Good study skills can be the key to success

Thursday, July 29, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

For freshmen, the academic gap between high school and college might be greater than expected.

Here is a basic guide to managing academic challenges many freshmen face, with tips on developing study habits, writing papers and taking exams.


  • Take notes by hand in class, then type a summary.
  • Use breaks and spare time between classes productively.
  • Don’t get involved in too many social circles – a few are good.
  • Find practice exercises and past exam questions as preparation.
  • Remember to sleep well and follow a healthy diet.
  • Balance the day with both study and exercise.

Source: Student Success Center opposite Ellis Library; 882-5535




Think about study habits as a fitness regime that you need to maintain during the semester. It's all about pacing to avoid short, intensive bursts that are likely to cause burn-out.

Time management is essential for good study practices, as are setting goals and staying on track. 

According to academic adviser Justin Shepherd, freshmen often struggle to manage daily schedules.

Classes might only take up three to four hours in a day, so it seems as if there's plenty of time left. But requirements and expectations for each subject can be demanding.

“Students need to be spending a minimum of two hours studying outside the class room for every hour they spend in the classroom,” Shepherd said.

A few key tips for managing time include keeping both a daily, as well as weekly or monthly, planner. A daily planner helps organize blocks of time and can serve as a to-do list.

It is also worthwhile to set aside a fixed regular study time and place for each day, Shepherd said.

A weekly or monthly planner allows students to plan ahead for events, activities and homework/assignment tasks beyond the upcoming week, he said.

Shepherd also recommends writing due dates from a syllabus onto the monthly planner.

Goal setting is another step to a successful academic experience in college, according to The site offers the following tips:

  • Write down the goals you wish to achieve – whether they are short or long-term. Make sure they are specifically outlined and you know what you want to achieve and how you are going to go about it.
  • Be certain they are attainable and realistic. They must be achievable within a fixed time frame; it can be disheartening to fail to achieve set goals.
  • A specific time frame also is essential to setting an end target for completing the goal. Without a time frame, there will be no sense of urgency or commitment. 

It is also important to track your study schedule. The website advises students to stay up-to-date with classes, readings and homework to lessen the workload at the end of the semester. That also will give them give them more study and revision time for final assessments. 

“Studying is ongoing,” Shepherd said. “Stay on top of readings, faithfully attend class, take good notes, and review those notes, not just put them away after each class, and then look at them the night before a test.”

Aim to attend all classes and try to preview material beforehand. Swap copies of notes with friends to cross-check your own notes.

It might also be handy to have a friend who will get any handouts in case you miss a class. Be sure to double-check assignment and exam dates, criteria and modifications for assessments.


You will shortly discover as a college student that the styles and techniques of writing in college can be different from writing in high school.

“Often students are too informal," Shepherd said. "They write as if they are writing a text message.”

College expectations are at a higher, more sophisticated level. Academic writing is geared toward a scholarly level – writing by and for other scholars. Therefore, papers must contain an informed argument of interest to the academic community. 

Karen Gocsik of Dartmouth College provided these tips: 

Start early: When writing an academic paper, begin as soon as possible because referencing and providing knowledge from a broad range of research and sources is usually required.

Analyze the question: The first step is understanding the question. By knowing what is required, a student will then be able to sketch an outline that includes all points.

Conduct research: After the basic structure is established, the next step is to gather resource material. A good starting point for research is referring to any assigned texts or recommended readings.The citations and bibliographies of these texts will also act as a springboard to other useful material. Use a variety of sources, such as books, e-journals and not just the Internet.

Create a draft: Once sufficient information is obtained, the next step is a draft. Then analyze the need for more research. Develop the backbone of your outline into the bulk of your paper and add supporting statements by using quotations and references.

Complete the paper: Polish the draft, making sure to deliver a strong beginning and ending. Some students prefer to leave introductions and conclusions until the end, while others cannot write the body until they have jotted these down. This is a personal choice, one dictated by the student's style and preference.

Proofread: Be sure to proof your paper before submission. It might also be handy to get a friend to read through it with a fresh perspective.

Note: MU has a strict policy on plagiarism. Attribute all research material to the proper source.


Exams can be uncomfortable, but they are a proven way to assess progress and understanding.

There are, however, ways to prepare for a test in order to avoid feeling overwhelmed and panicked at the last minute.

Again, start early. Don’t cover all of the the course content the night before the exam. Shepherd recommends students “start pulling notes together a week in advance.”

Keep your notes updated throughout the semester and attempt to review them thoroughly, Shepherd said. Plan how much to cover each night and meet those goals.

Write down questions and clarify them with peers or professors. After completing a review of the course content, a student may choose to study with a friend or in groups. All content needs to be understood before this point, otherwise a discussion can be confusing.

A thorough understanding of material is better than memorizing or cramming it at the last minute. That is the point of an examination.


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