Center for Women and Returning Adults

Academic Survival Skills

How to Survive College in 10 Steps

1) Listen:

  • Move closer to the front.
  • Focus your attention.
  • Evaluate what you hear.
  • Ask questions if you don’t understand something.

2) Take Notes:

  • Record the speaker's main points in your own words. Don't try to write down everything that's said.
  • Listen for key words that tell you what's important ("The major cause was...," "The 4 main steps...," etc.)
  • Copy all information written on the board.
  • Need Extra help on Note Taking? Click the link

3) Review Your Notes:

  • Highlight the points that seem most important.
  • Go over your notes at least once a week, this helps keep information fresh in your mind.

4) Participate:

  • Be prepared and willing to take part in class discussion.
  • Share your thoughts and ideas, but don't dominate the entire discussion.
  • Ask questions.
  • Summarize in your own words what's been said.
  • Be polite and respect others, even if you disagree.

5) Budget Your Time Wisely:

  • Use a planning notebook or calender to track when all assignments are due.
  • Write down all your regular activities (classes, a part-time job, meals, practice with a team or musical group, etc).
  • Allow time for sleep, fun and fitness.
  • Schedule review time for before or after each class, if you can.
  • Try to study the same subject at the same time each day.
  • Plan time for exams and major projects. Break up these big jobs into small steps (i.e. step #1 find sources; Step #2. take notes).

6) Find a Good Study Space:

  • Choose a quiet, well-lit place that's free of distractions (telephone, television, etc). For example, the library is an ideal place to study.
  • Gather all the materials you need before you begin.
  • Try to study in the same place each day. Use that place for studying only.

7) Be a Better Reader:

  • Eliminate habits that can slow you down.
  • Don't move your lips, "say" words in your mind, or point your finger.
  • Train your eyes to take in larger groups of words with each glance.
  • Skim material if you're looking for the answers to a specific question.
  • Slow down when you are reading technical material.
  • Use a dictionary to learn definitions, synonyms and antonyms.
  • Learn prefixes, suffixes, and roots of words. (Ask a librarian for books to help you)
  • Use new words that you learn.
  • Check out speech-reading courses.
  • Preview the material. For example, if you're assigned a chapter in a textbook, read:
    • The chapter title and introduction.
    • Headings, subheadings, and topic sentences
    • Boldfaced and italicized words.
    • The chapter summary and any review questions.
  • As you read:
    • Pay special attention to main ideas and supporting details.
    • Examine graphs, charts and illustrations.
    • Evaluate the material. (Do you understand what you're reading? Does the material answer your questions about the subject?)
    • Underline or highlight key points.
    • Make an outline.
  • After you read:
    • Write a summary in your own words.
    • Think about what you've learned. Sum up the material in your own words. This can make it easier to remember the material. 
    • Note any points you don't understand or any questions you'd like to ask your professor.

8) Prepare for Exams:

  • Ask your professor what you can expect on the test.
  • Ask if there is a study guide.
  • If no study guide is available, make your own.
  • Study with fellow classmates.
  • Use flash cards to write down important information to test yourself over. 
  • Re-read chapters you will be tested over.
  • Study the notes you have taken during class.

9) Focus on Exam Day:

  • Read the instructions carefully.
  • Scan the test quickly to find out how much time you can spend on each section or question.
  • Answer the easy questions first, then the hard ones.
  • Pay close attention to all qualifiers ("usually," "none," "always," etc.)
  • Write neatly.
  • Read all the answers carefully before you choose one (for multiple choice questions).
  • On the essay portion of exams:
    • Note key words, such as "discuss," "explain" and "compare."
    • Briefly outline the major points you intend to cover.
    • Use facts and specific examples to support your answer(s).
    • Proofread your essay.

10) Attend Every Class!!!