How I Effectively Study / Write Notes: College Edition

Let me start off by saying that I did not start out as a great student. In fact, I hated high school so much that I nearly didn't graduate. It wasn't until after I began working full time in the years following that I began to really understand the value of having an education.

I began college again 3 years later, determined to do better. I went in not really knowing where to begin, or what will even work for me. What I have noticed though, over the years, is that your attitude largely determines your success. I went to class that first day knowing I needed to actually know and understand the material being presented to me for my career, and that was the first step into becoming the best student I could be.

I'll skip on telling you the trials I went through to get to where I am at with my studying, but just be aware.... Studying takes time. Hours and hours. On average I spend at least 9-20 additional hours a week outside of each class studying the material from lectures. (Do the math, 4 classes with at LEAST 9 hours per class, 4x9=36 hours)

With this method, I went from a 2.8 GPA in high school to a straight A student in college.

So, to put it as "simply" as possible this is how I study:


  1. When a professor gives me a syllabus, I read off all the dates. They are likely to have sectioned off weeks by chapters or by content. I write all these dates in my planner in pencil as they are subject to change, and highlight important dates closest to me.
  2. If my professor has assigned a book for the class, I make sure to skim the day/weeks chapter before I come to lecture. I may not understand the material fully, but when I attend the lecture it should clear things up. If it doesn't, I can ask the professor while I am in the class so I don't have to wait for a reply through email.  
  3. Some professors give students printed (or digital) specific notes or outlines for their class. I recommend using those to fill in specific information the professor mentioned during lecture that the book does not mention. I may have already done so during lecture, so that can save time outside of class.
  4. As soon as I have time, I read the chapter from lecture thoroughly. Unfortunately (but also fortunately...?), my school has been forcing everyone to buy looseleaf textbooks with one time use access codes so I am able to annotate and highlight important things as I wish since I own the book and can't resell without the access code. I make sure to write footnotes on the textpages referencing to my lecture notes taken in class, for any relevant information pertaining to the page. This is useful for the next step.
  5. After I am finished annotating the chapter, I grab a fresh sheet of paper and write down all the important things I annotated and combine the bits from my lecture notes (since I added footnotes, I know when to add these in) to make a comprehensive set of notes. This is usually written pretty messily, but it helps me to detect "key" topics and other subcategories that will be useful for my finalized set of notes. Even these aren't completely organized, so I use whatever means necessary to add or reference any changes.
  6. I get a fresh set of paper and rewrite all my notes, sectioning off different topics with headers using different colored highlighters. Each header represents a subject or key topic of the chapter and since it is blocked off by color, I am able to more easily see when a subject begins and ends
    1. For headers with subtopics, I use an adaptation of Cornell notes to section of the subtopics on the left, and the information pertaining to the subtopic on the right.
    2. For headers with lengthy information, directly pertaining to the header (no subtopics) I also use an adaption of Cornell notes, and bullets of information on the right, with key words on the left for future skimming purposes.
    3. For headers with significant main points, I simply number them with no indentation.
    4. For headers with visuals, I just draw them underneath, no indentations.
  7. After being completely overwhelmed by how much I had to write, I now have a clean set of notes that I can easily read with the most important parts of the chapter. After writing it so many times, I understand the material a lot more, and can easily reference my notes pages whenever I encounter a homework problem that I don't understand. 
  8. If I have time I'll most likely begin skimming the next chapter and repeat the process over again and review the notes before doing the homework or at the end of the week. 
* A great tip I learned from med student America on youtube, is that creating a "Things I Don't Know" document or notes page for the chapter (or even the entire class) can also be extremely helpful in focusing on your trouble areas. I used this method along with my current studying system last semester and it worked very well for me.

I hope this was helpful to someone! I know it is very detailed and maybe even redundant at times, but repetition is how I am able to learn the best. 

Let me know if you have any questions or other school related suggestions,

Have a happy summer!
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