T Nation

Being a Better Student


With the next semester quickly approaching, it's time to get prepared.

This may seem like a simple question, but hopefully there'll be some good ideas. For those who've been to college or are going now, what are some of the things that you think helped you make better grades?


Reading the prescribed texts.



i find writing down as much as i can while listening to the teacher, and what they write on the board. This will help ingrain the information into our head, then a quick review of the subject that night before bed.


While I was studying (I have a degree in electrical engineering) I have tried many things trying to improve my learning abilities. Different ways of keeping notes, using color markers, using flash cards, making my own course materials from different sources, recording lectures, working regulary during a course or taking it easy 3/4 of time and than working like a madman last week or two.

The bottom line, in my expirience, is simply the number of hours you put into it. It all boils down to that. Now, if you're really smart and use some innovative way of learning, maybe you can get the job done in, let's say 18 hours instead of 20 and maybe you'll be more motivated to study. But, there's no thing that'll help you do that kind of work in 10 hours, for instance. Also, be aware that many times things don't go as planned and that certain topics can take days before you truly get it.

Of course, this generally applies to engineering and maths...

  1. Rewrite your notes you took by hand sometime in the same week.

  2. If your campus has wireless, do not open your laptop during class unless you have great discipline - many crappy grades have come from distracted internet wanderers during class.

  3. Make an organized outline of your class notes a month before finals.

  4. Don't take any test off - ie, don't shank a midterm thinking you can make it up with a final.

Common sense, I think but I know lots of students who have no plan at all - hey just show up, jot down a few things, and cram like hell before the test.

Treat it like you would a training block - get organized, know what you want to get accomplished, and make sure you create time to get it done.


I found this interesting link on another website.

This may help.



I am an adjunct professor on and off again, and have felt that the key to good grades is usually very simple. To add to the great advice Slotan wrote above:

1.Show up every day and take notes during the class, regardless of the material. This will help you to focus on the material at hand and gives you more time to digest the new "language" of each class.

  1. Follow the syllabus. This does not mean that you have to read every page prescribed for every class. Use your head and focus on the material the professor focuses on.

  2. If you keep up with the course load, tests should not be a mountain of work. Just like in the gym, you can?t do a weeks worth of work in a day, so stay consistent with your studies.


1) Go to sleep before midnight, no matter what. If you still have work to do/things to study then make a plan to wake up a few hours earlier than normal. When you get up, eat, hop in the shower, then get to it. There were plenty of times last semester I was up at 3:30-4:00 studying and writing papers. I truly believe sleeping helped.

2) Eat well! but don't gorge yourself. It is difficult to focus when you are empty/stuffed.

3) Plan, Plan, Plan. You plan your workout routine, take at least that much effort in planning your studying. Stay on top of homework/reading. If you pay attention in/out of class, you really only need about a two week lead out from a test to prepare well. This doesn't mean you are slacking the rest of the time, it means you are busting your ass to get assignments done.

4) Study in blocks. Everyone is different, so the size of your block might not be the same as mine, and mine vary slightly week to week. After a few hours, when you feel your concentration failing, immediately get up and put the books aside (this amount of time is a block). Take an hour break to eat/watch tv/hit the gym/do cardio (you are unaware of the passage of time while sleeping so it doesnt work as well).

When you get back to it you will be able to maintain a higher level of concentration for almost as long. There is absolutely no point in studying if you are unable to concentrate, you will retain nothing and might as well stop there. My typical study block is about 3-3.5 hours. As the semester gets rolling, I usually do 4-6 hours/day (up to 10 approaching finals)

5) Never plan to study/work more than 7 hours/day. The last few are the least productive, and you might need more than you think you do anyway. If you think you need 10, you probably need 14.

6) if you can afford to when nearing finals, take every fourth day or so off or reduce the amount of work you do . This is only if you feel yourself burning out; I need to do this at times just to keep my sanity.

7) this is not for everyone by any means, but I found living with my gf to help a good deal. If I hadn't, I probably would have never had any time to see her. Making time to do so would have been fairly detrimental, as she occupies a lot of time :slight_smile:

These are my tips, your individual study procedures really depend on how you learn best; people are too individual to prescribe a particular protocol. The above worked very well for me, I have a 3.9 (4.0 upper division GPA) in Mechanical Engineering (going into my senior year)while following pre-med coursework.


