News & Stories
female student studying on laptop in sunlight
September 27, 2023

Top 5 Strategies for Acing College Classes

So, you just got to college, and you’re hoping to ace your classes this semester. Or maybe you’re a seasoned student looking to refine your study habits. Either way, the teams in Berry College’s Offices of Academic Transitions and Success are sharing their top five must-have strategies for succeeding in college. As higher education experts who have worked with numerous students with diverse college experiences, they agree the following tips will empower you to navigate the college academic landscape with confidence and reach your full potential.

1. Make a Plan and Know When to Change It

One of the toughest transitions for many first-year college students is their free time (or what feels like lots of free time). With only about 15 hours spent in class each week, there are over 150 hours where no parents are checking in on homework assignments or sleep. Managing time and tasks in college is so important. So, how can you bring some structure to your college life? Start by finding out how much of your time is truly free!

Build a weekly template – Make a weekly schedule template with all your commitments that are the same week to week: classes, work schedule and any standing appointments.

Use Sunday – Sit down every Sunday and make a to-do list for the week ahead including assignments, readings, exams to study for, work shifts (if your schedule changes week to week), appointments and any other things you need to get done. Break down big tasks into smaller chunks. Try to estimate how long each item on your to-do list will take.

Map it out – Using a copy of your weekly schedule template, make a plan for your week. Get as detailed as you want. Decide when you’ll start studying for that test or write a first draft of that big paper (hint: don't take on big tasks at the end of the day when you’re already tired). When you’re done, you should have a map of the week ahead, with each item from your to-do list assigned to a day or block of time.

Be flexible – This plan will change as you move through the week. Friends will want to get ice cream, or something will take longer than you expected. You’ll pick up an extra shift at work. That’s okay! Revising a plan is better than having no plan!

Having a clear perspective on your allotted free time will allow you to enjoy your activities without worrying about when you will get your assignments finished.

2. Use Active Strategies vs. Passive Strategies

Bad news: the most used study strategy among college students is also the least effective study strategy out there. What is it? Rereading your notes. According to research, this approach results in very little learning. Why? Just looking over what you wrote down in class requires very little thinking or interaction with the information. Passive study strategies like this one engage less of your brain, and less learning happens. Active study strategies are far more effective.

Do you know how to spot active study strategies? They’re tools and activities that get you to apply the material. Using Quizlet and flashcards, making your own study guide or practice test (complete with answers, of course), working practice problems or playing Kahoot with your study group are all active study strategies. These practices all require you to think about the material in a variety of ways:

  • Based on what you’ve been learning in class, what may be on the exam?
  • What could those exam questions look like?
  • Do you know and understand the information?
  • Can you apply what you are learning to different situations?
  • What do you know well (and can study less), and what do you still need to learn?

Other strategies can be active, too. If you want to engage with your notes, clean them up or reorganize the structure to help you draw out key ideas and see relationships among concepts. Find ways to physically get moving while you study or use a visual like practicing problems on a white board or drawing diagrams.

3. Build a Habit of Reflection

In your first year of college, you will have the opportunity to grow and learn from many new experiences. How do you make the most of this time? Slow down and reflect! Reflective writing and practices are well-known for helping students foster critical thinking about their learning. In other words, reflection can help you figure out how to respond to and apply new knowledge. It can also connect your learning experiences to your professional goals.

Reflection is a mental tool that you can use to assess and improve any situation. Education researcher Dr. Gary Rolfe shows that reflecting can be as simple as asking yourself, “What? So what? Now what?” You can write in a journal or portfolio, or you can find a trusted mentor, faculty member or friend to process with.

So, what does this have to do with being successful academically? Maybe you’ve received a lower grade than you expected. Considering what went wrong on the assignment can help you discover how to make changes to your study habits. Maybe you are feeling tired or losing your motivation with your coursework. Asking yourself reflective questions can help you get to the bottom of your disinterest or indifference to an activity or course.

Here are some questions to start with:

  • What are my thoughts or feelings about this assignment, class, major, etc.? What are my goals and motivators? What did I learn?
  • What do my answers to the first question mean for me and my next steps?
  • What are my next steps?

Building a habit of reflection guarantees that you learn and grow from your academic experiences in the moment, and you will be prepared with action steps as you continue your academic journey.

4. Ask for and Accept Feedback

Feedback is hard! Often when we think about receiving criticism, we wince in discomfort or immediately get defensive. However, feedback — from exam grades to comments on a paper or project — can be incredibly beneficial for students who are eager to ace their academics. Having an open mind and being willing to think back on an experience give you specific, helpful information that you can use to improve.

Here are some proactive ways to ask for and accept feedback:

  • Review assignments such as tests, papers and projects, and be sure to read written comments. Don’t just look at the grade.
  • Follow up with professors after exams or when you have questions related to assignments or feedback you’ve received.
  • Request feedback on your performance to ensure that you are on the right track. This is a great reason to visit during office hours!
  • Remember that feedback is not personal but is a tool to help you learn and develop.

Once you receive feedback, the next step is to put it into action!

5. Think about Success Beyond Grades

As you are studying, joining clubs, going to the gym, exploring the surrounding community and doing all the fun things in college, remember to schedule time to take care of yourself.

Self-care has become a buzzword, but the practice of taking care of yourself remains essential. Think about taking time to do what you know gives you energy. More than just sleeping, self-care might be walking in nature, reading a book, painting a picture, attending a faith service, working out or talking with a family member or best friend.

How do you know what self-care looks like for you? Consider these questions:

  • When do you lose track of time doing an activity? This could be a sign that you are in a “flow” state because you are doing a meaningful activity for you.
  • What makes you feel happy and light after doing it? Pay attention to moments when you feel energized by an activity.

Prioritizing self-care ensures that you stay engaged and healthy while doing so many things in college. At the end of the day, grades don’t define you.

Ultimately, you’re not going to do it right all the time. You might not effectively plan every week. You might forget to reflect or take good care of yourself. But don’t give up! Knowing that you won’t get everything perfect 100% of the time is part of succeeding in college. When you fail or when you have a bad week, reset and restart these practices. Success is a journey, a series of choices you make throughout college, and implementing these strategies will help you along the way. With determination and strong study habits, you will be on your way to achieving all your academic goals.

 Back to Top