Study Tips For Success

Illustration Of a Person with ideas

Developing and sustaining effective study skills help set the groundwork for academic success. Effective study skills and habits provide a roadmap to achieving your academic goals and exceling in your studies. Improving your study skills isn't just about passing exams; it's also about maximizing resources and knowing what works for YOU!

Laying the Foundation

Learning how to study begins with laying the foundation for studying, which includes creating a study schedule, finding the best studying environment, and setting clear goals.

Create a Study Schedule

Establishing a study schedule can help you organize your time effectively and ensures you dedicate enough time and attention to each course. Determine when you will study each day and stick to your schedule!

To determine how much time to allocate for studying, take some time at the beginning of each term to review the course syllabi for your courses. This will allow you to take note of the different assignments and exams you will have throughout the term. You can use this information to help plan for studying times.

It is also common for professors to include information regarding the amount of time you should be spending on their course, outside of class times. You can use this information as a guide as well when building your study schedule. 

Aim for a balance between your courses and avoid neglecting any one course. Prioritize courses based on their importance and your comfortability with the course content, to ensure you're giving adequate attention to all courses.

Finding Your Study Spot(s)

Finding an adequate place to study is also key to developing effective study habits. Things to consider include:

Noise levels - Do you prefer places that have background noise (such as soft music or indistinct chatter), or do you prefer a quieter environment (such as being in the library)?

Comfortability - Choose a spot where you can sit comfortably for an extended period, whether it's at a desk, on a couch, or sitting outside.

Minimal Distractions - Look for a place with minimal distractions. Avoid areas with a lot of people traffic (if this tends to become distracting for you) or where you're likely to be interrupted frequently. Also limit your own distractions by placing your phone on do not disturb or using a second desktop window to minimize distractions on your computer 

Accessibility - Choose a spot that's convenient for you to access regularly. It may also be convenient to have a few different study spots to have different options in case one does not work.

Setting Clear Goals (SMART Goals)

Setting clear goals for your study sessions is essential to staying focused and motivated

SMART Goals: 

(S)pecific - Goals should be focused and narrow, for example, “I want to better understand Calculus I concepts such as limits involving infinity”

(M)easurable - You should be able to measure progress/success towards the goal, for example, "I want to better understand Calculus I concepts such as limits involving infinity by correctly moving through the steps for at least four practice problems”

(A)ctionable - There must be actionable steps towards achieving the goal, for example, “I want to better understand Calculus I concepts such as limits involving infinity by correctly moving through the steps for at least four practice problems during this study session" 

(R)ealistic- Goals must be reasonable and within the realm of possibility, this means setting objectives that are achievable within the constraints of resources, current content knowledge, and timeframe, for example, "I want to better understand Calculus I concepts such as limits involving infinity by correctly moving through the steps for at least four practice problems during this session. I'll focus on efficient problem-solving and seek clarification from other resources when encountering difficulties."

(T)imely - Goals should have a specific timeframe or deadline for achieving or making progress as this helps create a sense of urgency and accountability.

Building Study Habits

Once you have determined what works for you regarding study space and goals, you can work on developing study habits by utilizing different study strategies and determining which methods work best for you. 

Cramming versus Spacing

Goodbye Cramming, Hello Spacing

You have likely heard before that cramming is not a productive studying method. Yet, it is also likely that you have crammed for an exam in the past, and you may have even done well on the exam. That may lead someone to believe cramming can work. However, research has shown that cramming for exams may produce desired results in the short term (such as remembering information enough to take the exam given the short period of time between studying and the exam), however, this method does not have long-term benefits as you are less likely to retain the information in the long-term. The crammed information is lost shortly after learning it.

So, what is an alternative method? 

Spacing (or spaced repetition) involves spreading out your studying instead of cramming all of your studying into a short period. With spacing, you aim to gradually increase the time between study sessions. With this method of revisiting material in different intervals, it helps reinforce your memory and slow down the forgetting process, as you are likely to retrieve the information right before it may be forgotten. This can lead to increase long term retention and making it more resistant to forgetting overtime. 

Spaced repetition also makes for more efficient studying by having the focus be on reinforcing information just as it is about to be forgotten, rather than relearning everything from scratch (which is what occurs with cramming). Spacing also does not take any additional time than cramming does, and you have the added benefit learning more from each session.

Example: Studying for a Physics Exam

You have a physics exam coming up. The topics to review include electromagnetic induction. How would the studying methods differ when cramming versus spacing?

