your thoughts
    • having difficulty retrieving key words and concepts when answering questions
    • doing poorly on an exam when you know the material
  • Mental blocking:
    • going blank on questions
    • remembering the correct answers as soon as the test is over

How Can I Reduce Test Anxiety?

  • Study and know the material well enough so that you can recall it even if you are under stress
  • Learn and practice good time management and avoid:
    • laziness
    • procrastination
    • day dreaming
  • Build confidence by studying throughout the semester and avoid cramming the night before the exam
  • Learn to concentrate on the material you are studying by:
    • generating questions from your textbooks and lecture notes
    • focusing on key words, concepts and examples in your textbooks and notes
    • making charts and outlines which organize the information in your text and notes
  • Use relaxation techniques like taking long deep breaths to relax the body and reduce stress.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle: get enough rest, eat properly, etc.
  • Avoid negative thoughts, but instead remember, “I can do this,” “I have studied and I know the material.” Consider making note cards with positive phrases that you can read when you find yourself thinking negatively.

Last updated: 7/17/2019