One of the biggest differences students notice between high school and college courses is that in college no one tells you what to do and when to do it. You must establish your own study schedule and stick to it, which can be challenging at first, especially when many new social opportunities and responsibilities have also been added to your life.

If you invest some initial time analyzing your activities and setting up a personal study schedule, you will find it easier to succeed in your studies and have time for a social life too.

Structure Your Study Activities

Step One: Analyze Your Time

  • First you must understand how you currently spend your time.
  • Decide how you want to use your time in the future.

Step Two: Establish a Routine

  • Treat study time as if you were being paid to do it.
  • Choose times when you are most alert and free from other distractions.

Step Three: Set Goals

  • Make your goals specific so that you can recognize when you have met them.
  • Try to make your goals both challenging and realistic.
  • Set a beginning date and a finish date for each of your goals.

Reward yourself with activites that will recharge you and give you pleasure, like dancing, jogging, or reading a favorite novel.

Keep Up with Each Day's Classes

  • Look over your lecture notes for what was stressed.
  • Remember questions the instructor asked.
  • Read the subheadings in the textbook and any discussion questions at the end of each chapter.

Organize Your Study Sessions

  • Devise a schedule of one to three hours of study for each hour in class.
  • Work on your most difficult subjects first.
  • Schedule tasks according to due dates.
  • Visualize large projects as a series of small steps.
  • Alternate activities (reading, writing, brain-storming, resting).
  • Study for 50 minutes, then take a 10-minute break.
  • Don't schedule more than three hours of study without making time for a more substantial break.

One Week Before the Exam

  • Schedule a one-hour review for each chapter covered.
  • Schedule a one-hour review for each lecture.
  • Add an additional hour for homework review.
  • Study some every day.
  • Save some "insurance time" for extra studying.

Studying on the Run

  • Write the main points of a lecture or chapter in a master summary document or notecards.
  • Keep your notes handy so you can study in the car, on the bus, between classes, etc.
  • Record lectures on your phone and listen to them in the car, while you're jogging, etc.

Form a Study Group

"Two heads are better than one." That's the simple idea behind study groups. By participating in a study group, you take advantage of one of your best academic resources at UW: other students. You get to add their understanding to your own. Study groups also bring a social quality to your study time.

Guidelines for a Successful Study Group

  • Keep it small, but not too small. Four to five participants is about right.
  • Try to group with people of equal ability. 
  • Clarify your goals. Are you coming together to prepare for a particular test? To discuss reading? To review homework?
  • Agree in the beginning how many weeks you want to meet, and how many times per week. You might want a group that lasts the whole quarter, or you might want to meet a few times before a test.
  • Try to find a regular time and place to meet. Get a verbal commitment from group members that they will not schedule other activities to conflict with study group.
  • Allow for socializing in the group — this is one of the pleasures of group study — but make sure it takes up only a small portion of your group study time.

Roles Within a Group

Some groups like to assign members certain roles to keep the group functioning smoothly. You might like to try:

  • Organizer  
    This person gets group members to agree to a common purpose and a convenient time and place.
  • Expediter  
    This person watches the time, making sure the group doesn't spend too long on one thing. The Expediter will also try to keep the group focused on the task at hand, for example by directing a social conversation back to study questions.
  • Source-seeker  
    This person reminds group members to identify their sources. When a group member says "I read somewhere that...," the Source-seeker remembers to ask for specifics. They remind the group that it's important to know who said what, and where it was said.
  • Gatekeeper  
    This person tries to make sure that all group members are participating. The Gatekeeper might ask a direct question to help a shy person participate, or find a tactful way to get a dominating member to listen.
  • Harmonizer  
    This person resolves conflicts between group members.

Some Uses of Study Groups

  • Review the week's lecture notes. Agree on what points were most important and fill in missing information. Correlate lecture notes with assigned reading.
  • Discuss class readings. Clarify difficult passages. Practice explaining difficult concepts to each other. Correlate with lecture material. Create reading questions for upcoming assignments.
  • Study for tests by predicting test questions. Have members contribute sample exam questions and evaluate which questions are most likely to appear on the test. Look at important topics and make up different kinds of test questions (objective, application, evaluation) for each topic. For an essay exam, practice outlining essay answers to your questions. (Note: if you're working on a paper or preparing for an exam where the prof gave out exam questions in advance, don't create a group outline, as it can lead to plagiarism.)
  • In a math or science course, do your homework problems individually before study group. Then have group members teach each other how they solved the problems. Concentrate on the reasoning process, how you thought your way through the problem.
  • In a writing course, come together to critique each other's rough drafts.

Adapted from Active Learning: A Study Skills Worktext by Rory Donnelly (1990).