Great advice John Galt!


Just a few things can make a big difference--many of which have been mentioned.


GO TO CLASS this is a big one. Many TAs and Professors will take attendance and grade you on participation. Those points are gimmie points if you just show up and talk. Also, going to class and listening to lectures and taking notes will decrease the amount of time you spend studying.

EXERCISE this will help reduce stress and keep your energy up.

EAT RIGHT this is a no-brainer

FOLLOW DIRECTIONS on assignments and ASK QUESTIONS if something doesn't make sense.

good luck!!


Here's the biggest piece of the puzzle for math and engineering, in my opinion: Be brutally honest with yourself about your knowledge of each subject as you learn it. Math is not something you should be trying to memorize, even though that's what most students try to do. As you learn a concept, you should ask yourself "why" questions. You should never write down "just the steps" (except, MAYBE, in DifEq). When you're learning about the integral, ask yourself "What does it mean to take the integral? What does the integral tell us about a function?" If you can't answer those questions, or if you're answering them by repeating a memorized script to yourself, then you need to either a) see the professor or b) prove to yourself why the statements are true.

I also recommend "How to Read a Book" by Adler and Doren... they have a lot of good advice about taking your time to understand a subject.

I'm a bit of a hypocrite, btw... I largely slacked my way through my undergraduate degree and waited until the last minute to do any studying for my classes. I have used my own advice, however, and it worked much, much better than what I was doing! Btw, when you use this kind of questioning to help yourself understand material, you will often find gaps in your knowledge... fill them.


But please don't feel compelled to talk if you really have no clue what you're saying.


Don't snore while sleeping in class. Teachers hate that.


I found one of the best ways to do what you suggested is study in a group. If you can teach it to those who do not understand, then you truly know what you are doing when it comes to the subject matter.


Absolutely. I read a study a while back that talked about how the traditional dominance of Asian-American students in engineering was due to the fact that they studied in groups, in addition to strong pressure to perform. Interesting stuff.

The only caveat is that if you're a natural-born-slacker, you have to make sure you aren't just along for the ride and/or dragging everyone else in the study group down.


Execellent thread guys.

Until now, I had never taken school seriously. I banked on my intelligence to graduate top 5% in high school and never learned how to study. I've been in college for 2 years taking the tough engineering courses studying MAYBE 4 hours a week.


You will become very frustrated and question your intelligence, manhood and parentage.


Same thing, here. Intelligence will only take you so far. Every school has tons of legends running around about some genius or another living on campus, who just shows up to the final exam and aces it without ever having attended class or studied. These aren't only false (you never know how much that guy is really studying, or what coursework he's done before), but they're also damaging to the ego. You show up to class, put no time into studying, and expect an A. Sorry, tough break.

I once tried to explain this to a couple of students in my SAT course. They were both bright girls, and as they put it, they had "made a career out of slacking." I said I understood that, but the bottom line is that at some point you must be exposed to the material. They disagreed, citing their high GPAs, and saying how they never paid attention or did any schoolwork. Funny, neither one got 2400 on their SATs...

Anyway, it's like the Carnegie quote from Strong Words: "People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents."


oboffil, Is that the crazy guy from seven samurai? sure looks like him (your avatar).


this is not really so much of a study tip, but a good one for college nonetheless. Classes are generally too big and its easy to get lost in the crowd. It is always a good idea to introduce yourself to your teacher and become familiar with him/her.

At the first sign of trouble make sure you attend office hours and seek help. There is much you can learn about what a teacher expects from your work by simply interacting with them outside of class itself. It also helps in cases where participation counts, or if you sit borderline between two grades. Often they will swing in your favor if they see a strong commitment and improvement on your part.


I was one of those in Highschool too. My grades werent great though because I simply refused to turn in homework assignments; I didn't want to do them. There were numerous instances, however, that having missed a good majority of class I would walk in on finals day and get the highest score w/o studying.