- by Megan Morrissey, Assistant Director of Student Success
Academic coach sitting at desk and smiling at camera

It’s August of 2006, I’m sitting in my common room in Sakac Hall, staring at my US History textbook. It’s the first week of school and my professor Dr. Reilly has a weekly five question quiz on the reading we were assigned for that week. I’m sifting through the chapters, glancing over the bolded words I had highlighted, feeling like a real college student. I walked into the classroom to take the quiz feeling about 85-90% confident in getting a good grade. I mean, even if I didn’t study a ton, it’s US History. I’ve been learning about it since elementary school so something was bound to come back to my memory right?


Very wrong.

I know you probably didn’t see this coming, but I did not pass that first quiz. I was pretty upset. School had never really been something I exceled at and frankly I was a little shocked that I got into college. This first official college grade made me feel like such an imposter. Who did I think I was? I just squeezed by in high school, how did I expect to be successful in college? All of my suitemates seemed to be doing great. No one was complaining about bad grades or not understanding the material in classes. 

I called my dad to tell him about the grade, assuming he’d get a report card eventually and wanting to be ahead of the curve (spoiler alert…there are no report cards in college. Dumb move Megan.). I asked him what I should do and he told me that he believed in me but I had to figure it out on my own. My parents never went to college so they felt just as helpless as I did. Before we hung up the phone my dad said, “Meg, I think you just gotta study.”

Study? I mean, I highlighted the chapter. What else did the man want from me? 

It took me a long time (most of my freshman year) but I finally figured out the best way for me to retain the information in my classes. Here are some of the best tips and tricks I picked up along the way:

Highlighting is NOT studying

It makes your textbook and notes look really pretty and it’s a great start to discovering what you need to know, but it can’t be your only method of retention. I started using three different colored highlighters to help me recognize places in my notes and the text that I had to pay attention to. One color signified key terms, the other examples and the last one was for things my professor would emphasize in class. It’s a good jumping off point, but it also requires that you go back, re-read and memorize the information.

WHERE you study is just as important as WHAT you’re studying

I loved my room in Sakac Hall. It was decorated perfectly, I had lots of snacks, my friends were always just around the corner and my bed was so comfy. And for all of those reasons and more…it made it the absolute WORST place to study. I “discovered” the library around the time of midterms my first semester and it worked for me. I would take myself to the quiet floor with all of my materials and grind out my work a few hours a day. I tend to get distracted very easily so the quiet helped to keep me focused for longer. I set my alarm on my phone for breaks every hour or so and then I’d get back to work. There are hundreds of spots on campus to get some quality work done, so go out and find yours!

Cramming is not a thing. It’s just not.

I laugh to myself when my students come in and tell me that they work “better under pressure” because I used to say the exact same thing to my parents and teachers all the time. In my mind, as long as I had enough coffee and a good playlist, I could memorize as many chapters as I needed to in one night. And yes, maybe I got “good enough” grades sometimes but most of the time I wasn’t getting a good return. Even if you manage to memorize enough of the material in a cram session to pass your test, more than likely the information is going to come back around (anyone ever hear of a cumulative final?). Learning how to budget and manage my time started to pay off big when I was finally getting the grades I wanted.

Patience really is a virtue

Frustration wasn’t a strong enough word for how I felt about learning how to study. The only method that worked for me was outlining the chapters and let me tell you, it took me a long time in the beginning. I felt as if I was re-writing the entire textbook most of the time. What I found was that, the more I practiced, I began to hone my memory and skill just like you do to a muscle as you work out. I realized the things that were truly important, what my professors expected and how I could cut down on what I needed to include in my notes. By the beginning of sophomore year, I had significantly cut down on the amount of time I spent outlining and preparing for exams but I was still able to retain just as much information. 

The right study group formula can work wonders

One of my first major courses was Mass Media and Communication. I needed a certain grade in the class to continue on as a student in my major so the pressure was on from the start. We had a minimum of three chapters on each exam we took and it was a ton of information. I had a couple of friends in the class and we decided to team up, share notes and get together before the exams to help re-teach each other the lessons. It worked on wonderfully and we all did well in the course. Here’s WHY it worked well:

  • My study group was small (3 people) and we were not best friends therefore when we would meet, we didn’t waste time chatting and distractions were limited.
  • We all had the same method for how we learn and study best
  • We were equally as motivated to do well in the course and put in the same amount of work

Listen, I’m not going to lie to you; studying is hard. And most of the time it’s not a lot of fun. When I would get frustrated and want to quit, I tried to remind myself of the things that I loved about being in school; my friends, the clubs and organizations on campus I was a part of, the feeling of being independent and knowing that the education I was getting was going to set me up for a future I could be excited about. All of that good always outweighed the frustration. 

So limit those distractions as much as possible, find a spot you can call your own and crack open those books. It’s gonna take time, but trust me, you’ll get there if you keep pushing. And if all else fails, come see me or any of the other Academic Coaches in AQU 112 and we’ll be sure to help you out!


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