10 Ways to Stop Making the Same Study Mistakes

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So your final grades came back and maybe you won’t start poppin’ bottles of champagne after all. You thought you’d aced your exam no problem, but in actuality you got a big fat C and don’t know what to do with yourself. Maybe you even knew you blew it prior to getting the grade, and refused to make eye contact with your professor while turning in the paper. Even though you bombed finals, the start of the new semester is the time to make the necessary preparations so you won’t have a repeat next time around. We all saw how well last semester that turned out.

1. Pick up the dang textbook 

Whether you encounter a final exam or a paper, the readings assigned in January will always come back to haunt you in May. Doing the readings when assigned will keep you from panicking on the floor of the library, or worse, seeing a test question and thinking, “I’ve never seen this before in my life.” Mary Giandrea, a professor of history at American University, tells her students to print out a hard copy of all online texts so they can highlight and take notes. “If you just read a text one time, you will not remember it — you have to engage with it,” Giandrea said. No surprise here, as sometimes I’ve done the reading the night before without note-taking and the next morning I feel like I’ve never even heard of Chaucer. Oh, the joys of college.

2. Just go: even if its just for participation points

I’m a person that’s always plagued by some illness, so this one doesn’t come easy. But my grades shot up ever since I started dragging my infected sinuses to class. Not only will you grasp the material better, but most professors count attendance and class participation towards your grade. Even if you only got two hours of sleep, you still gain some easy points just sitting in the back of class and breathing. I’ve also realized that sparking more debates can provide entertainment and keep you awake. Professors love to hear any voice aside from their own, so throwing in any tidbit from the reading will at least put you in their good graces.

3. Spice up the lecture yourself 

Don’t just copy down what you hear; you’ll read the notes back and be just as bored reading them as you were hearing them in lecture. “Notes only help you if you understand them, so bring your own voice into your notes,” Anne Shannon, a junior at American University said. “If that means making obscure references to Star Wars in order to help you with remembering historical details, go for it.” How do you think we’ve all come to know and love Never Eat Sour Watermelons?

4. Don’t cling to the library

Some like studying in libraries, some like sitting under a tree while blasting Metallica through their headphones. “It’s really important to find a place where you feel most productive, and that’s not always the library,” Shannon said.  I personally chose to study in my apartment because libraries are the new cafes. Lots of chatting, zero studying.

5. Throw out the trapper keeper

Write events and assignments down in a planner, online calendar or even an app on your phone. “My notebooks match the color coding I do in my planner to make it even easier for me to remember,” Emily Cairns, a senior at American University said. High school always meant one notebook for all of my classes, but I soon realized college needs six notebooks, five folders and a forest worth of paper. Using a separate notebook or binder for internships, clubs and work will help you check off tasks and maximize the time you need to kick back and enjoy what an adult you’re becoming.

6. Go say hello

Going to office hours shows your professor you care and actually want to discuss, but you might freeze up like a polar pop in front of 240 people. “It’s hard to go to office hours in the middle of the semester when you really need help if you haven’t gone before, so it’s good to start that relationship early,” Cairns said. “Stop by to say hi, to ask for clarification about an early assignment or to ask about their research.” Professors mentioned to me that they get bored during their office hours because no one shows up, so you’ll actually give the office hours a purpose.

7. Go say hello (and please help me) again 

After writing a paper, ask your professor ahead of time to check over a draft. Some universities provide writing centers, but your professor will know exactly what gets you an A on your paper. If you’re struggling with a “effect v. affect,” then visit the writing center, but see your professor for questions about content. The writing center intern won’t know that the topic was supposed to be about the Civil War and you wrote about Civil Rights. 

8. Better sooner than later 

Do you really want to spend the last week of your semester drowning in your own tears at 4 a.m. because you just started that paper that was assigned in January? “You can write a paper the night before it’s due, but it’s not going to be a good paper,” Giandrea said. Most students breeze through the beginning of semester, so find a healthy balance between partying your butt off the first couple of months and getting some hours in to work ahead.

9. Know you can’t do it all   

If you’re already interning, working a job and in a sorority, trying out for your university’s theater group might not be the best idea. Try to distinguish between what you want to do and what you have to do, then know your limits. Since my schedule puts me all over campus and stuck in the library most nights, I’m going to wait until this summer for an internship. Now I can really devote time to getting through this last semester without having a mental breakdown.

10. Chill out 

Whatever helps you unwind; do it. Whether you get a bath bomb like a basic or go kickboxing like a badass. It can only help. After spending all day in classes and studying, my go-to is watching an episode of Dance Moms or American Horror Story before bed. Sometimes you need to think about Evan Peters and not your bio class.

Elizabeth Lowman is a senior journalism major at the American University. She can usually be found eating cupcakes or petting other people’s dogs, sometimes at the same time.

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