Checklist: Study Skills for College Students

Study skills are essential for college students to master to be successful academically. This checklist will help make sure your student is prepared.

Man Studying

Study skills are essential for college students to master in order to be successful academically. Many students are surprised at the rigor of college classes and are not prepared to handle the workload effectively. The key is not necessarily studying longer or harder, but studying smarter. This checklist will help make sure your college student is prepared.

  • My student understands their learning style and recognizes the different types of studying.

    Students should start utilizing various learning strategies early, including reading, summarizing, visualizing, writing and more. This will help your child learn what their best method of studying is and become more efficient at learning material. Experimenting with different studying strategies can also help your student learn how to prepare for different types of papers, exams, and assignments. Students can take various learning styles assessments (like this one) to getting a better sense what type of learning style they have. When your student is familiar with their own learning style, they will be better at understanding where they excel and what they need to work on most when studying and learning.

  • My student knows how to manage their time and plan for the semester.

    Time management can be a big adjustment for new college students. Former assistant professor at Kansas State University Laurie Curtis says your student should put all of their obligations in some kind of planner, whether written or digital, and look at it frequently. This includes blocks for studying, as they should make this part of their routine right away. Study skills do not just apply to preparing for an exam; studying should be incorporated into a student’s daily and weekly routine upon entering college. The Virginia Tech Study Environment Analysis suggests setting a specific time aside each day for studying to help form a habit. Your child may recognize what their best time of day is to study and then plan to use that time to study each day. It will also make studying a routine early on and incorporate learning into your college student’s daily life. Two hours of study time for every hour spent in class is a good general rule of thumb. It is also widely recommended to study in chunks, rather than cramming for tests and assignments last minute. If your student feels like they are spending too much time studying for what they are learning, that is probably a sign that they do not understand the material well yet.

  • My student can set goals to complete their coursework.

    Goal-setting (both long-term and short-term) is extremely important when tackling college-level coursework. The Virginia Tech Study Environment Analysis suggests students should write down the time they expect to finish an assignment before beginning, if possible. They also suggest dividing assignments into subsections and set time for each section to be finished. Setting small goals will allow your student to split up the workload and make the materials more digestible. Based on your student’s semester plan, they should make a weekly list of goals to complete. This will help your student achieve both short and long-term goals for the semester.

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  • My student can prioritize based on difficulty and time-sensitivity.

    Learning to prioritize material is just as important as planning a study schedule. Tests, papers, and assignments will be scattered throughout your young adult’s semester. The feeling of not knowing where to begin with all of the work to do is common for first-year college students. But knowing what is most important at any given time while also planning ahead is an essential skill for college students, and life beyond college. Your student may have to spend more time studying for demanding classes or courses that they do not understand as easily. The UC Berkeley study tips guide suggests studying difficult or boring subjects first while you are fresh. Your student should identify the key points for each subject and identify which of these subjects or learning materials requires the most time and effort. Then, your student should identify what is most time-sensitive and work accordingly.

  • My student can actively read college-level texts and can understand what they have read.

    The reading compression method SQRRR (or SQ3R) is commonly suggested for studying at many educational institutions. SQRRR stands for survey, question, read, recite, and review. A student should start by surveying the text, skimming it for headlines, titles, images and general content. Before the student starts reading, they should come up with some questions that they would like answered after reading. Then, the student reads the entire text. After reading, the student should recite what they have just read. Here is a good time to summarize and rephrase content. Summarizing study materials makes it a lot easier to determine what is important in any given course and also ends up saving time in the long run. Your student should take some time to summarize what they just read and then rephrase the content in terms they would use in order to help the material sink in. Rephrasing content helps make the content a student’s own, and personalizing study materials makes it easier for a student to remember content, as it becomes more relevant to them. The final step of this process is to review the material.

  • My student can take detailed and relevant notes when listening or watching educational material.

    While many classes allow students to use laptops during class, many experts and professors would advise students to avoid using their laptop to take notes during class unless they are positive that they can eliminate distractions and focus entirely on the course. A 2008 ScienceDirect study showed that students reported using their computer for things other than note taking for an average of 17 minutes during a 75-minute class (25% played games, 43% surfed the net, 68% used instant messages, 81% checked email). Your student should find a method of note-taking that works best for them and keep it consistent. The UC Berkeley study tips guide suggests that students try to translate the lecture into their own words when possible. Personal notes are easier to understand, which helps with comprehension and retention of the material. Curtis says it’s good practice to pay attention to verbal, postural and visual clues from the lecturer as well.

  • My student understands that cramming for an exam is not an effective way to learn the material in the long-term.

    Cramming before the night of an exam is all too common on college campuses. However, this is not the most effective way for a student to understand and learn material. A study by researchers at UCLA found that spacing out studying was more effective than cramming for 90-percent of the participants, yet 72-percent thought that cramming had been more beneficial to their academic performance. A student may see some short-term success in the cramming method, but it will not benefit them long-term. Experts suggest spacing out studying (usually called “spaced rehearsal”) and overlearning material in order to maximize retention and comprehension.

  • My student knows how to organize their notes and other study materials and then review materials.

    Keeping organized in college is very important. When it comes to the academic workload, this can be a big adjustment for new college students. Curtis suggests periodically reviewing and organizing your notes throughout each week of the semester. The guide also suggests looking for emerging themes, main concepts and methods of presentation. Reorganizing material is a great way to go over concepts and put together related materials. This will help your student identify material that may be on the tests and learn the most important information presented.

  • My student can determine the best place for them to study with minimal distractions.

    Where you study is perhaps just as important as how you study. Your student will want to find a study location where they feel comfortable with minimal distractions and good lighting. This study location will differ greatly from student to student. Some students need the complete silence of a quiet library; others work well reviewing materials in study groups. The most important thing is that your student find the environment where they can fully concentrate and dedicate the necessary time to their studies. “Make it your place,” Curtis says.


    For more information, check with academic counselors and on college websites. Most colleges will have study advice or guides on their website.