One of the most intimidating aspects of college is the increased difficulty in academic coursework. Unlike high school, you can’t squeeze by with cramming for a big test the night before, and you can’t just take your chances with your midterms because they can be a huge part of your final grade.
My history class, for example, has only three assignments: midterm, fifteen-page research paper, and final. Thankfully, most core or foundation classes – the ones you take as a freshman and sophomore – have a more forgiving format, but even those courses typically weigh midterms at around 15% of your final grade.
It’s no wonder, then, that during the first two weeks of October, when almost everyone has at least one midterm (or, lucky me, three consecutive midterms starting on your birthday), UGA is sent into a kind of studying lockdown. Students fill every lounge and cover every surface with books and papers and laptops, and it’s not unusual to see a guy muttering formulas to himself on the way to class or a girl single-handedly sustaining the world’s economic demand for coffee.
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I don’t think it has to be that way, however, and it’s not hard to avoid the zombie-like trance that claims many students. You have to remember to study smart, study soon, and study hard – but let yourself have fun, too.
The first step is to study smart – that is, decide how you could best cover the material quickly and efficiently. It helps to know how best you learn.
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Can you read a chapter and easily recall most of the information? If so, re-read the assigned reading and look over your notes. Does practicing the problems help you figure out where your most common mistakes are and how to correct them? If so, find practice problems either in the back of the book, through your professor, or online.
I have two basic study strategies: flashcards and rewriting my notes. Flashcards are an absolute necessity for classes where vocabulary is key, which happens to be most of your freshman-level courses, from Spanish (foreign words and conjugations) to Biology (scientific terms) to English (rhetorical devices, figurative language, etc.).
There are a number of flashcard sites available online to make the process easier (like Studystack
), but my favorites are Wordchamp
. The value in these sites lies in the fact that unlike with physical flashcards, which have you passively studying the information, you have to actively type the answer, and these sites won’t be too sympathetic or let you get away with small errors.
For information that can’t fit on a notecard or is not suited to definite answers, I rewrite my notes. The act of putting pencil to paper makes the knowledge stick and forces me to concentrate on correct spellings and important phrases.
There are also the added benefits of being able to keep neater, more organized notes (which really comes in handy when studying for finals), recognizing patterns or cause and effect relationships between things that may not have been evident before, and seeing where my notes seem weak or sketchy.
Sometimes this means copying over pages and pages of Greek and Roman mythological stories or characteristics of colonial Latin America, but this can be alleviated by remembering the second tenet: study soon.
I have never been one of those students who follow the wisdom of their teachers and go over the notes every night, an hour or two at a time; I just haven’t been able to get myself into that habit (yet), but I definitely see how it would be to your advantage to start such a routine.
Instead, my rule is that I always start studying at least a week before the quiz, test, or exam. It is essential that procrastinators change their ways upon enrolling in college; it literally becomes impossible to succeed by procrastinating, because there is so much information to not only be learned but also analyzed, compared, and genuinely understood.
If you find yourself having trouble breaking that streak, make a pact with a friend or someone else in your class to study together. When you have to plan times to study and try to find times that cooperate with both of your busy lives, you’ll naturally have to work something out before two in the morning the day of the exam.
As for having fun, don’t be fooled; when you study, dedicate yourself to your studying. Turn off your phone and block distracting websites. Avoid studying in bed or anywhere else you could fall asleep (this was my downfall in high school).
But don’t forget to treat yourself when you get a lot accomplished. Go out for ice cream, hang out with friends, watch a favorite TV show. Let these rewards be your motivation for studying harder and in a more focused manner.
UGA certainly has it figured out, since the third week of October means a Greek life social event every night at almost every venue in downtown Athens!
And when it comes to be your big exam day(s), take a deep breath, make sure you write your name on your papers, and be proud that you’ve made it this far. You’re here for a reason. Prove it.