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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Page address: http://www.mnsu.edu/success/studyskills.html
Become a more effective student by developing better study habits that you can start using now.

Below are some tips that can help you achieve academic success.


Does your level of motivation seem to be a barrier to achieving academic success? If so, check out the following tips on getting motivated:

Take responsibility for your education.

Tap into what motivates you. Think in terms of your short-term and long-term goals.

Challenge yourself to achieve an academic goal by a specific date (e.g., obtain a certain GPA by the end of the semester).

Hold yourself accountable for your academics by creating and sticking to a schedule.

Analyze and document your progress.

Set up immediate or long-term rewards. For example, after studying for 50 minutes allow yourself a 10-minute break. Celebrate your successes.

Ask yourself if you are prepared to deal with the consequences if you do not get motivated.

Learn from your mistakes and see "failure" as an opportunity to grow.

Fighting Procrastination

Have you become an expert at putting off your studies and making excuses for why you did not get your assignment(s) in on time? If this sounds like you, read through the tips below on fighting procrastination.

When you feel like putting it off, create action and GET STARTED!

Ask yourself the following questions: Why is this important? What will be the consequences if it does not get done? What will be the outcome if I put this off until later? (Be honest with yourself).

Reward yourself for completing a task or deny yourself a reward or privilege for not completing a task.

Remind yourself of the consequences of putting off or not completing your work.

Decide to do your projects and schoolwork first and then go have fun.

Time Management

How effective are you at managing your time? Being able to effectively manage your time is crucial for academic success. The following are some tips for developing some basic organizational skills and time management strategies that can help you become a more effective student.

Use a planner to schedule important deadlines and events. Schedule fixed blocks of time to study and form a routine.

Use a daily "To Do" list to help you reach your goals and prioritize your daily tasks. As soon as you have completed a task, check it off your list.

Create a semester schedule that includes important deadlines for tests and assignments. Pin it up somewhere visible.

Evaluate how you spend your time. Keep a log that includes how much time you spend doing various activities during the day such as class, studying, sleeping, eating, sports/extracurricular activities, socializing, other. Calculate the number of hours during your week that you spend doing each activity. This can be a very eye opening activity!

Take advantage of typically wasted time (e.g., between classes, while waiting for an appointment, riding on the bus). Be aware of when you are wasting time.

Set specific study goals for each study session and prioritize your assignments.

Check to see if you are budgeting your time according to your priorities.

Break up studying into blocks of fifty minutes and take regular 10 minute breaks after each study period. Avoid piling it all on at once.

Spend 10-15 minutes each day per class reviewing notes and clarifying points. The best time for this is immediately after class while the information is still fresh. The greatest amount of forgetting happens in the first 24 hours after class.

Start assignments as soon as they are given.

Study during the time of day when you are most alert. Daylight hours are best.

Study somewhere quiet such as the library. Find a place that works for you and try to study there every time.

Set a regular sleep schedule, eat a well-balanced diet, and allow time for leisure activities.

Focus on academics during the week and save socializing for the weekend.

Learn to say NO. Decide what you are willing to cut out of your life while you are a student.

Goal Setting

Setting goals is important for helping you get what you want. The following are some important tips to consider when setting your goals:

Set both short range and long range goals.

Be specific. Set up clear objectives and measurable steps for accomplishing your goal.

Make your goals realistic. Do not set a goal for yourself that you know will be impossible to achieve.

Challenge yourself.

Ask yourself what you are willing to give up for what you want.

Have a friend or family member sign as a witness to your plan for reaching your goals.

Reward yourself for reaching your goal(s).

Remember goals are an ongoing process. If you do not succeed at first, keep at it – do not give up.

Classroom Learning

Increase classroom learning by making the best use of class time and by taking responsibility for your learning. Read through the tips below to find out how you can maximize your learning in the classroom:

Arrive to class on time.

Come to class prepared and have your assignments completed.

Review your notes before class begins or right after class is over to keep the information fresh.

