Studying & Note-Taking Skills for College

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College is often a defining life experience that can help you develop as a person and prepare for an enjoyable career. Set yourself up for success by exploring some key study tips for college students. Excelling in college takes more than intellect — learners must also work hard, manage time effectively, and cultivate good study skills for college students.

Knowing when, what, and how to study can drastically improve assignment, paper, and test performance. Learning and implementing some effective study strategies for college students can free up time for other activities and reduce test-taking anxiety. The following guide features study tips for college time management, note-taking, and exam preparation.

Time Management: The Key to Academic Success

Along with classes and homework, many college students must juggle work, social life, and family obligations. Nutrition, exercise, and sleep often fall by the wayside during this busy phase of life. Over time, this self-neglect can deteriorate performance in various life areas, including school. Poor time management can cause anxiety and procrastination, while effective time management reduces mistakes and stress.

One of the most essential study skills for college students, effective time management requires planning and controlling daily life. Strong time management helps learners meet goals such as earning good grades, securing a job, taking care of themselves, and establishing relationships. Time management requires prioritization, planning, decision-making, and discipline.

To manage time well, start by reflecting on your daily activities and prioritizing them in order of importance. Differentiating between essential and non-essential tasks can help you free up time and energy by avoiding unnecessary activities. Some learners allot time limits on assignments based on importance.

Key time management practices for studying include scheduling and practicing project management. Creating a schedule and sticking to it takes commitment. Scheduling boosts productivity and enables greater relaxation when you take time for socializing, self-care, and hobbies. Breaking projects down into stages and scheduling their completion over time can reduce stress and lead to a better final product.

Eliminating distractions and firmly refusing to procrastinate helps learners stick to their scheduled study time, meet their goals, and find time for more relaxed recreation later.

Studying in a quiet place helps eliminate distractions, and scheduling rewards for after an study session can help motivate learners to stick to the task at hand rather than avoid it.

From Expert: Amy D'Aprix, MSW, Ph.D., CSA

Amy D'Aprix

Q. Was time management an issue with your students? How did you address it?

Yes, time management was an issue when teaching college students. I used a combination of strategies to address it. The amount of reading in all of their courses was overwhelming, so I taught them to read differently. I explained that they couldn’t possibly do everything in detail, so it was a matter of figuring out what they needed to do and what they didn’t. I used the technique of reading chapter headings and conclusions to get the flow of the material. Then they could go back and review concepts.

I also taught my students how to set a schedule differently. Instead of focusing on getting a task done, I showed them that it’s more productive to work on a project for a certain amount of time. That way, if you spend 30 minutes, no matter what you accomplish you can feel successful.

Q. What types of note-taking methods were most successful for your students?

I think it’s important for students not to be so focused on taking notes that they aren’t listening. Instead of writing every word, it’s more productive to write down main topics and focus on the content. They can always go back and look something up later if they don’t understand. Outlining works well with this strategy.

Q. Did you address memorization strategies?

I’m big on using mnemonic devices and repetition. I think flashcards are great for factual information.

Q. Did any of your students have issues with test anxiety?

I had several students with test anxiety. Personally, I removed the time issue from the equation altogether when testing. I also taught students how to use positive self-talk. “I can do this. I’m well prepared for this test.” A lot of anxiety comes from worrying about what happens next on a test, so I think it’s important to look over the whole exam first and then start with what is easiest.


Taking Notes: The Most Important Study Skill



One of the key study skills for college students, good note-taking optimizes learning and performance on assignments and tests. A key component of active learning, note-taking helps with comprehension, retention, test review, and paper writing. Typing notes helps with speed, storage, and organization, while handwriting notes tend to enhance learning and memory. Learners differ, so try out various methods and choose what works best for you.

Many tried-and-true note-taking methods already exist, and learners may wish to try various note-taking tips for college before settling on the most suitable methods. Some of the most effective note-taking approaches include using keywords (the Cornell method), outlining, mapping, and charting. Learn about some of these popular methods below.


  • Cornell Method

    Often most useful for lecture note-taking, the Cornell method uses keywords to make note organization and review easier. Cornell note-takers leave a 2.5-inch margin along the left-hand side of each page. After entering notes on the right side, note-takers take a moment to label significant ideas or sections by writing down a corresponding keyword next to them in the left-hand margin. This simple and efficient method makes it easy to highlight key concepts and ideas.

    The Cornell method also skips a few lines between each point, leaving space for note-takers to return to the notes after class and complete phrases, sentences, and ideas. When reviewing for tests, users can cover up their notes and practice information recall using the keyword cues in the margin.


  • Outlining Method

    This method helps note-takers sort information from general to particular. General information starts at the left margin, and more specific information gets indented beneath the general points related to it. Some outline users just use dashes or bullet points, while others employ letters or numbers to show the different layers of specificity.

