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How to Study
What Are the Best Study Tips for Top College Students?

Studying often feels like an event; you pack up your bag with notebooks and textbooks, you trek to the library, and you get settled for a few hours of nonstop reading and writing. Of course, studying often is an event, but studying should be a habit first and foremost. It should be something you do daily, sometimes in short spans of time—not something you do just when you feel like it or right before an exam or quiz. Top students approach studying as a daily activity and as a habit. They study with the right mindset, and they know how to manage a heavy to-do list. Here are two qualities of top students that you can develop too.

1. Top Students Have a Growth Mindset, Not a Fixed Mindset.

Having a fixed mindset means believing that you have a set level of intelligence that cannot change. It’s not your fault if you have a fixed mindset! Many students are led to believe that there are people who are just born smart, that there are math people and English people, etc.

Conversely, studies show that if you have a growth mindset, you tend to improve your abilities in school. Think of learning as a process and intelligence as something you attain over time. Remind yourself to take this perspective, especially when you are studying something unfamiliar to you. This perspective is also useful in making studying into a habit. It really is something that you need to practice regularly.

Fixed vs Growth Mindset
Credit: College Info Geek

2. Top Students Have a Specific To-Do List, Not a General One.

If you have a to-do list that says “Write essay” and “Study for exam,” your to-do list is too general. It’s a to-do list that’s too hard to accomplish. Create a to-do list that looks doable and makes you feel productive. That’s how you can be productive when you study.

You probably can’t finish most assignments in one sitting, so take those to-do list items and break them down into tasks that take, say, ten minutes or a half hour. Studying in short spurts is good for building your long-term memory. Plus, doing this furthers your abilities to build studying into a repeatable act — yep, a habit! With this approach, instead of pulling all-nighters, you’ll make incremental progress on big assignments by fostering these daily habits.

To see this incremental approach to studying in action, here’s how a top student might break down his or her tasks for studying for a physics midterm that’s happening two weeks from now.

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Review notes, highlight anything confusing Review notes, write down questions for TAs/Professor Schedule office hours appointment Bring questions to office hours
Retry old problem sets, even the questions I got right Choose a set of textbook review questions Bring wrong answers to office hours or email TAs/Professor Practice problems I have difficulty remembering how to solve Physics Exam!

Notice how this student actively tries to figure out what they don’t know. Making mistakes and finding confusions is seen as an opportunity to learn and grow. Each of these tasks would not take more than an hour. Perhaps this student would ramp up their studying as the test nears. But since they’ve been practicing daily, they’ll feel confident and prepared so they expect no big surprises on the exam.

As you write out your to-do list, keep these questions in mind:

  • When are office hours this week?
  • Where will you study materials come from? Notes, old quizzes, handouts?
  • Do you have a list of questions or weak areas that you can start improving on now?

Make a to-do list you can be proud of! For ideas about how to design and structure a to-do list that makes you feel motivated, check out our Pinterest board and tweet at us with a picture of your own to-do list!

Mike Lodato

Mike Lodato

Chipper Team Member & PhD Student