Do the reading so you are prepared to participate.

Stay focused in class. Catch yourself when you are daydreaming and find ways to control it (e.g., engage yourself in the discussion or class notes).

Have questions you want answered prepared before class begins.

Make a "To Do" list to help stay on top of assignment deadlines for each class.

Find a seat in the classroom that will be most conducive to learning and staying on task.

Avoid sitting next to people who could interfere with your concentration.

Evaluate as you listen. Decide what is important to get into your notes.

Engage yourself by participating in class (e.g., ask questions, add to discussion). If you do not typically participate in class, challenge yourself to get more involved each class period.

Ask yourself if you could be doing more to get more out of the class.

Determine if the course is meeting your objectives. If not, talk to your instructor about your expectations.

Find someone in class who seems to have a good grasp on the coursework and agree to help each other out.

Show an interest in the class. Talk to your professors about what you like about the class and let him/her know you care about doing well.

Attend every class

Study Skills

Below is a list of study skill tips that can help you develop better study habits and lead to becoming a more successful student. Use these tips to help you identify a learning strategy that is most effective for you:

Identify your learning style (e.g., visual, auditory, tactile) and find ways to adapt what you are learning to fit your style.

Study short and often.

Set a specific goal for each study session. Prioritize assignments.

Start assignments as soon as they are given.

Study your most difficult subjects first.

Review your notes regularly (each day for approximately 10 minutes right after class is ideal).

Break up and vary your work (e.g., switch to another subject when you become tired of the one you’re working on).

Stay on top of your work – doing a little consistently is easier than doing a lot all at once.

Learn "actively". This means doing something that will help facilitate learning such as writing or typing notes, creating a study guide/flashcards, or reciting and repeating the information out loud. Active learning increases the likelihood of remembering the information later.

Use study guides/workbooks that are available with your textbooks as a method for quizzing yourself before a test.

Reduce interferences while you are studying. Find a quiet environment (leave your residence if there are distractions).

Attend all of your classes.

Improving Your Memory/Concentration

Increase your memory power by making the information you are learning meaningful. For example, group the information you need to know into meaningful categories, associate it with information you already know, create mental visualizations, say the ideas out loud in your own words, and consolidate it by using the information while it is still fresh.

Memory techniques (mnemonic devices) can be used to help you remember information.
For example:

  • Acronyms - creating a word from the first letter of each word. For example, SLOP for South Dakota, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania.
  • Acrostics - making a silly phrase with the first letter of each word consisting of the information you need to know. For example, "Strawberries, Limes, Oranges and Peaches are the tastiest fruits" for South Dakota, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania.
  • Poems & Rhymes – creating short, catchy, sayings that include the information you need to know. For example, "is am are was were be been, we are linking verbs."

Train yourself to stay focused on the task-at-hand.

Notice when you do remember something

Improve your memory:

Give yourself enough time to learn it

Personalize it

Do not try to remember everything, be selective and pick out the important details to remember

Transfer information from your short-term memory to your long-term by identifying meaningful information, organizing it, and then studying (storing it) so that you can retrieve it later.

Eliminate distractions in your head. When you notice your attention slipping, write down a reminder of the idea or problem on a piece of paper and come back to it later.

Turn distractions into rewards for yourself after you have completed your work (e.g., a nap, a snack, or exercise).

For subjects you lack interest in, try to identify why you are not interested. Try to reverse your thinking and see if you can find a reason to care.

Test Preparation & Test-Taking Skills

Developing effective test preparation skills will help give you a better understanding of your subject material, help lower your anxiety, and help you produce better scores on your exams. The following test taking tips have been provided to assist you in becoming better prepared for test-taking situations:

Preparing for the Test

Find out what will be covered on the test and the kinds of questions you will be asked.

Review your class notes to ensure that they are complete. If necessary, see your instructor or your classmates to update your lecture notes.

Attend class review sessions if they are available.

Avoid a "cramming" situation. Use your time management skills and plan several daily study sessions. Reviewing class material frequently, over a several-day period, increases the chances of information moving from short- to long-term memory.

