Smart Study Hacks for University Students

By Dara Chea,

Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

University life is unlike the life you experienced in high school, where you came to class just to sit and listen to the teacher’s explanations. You typically only had to recite and note down important points for you, jot down all the basic formulas, and review  the available handouts of lesson summaries as well as list of questions and answers for exams. However, when you start university you may find life to be quite different from high school.

As a senior student now, I’ve gone through tons of challenges and had so many bittersweet experiences. I want to tell you that university life is the time when you have to learn to be independent. You will be surprised with the learning environment, learning styles, and of course, the course work which you will find the most annoying and challenging in your day-to-day life. Sure, when you step into your first year at university, the first thing you get to know must be assignments. What’s next, though? There are several important things including presentations, role-plays, video shootings, research, projects, quizzes, tests, and many more. Needless to say, the tasks will vary according to your field of study.

Nevertheless, studying is actually supposed to be fun and simple, so you don’t always have to be hard on yourself. Whether you’re a hard-working learner or a smart learner, smart study hacks can help you simplify the entire process of studying. You may be overwhelmed with tons of tasks.Therefore, every little bit can help you when it comes to increasing your productivity and efficiency.

Throughout my university experience, I’ve got a lot of advice from my lecturers as well as from my seniors on how to study best. Some tips are worth following, yet some of them don’t work for me since we’re there are different types of learners. So I’ve tried to do more research on the best tips proven by scientific studies which could help to make the most of your learning. Below are the smart study hacks which could help make your student life simpler by increasing your productivity levels, boosting higher concentration as well as eliminating distractions.

  1. Take good notes:
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You may not realize how important note-taking is, since this skill might not have been used when you were in high school. You may expect each teacher to provide you with handouts of each lesson like before. However, things are quite different in the university classroom. Basically, most lecturers just come to the classroom, or perhaps a large hall, and give the lecture to many students. They answer students’ questions as well as assign students to do homework, group assignments, or even projects.

As a university student, it’s a good idea for you to read all the lessons in advance. Highlight important themes or gems and even take some notes, so that you have a better insight into each chapter before discussing and sharing with others in the class. When you’re sitting in the class, you may need to take other notes during the lecture as your professor can go over important points which can give you the big picture of the lesson. Exchanging notes with your classmates to get their ideas or opinions on the lesson can be interesting and useful too, as it can help you understand and remember the information better, thus benefiting your review for the final examination.

Note-taking is considered to be an essential activity which will improve your academic performance and experience. The sooner you can apply good note-taking skills, the smoother your academic life will be. Just because it helps you remain alert. Note-taking keeps your body active and involved and helps you avoid feelings of drowsiness or distraction. When in class, you don’t need to record all the detailed explanations given by your lecturer, a summary is enough. You may just note the important points and put them under themes, or perhaps all you need is just a diagram of the lesson summary. This stems from the idea of mind-mapping. With a diagram, you can have a big picture of each lesson and thus a better insight into each important point of it. By creating it, you could also recall the lessons you have just learned more easily and effectively.

  1. Be prepared
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You might not know what will happen in the future, but surely what you can do is to be well-prepared. As a student, you can always be prepare for your next classes in advance because you cannot predict whether there is a quiz or any surprising task assigned by your lecturer. There are many surprises which could ruin your moment. Your lecturer’s marks on your tests could change your life. For example, “Quiz tomorrow” or “There’s a quiz in the second session this morning.” It must be very shocking when you haven’t prepared anything. You suddenly don’t know how to make up your mind.

However, things would not be that serious if you have prepared things well in advance. As one famous Khmer quote goes, “What is of supreme importance in a war is to  always have your knives ready before the battle.” Therefore, all you can do as a student is to actively read all the relevant materials as well as your textbook before your lecture, take notes, and then review those notes that night before you go to sleep. Obviously, it’s really helpful to look over your notes again before a test. Just because the more time you review, the less you’ll be re-learning before the test.

Sometimes you might say, “Alright, I don’t need to read the textbook or review my lecture notes since there’s no quiz or assigned task for tomorrow’s class.” Just remember never to get bored with preparing things beforehand – whether it’s for the sake of an exam or something else – simply because it helps you in many ways. Reading things before the lecture helps you to have better ideas when there is a discussion or debate in the classroom, and particularly, you would not have the feelings of confusion and chaos when there is any unexpected or heart-attack quiz assigned by your lecturers.

  1. Sample test

It’s also a good idea if you could approach your senior students to just see the sample tests in each subject so that you can prepare for them better. Sure, some subjects might be quite new for you, and sometimes, you just get overwhelmed by feeling confused, anxious, and stressed when it comes to examination season. You just can’t put your foot down and make up your mind for reviewing, perhaps because you have no idea about what kind of test will appear in the exam. That could also cause you trouble and thus affect your exam preparation.

Memory aids

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It’s a cool idea to try using different memory aids like note-cards, sticky notes, etc. These aids come in handy for memorization techniques. You may add visual prompts and colors to your notes to help you recall important details. Color coding can be a helpful memory aid when you use different colorful highlighters for your notes or text highlighting.

You may find it helpful when you want to repetitively quiz yourself on the key aspects, facts, or data you’re trying to memorize.

You might not realize how important color coding is to your academic experience. So how can color coding benefit your learning? Color coding refers to displaying the information using different colors, thus creating a sea of color patterns that make you easily scan and locate highlighted information. It helps you organize information more effectively. Different colors, their combination, and their placement can have an effect on your attention, memory, feelings, and behaviors towards learning. Did you know that incorporating colors into your lessons can boost your memory and therefore your learning? Let’s see how it works.

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Neuroscientists from the Association of Talent Development found out that information first travels to the color centre then proceeds to the other parts of the brain, which discern the motion, shapes, edges as well as transitions, and our response to this is very complex and important. According to Medical Daily, color is the most powerful stimulus to our brain just because color is what our brain spots first.

When something engages our attention, it moves into working memory. You can use this to your advantage in learning through using different colors as your memory aid. What you need to do is to maximize the use of colors and code transfer them to the lesson content. For example, you may use red color to highlight the key terms, blue color to highlight theories or philosophies, and yellow one to mark the name of philosophers or specific historical dates, etc. The important thing is you have to be clear of your color coding and thus the information it represents.

Online Sources:

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Just a quick search can lead you to millions of resources you may find interesting and applicable to your academic purposes. Go google your topics or lessons – there are many resources out there. Perhaps, some sources are from various colleges or universities, including summary of lessons or quizzes, which could meet your needs. For instance, if you type “Research Sampling”, you will be able to access to different websites which allow you to extract the materials or to access the online quizzes pertaining to your subjects or courses.

Moreover, you can go search your required information on YouTube. There are many YouTube channels you can explore. Basically, each channel has someone giving the explanation or presentation on a topic or lesson you’re studying. Some channels are even offering free tutorials including CrashCourse, Khan Academy, Brightstorm, Bozeman Science, etc.

It is also a cool idea if you could download some study apps. You might be aware of this since there are more study apps than required, and you just don’t know which one is best for your academic purposes. Here are some study apps I strongly recommend you to try out, such as slide-share, study-mode,, etc.


Views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of UNICEF.

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