woman student studying at a library

Studying is a big part of college, but it can be difficult to make things stick when you’re trying to remember information for multiple classes. Like most endeavors, practice makes perfect. Here are four tips to improve your memory while studying for a test or quiz, or simply to prepare for tomorrow’s class:

Set up a study schedule.

There’s a reason teachers urge you not to cram. Sure, an intense study session right before an exam might result in a decent grade, but when it comes to recalling that information later, you will be in trouble. Cramming leads to a fatigued brain and weak long-term retention. Shorter study sessions with frequent, brief breaks will help you review information multiple times—the best way to retain it. For classes where content builds on previous concepts as the semester goes on (which, let’s face it, is most classes), this is especially important.

Get good at taking notes.

New college students often struggle with taking quality notes. They write down too much or too little. There are many effective note-taking techniques, so practice a few ways to see what works for you. The key is good organization. Take down “trigger” words that will help you remember concepts and definitions. Create call-out boxes for important terms. Write down what matters. Skip extraneous information. If you struggle to take neat notes in class, spend a few minutes at the end of each school day cleaning them up.

Read the right way.

That might sound silly, but seriously: You must read effectively to succeed academically. In college, you have a large volume of materials to read. It’s easy for tired eyes to gloss over important information. When you read, make sure you’re in a distraction-free environment. Use a pencil or finger to keep your eyes from skipping forward or backward in sentences. And most important, practice the SQ3R reading method:

  • Survey/scan the text.
  • Query yourself on what you need to understand.
  • Read the whole text quickly without stopping to understand difficult material.
  • Recall your query questions to determine what sections will help you answer them.
  • Review important sections again slowly to remember why you’re reading.

Teach, talk about, or demonstrate what you learn.

A great way to prove you understand something—and cement that information in your brain—is to explain it to someone else. So, the next time you’re studying with a classmate, take turns summarizing, re-teaching, giving examples, or practicing problems aloud. Engaging with the material you learn is one of the best ways to remember it. Plus, you will quickly notice where your gaps are, which will give more focus to your study sessions.

Effective studying takes practice and patience, but imagine how much more successful you will be if you embrace methods that help you retain information from lecture to lecture, test to test, and class to class. Try one or all of these strategies and see how they increase your confidence going into exams—and boost your grades!

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