Choose your study location carefully. Be honest with yourself and admit that certain environments are not conducive to effective studying.

Engage in "active" studying, which involves testing yourself on the assigned material. For example, you might use flashcards (i.e., question on one side and answer on the other) to test your knowledge of important concepts and definitions. Active studying is more likely to commit information to long-term memory. Also, this approach reveals the material that requires greater study.

Use several of your senses during active studying. That is, in answering one of your study questions, "say it aloud," "write it down," and "visualize it."

Be willing to "over-learn" the material. For example, if you are able to recite the definitions that you are trying to learn, it is likely that you will easily recognize them on a multiple-choice test.

Anticipate test questions while you study.

Use the memory techniques outlined above to facilitate the long-term retention of information.

Taking the Test

Read the directions carefully.

Know how much time you have to take the test.

Take a minute to review the test to help you budget your time. Allow more time for questions that are worth more points.

If you have time, use it to check your answers before turning in the test.

For multiple choice:
  • Answer the questions you know first.
  • Mark questions you are unsure of and come back to them.
  • Eliminate the obviously wrong answers to a question.
  • After reading the question and before looking at the responses, see if you can come up with the answer on your own. See if your answer closely matches one of the responses given.
  • Be sure to read all of the response options before making your choice.
  • Be careful with negatively worded questions. If necessary, re-phrase/translate it into positive terms.
  • Be aware if you will be penalized for guessing. If you are not penalized make sure you respond to every question.
For true / false questions:
  • Pay attention to qualifiers. Statements that imply extremes such as "always" and "never" are often false. On the other hand, qualifiers such as "sometimes" and "generally" are often true.
  • Remember that every part of the sentence must be true for the statement to be true.
  • Re-phrase negatively worded questions in positive terms to clarify the sentence.
  • Always answer true/false questions. You have a 50% chance of answering correctly.
For essay questions:
  • If you are asked to respond to more than one essay question be sure to budget your time accordingly.
  • Read the directions carefully. For example, are the directions asking you to compare and contrast, analyze, or describe something? Underline the key words in the essay question to help you follow the directions.
  • Before you begin, jot down outline points you have memorized to help you structure your answer.
  • Periodically check to make sure you are answering the question correctly.
  • Introduce the main idea in your first paragraph. Provide support for your idea(s) in the following paragraphs with examples. Use transition statements to connect the introduction, body of the essay and conclusion. Avoid making definitive statements (e.g., "this proves…"). The conclusion of your essay should provide a summary of the main ideas and argument(s) in the paper.
Managing Test Anxiety:
  • Be Prepared! This is the best strategy for managing test anxiety.
  • Get a good night sleep before the exam; studying into the late night hours before an exam can result in making careless mistakes, among other things.
  • Make sure to eat something before the exam, but avoid eating junk food (high sugar foods). Healthy foods such as fruit and protein are best.
  • Arrive early to class. Give yourself time to do what you need to do before the test begins.
  • Allow yourself time to relax before the exam. Avoid a last minute "cram" session.
  • Do not discuss the test with classmates beforehand if you know that this increases your anxiety level.
  • Sit in the front of the classroom so you are not as aware of how many people have completed the exam before you.
  • Take your time on the test. There is not prize for finishing first.
  • Take a minute before you begin the test to review it and assess how much time you will need. Pace yourself.
  • Read the directions carefully. Re-read them.
  • Before you begin the test, jot down key ideas that you might forget.
  • If you freeze up, move on to another question and come back to the question you missed later.
  • If you go blank on an essay question, start writing, it may jog your memory.
  • Ask your professor for clarification on questions you are not sure you are interpreting correctly.
  • Approach the test with a positive and realistic attitude. Aim to do your best with what you know and do not beat yourself up for what you do not know. Decide if there is something more/different you could do next time to feel more prepared.
  • Stay focused on the test and not on what others are doing or where they are on the test.
  • Try to relax. Stop to take a few deep breaths or to stretch if needed.
  • Communicate with your instructor about your concerns.
  • Make yourself aware of the resources on campus that can assist you.
  • Increase your memory power by making the information you are learning meaningful. For example, group the information you need to know into meaningful categories, associate it with information you already know, create mental visualizations, say the ideas out loud in your own words, and consolidate it by using the information while it is still fresh.