Cramming: You spend four hours the night before the physics exam studying electromagnetic induction by reading through your notes, re-watching lecture videos, and attempting to solve problems in one intense study session. You rely heavily on memorization without sufficient time for deep understanding.

Spacing: You study electromagnetic induction for 1 hour each day over 3-4 days. You use flashcards for active recall, revisit key concepts using spaced repetition software such as Anki, and practice solving problems incrementally. Each session includes reviewing previous material and gradually introducing new concepts, enhancing understanding and retention through regular reinforcement.

Studying Technique Examples

Active Recall/ Self Testing

Active recall involves retrieving information from memory without relying on reading or re-reading course material but instead utilizing strategies such as flashcards, practice quizzes, or attempting to explain the material to someone else. The focus with active recall is on retrieving information from memory, which strengthens neural connections and improves memory retention

  • Flashcards - you can use index cards or small squares of paper to write a fact, information, diagram on one side and then write a question, prompt or diagram on the other side. For example: Side 1: "What is the balanced chemical equation for the reaction between hydrogen gas and oxygen gas to form water?" Side 2: 2H2​ + O2​→ 2H2​O. You could alternate how you choose to respond, whether you decide to determine what the response is telling you (Side 2 first and provide info yourself from Side 1 or vice versa)

    If you prefer digital flashcards, you can explore options such as Flashcards World, Quizlet, or Remnote

  • Self-Testing/Practice Quizzes - If your instructor provides students with an old quiz or a practice test, instead of simply reading it over to see what may be on your quiz or exam, complete the practice quiz or test and then see how well you did. You may also consider utilizing online resources for practice questions or quizzes; however, you should always consult your professor first before utilizing any practice quizzes or test from online to ensure that the professor approves of your use of that resource. You should always ensure that you are following Academic Integrity expectations set by WPI as well as ensuring that you abide by the expectations set by your professor. We do not encourage the use of unauthorized resources or promote cheating.
  • Explain to Someone Else- Explaining the material to someone else to help with retrieving the information from memory. This can be especially useful for preparing for essay questions or exams about complex processes.
    • For example: if you are studying reduction/oxidation reactions, try explaining them to a friend. Provide some examples of common redox reactions such as rusting of iron or the functioning of batteries, or explain why they are important in biological processes. Reflecting on a concept this way can often help retention of the information.
  • Generate Own Questions from Notes- Similar to flashcards but with this method you use your notes from class to generate your own exam questions (and answers). You then complete your own exam and then assess your knowledge when reviewing against the answers
  • Talk it Out - Talking about the information out loud can help with memory retention and making connections.

Summarizing is a popular technique that can be used when learning a large amount of information. When summarizing, you condense and rephrase information in your own words to enhance understanding and retention. Write summaries of key concepts or create outlines of lecture notes.

  • Identify Key Points- when reviewing lecture notes, textbook information, or other materials, look to identify the main ideas, concepts, and details that are important
  • Paraphrase and Rewrite- instead of copying or writing down exact information from the above sources, rephrase the information in your own words. This helps reinforce understanding and retention
  • Use Visual Aids - enhance summarizing by incorporating visual aids (see graphic organizers below) such as diagrams, charts, or bullet points to visually organize the information 
  • Focus on Understanding - aim for balance between understanding and memorization by focusing on the meaning behind the information rather than solely on repetition
  • Review and Refine- after creating a summary, review it and refine as needed. This may involve adding additional information, clarifying unclear points, or restructuring for clarity.
Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers are visual tools used to help organize information as the method helps with connecting new information to what we already know which allows for us to see how concepts relate to each other and how concepts connect to a bigger picture. They are effective for synthesizing, analyzing, and understanding complex concepts by visually illustrating relationships between ideas.

  • Concept Maps- represent relationships and connections between concepts or ideas. Multiple hubs and chunks can be created that connect information using lines and arrows and can be free forming. Concept maps help organize information and understand the connections between different concepts.


    Concept Map illustration

  • Mind Maps - are similar to concept maps; mind maps also start with a central idea, typically a single concept. Major ideas are connected directly to the central concept, and other ideas branch out from those major ideas. They are often used when brainstorming as they are useful for visually organizing your thoughts.