    This popular method works well for humanities and social sciences subjects, but not as well for math or physics. Outlining organizes information effectively by recording content and showing relationships between the information. However, good outlines require thought and time during class, so other methods may work better for fast-paced lectures.


  • Mapping Method

    Visual note-taking methods such as graphs, tables, or thinking maps can help illustrate the relationships between various facts and ideas. Mapping requires concentration and critical thinking, since users must analyze information to determine its relationship to other data. For this reason, mapping often enhances active learning and conveys information to the viewer quickly.

    This method works well for dense, organized lectures or for unpredictable lectures. After class, mappers can sort information further by adding color coding or symbols. Mapping sometimes does not fill well on regular-sized paper, but users may pair mapping with notecards.


Preparing for and Taking Exams

Sometimes worth sizable grade percentages, exams can induce considerable stress for college students. Around 16-20% of high school and college students struggle with high test-taking anxiety — a panicked state that can impair comprehension, retention, recall, and performance. Perfectionism, fear of failure, poor self-esteem, and lack of preparedness often cause test-taking anxiety. This anxiety can cause the mind of even a well-prepared student to go blank at crucial moments.

Fortunately, many expert sources offer useful exam-study tips for college that can reduce test-taking anxiety. Some key methods for overcoming test anxiety include planning ahead and scheduling a time and place for quiet study well in advance of the test. On exam day, get adequate food and rest, exercise lightly and practice mindfulness beforehand, and breathe deeply before and during the test.

These practices also may benefit students who do not experience severe test anxiety. Additional study tips for college students include registering for study sessions, reading out loud, and writing review guides to help you internalize information. Professors may offer study sessions of their own volition or upon request. These sessions help learners determine what the professor prioritizes and what material may appear on the test. Study sessions also offer a chance to enhance understanding by reviewing or clarifying difficult concepts or methods.

Study Resources for College Students



College enrollees may benefit from various campus services, such as writing, tutoring, advising, and disability centers. Many learners glean additional study tips for college from universities’ online resources. Some college students also use study applications for note-taking, organizing ideas, test preparation, and collaboration.

Campus Resources


  • Writing Center

    Most schools maintain a writing center, which provides various writing services such as skills workshops, one-on-one tutoring, editing, and research help. Learners often bring new assignments for brainstorming or drafts for review.


  • Tutoring Center

    Colleges often provide free tutoring services to learners seeking extra help outside of class. Tutors often specialize in particular disciplines and provide one-on-one help tailored to students’ particular needs. Working with a tutor can help fill in gaps and address problem areas.


  • Faculty

    Students can bring specific questions and problems to their instructors, usually after class or during office hours. Faculty typically offer office hours at least once or twice per week. This individualized attention can add quality and direction to student learning.


  • Advising Department

    Academic advisors help students pick a major, select classes, and meet graduation requirements. The advising department can also refer learners to various other applicable campus study aids, programs, and services.


  • Disability Resource Center

    Learners with special needs should register their disabilities with the disability office or resource center. These entities help students overcome various structural or attitudinal learning obstacles to full participation.


Online Resources


  • Dartmouth Academic Skills Center: Note-Taking This resource provides video and written note-taking tips for college lectures. Site visitors can also view a list of digital resources, including many helpful note-taking applications.
  • Willamette University This academic support page explains why effective class note-taking is so important to active learning. Learners can review note-taking tips for college, including strategies for use before, during, and after class.
  • Note-Taking Skills for 21st Century Students This page focuses on tips and tools for analog note-taking. Students can view videos and text that introduce the Cornell note-taking system and visual note-taking methods, including mind-mapping and charting.
  • Dartmouth Academic Skills Center: Time Management Tips This page lists 20 time-management tips, plus links to time-management resources from other universities. Users can take a quiz to assess their current planning abilities.
  • St. Mary's College Tutorial and Academic Skills Center This site features many strategies for taking multiple-choice, true-false, subjective, and essay exams. Users may also benefit from this site's exam-day tips and strategies for overcoming test anxiety.

Apps to Help with Studying


  • Brainscape This free study aid helps users create and share smart flashcards on any device. The application uses cognitive science-based technology that personalizes the flashcard repetition rate. Brainscape features flashcards for the SAT, MCAT, Series 7, and AP exams.
  • Evernote This free application provides note-taking templates, web clipping, document scanning, and team-collaboration space. Evernote features a fully functional web application, a particularly flexible organization method, and compatibility with many computers and applications.
  • Outliner This inexpensive application helps users create to-do lists, track projects, organize thoughts, and produce and share outlines. CarbonFin Outliner synchronizes with OneDrive, Dropbox, and Outliner Online.
  • Quizlet Useful to students and teachers, this free application makes flashcard creation and sharing easy. Users get access to others' flashcards, available in multiple languages. Quizlet also offers special test-preparation tools.
  • Simplenote This free, simply designed application lets users easily document ideas, take notes, and create to-do lists. Simplenote synchronizes information across devices and enables collaboration, sharing, and tagging.

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