The time you spend in class is important, but much of your college education happens outside of the classroom. For every hour that you spend in class, you can expect to spend up to two hours studying and working on assignments. This is where those ten hours of fixed time and ten hours of flex time that we asked you to identify in Section 2-A become important.

Successful students learn to use their time efficiently, so that they can do a good job on their coursework while leaving time for other important parts of life, such as work, family, and friends.

Section 2-B explains that some of the keys to working efficiently are setting priorities, focusing your attention, and taking care of yourself by getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising. In this section we offer further suggestions to help you make the most of your out-of-class routine.

Find Consistent Workspaces

Identify a well-lit space to study with a desk or table and comfortable chair. At home, ask others in the household to recognize that area as yours when you study. Resist the temptation to make your bed your workspace. Studying or doing homework on a bed can reduce your focus because most people tend to associate their beds with comfort and sleep, and this cues our brains to believe it’s time to relax.

On campus, find a space that is quiet, such as a table or cubicle in the college library, and schedule this “meeting” with yourself and your space in your planner for specific times. Both places should be free of distractions like music, television, ongoing conversations, or other noise.

 Read Assigned Material Before Class

Set aside time to prepare for your classes by completing assigned readings on time. Completing the reading before class will help you to better understand lectures and allow you to participate actively in class discussions.

Review Your Notes

The first stage of notetaking occurs in class, when you initially record course material. The second stage of the note-taking process is reviewing your notes. Make sure to set aside time for this as part of your “fixed” hours:

  • Review your notes as soon as possible after each class session. This initial quick review may only take 10 minutes, but it’s important. It allows you to clarify what you have learned and identify questions you might have while the material is still fresh.
  • Review notes frequently! This will reinforce your comprehension and long-term memory. Set aside a longer block of fixed time to review notes each week.
  • Form study groups to review notes with classmates.
  • Remember, when you understand the basic ideas and concepts in a subject, you will grasp new material more quickly. This is true in all courses and is a universal aspect of learning, even beyond the college environment.

Apply Your Notes

The third stage of the note-taking process is making use of your notes when you prepare for exams, compose papers, and work on projects. To apply your notes effectively:

  • Create study sheets of important ideas. These study sheets allow you to review material from the beginning of the semester and help you understand connections among topics.
  • When studying for exams, begin reviewing these study sheets at least five days before taking the exam to avoid last minute cramming.
  • Build informal testing into your studying. Ask yourself questions. Can you explain the idea behind the problem? Why is this part of the subject important?
  • Before checking your notes or other materials, write your answer, or solve the problem. How easy or hard was that? If the process was time-consuming, consider what you don’t yet understand and review the concept (in your notes, the textbook, online), then work on another problem or question and see if your work takes less time.
  • Leave space between study sessions to enhance learning and long-term memory. Taking a break and coming back to re-learn what you did not understand helps to retain the new information.

Short and Long-Term Memory

Cramming, or forcing yourself to memorize material right before a test, is a strategy that may have worked for you in the past. This strategy depends on short-term memory. It may allow you to pass a test, but once its immediate use is over (the test is finished), the knowledge disappears. It is not transferred to long-term memory, and so is no longer useful to you. You have cheated yourself of the opportunity to truly learn.

How do you transfer material from short-term to long-term memory so that it remains useful to you? You retrieve it at regular intervals by testing yourself. For example, review the test and/or the materials you studied. What are the main ideas? What questions can you ask? How would you explain this material to someone who doesn’t know this subject?

Learning is cumulative! What you learn accumulates and makes connections with what you already know. To make the most of your study time, invest in your long-term memory and its support mechanisms, like notetaking and reviewing, solving problems and looking for patterns of mistakes.



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The Companion for the First Year at City Tech Copyright © by Office of First Year Programs is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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