    Mind Map Illustration

  • Venn Diagrams- use overlapping circles to illustrate similarities and differences between two or more concepts. They are useful for comparing and contrasting information, identifying commonalities, and highlighting unique characteristics.
  • Flowcharts:- use geometric shapes connected by arrows to illustrate the sequence of steps in a process (i.e. if yes then --> if no then -->). They are helpful for understanding procedural tasks, decision-making processes, and problem-solving strategies.


    Flowchart illustration

  • Timeline Charts- show chronological sequences of events or processes in a linear format. They help learners visualize the order and duration of events, understand historical contexts, and track progress over time.
  • Graphic Organizers for Text Structure- graphic organizers can be used for text structure as well, such as using story maps or cause-and-effect diagrams to help analyze the structure of texts, identify key elements (e.g., characters, plot points), and understand how information is organized within a text.

"Chunking" involves breaking down complex information into smaller, more manageable parts, groups, or "chunks." Chunking can help improve the efficiency of short-term memory.

A simple example of this would be remembering a number: 312645867. You could divide the numbers into chunks such as: 312-645-867, which can help with remembering the numbers versus trying to remember all the digits at once. 

Another example would be applying the chunking technique when studying Newtons Laws in physics. Try breaking down the concept and studying each law individually first. Then integrate them to form a holistic understanding of how Newtons Laws explain the motion of objects. This approach helps in clarifying the fundamental principles of Newtonian mechanics and their applications in solving various problems related to motion and forces.

Mnemonic Devices

Mnemonics are memory aids that help recall information more easily. They often involve creating connections, patterns, or phrases that relate to the information being memorized.

Acronyms- are created by taking the initial letters of a group of words to help us remember longer words or steps in a sequence, or to create shorten word such as NASA. You may remember PEMDAS as a way to remember the order of operations in Math: P- Parentheses, E- Exponents, M- Multiplication, D- Division, A- Addition, and S- Subtraction.

Acrostics- are created by taking the first letter of each word in a phrase or list, to create a sentence or message to help with remembering. My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas was used to remember the order of planets in the solar system: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto. 

Both acronyms and acrostics are effective memory aids that could be useful when studying to help encode information into memory.

Pre-Testing/ Pre-questioning

This technique involves attempting to answer questions about a topic before learning more in depth about the topic. 

Even if you do not know much about the topic, you can make an educated guess to answer questions before learning more. This helps activate related knowledge or concepts you might already know. It also makes it easier to integrate new information with what you already know.

  1. Create or Find Pre-Questions- use the textbook, online resources (that are acceptable and approved by your professor), or create your own questions about the topic you are about to study.
  2. Attempt to Answer- try to answer the questions to the best of your ability without looking up the answers, even if you are entirely unsure of the answer.
  3. Review and Learn- after attempting the questions, read the material, attend the lecture, or review your notes. Pay attention to information related to the questions you tried to answer.
  4. Feedback- check your answers after learning the material. Clarify why certain answers were correct or incorrect.
  5. Regular Practice- incorporate pre-testing into your regular study routine for different subjects to reinforce learning.

Pre-testing leverages several cognitive processes that make learning more efficient and effective. It preps your brain for learning material, enhances your engagement, and helps you build a stronger memory of the material.

Recall and Review

Recall and Review can be considered another type of self-testing where you try summarizing the chapter or your notes after reading, recalling the big ideas from memory (closed notes/book and other resources). Then, you can review your notes and/or the lecture notes and recognize the information you were able to recall and the information you may have missed. 

Retrieving information from memory is highly effective in helping to remember information.

Study Groups

Study groups can be effective for collaborative learning, providing diverse perspectives, help with motivation, and support. This can be a great opportunuty to connect with other students in the course. You can look to create a study group amongst other peers in your class, or with a group of friends taking the same course. 

To be effective, the group should be prepared beforehand, contribute actively during the study session, and stay focused on specific goals, such as understanding complex topics or solving practice problems. Assigning roles to everyone involved and setting clear objectives ensure organized and productive sessions. You also want to be careful to minimize distractions within the group and going too far off topic, especially if folks focus too much on their frustrations on the course content. 

You also want to make sure that the study group abides by any policies set forth by the professor, especially when it comes to collaboration expectations. If a professor specifies that students should be completing coursework and assignments independently, you should ensure that you abide by this policy. 

By sharing resources (when appropriate and aligned with the University's Academic Integrity policy) and reviewing material together, study groups enhance understanding and retention, making them a valuable studying technique for students across various subjects.

Evolving Your Study Strategy

Once you have established the foundation and built a solid plan for your study habits, adopting studying techniques that work for you, you want to be sure to focus on continuous improvement and long-term success. 