Note Taking

Taking good notes in class will make studying and preparing for tests much easier. Below are some strategies for effective note taking.

Have an organized notebook or binder for each class and keep it clean. A loose-leaf notebook allows you to add, remove, and re-sequence pages.

Keep the syllabus somewhere visible and refer to it often.

Date and include headings in your notes.

Leave white space in your notes in case you want to go back and add something.

Number and bullet ideas (create sections to separate concepts). An outline-type format works well for organizing ideas.

Identify the main ideas that need to be included in your notes. Do not try to write down everything.

Understand what was said before writing it down.

Ask instructors to clarify or slow down if needed and when it seems appropriate.

Use the margins to clue yourself in when you are lost or for "important" notes.

Have a symbol system to increase your writing speed. For example, w/ = with, b/c = because.

Set up a "support system" with someone in class who can help you with the notes if you are absent or unable to get down all of the information.

Take time before, after, and in-between class to reflect on and review your notes.

Predict questions that might appear on the exam and include both the questions and answers in your notes. This will make for an easier review during exam time.


Scheduling a regular reading time each day and adhering to this schedule can help you stay on top of the reading and avoid last minute "marathon" sessions before a test. Below are some tips for effective reading.

Begin by surveying what you are reading (i.e., get a general idea of what the chapter is about by reading the major headings, summary and study review questions, and by looking at the pictures and diagrams).

Decide how much you are going to read in one sitting. Plan to read for approximately 50 minutes and then take a short break.

Turn major headings and sub-headings into questions and write the question in the margin.

Predict/invent questions from the reading that might appear on the test and then write the questions you came up with on a 3x5 note card or a sheet of paper to use during your test preparation.

Highlight and underline the major ideas in the chapter (make sure to only highlight the main point of the paragraph).

Use symbols to clue yourself in to places that need extra attention (e.g., a question mark next to sections that are not clear, a star next to sections that the professor indicated will be on the exam).

Reflect on what you are reading and make the information meaningful to you. Personalizing the material will help you remember it later.

Evaluate what you are reading – do you agree or disagree? How will this information relate to you or other people? Will this information be useful to you in the future?

Review what you have learned within 24 hours and leave yourself enough time to continue reviewing up until the test time.

Break up the reading. Planning to do too much reading at one time might result in abandoning the effort altogether.

Control environmental distractions and the distractions in your head. If the room you are reading in is too noisy – relocate. If you notice your mind wandering, force yourself to re-read the information you missed.

Take time to respond to the review questions in the chapter. This can help you identify the areas that need more attention.

Managing Stress

Academic burnout can occur when students are not able to find ways to effectively manage their stress. Below are some tips to help manage/reduce academic stress:

Recognize your stress. Is your stress mental, social, physical, or a combination or these.

Try to identify where your stress is coming from. For example, lack of sleep, poor diet, substance use, frustration, apathy.

Recognize if there is something you can change about your situation or if it is beyond your control.

Change the way you view something – decide you are not going to let it stress you out.

Recognize ways that you might be creating your own stress and explore how you can avoid doing this.

Break tasks down into smaller more manageable pieces. Avoid overwhelming yourself by thinking about everything that you have to do.

Prioritize and work to accomplish at least the "important" things.

Explore different methods for managing stress. For example, go for a walk, listen to music, talk to a friend. Be prepared to experiment with different techniques to find those that work best for you.

Set realistic goals and timelines for reaching your goals.

Get enough sleep.

Use your stress in a positive way to help motivate you to do well.

Just get started! Sometimes the best method for reducing stress is by creating action.