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The Importance of Professors and AdvisorsAmy Baldwin, Ed.D.
For most college students, academic success involves putting in the time. As a professor, when I have a student who is struggling, one of the first things we talk about is the amount of time they spend “hitting the books.”
But time is only one part of a good study routine. We also need to consider how students use that time and the classic “W’s”: who, what, when, where, and why.
Ask almost any successful student or any professor, and they will tell you that time management is one of the secrets to success in college. Time management means not only making time to study but also using that time productively.
Good time management means keeping track of what you need to do, planning when and how it will get done, and staying on track.
Studying doesn’t need to be a solo activity. In fact, it is often more effective if you don’t try to do it all alone.
Reading the assigned material is the first step but finding other ways to engage with the material is crucial. Highlight the text. Take notes. Write notes in the margins. Make lists. Work consistently with the material in as many ways as possible.
Flashcards work, and physical flashcards often work better than virtual flashcards – even if they seem old-school. Online apps like Quizlet are fine but being able to manipulate physical cards seems to help. Play games with them. Challenge others with them. Carry them around and pull them out whenever you have a few minutes.
Taking good class notes takes practice. Don’t try to write down everything and don’t just write down what is on the instructor’s slides. Listen carefully “for the gold” of what the professor says. Go over your notes soon after class and fill in the details. Try merging your class notes with your reading notes.
Deciding when to study is part of time management, but it is also important to ensure that your study time is most productive.
Are you an early bird or a night owl? Some people are just naturally wide awake and sharp early in the morning; others do better later in the day. Think about when you are naturally at your best. Work with your natural rhythm and try to get at least part of your hard studying done when you think most clearly.
Don’t leave all of your work until the end of the day. High school students who are in school all day and then have after-school activities or a job may have to do all of their studying in the evening, but if your college schedule has blocks of free time during the day, use those blocks to get some of your work done. An hour or two in the library between classes can save you from a late-night session.
Don’t wait until just before the test! Cramming doesn’t work. You learn material better if you space out learning and make studying a regular habit. Start well before your test and study for a few minutes every day. Your brain needs time to digest the material, and spaced study works best.
Location matters. Choosing the right place to study can help you focus and stay on task.
The answer to this question may seem easy: to learn, to get a good grade, or to pass the class. But thinking more deeply about the motivation behind each study session can be helpful.
“Find your why” and consider how studying fits your goals. If you don’t know why you are spending the time, it’s difficult to stay motivated and stick with the work.
Is this study session simply to learn material for an upcoming test? If so, you need to be clear about what will be covered and what the exam will look like. Stay focused on the material — and try to space out your studying.
While this isn’t a motivation most professors would encourage, if this is your goal, then you must be clear about what is required to achieve your desired grade. Work closely with the syllabus.
How does the subject fit in with your career goal? What are the practical applications of what you are learning? How will this material move you closer to the next step or class on your path?
Roadblocks and detours can pop up for all of us.
Productive studying is complex and hard work. Too many students underestimate how important good study habits are. Good studying is just that — a set of habits that make a difference. Students who take time to find clarity about what they are doing will find the right tools to help them succeed.
When your college student starts their first semester, it’s not just a big deal for them. It’s a big deal for you, too.