Study Tips For College Success

Today's college courses require studying in different ways than what you may have learned in the past. Everyone has their unique style of learning. However, you'll want to avoid being a passive learner and actively engage in successful strategies to prepare for exams and quizzes while not relying solely on memorization. That way, you won't be left wondering, what did I just learn?

As a college student, you must explore new ways to review your material and consider how you study. Remember that not all of us know how to study! According to Amanda Zika, Manager of First Year Experience at RVC, "Be patient with yourself. It helps to be open to trying new ways of learning. Give yourself time to try these concepts, but not at 2 a.m. the night before an exam."

Different classes call for different strategies for success. The strategy you use for biology class will be much different than studying for math or foreign language class. For example, math classes might require completion of example problems, or Spanish courses might need flash cards.

Let's get started with study strategies!

Engaging Reading & Note-Taking Techniques

Get more out of reading with the SQ3R, a reading comprehension technique named for its five steps: survey, question, read, recite and review.

  • Survey: Reread. Scan the material. Look for titles, subtitles, pictures, diagrams, and bold and italic type.
  • Question: After surveying, ask yourself questions. Who, what, when, where, why, and how.
  • Read: Go back to the lesson and read normally, answering the questions as you read.
  • Recite: Cover the answers to your questions and recite them. Quiz yourself.
  • Review: Go back over the material. Reread your notes and outline the main points.

The Cornell Method of note taking is also a recommended system for taking, organizing, reviewing, and condensing notes by dividing a paper into sections and recording notes and key concepts in a note-taking area. If notes are taken during a lecture, go back and rewrite them for better understanding. Then, make a cue column and write down keywords or concepts. Review your notes by covering the right-hand side of your notes and try to recall the information from the cues. Include a summary section at the bottom of the page so you can describe the material in your own words.

Spaced Distributive Practice

Multiple short sessions over a long period of time are more effective than cramming all of the information right before an exam. Feel free to try different study techniques of the day to find the right fit.

Active Recall/Retrieval/Practice Testing

Challenge your brain by pulling from your memory by moving things from short-term to long-term memory. It will require more than listening or taking notes. It's helpful to start with reviewing the material through multiple sessions. Flash cards that are handmade or created through Quizlet are useful. Role-playing as a teacher (with a friend) without reviewing your notes is also helpful. Another type of active retrieval is practice testing. Try to use chapter reviews from your textbook or instructor to answer questions with practice quizzes and tests. This is a helpful method for evaluating your knowledge of a subject. No Cheating!


A cognitive learning strategy involves enhancing the information that clarifies or specifies the information to be learned, and related information is called elaboration. It's all about finding examples to help you through your journey by writing down examples your teacher discusses in lectures or videos, examples in your textbook, or "real world" examples. Similes or analogies are also helpful, as well as mnemonic devices or memory techniques that can help your ability to recall and retain information.

Interleaving or Mixing it Up!

When studying multiple topics, mixing up the material adds to its impact, especially if the concepts are linked in some way. This will help you prepare for any surprises and materials/problems that might be included in a test.

Other tips for successful studying:

  • Stay motivated
  • Keep materials from key classes you may need in the future
  • Explore your learning preferences
  • Form a study group
  • Talk to your instructor or visit their office
  • Manage your time wisely

Many campus resources available at RVC to help you succeed are covered in your student fees, including tutoring and labs.

If you have additional questions, please visit Amanda Zika, Manager of First Year Experience, at (815) 921-4117.