Transitioning to Harvard: Study Strategies

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Sometimes, the strategies we used to study in high school need to be modified to be effective in a college setting.

Below are some general principles to keep in mind when developing study strategies for college:

Study strategies start with note-taking.

What is your system for taking notes? Is it suited to the material you’re working with? The ARC has information on different note-taking strategies you can use to pick the best system for you.

  • ARC tip:
    • If you are listening to a pre-recorded lecture, listen at normal speed to increase your retention of the material. If you cannot resist the temptation, do not go beyond 25% compression. Research shows that students’ ability to learn information drops significantly somewhere between 25% and 50% compression.
    • Contact the Accessible Education Office if you have a diagnosis that might make you eligible for note-taking software.

Cramming the night before an exam isn’t an effective strategy.

Studying should begin much earlier, with consistent review as you are first exposed to new material. Check out the ARC webpage on Memory and Attention for tips on improving memory and sustaining attention.

  • ARC tip:
    • If you’re having trouble figuring out how to find the time or motivation to study earlier than the night before an assessment, schedule an appointment with an ARC Academic Coach. They can provide you with time management and motivation strategies to help you make room for studying.

It can be overwhelming to try to study all of the material in a given course.

Even though a lot of material gets covered before an exam, the teaching staff often gives clues about what’s likely to show up on an exam through practice problems, p-sets, and lectures. Use these clues to help narrow down your focus.

  • ARC tips:
    • Consider using a combination of solo and collaborative study techniques. Create your own study group for your course or join an existing one.
    • Check out the ARC webpage on Tackling STEM Courses for additional suggestions and strategies for approaching your science, technology, engineering, and math courses effectively. 

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