Reflecting on Progress

Take time to reflect on your study schedule, techniques, study space, and goals. Determine what's working well for you and what you feel could be improved.

Example of reflective questions to ask

Regarding study schedule

  • Did I stick to my study schedule? If not, why not?
  • Did I allocate enough time to study for each course?
  • Was I able to complete all my planned study sessions and course assignments?

Regarding study space(s)

  • Did my study space(s) allow for my best focus and concentration?
  • Did I experience any distractions or interruptions? If so, what were they?
  • Do I need to find a new study spot, or can I make adjustments to my current one(s)?

Regarding SMART goals 

  • Did I achieve my SMART goals?
  • If I didn’t meet my goals, did I make progress towards the goals? What were any obstacles?

Use your responses to identify areas of improvement to help craft a game plan to make adjustments. 

Reflection: This past week, I planned to study Calculus II content every evening for two hours, but I found myself too tired after my other classes and couldn’t concentrate. I also was distracted by my phone notifications. I did not meet my goal of completing at least four practice problems each study time because I was often too exhausted to think clearly.

Adjustment: For the upcoming week, I will:

  • Study Calculus II earlier in the day when I am feeling more alert and energized.
  • Put my phone on Do Not Disturb during study times to avoid interruptions.
  • Set a more realistic goal of completing two practice problems per session, with a focus on fully understanding the solutions.
Refining Study Techniques

Continue to experiment with different study techniques. Determine which methods are most effective for you and for which subjects they help you with the most and continue to incorporate them into your study routine.

Seeking Feedback

Seek feedback from professors, TAs/PLAs, or tutors. They can provide valuable insights and suggestions for enhancing your study approach.

Adapting to Challenges

Remain flexible and willing to adapt your study strategies as needed. If you encounter challenges or obstacles, think of some solutions and adjust your approach in a way that works. One of the biggest challenges for students when it comes to studying is the desire to resort to ineffective study strategies because that is what they are comfortable with. Being able to change habits and see positive results takes time, so it is best to make an effort to commit to newer strategies before you give up and resort back to what you have been doing that has not been working (but at times may seem like "less work")

Utilizing out of classroom support resources

In addition to creating and sticking to a study schedule that encompasses different effective studying techniques, it is also important to remember that there are resources available if you are looking for additional support for courses. These support areas are typically available for many of the foundational courses that many students take prior to delving deeper into courses for your major. 

Professor Office Hours - Every course you take with a professor will have information regarding the Professor's office hours. Office hours are a great opportunity if you have additional questions about course content, want to follow up regarding feedback on assignments, or want to discuss questions related to the course with the professor for that course. Professor office hours are typically indicated at the beginning of the course syllabus and/or on the course Canvas page. If a professor's office hours conflict with other courses, you can always reach out to the professor directly to seek alternative opportunities to connect with them. 

Teaching Assistants (TAs)/ Peer Learning Assistants (PLAs) - Some courses may have a designated TA or PLA for the course. This individual may at times attend the course lectures or lead the discussions for the course. They are available as another resource for students taking that class. TAs/PLAs may sometimes hold office hours of their own as well as an opportunity for students to connect and gain additional support with the course. Please note that not every course will have a TA or PLA. 

The Academic Resources Center (ARC)- The Academic Resources Center offers 1-on-1 tutoring as well as MASH (Math and Science Help, group drop-in tutoring) support for several introductory math, science, computer science, and engineering science courses. You can find more information on the WPI website as well as the ARC Canvas Page including a list of the courses the ARC provides tutoring support in as well as the current term's MASH drop-in schedule. 

Math Tutoring Center (MTC) - The Math Tutoring Center (MTC) offers WPI students individualized assistance with all math-related questions and coursework. The MTC is staffed by Mathematical Sciences Department TAs (PhD Students) and PLAs (Undergraduate Students), who are here to assist students from many different classes with homework/concepts/general questions in areas such as calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, and many others. Find more information here: Math Tutoring Center (MTC) | Worcester Polytechnic Institute (

The Writing Center - Located in Salisbury Labs 233, the Writing Center helps WPI students improve their written, oral, and visual communication. The trained writing tutors provide peer tutoring for individuals and teams on any type of communication project, including course papers, presentations, dissertations, and job-related documents. Find more information on the Writing Center here: Writing Center | Worcester Polytechnic Institute (